Do transfer deals suggest that the age of the ‘selling club’ is over?

It was once the hallmark of a club going through hard times. A dawning realisation as it were as to a club’s real place in the pecking order. A phrase that supposedly signalled the end of a club‘s ambition. The term ‘selling club’, while it may have been applicable even as recently as 3-4 years ago, now looks somewhat outdated. The reasoning behind this – a very clear separation of powers from those clubs at the very top, to the rest of those in the league. The rich are getting richer and with it, every player at almost every club has its price.

Arsenal have come in for some severe criticism this summer about the way they have conducted their transfer business, or rather lack of it, until the supermarket-sweep trolly dash of transfer deadline day. Many sighted the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri as further proof that the North London side were now little more than a ‘selling club’.

However, when you actually look at the nature of the deals, it’s extremely unfair to classify Arsenal as that. Cesc Fabregas departed after eight seasons of loyal service to the club. The Fabregas deal was like a ticking time bomb from the moment he arrived from Catalonia. This summer was just the logical conclusion to the most inevitable transfer in recent memory, no more than that.

Samir Nasri was a different case in point too. Man City’s riches (yes, sorry to go on about them all of the time, but they are the proverbial elephant in the room, to ignore them would be folly) have changed the ball game completely. Whereas Chelsea are comfortably rich (if that’s a phrase?), Man City’s wealth dwarves even theirs. It’s as simple as that. If they want something, they can pay hugely over the odds for it without even a second thought. Samir Nasri was bought for over £20m despite having just a year left on his contract – a huge outlay considering the circumstances.

Of course, a newly mega-rich club does often signify a club with a growing ambition and intent. Man City and PSG are quite possibly the only two clubs in the world that could offer wages of up to £250k a-week without having to adjust their budgets. Man City are the most exciting footballing project in the world right now, but it’s fair to say that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow may have tempted Nasri just a tad more than normal as well. These are exceptional circumstances.

Sunderland fans were apoplectic with rage after they saw their star striker Darren Bent depart, in what at the time represented a sideways move, to Aston Villa for £24m last term. However, it was a price Villa were willing to pay, safe in the knowledge that Bent’s goals would most probably steer them clear away from the relegation mire. It was a short-term gamble and the unusually large fee paid out by a mid-table club should be seen as nothing more than a down payment ahead of the expected departures of both Ashley Young and Stewart Downing this summer.

Every player, perhaps more than at any time before, has their price, as the group of mega-rich clubs at the top grows smaller and smaller by the season?.

Spurs held off the advances of Chelsea in their dogged pursuit of midfield maestro Luka Modric for the majority of the transfer window. But at what cost? At what point does holding onto an asset such as Modric become negligible when balanced against the potential profit to be gained from such a deal?

Chelsea had bids of £22m, £27m and £30m plus Alex turned down. Is Modric really worth more than £30m plus Alex? With Spurs obviously requiring another centre-half, only to be further exemplified by the club‘s late move for Gary Cahill. It became clear that Redknapp’s stance had weakened towards the end of the window and he was all for using the funds from any proposed sale to try and revitalise his squad, but Chairman Daniel Levy’s stance, while commendable, appears to have been aimed squarely at getting the supporters back on side in a deal that threatened to mirror that of Dimitar Berbatov’s switch to Man Utd in 2008.

Levy was willing to forsake any potential windfall, no matter how large, simply to make a point. Was it wise? The unbalanced nature of Spurs squad at the moment may tell you otherwise and you wouldn’t bet against Spurs selling their man in either January or next summer if a fractionally larger offer comes their way. Levy has saved face – which was undoubtedly the main object behind the whole saga.

Everton are another who have been termed a ‘selling club’. They sold Joleon Lescott to Man City for £24m, Mikel Arteta to Arsenal for £10m and Wayne Rooney to Man Utd for £30m. Does this make them a selling club? Of course it doesn’t. It merely makes them both practical and realistic. The club’s main prerogative is to balance the books, and as a result they are well known for driving a hard bargain. While the vultures may begin to swarm around the likes of Ross Barkley, Jack Rodwell and Marouane Fellaini, are Everton likely to sell any of them on the cheap? Not on your nelly.

In France, Lyon Chairman Jean-Michel Aulas has often attracted criticism from supporters, much in the same way Daniel Levy has at Spurs, for running the club like a business. However, he is also renowned for driving a hard bargain (Michael Essien £24m, Karim Benzema £35m, Mahamadou Diarra £20m). He’s fully aware of French football’s place in the European pecking order and that some players will move on to pastures anew given the chance and so he makes their suitors pay top whack for their talent. In today’s day and age, with a clear hierarchy built around the club’s with most financial clout, it begs the question, is there really any other way to run a football club than like a business?

The age of the selling club is over. The arrival of a new type of owner, a mega-rich owner with infinite income, has made the rest of the league sit up and take notice. The majority of clubs in the Premier League now operate with a more pragmatic approach in mind, as it’s simply impossible for them to compete on a financial front any longer.

James Milner’s £24 move to Man City from Aston Villa. Fernando Torres’s £50m from Chelsea to Liverpool. Andy Carroll’s £35m move from Newcastle to Liverpool. Can you honestly tell me that the ‘selling club’ in any of these transfer deals hasn’t profited more from the move than the buyer so far? Or perhaps more to the point, have any of these moves even begun to approach being considered value for money for their new clubs? Now all of a sudden, being a ‘selling club’ doesn’t look so bad after all.

You can follow me on Twitter at – http://twitter.com/#!/JamesMcManus1

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