By Peter Staunton
Sir Alex Ferguson used to be fond of saying that there was no value in the transfer market. Compare the collective sum in excess of £650 million spent by Premier League clubs to the £400m outlay in Spain and £200m each in Italy and Germany and that may well be true.
The likes of Eliaquim Mangala and Shane Long have attracted curiously large fees in transferring to clubs of varying stature in the English top flight, with the conclusion being that Premier League teams continue to drive prices upward. That much is unquestionable considering that there have been 10 £20m+ transfers completed in the market around the top flight this summer. There hasn't been one in the Bundesliga.
English clubs are suffering the effects of a number of factors which dictate that they end up paying over the odds. From the relatively strong transfer kitty of all 20 Premier League clubs to the inability to effectively scour the wider market for players, teams seem to be paying more than they need to when players of a similar standard exist elsewhere.
The assertion that a club must splash the cash in order to find a suitable candidate is challenged when examining the European market. Around the continent, clubs have been proactive in their transfer dealings with clear planning and strategies evident.
Ezeqiuel Garay moved relatively unnoticed to Zenit St Petersburg from Benfica ahead of the World Cup for a fee of around £5m. Andre Villas-Boas identified the key deficiency in his squad and filled it swiftly after taking over as coach. He has been rewarded with commanding displays from the Argentinian as Zenit attempt to qualify for the Champions League and are storming their way through the early part of the Russian Premier League season.
Contrast that deal with the exorbitant sum lavished on Mangala by Manchester City. It is no secret that the champions moved for the France defender in the winter transfer window but still ended up paying around £35m for his services to Porto.
The Portuguese club replaced Mangala with Bruno Martins Indi, the consistent Netherlands centre-back, signed from Feyenoord for around £6m. His Dutch defensive colleague Stefan de Vrij moved to Lazio for a similar sum.
Elsewhere, Fabian Johnson moved on a free transfer from Hoffenheim to Borussia Monchengladbach in the German Bundesliga. His performances at the World Cup for the United States were extolled with many pundits remarking on what a shrewd transaction Gladbach had completed. Liverpool, in contrast, have just paid about £16m to Sevilla for the unproven Spanish left-back Alberto Moreno.
Ander Herrera may have some Europa League experience under his belt but he has not established himself as one of Europe's best midfielders yet. Athletic Bilbao set a premium price on their players and United remained determined through two summers to sign Herrera. A price of around £30m looks a touch on the steep side when contrasted against the purchase by Real Madrid of World Cup winner and Champions League winner Toni Kroos for around £26m.
Kroos's former Bayern Munich team-mate Mario Manduzkic moved to Atletico Madrid for about £20m while Southampton paid a good percentage of that sum to Hull City for the altogether less decorated Shane Long at £12m.
Long has 15 Premier League goals since the start of the 2012-13 season. Joselu, who has scored 14 Bundesliga goals in that time, recently left Hoffenheim for Hannover. The fee? Around £4m. Adam Lallana cost Liverpool about £25m while an established international and Champions League regular in Mathieu Valbuena went to Dynamo Moscow for around £6m.
Premier League clubs have lots and lots of money and selling clubs are all too aware of that fact. The team who finishes top of the league will earn about £100m while even coming last is worth about £65m these days. The largesse of these Premier League clubs automatically puts a premium on the price of players.
Furthermore, Steve Bruce, the Hull manager, admitted this week that he likes shopping in the domestic market because his scouting network does not yet cover Europe in any great detail. It will no doubt be a similar story for those clubs recently graduated from the Championship who have not yet put their feet comfortably under the Premier League table.
"There'll come a time when I know what I'm going to get from the foreign market and hopefully we can get that set-up in the next 12 months," Bruce told the Hull Daily Mail. "To really progress into the foreign market, the next stage for the club is to have people working for us scouring Germany, Italy, Spain and France. We're not ready for that yet."
In that respect Bruce and more managers are making deals in a chronically restricted market place. Arrangements for the purchases of Robert Snodgrass and Jake Livermore were met with a total outlay of about £17m. Those two and Long for about the price of Kroos and Garay.
There also appears a lack of forward planning and coherent transfer strategies at work. Take Manchester United as an example. They signed Luke Shaw for around £30m to play left back. Barely six weeks later Marcos Rojo is brought in for £16m. Both play in the same position. That's over £45m on left backs when the rest of the side is in dire need of reinvestment.
Clubs now know this all too well. Real Madrid are well entitled to indulge in a bit of brinkmanship with United over Angel Di Maria. He will probably end up at Old Trafford but it is guaranteed that they will be forced to pay top dollar, such is the drastic need for renewal.
Not to mention the fact that the average tenure in a Premier League management position, Arsene Wenger's notwithstanding, is about a year. That is barely long enough for a coach to become familiar with his own players, let alone players at other clubs he can identify as transfer targets.
The arrival of a new manager is usually followed by a hefty splurge in whatever window is coming up for the players available at that particular time. In order to redress the balance of previous windows, good money is thrown after bad. Rarely would a club have the patience of, say, Bayern Munich, who tied up free transfers for Sebastian Rode and Robert Lewandowski a long time ago before introducing them to the club this summer.
That bears evidence of solid planning as well as patience; two characteristics in scant supply in the hurly burly Premier League. It is not necessarily a good thing when massive sums are spent on players. Sometimes it reeks of desperation and a lack of forethought, rather than a lack of decent available players.