The deal to sign Yannick Bolasie on loan from Everton last summer was, in the minds of senior figures at Middlesbrough, done.
Bolasie had travelled up to the North East with his wife, the couple were taken for dinner by club officials, stayed overnight and were given a tour of the training ground in Hurworth the following morning.
It was a deal that appeared to suit both Boro and Everton. Everton were contracted to pay the talented winger £72,000 a week. Boro, as a Championship club operating under strict EFL financial regulations, said they could pay a third of it.
The Championship isn’t immune to financial madness that is commonplace in the top flight
Everyone seemed happy. Until, that is, Boro received a rather apologetic telephone call from Goodison Park. Aston Villa had agreed to pay the full £72,000 a week plus bonuses, so Bolasie was off to Birmingham.
Last August, Tony Pulis tried to bring other players to the club in a bid to push for promotion, while adhering to owner Steve Gibson’s request to cut costs that had spiralled under the previous manager, Garry Monk.
Martyn Waghorn was also a target and, again, Boro thought they had a fighting chance of signing the former England Unde- 21 forward. He was on £8,000 a week at Ipswich. Boro were prepared to double his money – but he ended up at Derby County instead.
The pursuit of Premier League riches means the Championship is far from immune to the financial madness commonplace in the top flight.
Yannick Bolasie came close to joining Middlesbrough but ended up at Villa instead
Talking to clubs this week, there are tales of seven-figure demands from players’ parents, similarly massive agents’ fees and seven-figure loan payments.
In the end, one point separated Boro from Derby in the table, with Villa a further two points ahead, but Boro missed out on a place in the play-offs while Villa and Derby now have the opportunity to make that final step to the promised land when they meet at Wembley on Monday.
It has come at a cost that will feel very expensive indeed for the loser. As Villa boss Dean Smith said, they have two scenarios and another season in the Championship could well mean selling Jack Grealish, or finding another way to raise £30million in the transfer market.
Both Villa and Derby are said to be operating under a soft transfer embargo, which means any spending is being heavily scrutinised by the EFL.
Such embargoes can come as a result of outstanding queries on profile and sustainability submissions.
Aston Villa would likely have to sell Jack Grealish should they fail to secure promotion
While both clubs insist they are compliant with EFL rules, it will be interesting to see if league chiefs agree with that when they conclude the review of their accounts.
Rival clubs have their doubts, with Boro owner Steve Gibson openly accusing Villa and Derby of breaching Financial Fair Play rules at the Championship’s March meeting.
Gibson has expressed particular concern about the deal done by Derby owner Mel Morris – to essentially buy the stadium from himself and turn overall losses into profit – and earlier this week Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani argued that Derby should have faced sanctions for selling their ground to their owner.
Derby reported a pre-tax profit of £14.6m after Morris paid £80m for the Pride Park stadium — with an agreement to then lease the ground back from a company owned by their chairman — when it was listed as an asset worth £41m on the club’s books.
Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani argued Derby should face sanctions for the sale of Pride Park
‘The rules should be revised if clubs are allowed to sell their stadiums to sister companies,’ said Radrizzani.
‘We should revisit the rules. We were judged as a cheating club when we sent a scout to watch (Derby) training, so they should take a similar view on what I would say is greater cheating by these clubs.’
The rules might well need addressing because, as things stand, the Derby stadium deal does not seem to breach regulations.
It would appear that if Derby lose on Monday, to remain compliant they need only reset their wage bill by off-loading players already coming to the end of their contracts.
When Pulis left Boro last week, Gibson thanked him for ‘addressing our financial position in order to comply and respect the Championship Fair Play criteria’. To do so, he generated more than £50m in transfer revenue.
It may well be dismissed as bitterness by the clubs preparing for a game Deloitte say is worth at least £170m over the next three seasons to the winner.
However, those such as Leeds and Middlesbrough continue to question whether they have been playing by different rules.