When Bill Nicholson signed me for Tottenham, he agreed a famous fee with AC Milan of £99,999. The claim was that he didn’t want to burden me with being the first £100,000 British footballer. It was nonsense, to be honest, and I’m pretty certain Bill simply didn’t want the pressure of being the first manager to pay a hundred grand. I couldn’t have cared less if Spurs had paid two shillings and sixpence or a million – and I don’t suppose Fernando Torres will be bothered too much about being a British record £50million signing or that Andy Carroll is too worried about being the most expensive British player at £35m either. I don’t know of any player who’s ever been truly weighed down by a transfer fee.
The main difference between 1961 and 2011 is that I can’t remember people telling me that no footballer could be worth £99,999 – except perhaps my missus Irene – and that was because transfer fees were far more in proportion with everyday life than they are now. My signing-on fee was the princely sum of ten quid, so I didn’t benefit from the size of my fee in the way that Torres and Carroll will have done. The way transfer fees and wages have escalated is astonishing – and it never ceases to amaze me that football is so recession-proof. When people talk about bankers’ bonuses extracting the urine, they seem to forget that football is even more ridiculous – and there has never been an almighty backlash against football like there has against the bankers.
Even though supporters know there is no loyalty whatsoever from the likes of Torres and Carroll, people will still cough up the price of a season ticket. The premium on goalscorers has never been more remarkable than it is right now. All of the huge deals in this transfer window have been for strikers – Torres, Carroll, Edin Dzeko, Darren Bent and Luis Suarez. Maybe defending or tactics have improved, but men who are capable of scoring 25 or 30 goals a season have never been rarer and, therefore, they have never attracted greater fees.
I can remember when Brian Clough made Trevor Francis the world’s first £1m footballer. Cloughie was nothing like Bill Nick – he’d have positively relished the fact that he was the first manager with big enough balls to spend £1m on one player. And when Francis scored the winning goal in the European Cup Final just a few months later, nobody doubted he was worth the money. Torres has been bought to do exactly the same thing for Chelsea and if he scores the winner in the Champions League Final, Roman Abramovich will doubtless consider it the best £50m he’s ever spent. Looking at the Spaniard’s form this season, though, it seems as if Chelsea have spent such a vast sum on the Torres of two years ago rather than the current Torres, so it is a desperate move.
The size of Carroll’s fee is even more baffling. The kid has only played a few dozen games at the highest level and, no matter what Liverpool received for Torres, they are undoubtedly taking a huge gamble on an unproven kid with off-field baggage. I hope he does succeed for club and country. He is quite some physical specimen and he doesn’t seem to be the sort of player to be affected by pressure. And there was certainly no suggestion of Kenny Dalglish only wanting to pay £34,999,999 for him, that’s for sure.