Older readers may remember the shock that reverberated around the British football scene when Trevor Francis’ move from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest in early 1979 broke the £1 million transfer barrier (and doubled the British record transfer fee). Less than forty years later and £1 million would just about buy one one of Neymar’s toes.
Footballing transfer finances are spiralling out of control. £1 million in 1979 is equivalent to around £5.25 million today, so in real terms a top player today is considered to be worth nearly ninety times what a superstar in the late 1970s was valued at. Is Neymar really worth that much? The readers of the fan-generated analysis site AskFans don’t seem to think so – in a recent survey by AskFans most voters would rather have Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku in their team than the Brazilian wonderkid.
Despite this, the stark fact is that if Premier League teams want to compete with European giants like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germaine and Bayern Munich, they need to compete on the transfer market too. However, while some transfer fees are entirely justified, others leave you wondering just what the people in charge of the transfer confers at certain EPL clubs were smoking when they signed the deal.
For example, no one can deny that Manchester United have spent well this summer. Romelu Lukaku (£72 million) and Nemanja Matic (£40 million) are both established Premier League stars who dazzle on the international stage too. Victor Lindelof (£30 million) is more of a gamble, but the youngster has shown great promise holding down a first team place at Benfica. That’s a spend of over £140 million, but on three signings that should surely pay dividends.
A handful of summer deals require a little more head-scratching though, none more so than the £45 million paid by Manchester City to snatch right-back Kyle Walker from Tottenham Hotspur. £45 million is a hell of a lot of money, and most pundits would not even place Walker in the top ten of the best right-backs in the world.
Joining Walker at the Etihad Stadium next term will be right midfielder Bernardo Silva (£42 million), goalkeeper Edison (£34 million), central midfielder Douglas Luiz (£10 million), another right-back Danilo (£26 million) and left-back Benjamin Mendy (also £26 million). That’s a £200 million spend on … what, exactly? Walker could be considered to be the most ‘illustrious’ name in that list, which says it all, really.
Has it really become the norm for EPL clubs to spend millions on players that very few football fans are even aware of? Liverpool have spent £10 million on Hull City’s left back Andrew Robertson – a decent player, of that there’s no doubt, but how likely is Robertson to thrill fans at Anfield on the European stage?
While no one could quibble at splashing fortunes on genuine game-changers such as Neymar, Lukaku and Matic, it remains a puzzle as to why top EPL sides buy relative unknowns for inflated prices. After another summer of crazy spending, English clubs’ performances in the ECL will be the true barometer of spending success.