Wilfried Zaha: The Latest in a Long Line of Expensive English Acquisitions
In today’s modern football world, we are all programmed to lap up anything mentioning minimum fee release clauses or grandiose match-highest earner contracts. Therefore the recent trend of young English footballers being involved in huge mega money transfers has been something that we’ve all been largely exposed to; watching on partly in excitement and partly in bemusement.
Wilfried Zaha recently hit the headlines following the announcement of his proposed deal to Manchester United, joining up with the Red Devils from summer 2013 for a fee of up to £15m. The reasoning for why English players go for such extortionate prices mainly boils down to the ever-impending ‘homegrown’ rules looming over the EPL, whereby each club must have so many homegrown players within their 25 man squad. Meanwhile a shift in supporter ideology has also played a significant part. After the boom of foreign imports in the 1990′s, fans have recently been found adopting a ‘back to basics’ approach. The sexiness and style of signing a playmaker from Southern Europe or a speedy South American winger has somewhat lost a little of its glossiness since the turn of the decade, with fans appreciating local talent more and more.
Wilfried Zaha, whilst born in the Ivory Coast and spending most of his childhood in South London, has been capped at international level for England and played all of his professional footballing career in England. While he may not be a local Manchester lad like the Danny Welbecks and Paul Scholes’ of the team, I guess that’s close enough to constitute a local talent. Zaha, who can play both in an attacking left-wing or striker role, put in an incredible display in Palace’s equally impressive 2-1 win against Man Utd in the 2011 Carling Cup quarter final and has since gone from strength-to-strength notching up a handful of big name clubs vying for his signature. The jury is still out on whether Zaha will be a success under the authoritarian management of Sir Alex Ferguson and the weight of a £15m price tag. Although he has undoubtedly shown ability in abundance since his debut for Crystal Palace in March 2010, history has proven big money English youngsters don’t always proceed in living up to the potential they clearly had at some spell during their career.
The English Premier League has been in no shortage of clubs relinquishing their favoured homegrown youngsters over the past few seasons in exchange for often unfathomable price tags. Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson cost Liverpool a total sum of £36m in summer 2011, not forgetting Andy Carroll’s infamous £35m switch to Merseyside that same year. Connor Wickham similarly made a £13m switch to the Premier League with Sunderland, scoring once in his 22 appearances in his one and a half seasons as a Black Cats player so far. Even as recent as Summer 2012, Manchester City splashed out £20m for the services of bit-part squad players Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair. To say the pairing have been marginal at best would be doing them justice. It is undeniable that a lot of the risks taken on these homegrown British players have backfired over the years. Whether this be down to the player not being able to carry the pressure of an astronomical price tag or whether it’s more a casualty of not having the ability to play at the top level of English football, it cannot be argued these risks don’t always pay off.
However, as long as it is attractive for English teams to field English players, and as long as the FA continue to push for a football league sourced from grassroots level, these transfers will continue to roll in. To suggest that this is a problem would be misguided and the passion sparked on from local talent being pitted against each other in traditional English derbies is something even the most passé football fan could not turn his/her nose up at. Nevertheless it is a scary prospect to think that players can be sold on for in excess of £10-20m without even stepping foot onto a Premier League ground and furthermore begs the question of how much Jack Wilshere or Raheem Sterling would be ‘worth’ should they be made available on the transfer market.