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Sunderland must be careful before caving into ransom

Steven Fletcher, Wolves

It’s no secret that as we live in an age of economic downturn and toe-curling austerity, the wild world of the Premier League appears almost detached from reality. But although the sight of clubs dishing out eight figure sums for arguable talent is nothing new, the notion of a club paying £15million for Wolves striker Steven Fletcher, feels quite frankly astonishing. What’s more, it looks like someone might actually pay it.

Although there is a far more serious aspect to paying over the odds, even at market value, for Premier League talent. You can argue about the merits of whether Fletcher is worth such an amount of money all day, but the point is more in the sustainability and success of such spending. It’s not just about how much money you’ve got; it’s how you spend it. Before the Sunderland board bend over a barrel to Wolves demands, they could do far worse than take a leaf out of their bitter rivals book at Newcastle.

It may at first seem a little harsh to start panning one protracted transfer deal in particular, and this article isn’t here to detriment the ability of Steven Fletcher. Fletcher’s haul of 22 goals over two Premier League seasons for Wolves isn’t to be smirked at and considering 12 of those came in a team that eventually succumbed to relegation, his record shouldn’t be smirked at just because of the team he’s played for.

Neither too should we ridicule a recently relegated club that are well within their right to demand whatever they want for a key asset. Fletcher may have handed in a transfer request, but he’s contracted to Molineux and Wolves are hardly under any pressure to sell. If any club wants him, they’ve got to pay the price.

But although you should never compare different players and different fees, the temptation here is a little too much to resist. A variety of things come into play when looking to broker deals- the player’s length of contract, the desperation of the buyer, market interest etc. But on the notion that Fletcher will cost £15million, what else could you buy?

Sunderland could have purchased Marko Marin twice, for that amount of money and still had change for a new patio. The Black Cats could have brought a man who’s scored 44 goals for his country in Lukas Podolski and United new boy Nick Powell for the same fee. Both Fabio Borini and Steven Pienaar combined, come under £15million and the similarly physical Oilvier Giroud comes in at the £11million mark. You see the point. The premium of Premier League experience comes at a cost although even by today’s outlandish standards, you really do struggle to justify coughing up that much for the Scottish international.

But what is this premium of Premier League experience and does it really count for all that much? There are two ways of looking it. Darren Bent is perhaps the better footballer but he still went for a hugely inflated £18million from Sunderland to Aston Villa in 2011- potentially rising to an outrageous £24million. And his 18 league goals in 38 games since his switch, offers some real debate. You can’t argue with his scoring record but despite his injury last term, it’s difficult to see how Villa have really progressed with Bent in the team. Paul Lambert will prove the acid test, but shelling out that sort of money on a striker isn’t the answer to all your teams’ woes. Bent once played at the Stadium of Light remember- the deal for Bent from Spurs eventually raised to £16.5million and despite scoring hatfuls of goals, did the team really make progression with him in it? When the team is set up around Bent, it is always Bent who seems more successful than the team. The fear must be whether the same can be said for Steven Fletcher.

Furthermore, Premier League experience doesn’t always pay off. Wolves and Blackburn invested big sums on Roger Johnson and Scott Dann respectively. They were touted as safe buys this time last year, with the talent and experience to keep their teams up. Both were consequently relegated.

But it doesn’t have to be this way for Sunderland; they shouldn’t be risking such a large sum of money on Fletcher. As has already been demonstrated, there is still value out there in the market if you look hard enough for it.

It makes painful reading for Sunderland fans, but you need to look no further than up on the Tyne for a sprinkle of transfer market inspiration. Papiss Cisse hardly came in for peanuts, but for an estimated fee of between £8-£10million, it is a good example of what good scouting can do for you. Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye’s acquisitions weren’t just pulled out of a hat- they were the products of careful analysis and months of watching them play. Both are now worth well over double what the Magpies paid for them. It might represent greater risk buying abroad, but Newcastle have shown that if you put the time in, you can reap what you sow. Although most importantly, it’s sustainable.

Because even if, say Cisse, failed to acclimatize to the Premier League, the consequences aren’t necessarily as harsh. £8milion is still a lot of money, but the loss isn’t going to hurt as much as perhaps £15million on Fletcher would. Going out and buying proven Premier League talent simply is not sustainable and the cost of doing so places huge amounts of pressure at all involved in a football club. Sunderland are hardly bankrolled by an array of petromillions, nor are they are under control of Peter Ridsdale but they’re not going to be able to progress by splashing out huge amount of sums on players like Steven Fletcher every season.

It’s early days, but Financial Fair Play isn’t consigned solely to the big boys. The crux of it is that you can only spend what you earn and whilst no one is suggesting that the Black Cats are living completely beyond their means, you’d imagine that £15million represents a large chunk of their transfer kitty. Investing that in a player who’s been relegated twice in three seasons may not be the best idea.

This isn’t a staunch critique shelled solely at Sunderland. Indeed, as the television revenue for all teams increased for yet another season, the sort of investment that’s touted for Steven Fletcher isn’t quite as impactful as it may seem. But clubs need to find more resourceful ways of progressing through the league, be it through investing in the scouting system or pushing on putting money into the youth scheme. A nice idea in principal, but a difficult one to implement.

One thing’s for certain, if Sunderland do pay the King’s Ransom for Fletcher, there’s suddenly a lot of pressure on all parties for results. With a big transfer fee comes a sense of expectation. Fletcher will have to start producing the goods for both his sake and the manager’s.

Is £15million for Steven Fletcher transfer madness or decent business? Let me know how you see it on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me all your views. 

Article title: Sunderland must be careful before caving into ransom

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