How £40m Became the New £20m in the European Transfer Market

Last decade, a price of around £20million could buy you a footballer who had incredible skill, a deadly finish or the vision of a hawk. In 2003, Barcelona paid Paris Saint-Germain €30million for Ronaldinho, who became an eventual Ballon d’Or winner. Furthermore, Barcelona paid €15million (plus Ricardo Quaresma whose valuation stood at €6million) for Deco, who was influential in Porto’s successful Champions League campaign.

In the Premier League, Manchester United saw potential in a young Wayne Rooney and acquired his signature in a £25.6million deal with his parent club Everton. Two years prior, Manchester United signed Rio Ferdinand for a total of £30million, which, at the time, was a British transfer record.

Nowadays, in the transfer market, £20million is becoming more of a starting price than a hefty fee. Oh, how Trevor Francis (the first £1million footballer) must be turning over in his bed. As he put it, “Football has become awash with money.”

In the Premier League, the financial clout of teams such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and the emergence of Manchester City as a major spending force have caused inflation in the global transfer market.

Clubs around the world are aware of the spending power that these teams have. However, the financial revolution of Chelsea (under Roman Abramovich) and, more recently, Manchester City (under Abu Dhabi United Group) has had a major contribution in distorting the pattern of the transfer market.

Even though Chelsea’s transfer policy has been more responsible in recent years, the club still forked out a whopping £50million for Fernando Torres in the 2011 January transfer window. Moreover, with a new manager at the helm and the need to revitalise the squad, similar spending could occur this summer.

Since the Abu Dhabi United Group takeover of 2008, Manchester City’s spending spree has surpassed £300million. The money invested has certainly helped City not to be merely “noisy neighbours” anymore, but neighbours that will want to come over and ‘borrow’ Manchester United’s title. Furthermore, with current reported interest in some of the world’s brightest talents (e.g. Javier Pastore, Neymar), it seems that the Manchester City owners are not about to tighten the purse strings just yet.

Transfer activity from such teams has undoubtedly caused a player-price hike. Clubs, which may be regarded as ‘stepping-stones’ in a player’s career, know that they can drive a hard bargain for one of their sought-after stars. Consequently, in 2010, James Milner moved from Aston Villa to Manchester City in a reported £26million deal (including Stephen Ireland). However, does James Milner really belong in the same valuation bracket as Ronaldinho and Deco? I don’t think so.

Nevertheless, it is understandable that teams, who sell their prized assets, want big money to improve the squad with significant replacements. These teams are simply protecting themselves.

Andy Carroll was Newcastle United’s main attacking threat for the first half of the 2010-11 season. So, when Liverpool came knocking on transfer deadline day, the Toon needed the money to strengthen their squad in the future (which they have obviously done so far this summer). Plus, with Liverpool needing to replace Fernando Torres, Newcastle United held the bargaining chip.

What is staggering though is that Liverpool seemed to gladly accept Newcastle United’s terms. £35million pounds, making him the most expensive British footballer of all time, seemed like a fair deal for a man who couldn’t even top the Championship goal-scoring chart of the previous season. Alan Pardew stated, “We have got an extraordinary figure for a 21-year-old, who has done six months in the Premier League.” However, if Andy Carroll turns out to be a star-striker, I suppose Liverpool fans won’t care about the cost.

Additionally, another reason for these inflated prices is the huge transfers that have been carried out before. The most obvious one being Real Madrid’s transaction of Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo for an astronomical £80millon fee. These huge transfers have increased the prices, which are now deemed appropriate, for in-form players.

For instance, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis recently warned both sides of Manchester that the Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani is worth as much as £89million. That’s £9million more than the most expensive player in the world. With such a declaration, it now seems silly that Manchester United and City were reportedly preparing to table a £25million bid. Of course, this might just have been a scare tactic, but the Napoli president further stated, “He (Cavani) would have to be annoyed as he is not worth that little.” However, any sane football fan would know that £25million is far from little.

Moreover, the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo, in particular, has subsequently led to more player-valuation comparisons, which are killing the art of negotiation. Teams who claim they have the ‘next big thing’ now expect nothing less than at least half of Cristiano Ronaldo’s price for their player. Immediately, potential suitors drop by the number.

Initially, Alexis Sanchez (Udinese winger) was valued around the £30-35million mark. The teams vying for his signature were Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus and Inter Milan. However, when Gino Pozzo (Udinese’s owner) caught wind of Cesc Fabregas’ valuation, he stated, “If Cesc is worth €40million (£35m), then I say Alexis Sanchez is worth €50million (£45m).” Now, only Barcelona remains with any real interest, and yet they haven’t even met Pozzo’s valuation.

Another reason for the inflation of prices is the role of the media. The case of Gareth Bale will be used to support this reason. Sport journalists around Europe went crazy after witnessing the Welshman tear Inter Milan to shreds, not once, but twice. The highest praise was lavished on the 21-year-old. Ever since, Tottenham Hotspur have demanded £40-45million if he were to be sold.

I will be surprised if any team pays that sum this summer. Yes, Gareth Bale had a good season, but it’s those two performances against Inter Milan that has pushed his price up. Question is, does two exceptional performances justify a £40million price tag?

In conclusion, it now seems that around £40million is the ‘realistic’ price for the players with huge potential and an ever-increasing reputation. Nevertheless, you still hear amongst the football fan masses the words, “He’s not worth £30, £40, £50million.” Truth is, obviously nobody is. However, when a team like Liverpool pay over the odds for Andy Carroll, what is the value of players such as Neymar and Pastore? And look at that, I’m guilty of player-valuation comparison, but I suppose it’s natural to do that. Sir Alex Ferguson stated, “There is no value in the market.” However, with football sadly becoming more of a business, maybe it’s not that there is no value in the market, but there is a new value in the market. Let’s see this summer.


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