Outside the Box: Liverpool still the victims of 'British Added Tax'
AT THIS time of year, when money is being spent on Christmas and the January sales, VAT can put a dent in the shopper's pocket. But, by comparison to the 'BAT' charged to clubs in the Premier League, consumers should count themselves lucky.
The British Added Tax only applies in January and August when the transfer window is open but, for those who choose to pay, it will add several million to the cost of a player for no reason other than their nationality.
How else to explain a transfer fee of £12m which Liverpool are willing to pay for Daniel Sturridge who has been a "good young player" for so long that nobody seemed to notice that he turned 23 last September.
There are many of us lamenting our lost youth who wish we were that age again but, in football terms, Sturridge is at an age where deliverance should already have replaced potential.
Michael Owen wrote a blog several weeks ago which pointed out the number of games played by several players before their 24th birthday. Owen had played 316 times, Wayne Rooney 380, Emile Heskey 284 and Jermaine Defoe and Steven Gerrard both 261. Sturridge has nine months to catch up but his tally currently stands at 140, most of which have come from the bench.
Owen's main point was that too many games as a young player can cause them to suffer more injuries later in their career which must be the glass-half-full scenario for Liverpool when it comes to Sturridge. The glass-half-empty view would be that he hasn't been good enough.
Of all clubs, Liverpool have been the greatest spenders on British Added Tax in the last few seasons but the 88 million reasons given to them by Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and, to a lesser extent, Joe Allen, hasn't prevented them splashing out for Sturridge.
Last week, Arsenal made a song and dance about their core of British players signing new contracts but, while Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere came through the ranks, the trio of Aaron Ramsey, Carl Jenkinson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came to a combined total of less than £20m.
The key difference between the two sets of signings is that Arsenal bought their players from outside the Premier League and before they had really established themselves as international players which is the biggest factor in avoiding BAT.
In the past, becoming an English international was certainly worthy of increasing the transfer fee but the fact Downing has 34 caps says far more about England than Downing. Sturridge has played four times for England but would only need to glance around the national dressing-room to see many players whose value and talent go in different directions.
There was a time when signing an English speaker would make it easier for them to settle into the squad but, with so many foreign players currently in the league, it's stunning that the value of British players is still so high.
It's not just in transfer fees that BAT has an influence but in wages too. This is the biggest reason behind the drive to have Theo Walcott playing as a centre-forward at Arsenal given his performances in his two games over the past week.
After scoring the fifth goal of five against Reading, one respected English football journalist wrote that Walcott "possesses the anticipation of a true penalty box predator" and that "Wenger has found the striker his team need". Nonsense such as this is the reason why Walcott believes he is entitled to £100,000 a week.
Unlike many writers banging the Walcott drum, Wenger won't have failed to notice his complete lack of hold-up play on Saturday and inability to bring his team-mates into the game or relieve the pressure when Arsenal were under the cosh against Wigan. That's where centre-forwards earn their money, rather than putting the icing on the cake against Reading.
Walcott is a good player but, at six months older than Sturridge, it still being celebrated as a player for the future rather than the present.
If Walcott leaves Arsenal, there will be several clubs willing to pay the six-figure weekly sum he desires while, despite being a peripheral figure in his four seasons at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea can still demand £12m for Sturridge. For as long as hype and nationality continues to cloud ability, there will be no reduction in the British Added Tax.
Bet you should have done
Malaga have been excellent in the Champions League this season, while Madrid went into Saturday's game 13 points behind runaway leaders Barcelona and seven behind city rivals Atletico.
As it turned out, the margin of victory could have been even more comfortable than the 3-2 victory suggests and, just to underline how close these two teams currently are, Malaga now find themselves just two points behind Real in fourth place.