Having already broken West Bromwich Albion’s transfer record this season, manager Tony Mowbray will have to break it again in order to entice Belgian striker Tom De Sutter to The Hawthorns.
The 23-year-old’s club, Cercle Brugge, has put a £6 million price tag on their prize asset’s head, £1.3 million more than the Baggies paid for Borja Valero, the club’s most expensive player, at the start of the season.
The Baggies would have to see off interest from AZ Alkmaar in order to sign the forward, in whom Anderlecht have also declared an interest.
While acquiring two record signings in the same season is indicative of Albion’s intent to remain in the top flight, news of the club’s assured financial structure and past year’s performance was released by chairman Jeremy Peace.
Albion’s wage bill has increased by 50 per cent since the last time they were in the Premier League in 2006 and the club’s net debt has increased from £4.1 million last season to £7 million.
However, due primarily to the sale of Curtis Davies, the club has made a pre-tax profit of £11.3 million on last season.
Peace said: “We had a very successful season. It was a coming together of lots of good things – promotion, reaching the FA Cup semi-final and financially, too.
“Operating-wise we have, broadly speaking, broken even although we’re marginally in the red because of bonuses to the coaching and playing staff following our promotion.
“On the players’ side we generated that profit through sales of Kamara, Koumas, McShane etcetera, so we had the finance again to reinvest in the squad, into the stadium and the training facilities.
“The £11 million is already gone but the debt of £7 million, for a club in the Premier League, is a rather small debt, compared to others. We have a £10 million overdraft so we are well within that.
“The wage bill now, compared to when last in the Premier League, is about 50 per cent higher. So the combination of a higher wage bill and money invested in registration means we are fully invested.
“We are in a relatively strong financial position so if we want to invest this January or beyond then we can – it does give us a little bit of flexibility.”
Group turnover for the past 12 months [year ending 30 June 2008] was £27.2 million, an increase of £3.4 million on the previous year which is a figure owed largely to a £4.5 million increase in parachute payments following the improved Premier League media rights of which the first year of a three-year deal was the 2007-08 season.
This year’s figures will be greatly helped if Albion ever find a shirt sponsor, which remains a possibility according to the chairman even in such a tough economic climate.
Although the blank shirts have proved popular with fans, he said there was still a chance that a sponsor could be found before the end of the season.
He said: “The current economic climate won’t help. People will have generally budgeted for their spending.
“But if the right company came along then we wouldn’t rule it out. We’ve got ongoing discussions but it’s a question of whether they come to fruition.
“If it doesn’t happen this year then fine; we’ll go with someone next year.
“Shirt sales are ahead of target which, given the current climate, is extremely good. They are collectors’ items.”
Peace added that the financial impact of not having a sponsor had been extremely limited and insisted he had no regrets about turning down summer offers that did not meet his valuation.
Van-maker LDV and bookmakers Ladbrokes were among the companies who held discussions.
Peace added: “We took a conscious decision as the sponsorship of a Premier League club gave access to about 600 million people worldwide.
“There was a price at which we would do a deal and a price at which we wouldn’t.
“I felt very strongly about that. We had a number of companies who came to us who could pay a certain price but not an international price.
“We wanted to bring in another international company of the T-Mobile ilk and then it would work for them.
“They would get international exposure to the Premier League and we would get sponsorship.”