It happens every summer, one of the big four splashes out excessive amounts commanded by the agent of a young foreigner player that the average English football fan has to sit up in their armchair and question the news reporter, “Who?”
This summer, in the early stages of the transfer window London club Chelsea emerged as winners of the tug of war over Belgian youngster Eden Hazard. The deal is reported to be worth over £50million pounds over 5 years and with wages in excess of £190,000 a week depending on the paper you read. After turning down Manchester City & United’s final offers the winger who boasts 17 goals this season opted for London life and to play along side the likes of Torres and Lampard. He has infact signed for a club without true knowledge of who will be his manager next season.
Eden Hazard’s transfer fee however isn’t excessive in comparison to what some other Premier League stars such as Torres and Andy Carroll and in comparison to Kyle Walker and Naughton he is older and more experienced moving into the Premier League. But how much success have Premier League sides seen whilst partaking in this fashion of “buying them young” and the mantra of “we’ll buy them, that way nobody else can have them”?
Just ask Steve Kean if he feels purchasing Sheffield United’s Jordan Slew at £1million last summer was well spent? Slew made 1 appearance for Blackburn in the later stages of the 3-2 win at Old Trafford but was dispensed to Stevenage on loan where he made 9 appearances and 0 goals. For a similar price Kean could have had DJ Campbell (11 apps 1 goal) or Shaun Moloney (13 apps 3 goals.) It seems the possibility of making a profit from a young talent may have been the motivation behind wasting funds that could have been better used for the club to secure Premier League survival. Profits from Slew have already been hindered as the kid has essentially lost a year of experience. Fans of Sheffield United, whether or not they think Jordan Slew had prospects at the club (many didn’t rate him) would tell you it was the wrong move for the boy – as at the time, they would have done with Kyle Walker & Naughton who were offloaded at the first chance. They would argue that it serves younger players better to gain experience and ply their trade in the lower leagues first. But look at the pair now, Naughton regularly played in the Norwich first team where he was on loan whilst Walker was the PFA Young Player of the Year, the only reason he isn’t in the England 23 for the Euros is an ankle injury.
Manchester United would argue that buying talent early is essential, look at Wayne Rooney. From Everton at just 19 and £26.5million Manchester United bought themselves a loyal player who looks set to see out his career at Old Trafford and he could have gone to Leeds before that. Now, here was a player who scored 17 goals in the Premier League in 2 years at Everton before eventually he moved so it was a safer bet than some. He may be an exception though as Arsene Wenger was quoted at the time of the move to say that “Wayne Rooney is the best young talent I have seen in England since I moved here.” Arsene nearly 2 years later retracted this statement when he spent an eventual (fee was settled 2 years after the transfer) £9.1 milion on a 16 year old with just 21 appearances in the Championship to his name. Theo Walcott however, like Wayne Rooney, has served a considerable amount of time at Arsenal, has been to the major tournaments with his country and chipped in from the wing with 26 goals.
These are just examples of good business, risks taken on young prospects on the say so of the scouts and the cheaper way of procuring your clubs success in the future. It isn’t always that simple though – alongside Blackburn, Liverpool and Chelsea need to review their spending policies and do a bit more thinking before buying after they both paid above and beyond the value for Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres and neither one has performed at a level they had done beforehand since, neither has improved, just bled the clubs of the hefty contracts they have landed in order to keep them from competing against them for other teams.
Wigan chairman Dave Whelan was recently interviewed and he placed a lot of blame for this trend on the agents. The way the agents think of the money rather than the player’s interests. Developing young talent and cashing in on them whilst they’re at the highest value is of course only business, and that’s what the Premier League is, a business. It’s this process that has kept teams like Crewe and Sheffield United going in recent years. It’s because of this that the Premier League vultures can literally take their pick of young players in the Football League because if the cheques have the right amount of zeros on it, the chairmen can’t refuse to say no.
I almost feel sorry for the young players I’ve seen this season, for Harry MacGuire, Jordan Rhodes and Crewe Alexandra’s Nick Powell. How the second they start to show their star quality, the scouts are looking in, the media are looking in, the expectations of their own fans rise. They are put up on a pedestal and given hype to live up to, “the Football League’s hottest property.” It isn’t a surprise they all end up at the big clubs, the big cities, the money and Europe. But maybe they move too soon and sacrifice a year or two of first team football, it may be the price to pay. If we asked Wayne Rooney or Theo Walcott if they think they made the best moves of their careers I’m sure the answer would be a resounding “yes!” Some do live up to their hype and price tags whilst others don’t, they’re all making the choices that suit their career best, time always tells of course but as Alan Hansen once said “You’ll never win anything with kids.”