Published on August 23rd, 2012 | by Isaac Leigh0
When will clubs stop playing over the odds for British players?
The news that Championship side Wolverhampton Wanderers are set to accrue nearly £25m from the sales of winger Matt Jarvis and striker Steven Fletcher, to West Ham United and Sunderland respectively, has been met with widespread incredulity amongst British football fans. And rightly so. This latest example perpetuates the impression clubs and managers either think British footballers are far better than they actually are, or they are spurning the opportunity to acquire higher-quality imports purely to imbue the side with a sense of ‘Britishness’.
Jarvis, whom West Ham manager Sam Allardyce has assiduously tracked all summer, is apparently worth £10.75m. Although consistent during his three seasons in the Premier League, he was merely one of the best players at a poor Premier League club. As for international experience, he was recognised for England back in 2011 with a call-up to the squad for a Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales, and given his first cap as a substitute in a friendly against Ghana.
Compare his CV to that of another left-sided Premier League player, Steven Pienaar, whom Everton have recently signed from Tottenham Hotspur for £4.5m. Pienaar, a product of the highly-touted Ajax academy, is the captain of the South African national team and has 57 international caps. While Jarvis is typecast as a right-footed left-winger, Pienaar is capable of playing on both the left- and right-hand side, as well as behind a main striker, such is his versatility. And while Jarvis is steady but unspectacular, Pienaar’s undoubted star quality comes across in statistics relating to his loan spell at Goodison Park in the second half of last season: 14 games, four goals and six assists. Which would you rather have?
Similarly, while Fletcher has proved reliable in the Premier League since Owen Coyle plucked him from Hibernian in 2009, a fee of £14m is preposterous. Wolves, and Burnley before them, have unquestionably benefited from the Scot’s steady goalscoring: 30 league goals in 96 league games is no mean feat for a striker in struggling sides. Indeed, at 25, Martin O’Neill clearly believes that Fletcher can contribute not only in the short term, but in years to come. But is he worth as much as Arsenal’s summer signing Lukas Podolski, scorer of 18 goals in 29 games for a relegated FC Cologne last season and capped 101 times by Germany at the tender age of 27? Few would agree. Have Swansea City got a better deal in snapping up Michu, the Rayo Vallecano striker who netted 15 league goals in La Liga last year, for a mere £2m? Almost definitely.
With debt mounting in the world of football and Financial Fair Play regulations looming, you would have thought that Allardyce and Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill would have been a little more savvy in their summer shopping. Michael Laudrup, the new Swansea manager, has certainly shown prudence, capitalising on the current uncertainty in the Spanish game to acquire Michu and Villarreal midfielder Jonathan de Guzman for peanuts and a season-long loan respectively. Fulham manager Martin Jol has picked up Wigan Athletic striker Hugo Rodallega and Croatia international and prolific Bundesliga goalscorer Mladen Petric on free transfers. Clubs and managers who continue to shroud themselves in overrated British comforts, eschewing the thorough scouting systems implemented by Premier League rivals, will find themselves lagging in an incontrovertibly modern, global football transfer market, much like nearly all areas economic markets nowadays.
Hailing the influence of foreign talent necessitates stepping into a potential minefield, for the paucity of English success on the international stage is blamed on the ubiquity of mediocre foreign players impeding the opportunities of young British talent. However, it could easily be argued that the difference between what Sunderland will pay for Fletcher, and what he is actually worth, could provide a significant boost to their academy system. Those who impugn foreign players forget how much the likes of Newcastle United’s precocious 17-year-old striker, Adam Campbell, will learn from watching Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse in training. His game will improve as the current stars age. Everyone wins. Clubs such as West Ham and Sunderland insisting on paying over the odds for ready-made Brits, attempting to pose as saviours of British football when derided, should be concentrating their energy and money towards grassroots and academy level.
Jarvis and Fletcher can do nothing about the money being paid for them, but the ridicule surrounding the over-inflation of their fees places pressure on them to justify the price tag. Evidence suggests they will be reliable and consistent for their new clubs, but personally they are little more than the quintessential ‘decent’ British footballer. No, the real way forward is to take advantage of the value-for-money offered in La Liga and the Bundesliga, acquiring quality rather than quantity, and ensure their close interaction with academy hopefuls. Learning from the best is the way for the next generation to improve their own standards, and hopefully this ludicrous Jarvis and Fletcher situation will encourage a re-examining of the current trend to buy expensive and British among some Premier League clubs.