ANYONE wondering why Middlesbrough have been relatively inactive in the last two transfer windows need only take a cursory glance at the accounts that were released this week to begin to understand the rationale behind Steve Gibson’s decision to tread carefully. To say the latest figures make for sobering reading would be a chronic understatement.

On the face of it, the headline figures for the year ending June 30, 2018 do not look too bad. A pre-tax loss of £6.4m is not ideal, but for a Championship club like Middlesbrough, it is hardly a financial disaster. By way of comparison, the annual loss two years previously, when Boro had invested massively to try to make it to the Premier League, was £31.9m.

Annual income was relatively healthy at £61.9m, indeed while some clubs are still to post their final financial figures, there is a good chance that Aston Villa will be the only Championship club to have generated more revenue than Middlesbrough in 2017-18.

However, that figure of £61.9m is something of a smokescreen given that £41.6m of it is comprised of the first tranche of parachute payments following relegation from the Premier League. Strip that way, and Boro’s revenue figure drops to a little over £20m, which would put them in a mid-table position when it comes to ranking them against their Championship rivals.

Boro have received a second parachute payment this season, but if they fail to win promotion in the next three months, their safety cushion will be completely removed next term. Without a single penny in parachute payments, Boro’s income will revert to the basic revenue figures outlined in the accounts – gate receipts of £7.1m, sponsorship and commercial earnings of £5.6m, merchandising income of £2.6m and income from cup matches of £286,000. In total, that amounts to £15.3m.

Clearly, some of those figures have the capacity to increase, and there is an additional stream of revenue to be added from television coverage as part of the Football League’s deal with Sky. That figure varies according to finishing position and the number of matches televised over the course of a season. It is unlikely to be much more than £7m though, so even in a successful year, Boro could only anticipate a total income as a Championship club next term of around £22m.

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Their total costs from the accounts released this week amounted to £51.3m, with the vast majority of that sum being committed to wages. Boro have a number of fixed costs which are almost impossible to change – the Riverside Stadium costs around £8.9m a year to run and the Rockliffe Park training complex costs another £6.2m – but it is safe to assume that the wage bill in the last accounting period was at least £30m.

That might well have come down slightly in the last 12 months, with the departure of Adama Traore, Ben Gibson, Patrick Bamford and Grant Leadbitter having had a significant impact, but Boro have also signed players in that period and the size of the overall wage bill is unlikely to have dropped dramatically.

The money received for the likes of Gibson and Traore will help plug the gap created by the fall in parachute payments this season, but it is a one-off panacea. It will not last forever, and the harsh reality is that Boro cannot afford to operate with a wage bill of anything close to £30m once the parachute payments stop.

That is where they find themselves at the moment though, hence Gibson and Neil Bausor’s refusal to pile further long-term commitments onto the wage bill in January. It might negatively affect Tony Pulis’ chances of winning promotion this season, but the pair have rightly concluded that it would be unwise to gamble the future long-term stability of the club against the possibility of making it back to the promised land of the Premier League in May.

Gibson rolled the dice when Boro dropped out of the top-flight, sanctioning expensive deals for the likes of Britt Assombalonga, Martin Braithwaite, Darren Randolph, Ashley Fletcher and Jonny Howson in an attempt to make an immediate exit from the Championship.

This week’s accounts prove it was just about possible to cover the transfer fees for that summer splurge from the parachute payment fund, but the long-term wage commitments that were created under Garry Monk are the factor that necessitated constraint in the last couple of transfer windows, and are likely to result in a similarly conservative approach in the summer if Boro do not win promotion.

Miss out in May, and the wage bill will almost certainly have to come down again. A couple of significant sales would help address the shortfall – Assombalonga and Braithwaite perhaps – but the longer Boro remain in the Championship, the more essential it becomes that their outgoings regress to the division’s mean. At the moment, they are still well above the average figure.

Gibson has plugged financial gaps in the past, and as the latest figures show, he will have to do so again if promotion is not achieved. There is a limit to how big those gaps can be though, and the simple reality is that the gap between income and expenditure is currently much too large.

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I’M all for innovation, but the International Olympic Committee’s decision to propose the inclusion of breakdancing as a sport at the 2024 Olympics in Paris is surely a step too far. And if not a step, then a double hand spin followed by a backflip and a caterpillar.

The addition of extreme sports to the programme of the Winter Olympics has proved a huge success, but there is still a strong element of sporting competition to events like the half-pipe or ski-cross.

Breakdancing strays into a different realm entirely, and diminishes the Olympics’ sporting credentials. What next? Cheerleading? Beatboxing? Modelling? And to think squash and netball have consistently been denied a place on the Olympic programme.

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BILLING England’s trip to Wales as a Grand Slam decider is perhaps a little disrespectful given that England would still have to beat Scotland if they won in Cardiff and Wales would have the small matter of a meeting with Ireland to negotiate before they could complete a perfect Six Nations campaign.

It feels like the biggest game of Eddie Jones’ reign so far though, and will provide another stiff test of England’s World Cup credentials. Winning in Dublin was sensational. Following up in Cardiff would secure England’s status as the biggest rivals to New Zealand ahead of this autumn’s World Cup in Japan.