Those who mocked Luton Town for making free agent Chiedozie Ogbene their first pre-Premier League signing are completely missing the point.
The Hatters are set to spend a year living the dream under the bright lights of the Premier League and their supporters will lap it up regardless of whether they stay up or get relegated.
The signing of Ogbene gives Luton’s fans and their new rivals an early indication that they do not plan to waver from the methods that got them promoted in the first place. And in the long run, they will be proven right for going about their joyous year in this way…
Luton Town signing Ogbene following his contract expiry at Rotherham United was met with short-sighted comments from rivals, with some claiming that this addition means promotion to the Premier League has been “wasted on them”.
How dare Luton scour the free agent market for their first signing since winning the richest game in football? What nonsense.
After winning last year’s Championship play-off final, Nottingham Forest spent around £140m on signings before their Premier League return.
In terms of budget, Forest are streets ahead of Luton and Steve Cooper’s side required a mass influx of players given how reliant they were on loanees during their promotion campaign.
Luton will be well aware that quality signings are needed this summer, but they were never going to fall into the trap of throwing their promotion earnings away at will.
The Hatters have enjoyed a remarkable rise through the divisions and they reached the Premier League while having one of the lowest budgets in the Championship.
They rarely spent fees, with most of their signings coming via loans or free agents. Even when they have pushed the boat out and bought a player, they have not broken the bank (last season’s top scorer Carlton Morris is their record buy at around £2m).
Luton entered administration 15 years ago when they were in League Two, so they know better than most how badly it can go wrong if a club is mismanaged behind the scenes.
Their recent success has been built on sustainability and competing within their means and on early evidence, this is unlikely to change as they prepare for life in the Premier League.
Ogbene is very much a Luton-type signing. While this transfer has not been covered by transfer experts Fabrizio Romano or David Ornstein, it is a useful piece of business that the Hatters will benefit from in the long term.
I’ve had the privilege of watching Ogbene closely over the past four seasons as a Rotherham fan. The speedy wide man is a nightmare to deal with when he’s at full tilt.
While his end product is not the greatest at times, his versatility makes him a coup for Luton. Most of his time at Rotherham has been spent either playing at right wing-back or further forward as a natural winger. But he has developed his game and has proven to be capable of playing as a second striker off a traditional target man.
Ogbene was vital for Rotherham in 2022/23 as they managed to avoid relegation from the Championship. He ended the season as their top scorer with eight goals, also providing four assists.
It’s also worth noting that he was largely working off scraps at Rotherham, who play on the back foot in most of their games in the Championship so will be used to Luton’s top-flight approach.
As good as Ogbene has been for Rotherham, we have perhaps seen the best of him in a Republic of Ireland jersey.
Five goal involvements in 15 caps is a great return for Ireland’s first African-born international, but it is even more impressive that his best performances came against Portugal, Belgium and France. Ogbene performs at a higher level against tougher opposition and this sets him up superbly for life in the Premier League.
Expect more low-cost signings like this to follow before Luton kick off their Premier League campaign as they secure their future.
Regardless of how much money they spend this summer, they are always going to be the favourites to get relegated. And I may be speaking out of turn here, but I imagine that the vast majority of Luton supporters don’t care whether they go down or not next season.
This season in the Premier League is an unexpected reward for Luton and their supporters after their spell in the doldrums fearing that they may soon no longer exist.
But if they do not get carried away, Luton’s promotion earnings and incoming parachute payments will secure their future for many years to come.
And this is not to say that Luton will give up and accept relegation before even starting the season. In Rob Edwards, they have one of the best young managers in England who will learn a lot from this upcoming experience.
Watford f***ed up when they let him go early into last season and he will make the most of the budget he is handed to give Luton a fighting chance of staying in the Premier League.
The gulf between the top flight and Championship is huge and Luton will inevitably be on the end of one or two hammerings by the Big Six mob, but this *should* not bother them too much.
The 2023/24 season will be an unforgettable ride for Luton. They will lose most weeks but their Premier League rivals will not enjoy visiting Kenilworth Road.
Their home form alone should see them surpass the division’s record lowest points total of 11 that Derby County managed in 2007/08 and not being as bad as that Rams team should be Luton’s aim, really.
An upgrade at Kenilworth Road and their training ground can easily be achieved with parachute payments, with one season in the Premier League capable of setting Luton up for a longer stint in the big time the next time around.
And getting back to Ogbene, he may not make a massive impact in the top flight, but he certainly will in the Championship. Those losing sight of the bigger picture need to realise that the Irishman is part of a long-term plan at Luton, which should become clearer as summer silly season progresses.