Nothing comes cheap in the Barclays Premier League. Simply acquiring and maintaining a squad capable of avoiding relegation, is quite the investment in itself. As for those that are looking to really make a concerted surge up the top half of the table, an even larger proportion of their accumulated wealth has to go into making some serious upgrades. And none come more expensive than that of a striker.
But there is a certain breed of striker that seems to come with a premium unlike any other. In a transfer market that is seemingly permanently over-inflated, it is often said that those holding an English passport or South American talent yet to break out of their teens, command the most indulgent of fees.
Yet it is perhaps the breed of proven, Premier League talent, that demands a surcharge unlike any other. Of course, if you’re a club funded by the pockets of a billionaire owner and you crave a talent, such as Eden Hazard or Sergio Aguero, then nothing is going to match that sort of expenditure.
But for a club such as Sunderland, the purchase of Steven Fletcher represents something of a watershed moment. The Black Cats are desperate to kick on and make inroads under Martin O’Neill in the Premier League. Although they’ve had to pay top dollar to instigate the task in hand; the Scot commanded a club record £12million to make his switch from Wolverhampton Wanderers stick.
But, even in today’s age, do you really have to break club records and shell out megabucks for reputable goal scoring talent?
The emphasis seems to be that in the signing of a player who’s shown he’s capable of scoring goals in the English top-flight, the reduced risk that the deal entails, blows up the price of the transfer fee in due course.
For example, Martin O’Neill would have had a list of several targets up at the Stadium of Light. But in Steven Fletcher, the Ulsterman had identified a player that had hit double figures for his club in two consecutive seasons. His first term at Molineux saw the ex-Hibernian man put 10 away for Mick McCarthy’s side, following up with an improved 12 the season after. When you take into consideration the troubles that circled his former club, especially towards the end of last season, that’s not so bad at all.
But bringing in proven talent to Sunderland didn’t come cheap and the Fletcher deal represented a club record purchase. A purchase that in some quarters, has been ridiculed compared to similar transactions of recent times.
For example, Demba Ba, a man who seems to put goals away for fun in this league, cost West Ham an initial fraction of the price of Fletcher, before moving to Newcastle United on a free. Indeed, Sunderland’s fiercest rivals also unearthed another gem in Papiss Cisse for around £4million less. The Senegalese international scored one more goal than Fletcher did last season and in around half the time, too.
Of course, Cisse’s form has now tailed off slightly, but the point is that both players in question resembled something of a risk. Newcastle’s scouting network is to be applauded, but the investment in Cisse still represented a gamble. No matter how prolific a player may be in a foreign league and no matter how much talent they may bestow, there is never any guarantee that they’ll fully be able to adapt into the Premier League. The likes of Shevchenko, Robinho and countless others have demonstrated that.
Furthermore, it’s important for supporters to realize that the investment of the transfer fee isn’t where the financial burden of the deal starts and ends. Some will point to the fact a former Premier League golden boot winner in Dimitar Berbatov was available for reportedly less than half of what Steven Fletcher cost Sunderland. But the Bulgarian’s wage demands, including bonuses, have been reported to cost Fulham as much as a six-figure sum per week. That’s just simply not viable for the Black Cats.
You could argue that the notion of paying an inflated fee for a bracket of player that is likely to cost less contractually is flawed, but football is a fluid, ever-evolving business. Regardless of how much a transfer fee costs, the damage of taking a small hit on selling a player on for less should it not go to plan, is far less than having him drain the club on a fat contract for four or five years.
One would imagine that Fletcher will be well rewarded financially should he rack up the goals for Sunderland this season. But even if things don’t go to plan for the Scot for the rest of the season, his basic wage isn’t likely to cripple the club. Aged 25, you’d have thought whatever happens, he’d command a fair sell-on value should Sunderland have to/look to ever part with him. Berbatov, aged 31, offers very little, if any.
But perhaps it is also worth considering his comparable peers in the Premier League last season, when evaluating the merits of his fee. Besides the aforementioned Cisse, of those that scored 12 and more, who would realistically be available to Sunderland? Grant Holt may have knocked up 15, but at 31, would he really have been a worthwhile investment? You could make a case for both Clint Dempsey and Yakubu, but the Black Cats couldn’t offer the former European football or the latter anywhere near the wages Chinese outfit Guangzhou offered him.
It will only be at the end of the season that one can perhaps fairly judge the merits of the Steven Fletcher deal. After all, the man he is perhaps ultimately replacing at the Stadium of Light, Darren Bent, could ultimately cost Aston Villa £24million. He was a proven goal scorer – the clubs have hardly gone from strength to strength since he made his way to Villa Park.
But perhaps many, including the author of this piece, have been quick to ridicule a deal, that when broken deal, makes a lot more sense than what Martin O’Neill is currently getting credit for. It doesn’t matter that Steven Fletcher isn’t an exotic player and it certainly doesn’t matter that he came from a relegated team, either. All that matters is that Steven Fletcher keeps scoring goals. And from what we’ve seen so far, that doesn’t look to be too much of a problem.
How do you rate the Steven Fletcher deal value wise? Let me know on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me how you see it.