Is there actually any value in the British transfer market?
Transfers are so damn hard to compare. So many factors go into the price that a club pays for a player; how long does the player have left on his contract? How old is the player? Does the club need the cash badly? It is a minefield in which both clubs (the selling club and the buying club) will always be trying to make it look to their fans like they got the best end of the deal (this is why a lot of transfers are now “Undisclosed”, so clubs can save face and claim a good deal even if they didn’t get one).
However, after this week’s report that Sunderland have offered £10m for Wolves striker Steven Fletcher, it has led me to really wonder if there is any value in the British transfer market. The “British player tax” is a phrase that has been thrown around for a few seasons now, but every season it seems to be getting more and more true. The first instance I can remember of a British player being wildly overpriced was Alan Shearer moving to Newcastle for £15m in 1996. A world record price at the time, but maybe more telling, it was almost double the previous British record set only the season prior when Stan Collymore moved to Liverpool for £8.5m. All of a sudden, top British players were changing hands for large sums. To put Shearer’s transfer even more into perspective, the following season, Ronaldo went to Inter for a mere £4.5m more than Shearer. Seems Inter got the best deal there (had he stayed injury free).
More recently, the “British player tax” has been shown in the transfers of the likes of Michael Carrick (£18m) and Owen Hargreaves (£18m). Both good players but at the time of their transfers equally good, if not better, Spanish, German and Italian players were changing hands for a lot less. The British player tax was brought much more into focus last season, when Kenny Dalglish’s attempt to bring the glory days back to Liverpool by buying the best of British only resulted in him showing his lack of any kind of financial value or sense. Andy Carroll (£35m), Jordan Henderson (£20m) and Stuart Downing (£20m) were all transfers that 99% of the footballing public stared at in wide-eyed amazement. “Just who would sanction that kind of money on those kind of players?”, we all thought. The fact that at the same time Liverpool bought Luis Suarez for around £12m less than Carroll just showed the British player tax in full effect.
So is there really any point in being the footballing equivalent of Jamie Oliver and “Buying British”? Well, to be honest, no, there isn’t. The money saved from overly expensive transfers could be put into a better scouting network. No team has shown the power of good scouting knowledge better than Newcastle. After laughing all the way to the bank with sacks full of cash from the Andy Carroll sale, they went about bringing in the likes of Ba (free), Cisse (£10m), Cabaye (£4.5m ish) and Tiote (£3m). Clearly, last year’s performance in the league shows that good scouting pays off.
If I was a Premier League manager now, I’d forget about buying British players, as there simply is no value in them. Alongside Sunderland’s £10m bid for Fletcher, there have been others already this summer who have changed hands for silly sums. Southampton dropped £8m for Jay Rodriguez for Burnley, a player with zero Premier League experience. Just how much is the going rate for potential these days? Reading,on the other hand, got Pavel Pogrebnyak for free (although probably on higher wages than Rodriguez), and I know who I’d bet on scoring more goals this season. If a lack of funds for scouting is what has led Sunderland to bid this much for a half-decent striker, then someone up there in the North East just buy Martin O’Neill a copy of Football Manager. It works just as well!