The curious case of expensive British footballers
In 2009 Real Madrid broke the world transfer record when they signed Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United for £80m. The deal was the biggest in the history of football in terms of both the money that changed hands as well as the publicity it attracted throughout the world. Ronaldo’s fee was surprising in that it was so high; it surpassed the previous record transfer fee by a whopping £34m (Zinedine Zidane’s £46m move from Juventus to Real Madrid in 2001). Yet it was (at least somewhat) justified. Ronaldo moved to Madrid as a three-time Premier League winner, European champion, that year’s Ballon d’Or holder and Manchester United’s talisman for the previous three seasons.
This season has seen another lucrative transfer in Radamel Falcao’s move from Atletico Madrid to Monaco for around £55m. Although Falcao’s trophy cabinet is not as full as Ronaldo’s, the Colombian has certainly impressed over the last few seasons: evidently enough to catch the eye of Dmitry Rybolovlev, Monaco’s billionaire majority shareholder. With Atletico Falcao won the Copa del Rey and Europa League, as well as netting 70 goals in 90 games for the Spanish side. He was also part of the league-winning River Plate and Porto sides in 2008 and 2011 respectively, so perhaps his reputation along with Monaco’s owner’s willingness to spend his billions partly excuses Falcao’s £55m price tag.
Players’ valuations are all well and good if they can be justified. No one could dispute that Ronaldo, along with Lionel Messi, is one of the two best players in the world. Considering Messi is extremely unlikely to ever leave Barcelona, Ronaldo’s transfer fee, despite coming as a shock at the time, seems vindicated as it makes sense that the best players in the world cost the highest amounts of money. Going with Ronaldo’s valuation, Falcao’s is similarly warranted. However, over the past few seasons the Premier League has witnessed some of the most bewilderingly unjustified transfer fees for, on a fair few occasions, some decidedly average British players.
Take Andy Carroll, for instance. The England striker admittedly performed at Newcastle United in the Magpies’ short-lived stint in the Championship; Carroll’s 17 goals in 39 appearances helped Newcastle back into the Premier League. The striker impressed Kenny Dalglish and the Liverpool board who, after a bid of £30m was rejected by Newcastle on the last day of the season, made a £35m bid for Carroll. That’s right: thirty-five million English pounds. United ‘reluctantly accepted’ the deal, and Carroll signed for Liverpool. This was a relatively unproven 22 year-old for a bottom half Premier League team who had spent a year in the Championship and had just signed for Liverpool for a British record transfer fee of £35m.
You could say that this was an anomaly and that Liverpool, who had just got £50m for Fernando Torres, had extra cash to spend and didn’t care where the money went. The funny thing, and my whole point here really, is that in the same transfer window (the same day in fact), Liverpool bought controversial Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez from Ajax for £22.8m. In the 2 seasons Suárez has been at Liverpool, discounting all the baggage he has brought with him (the racism row, persistent diving and bite-gate), he has been consistent for Liverpool in terms of his goal tally. In fact, when comparing Suárez to Welshman Gareth Bale, who Spurs have recently valued at £85m (after being valued at half that price in January), both the Uruguayan’s goal and assist rates were greater than those of Real Madrid target Bale. In the 33 Premier League appearances the two both made last season, Suárez bagged 23 goals to Bale’s 21. In that same time the Liverpool striker made 5 assists and scored a goal, on average, every 128 minutes, which are both superior to Bale’s stats of 4 assists and a goal every 139 minutes. Yet as both Suárez and Bale’s respective transfer sagas continue, the Uruguayan’s valuation is for some reason around £45m less than that of the British Bale. There is no denying that Bale is a top quality player and at 24 years-old Real could easily get 10 seasons out of him, but as Suárez is only 2 years older than Bale, has shown he is statistically just as effective yet is £45m cheaper, it seems strange to give Bale his £85m valuation. Along with the cases of Andy Carroll and other arguably over-priced recent British transfers, it poses the question: why are British players so expensive?
TalkSPORT’s article on their ‘overpriced British XI vs. bargain overseas XI’ really demonstrates the relatively ridiculous valuations of some British players when compared with the prices of quality overseas players playing in the Premier League. The article lists players like the aforementioned Andy Carroll along with Darren Bent, whose £18m move from Sunderland to Aston Villa along with just 3 goals in the Premier League last season left a few football fans, and no doubt accountants, scratching their heads. TalkSPORT’s overpriced team are valued at a staggering £209.5m, a whole £176m more expensive than their bargain overseas side, which includes such players as Spurs’ Benoit Assou-Ekotto (£3.5m), Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez (£6m) and possibly the bargain of last season, Swansea’s Michu. The Spanish ace performed above and beyond expectations when he moved to the Liberty Stadium for just £2m at the start of last season, scoring 18 league goals in 35 appearances, a feat that saw him finish 5th in the Premier League Golden Boot standings. Michu was beaten to 4th place by another European bargain, Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke whose £7m switch from Belgian side Genk proved to be the difference for Paul Lambert’s relegation-threatened side in their fight for safety.
Having witnessed the speculation surrounding Bale’s proposed move to Real Madrid and Suarez’s very public desire to leave Liverpool followed by a somewhat forced apology, it seems possible that the two may still leave before the end of this transfer window, and it will be interesting to see the final transfer fees for the two players. Should the two leave, it will also be interesting to see how the Premier League odds on Wincomparator are affected as, without Bale and Suarez, Spurs and Liverpool are sure to struggle to compete for 5th place like last season.