Are you really getting a £15m player here?

Steven Fletcher, Sunderland strikerThe one deal this summer that will have shocked most people, not because of the nature of the move rather the fee involved, was the switch that saw striker Steven Fletcher move to Sunderland from Wolves for £12m. His blistering start to the campaign has seen many reverse their positions on whether he is value for money or not, but there seems to be a crucial point that is being missed in the debate here, is that really even the point?

The fee of £12m is clearly a bit on the steep side, there’s no getting away from that. The sheer amount of ‘well I told you so’ articles floating around out there at the moment with reference to Fletcher justifying his price tag is faintly nauseating and completely misses the point, while others appear to be finding solace in those two convenient bed-fellows of ‘revisionism’ and ‘hindsight’.

Mackems boss Martin O’Neill stated this week with regards to Fletcher: “He is playing brilliantly for us. He has helped us immensely in terms of the goals, which is great because he is the only one to score. But the extra part of his game, which we didn’t really have last season, he is bringing players into play, he is giving us that little bit of respite at times and he is proving himself an all-round top-quality centre-forward. He will prove real value for money.”

With four goals in his opening three league games, coupled with the fact that he is the team’s only league scorer this term and you already begin to grasp the picture that he’s a hugely important member of this side already. You simply cannot dispute that he’s got off to an exceptional start on Wearside and appears to suit the direct style that O’Neill is famed for using.

Of course, given that he already boasts a decent record of 30 league goals in 96 games in the Premier League for Burnley and Wolves combined, during which two of those three seasons the side he was playing for ended up being relegated from the top flight, then it’s no wonder that at a better side, around higher caliber players and with a more consistent stream of service that he’s going to shine.

Nevertheless, the debate so far has been framed, in my eyes a least, far too simplistically and it simply doesn’t boil down to a ‘he is or he isn’t’ worth the fee argument and there are several more factors to look at when judging this somewhat exorbitant deal.

His former club Burnley insisted upon a 15% sell-on clause in his contract upon agreeing a switch to Mick McCarthy’s side for £7m. It should be noted that while Wolves were in no pressing need to sell, they were always unlikely to keep hold of him such was Sunderland’s desperation for a recognised striker with top flight experience this summer. The sell-on clause had an impact on driving up the price as Wolves wanted to see a decent return on their investment.

The fee up front is £12m, with a further £3m in the form of add-ons tagged onto the price. This means that Wolves have pocketed £10.2m up front while Burnley have made £1.8m from the transfer, which for a mid-table Championship outfit is no small change, particularly given that they’ve already sold star striker Jay Rodriguez to Southampton this summer.

One of the main problems that I have with people that defend the size of the Fletcher fee is that they appear to think that the add-ons are fictional in monetary terms; that it doesn’t need to be counted when talking about his true ‘worth’. Given that Wolves were in no dire financial need to sell, is it not likely that the add-ons inserted into the deal are realistic ones which will be paid in the future? They’re clearly not going to be based around European success or international honours like some deals on the continent often are.

While Sunderland may not pay the entire £3m, they’ll sure pay a darn sight close to that figure I suspect. Everton for instance, received the entire £5m sum of the add-ons involved with Wayne Rooney’s £27m move to Manchester United back  in 2004 and the positions of the two clubs involved this time round, contextually, is broadly similar.

The matter really is very simple – in the wider scheme of things, are you getting a £15m player when you sign Steven Fletcher? No, of course you’re not. Is he worth roughly around that figure to Sunderland this season for what he brings to the team? He most certainly is and his goals will likely propel the club into a comfortable and most importantly safe mid-table position this campaign, which in itself is worth its weight in gold.

Darren Bent’s £24m move to Aston Villa serves as a prime example – is he worth the fee involved? Not on your nelly, but did help keep the club up back in 2010-11? Definitely. That alone meant that he more than paid back his fee just six months on after signing.

They’re two separate questions which give conflicting answers and it all depends on which perspective you approach it from. With the obsession over his fee (I realise the irony that I’m more than contributing to it here myself) showing no signs of disappearing anytime soon, it would be dangerous to continue to confuse the two when trying to objectively judge his worth to his new club..

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