Time to put an end to the ‘transfer premium’?

Whenever a British footballer is linked with a move between two Premier League clubs, one thing you always have to factor in is the ridiculously huge premium that you pay for their ‘talent’. There’s a reason that British players don’t move abroad with such frequency like they did back in the 1980s and it’s simply because you get far better value for your money on the continent, so is it time that this trend was brought to an end?

Wolves have served as a prime example this summer, having rejected a £12m offer from Sunderland for striker Steven Fletcher and a £9m bid from West Ham for winger Matt Jarvis. Having been relegated to the Championship, but with a new manager at the helm in Stale Solbakken, they are expected to return to the top flight at the first time of asking, but £21m combined for two decent, but nothing more, mid-table players is absolutely crazy money.

Here’s what chief executive Jez Moxey had to say on the matter: “As we have previously stated, no player will leave Wolves unless the Club’s valuation is met and it is in our best interests from a football perspective. We wish to retain our best players, we are not under any financial pressure to sell. Players will remain here unless we receive satisfactory offers.”

All perfectly reasonable you may think, if they don’t want to sell them and have no real pressing need to, then they shouldn’t and they are well within their rights not do so, but the fact that those figures are even being bandied about and are then actually being rejected serves as a reality check and some perspective needs to be attached to this before the game spirals out of control.

Real Madrid bought Mesut Ozil for £12m, Inter Milan purchased Wesley Sneijder for £12m, while Tottenham managed to nab Rafael van der Vaart for just £9m. These three players alone, deals all coincidentally involving Real Madrid, hardly a bastion for fiscal responsibility, have a grand total of 224 international caps, six league titles and seven domestic cups between them. Fletcher and Jarvis have nine international caps, one promotion and one Scottish Cup between them.

It really is absurd and it’s just gotten way out of hand to the extent that there’s imply no value at all anymore in the British market. Joleon Lescott for instance, a fine centre-half and one of the best currently operating the Premier League currently ranks as the eighth most expensive defender of all-time, having cost Manchester City £24m from Everton back in 2010 and he sits just behind the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Lilian Thuram and Rio Ferdinand, three players with far more ability at their peak than Lescott will ever have.

Here’s what Martin Jol had to say back in March of last season: “I would love to sign all the English players because they are English and they know the English league and they are used to it. As you know, if you wanted Phil Jones at the back, who is one of the best talents in Europe, you will have to pay a lot of money and we cannot do that. In Europe you can find them for a lot less and that is the problem for a lot of clubs except for clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United, ­Tottenham and Arsenal, they can do it and they do. Smalling is a good player, but United paid a lot of money for him. He was here for a few months, but he was not even a regular. They bought him for a lot of money and we realise that we will never be able to do that.”

Again, much in the same way as with Lescott, I’m not for a second doubting that both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones aren’t good players, potentially very good, but when you take into account that they had just 60 first-team appearances between them before moving to Manchester United for fees totalling £26.5m and it’s no wonder Jol shops abroad.

Nearly every club is guilty of it – Arsenal spent £9m on Theo Walcott back in 2006 based on 21 appearances in the Championship. They then did it again last January, forking out £12.6m on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after just over a season of first-team football in League One as a raw 17 year-old.

Sunderland spent the ridiculous amount of £9m on Craig Gordon back in 2007 from Hearts, the British record fee ever paid for a goalkeeper until Manchester United spent £18m on David De Gea last summer – he made just 94 first-team appearances during an injury-ravaged five-year spell at the club. Meanwhile, Alan Hutton cost Tottenham the laughable amount of £9m back in 2008 from Rangers and Paul Lambert couldn’t give him away this summer at Aston Villa and it just goes to show that this illness is not solely consigned to the Premier League or the English game.

Heck, even Robert Snodgrass cost Norwich £3m last week from Leeds and nobody even bothered to bat an eyelid at that, while Joe Allen is looking like he’s going to cost Liverpool around £15m after one full season’s worth of experience in the top flight, not to mention the giant elephants in the room of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson.

Barcelona bought Jordi Alba from Valencia this summer for roughly £9m, while Arsenal got Santi Cazorla for £15m and Manchester United wisely spent £12m on Shinji Kagawa – can you imagine how much these three alone would have cost if they were British? It’s not even worth considering and the figures would be asbolutely astronomical. When was the last time a decent British player move between clubs and everyone thought ‘yeah, that’s not a bad deal for him’? I’m open to suggestions.

Football has become a game dominated by fear of failure, which has meant that clubs are constantly looking to out-do their rivals by beating them to the punch over the latest hot young talent. Exorbitant fees are just part and parcel of the game now but they all just lack any sort of context when compared to our continental counterparts.  Is Darren Bent really worth £24m? Is Victor Moses really worth £8.5m? Is James Milner really worth £18m plus Stephen Ireland? Football is broken beyond all repair if you think so.

All of the players mentioned above are decent (Hutton aside) or better and all were worthy of being chased by the clubs that got them prior to their big-money moves, but that isn’t to say that the fees they eventually went for aren’t patently obscene. You have to wonder whether the negatives outweight the positives when shopping at home now, given the recent fees forked out by top clubs, why would any right thinking manager even bother when you could get two experienced international for the same price?

It’s not as if the best clubs in Europe are paupers by comparison or that they all haven’t had their fair share of overpriced transfers over the years, it’s just that whenever a club spend big in either Spain, Italy or Germany, it’s far more frequently on a player of proven continental class and it’s far less of a gamble – ‘shopping abroad’ isn’t some mythical place where the streets are paved with bargains, far from it, but there’s at least some value to even their most expensive deals.

The English game has lost touch and clubs are gambling their financial futures on the simple currency of a player’s passport, it’s a bizarre state of affairs and a dangerous road to go down. The knock-on effects are huge – our international sides have suffered as a direct consequence of the inflated fees demanded by British clubs, this means sides will shop abroad for their talent instead, which in turn blocks the path for any prospective talented British youngsters coming through. It’s a vicious cycle and one that needs breaking sooner or later.

The turning point will come, whatever that may be remains to be seen, but the sight of clubs such as Portsmouth going bankrupt will not be uncommon unless there’s a noticeable change. The Financial Fair Play rules will not save everyone, and judging by some of the completely bonkers figures listed above, perhaps some just aren’t worth saving.

Can you name any other transfer involving a British player where the club have paid hugely over the odds? Is it a sustainable system?

You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1


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