After the achievements of Leicester City, I thought (mistakenly it seems) that Premier League clubs would learn from it and see that success doesn’t necessarily cost hundreds of millions of pounds. That good scouting and coaching are still the most valuable fundamentals of the game, particularly for the clubs outside of the European elite, such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, who appear to have their pick of players. Even Atletico Madrid, who in the past three seasons have won a La Liga title and reached two Champions League finals look for smart buys and rely on the coaching and tactics of Diego Simeone.
However, in the Premier League, with the huge broadcasting rights deal that has come into force, even mid-table and lower table clubs are eager to throw big money around; like the figurative child in a sweet shop.
Borussia Dortmund signed Ousmane Dembele for €15m, they scouted him for a while and then moved fast after the end of last season to beat Liverpool to his signature for a relatively modest transfer fee, given his talent and potential. Even Bayern, currently amongst the European elite with a squad that rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid, have done their homework and looked to be ahead of the market. Their capture of Renato Sanches for €35m (approx £28m at the time) raised a few eyebrows as it seemed a lot for an 18 year old, but his performances at the Euros showed why they paid it and also meant they would have had to pay more, had they not got the deal done before the tournament started.
Not enough Premier League clubs operate this way, Crystal Palace offered Marseille over £30m for Michy Batshuayi and despite the bid being accepted, he eventually went to Chelsea for around £33m. But if Palace were so keen on Batshuayi, why wait until he was making an impressive cameo for Belgium in Euro 2016? If he was an alternative to Christian Benteke, or worse, an attempt at poker with Liverpool over the price of Benteke whilst both players are involved with Belgium at the Euros, then Palace really need to reassess their approach. This though, is an all too indicative of how Premier League clubs see the transfer market: we have money and we want to spend it…….no, we need to spend it.
Just because the Premier League is the richest in the world, does not automatically make it the best or most successful. It’s sheer arrogance to dismiss the method in which Leicester found success as a one-off fluke that should be ignored or to dismiss how European clubs are structured and run, just because the Premier League has some incredible revenue from overseas broadcasting rights. Take a look at the diminishing success of Premier League clubs in European competition. Simply throwing money at a problem does not fix it, even with the elite, Bayern Munich and Barcelona are both built on a strong team ethic; Atletico Madrid are greater than the sum of their parts.
Getting the structure right, having a clear plan, direction and system is the way forward. Scouting the right players that suit your team and your style, rather than an expensive collection of desirable names should be the vision instead of ostentatious spending.
Take the much talked about intent of Manchester United to bring Paul Pogba back to the club and them reportedly willing to spend £103m to make it happen. Is Pogba an excellent player? Absolutely. Is he ‘world class’? Not yet. Is he worth anything like £103m? No. It would be a ridiculous deal if it happens anywhere close to that figure. For a start, Pogba is 24 and still considered something of a prospect; he is one of the rising stars of European football, but to burden him with the tag of being the most expensive player in the world is not only ludicrous, but unfair on him. You then have to consider what it does to football because once one club pays £100m, others will be expected to follow and if £40-50m players are suddenly £100m, then £20-25m are now £50m. It’s a worrying precedent to set and whilst Manchester United are commercially one of the finest run sports clubs in the world, being that brash in the transfer market is a dangerous road to travel down.
Premier League clubs see their spending power as a great thing to be proud of, but many European clubs see them has having more money than brains and increase their price when an English club enquires – it’s lovingly called the Premier League tax. Perhaps if more Premier League clubs could be smarter and more strategic with their transfers, they could put more money to lowering debts and reducing ticket prices for fans before football eats itself alive.