It’s not hard to find a rather outlandish transfer story. If it’s not been quoted from an anonymous source that any given transfer is an ‘already agreed’, ‘done deal’, it’s a media prediction that a player whose had half a season of good form will be moving to one of the Premier League‘s top clubs, and along the way command a fee that surpasses the £20million mark.
Of course, almost every transfer rumour should be taken with a pinch of salt. More often than not, they are a smokescreen created by agents to hide a club or player’s real intentions, or simply to push the issue of a new contract.
Although books such as the Secret Footballer, and opinion articles from the vast array of former players who’ve turned their hand to writing upon their retirement, give a rare glimpse into what actually goes on behind the closed doors of training grounds up and down the country, the truth is that the English press only ever have a hyperbolic and misinformed view of our football clubs, and thus the broadsheets and tabloids are filled with second-guessing and exaggeration, which is how Gareth Bale has become a £100million player in the space of one season, as reported by the Metro.
But as well as portraying a misguided representation out of the media’s own desire to sell stories, part of the problem, regarding the rather overzealous estimations of what a certain player is worth, is due to rather outlandish, gung-ho, high-risk investments in the transfer market leading to a culture of over-spending that needs to come to an end.
The Premier League’s style is incredibly unique. Despite encompassing philosophies from all corners of the globe, there are an underlying set of characteristics that are required from an individual to achieve success -such as physicality, stamina and pace, but most importantly, speed of mind. This is why bringing in a player from a foreign league always presents an element of risk no matter what their former reputation may be, but furthermore, it is also the justification for the inflated price tags given to English stars as they are already well acquainted and specifically trained in the Premier League’s mould.
Despite the England national team failing to ever put in a performance that can be described as above par, which would suggest to me a rather intrinsic and systematic flaw in English players that starts with the manner they are trained as youth products, any footballer with an English passport can command an additional £10million to his transfer fee in comparison to a foreign counterpart.
Sitting at the tip of the iceberg is Andy Carroll’s £35million move to Liverpool in 2011. There is no real justification for a fee that outweighs that of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba to name a few, but the former Newcastle man would no doubt have been a considerably lesser purchase had he not been English.
Carroll’s case may on the surface seem extreme, as it will surely go down as one of the biggest transfer faux pas of all time, but in fact it is just the worst example of ridiculous fees for home-grown players. Jordan Henderson cost the Reds £16million, despite not even being close to earning a place in the Three Lions set-up, while Manchester City were forced to pay nearly £22million for Joleon Lescott, who may be a good defender but will be long forgotten in the grand scheme of things in comparison to the likes of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell and Ledley King.
Even Englishmen who stand very little chance of a call-up, and unlike Henderson, do not have the illusion of potential due to his age on his side, such as Matt Jarvis, are now commanding fees of over £10million. His two goals and no assists in 29 Premier League appearances shows how the winger is yet to live up to his price tag.
The problem is that no transfer can happen in an absolute vacuum. One deal influences another, leading to a distortion of an actual valuation of a player’s abilities, which is why even the most rank and file of English players, such as Jarvis, are constantly discussed in terms of double figures.
Furthermore, it is now leaking into our judgement of players who are not even English, such as Gareth Bale. I have no doubt the Welshman will go on to become a world-class winger if he is not already, but is it right to even discuss future fees above the £30million mark for a player who has only had one season of exceptional form?
The comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo have also been a factor, with the consensus being that Bale’s similarly in terms of age, style and goal return in regards to the Madrid man’s situation when he departed from Old Trafford back in 2009, equates to a similarity in fee, with the La Liga giants coughing up £80million for the Portuguese winger.
But will it actually benefit Bale in any shape or form to label him with such an audacious price-tag? Whereas undervaluing a player in fiscal terms tends to have almost no bearing on his psyche, weighing down a new signing with a fee which far outweighs his actual ability has proved to be incredibly dangerous. Fernando Torres is a shining example of how business can get in the way of football, and similarly, Stewart Downing’s torrid first eighteen months at Anfield were in no small part due to his inflated £20million transfer to Merseyside.
The trend has to stop somewhere. While £30million was a fee restricted for the world’s elite less than ten years ago, it is now an acceptable price to pay for anyone who can hold down a place in the first team at a top four club in the Premier League, or has the potential to do so. Hopefully, the financial fair play laws, set to come into effect next season, will make it far more difficult and pose hefty penalties for clubs making excessive investments on average players.
But with money always comes greed, and as Manchester City and Chelsea have proved, it can also be one’s downfall. The over-reliance on finance has lead both clubs to becoming rather short-termist, in regards to managers and bringing in new players, and I believe the FFP legislation will encourage clubs desperate for trophies and titles to cut back on infrastructure and youth development as much as it will to reduce their activities in the transfer market.
It’s time the Premier League clubs gained some perspective. While for certain players that make the difference between success and failure, commanding large fees is understandable, it is the most average of players, the likes of Joleon Lescott, Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis, being involved in rather overzealous transfer deals which turns the stomach.
It’s making it impossible to create any sort of consensus on how much a particular player of any particular ability is actually worth, and at the same time, it is slowing killing the English game and stunting the success of homegrown players.