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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 08:24 GMT
Is the LTA spending too much?
Jonathan Overend
By Jonathan Overend
BBC Five Live tennis correspondent

Brad Gilbert and Paul Annacone
Dream duo Gilbert (left) and Annacone may be a costly gamble

It has been a year of dramatic change at The Lawn Tennis Association. There's been a new face and a new regime, but, with extravagant salaries to boot, will it come at a cost?

This Christmas, the governing body is signing cheques like a lottery winner on a first spending spree. While change is necessary, expenditure on luxury items is a dangerous habit to get into.

New chief executive Roger Draper started the lavish outlay after sweeping his new broom through the dusty corridors of Queens' Club and axing several senior figures.

On the first Wednesday of the French Open, he was seen breakfasting with Brad Gilbert, coach to the stars, and Patricio Apey, business manager for Andy Murray.

It eventually took a month and a half to convince Gilbert to join the LTA and take on the job of guiding British number one.

And the decision to pay the American one of the highest salaries ever to a tennis coach - around 700,000 - was highly controversial.

After all, why should a millionaire sportsman get his coach paid for him?

But would Murray, at the age of 19 and just one year into his professional career, have put his hand in his own pocket to hire Gilbert? No.

Lundgren and Annacone are both good men and exceptional coaches, but what significant difference can they make to our male players?

Does Murray have a better chance of making the elite top 10 or winning a Grand Slam with Gilbert as his coach? Undoubtedly.

Would Murray winning a Slam have a profound effect on British tennis in terms of publicity and subsequent popularity? Of course it would.

With the chance of getting the finest coach available, the LTA was correct to stump up the cash and get Murray his man. But that's when the lavish spending could have been reigned in.

Gilbert's contract includes plenty of extra weeks where he can work to inspire and educate younger coaches, giving the LTA the perfect chance to assemble a team of young, fresh coaching talent under him - not alongside him.

Instead, the policy has been to lure other big-name coaches - and the tactic quickly became the talk of player-lounges the world over.

606: DEBATE
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"You can always work for the LTA!" one struggling coach was told by a jesting colleague.

Even the players on the seniors tour were whispering about getting LTA postings.

Peter Lundgren was the next high-profile capture. The Swede, who guided Roger Federer to his first Wimbledon title, signed a 15-week, six-figure deal to be Davis Cup coach.

Lundgren - accustomed to the main ATP circuit - is this week helping Brits at a Challenger event in Shrewsbury.

Isn't this like a millionaire football fan hiring Sir Alex Ferguson to coach his non-league team?

Peter Lundgren
Lundgren has been drafted in to boost Britain's Davis Cup campaign

The expected signing of Paul Annacone as head of men's tennis will cost another small fortune.

He knows how much Gilbert is earning so why should he settle for less?

Lundgren and Annacone are both good men and exceptional coaches, but what significant difference can they make to our male players? How many players with top-50 potential are going to come into contact with them?

They will make average players better, they might help Alex Bogdanovic into the top 100, they might get the best out of Josh Goodall and Jamie Baker, who are both outside the top 250 at the moment.

But are there any genuine world-class prospects to work with? That's the big question.

Whether they can have any input on the women's game remains to be seen, but goodness knows it needs their help.

Meanwhile, on the coal face in the shires, applications closed for the position of Yorkshire Club Development Officer on the 23 October.

This person - charged with developing the sport at grass roots in one of England's largest counties - would earn, according to the advert, the sum of 20,000 to 28,000.

For all their admirable ambition and willingness to change, the LTA has to be seriously careful about their figures.

After all, if the lavish Christmas luxuries malfunction, they won't be getting their money back.



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