Has the English Premier League become a ‘Selling Division’?

When Henry left Arsenal in 2007 for Barcelona (at a bargainous £16.5 Million), he stated that ‘Barcelona would be the only club I’d leave Arsenal for’. Or something like that. Christiano Ronaldo said something similar when leaving Man U for Real Madrid (at a ridiculous £80 Million). ‘It’s everyone’s dream to play for Madrid’, he stated to a Spanish paper after a Utd match. These two are the highest profile cases in recent years, but there have been countless transfers away from English clubs to “bigger” European clubs, often for crazy wonga. Namely, Flamini to Milan, Hleb to Barca, Vieira to Juve, Robbie Keane to Inter, McManaman to Madrid, Owen to Madrid, Beckham to Madrid, Graveson to Madrid (no comment), Lassana Diarra to Madrid, and even Mourinho to Madrid (fair enough that was from Inter), let alone Bale to Madrid (Oh sorry, not yet…).

In the last decade to fifteen years, a culture has emerged of English Clubs selling (or being forced to give up) their prize assets to European Heavyweights. Henry and Ronaldo’s statements about Barca and Madrid representing a peak for a footballer’s career, as well as Mourinho’s hype of Madrid, highlighted a weakness in the power of English football. When the summer transfer window opens, a fear grips the fans of the majority of Premier League clubs as speculation spreads about which European Beast is out to take their best players. Think Fabregas for the last 4 summers.

Clubs in Continental Europe had already been stealing each other’s stars for a while, but the beginning of the Premier League’s involvement of assets leaving for big clubs was the sale of Nicolas Anelka from Arsenal to Madrid in 1999 for £22.3 Million, in my opinion that is. He was (and still is) a serious talent, winning the PFA Young Player of the Year Award in 1998, as well as being a serious contributing factor to Arsenal’s double winning season that year. He wanted a better salary, a bigger club, and Madrid called. The sale shocked some fans, but it also opened the gates to many more similar sales in the years following, see previous list.

More recently, Rooney’s flirtation with not just a middle aged stripper, but a ‘more ambitious club’ left SAF in floods of fake tears in a pre-European match press conference. I won’t go into the bizarre  U-Turn Rooney made, but it certainly left a serious dent in the credibility of England’s most successful club (praise merely for factual reasons of course). Even more recently than that, Gareth Bale’s recent Champs League performance have already caused over-eager journos (and pundits) to start placing bets on which club he’s going to. (Real Madrid of course involved, and Inter too). It will be telling in the summer, let alone the next few seasons, what happens when big clubs and big money get thrown around at players like Bale, Fabregas and even Torres. For the good of the Premier League, I hope they stay. Even as an Arsenal fan I’d miss Bale, in a similar way that Ronaldo’s absence has been “noticed” (not so much missed) this season.

Looking at the bigger picture, it’s not really about the biggest clubs in Europe anymore. It’s money. Man City can suddenly strike fear in to any team with their insane pockets-the-size-of-the-UK’s-budget-deficit transfer kitty. Think Milner from Villa, Lescott from Everton, Adebayor and Toure from Arsenal, Tevez from Utd, as well as big money moves for Balotelli, Silva, YaYa Toure and De Jong etc. It’s telling that realistically the only English clubs unaffected by this movement of class players abroad have been Man City and Chelsea; i.e. where the money already is. Chelsea haven’t let of any players of real quality go to a top European club since Tore Andre Flo. City too are now in a position to buy, buy and buy some more – with no real financial threat in the transfer market from any other club, and without a conscience, period. They made Madrid’s Ronaldo fee look like peanuts with a £100 Million bid for Kaka last year for example.

The future hardly looks bright here. But looking at the situation pragmatically for a moment, it’s only ever been one or two clubs from each division that have afforded this muscle in the transfer market. Barca and Madrid always in La Liga, the Milan clubs and Juve in Serie A, Bayern in Germany, Man U in England. The reality now is that Chelsea and City are those two clubs in England, and that won’t sit right until City are a consistent top 2 club in the Premier League. And even that won’t sit right. Maybe then, this whole thing’s been blown out of proportion: It’s always been a case of one or two clubs in each division dominating the market and taking the best players. City will keep spending like nobody’s business, so it’s up to Chelsea, the other money bags, to start pulling their weight. (Coz let’s be honest, Utd are in more debt than Heskey is to Gerard Houllier, and Arsène has transferaphobia.) Maybe it’s just a fear of a demise of the old Premier League elite (Liverpool being the first to go) that’s causing the concern, but it’s certainly left some discomfort for the future of the Prem.

So, has the EPL become a ‘selling division’? Come back in the summer for a definitive answer, but I fear yes. Bale has pledged his future to Spurs this week, but part of me wonders if that was naïve, you just can’t seem to rule out big money moves these days. For the good of the league I hope big players stay, for the good of the league I also hope either City lose their Billions or other top clubs gain them. Until then, we’re relying on players’ loyalty to keep the league at its best. And that’s about as reliable as Rafa Benitez in a press conference.

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About fatronaljoe
Now then. Recently graduated from Loughborough University, I love football; be it trivia and history or technique and tactics. I'm a mad Gonner with a curious interest in boyhood club Northampton Town. I play Sat afternoon football as a solid centre back! That'll do for now...

3 Responses to Has the English Premier League become a ‘Selling Division’?

  1. Tom McSharry says:

    Brilliant Joe, very good read and some quality comments.

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