Complete the sequence: Angel di Maria, Fernando Torres, Andy Carroll, Robinho, Andrei Shevchenko, “X”.
For those who don’t instantly recognise what connects the aforementioned soccer players — make a note of the eventual answer, because it’s a nailed on pub quiz question – it’s a chronologically descending list of the men signed by English clubs that have broken the British transfer record.
And while the whole index is rife with talented individuals that have won a plethora of honours, the recent crop of players on it didn’t really ever showcase their best form after making that career-defining switch.
Of course, we can reserve judgement on the very latest record breaker, as a £59.7 million premium saw Di Maria move from Real Madrid to Manchester United. He’s set to make his debut for Louis van Gaal’s side at Burnley this weekend.
Di Maria is a majestically vibrant midfielder, one that’s shone on the biggest stages in the game and has the capabilities to light up the Premier League with his engrossing playing style. He’s a talent that would improve the overwhelming majority of teams on the planet and United deserve enormous credit for convincing him to swap the Bernabeu for Old Trafford.
But when you look at those players that precede the Argentinian in breaking the British transfer record, should Red Devils supporters be just a little concerned? In the modern game, is there something unavoidably detrimental to a player once they’ve participated in such a massive money-spinning move?
Torres, Carroll, Robinho and Shevchenko failed to reach a level anywhere near their best once they’d made their respective transfers. Their cumulative record breaking fees equate to circa £150 million and the clubs that made those purchases were treated to a measly total of 49 Premier League goals.
In truth, it’s difficult to pinpoint something uniform as a reason for all those transfers going pear-shaped. The circumstances, foundations and motives that yielded each of those deals were varied, after all.
But there are a few facets that accompany the honour of being the most expensive player in the history of British football that di Maria should be wary of. And we’ve already bore witness to some of them long before he signed on the dotted line at Old Trafford.
The hyperbole that’s manifested following the former Benfica man’s move has been almost unquantifiable. Everyone with a slither of interest in the sport is talking about it, and the immersive, non-stop nature of the modern game dictates that any player that moves for such a vast amount of money would receive similarly unyielding focus.
But with that spotlight and anticipation comes a pressure to deliver, and deliver quickly. The game moves at such a ferocious pace these days, so much so, that when a player costs a enormous amount, owners, managers and fans want an instant impact. Subsequently it doesn’t take much time for a new signing to be branded a flop if they toil in their opening matches.
Some players can recover from a less than impactful start. Dennis Bergkamp – another British transfer record – failed to make much of an impact in the early stages of his Arsenal career. But eventually his mental strength showed, his quality shone through and he’s now regarded as one of the best strikers to have ever graced the English game.