Wednesday 28 September 2016

The scary part will be if Wenger is wrong about the transfer window bubble

Published 29/08/2016 | 02:30

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Reuters
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Reuters

Last Thursday marked the 30-year anniversary of Paul Simon's iconic Graceland album, and with its lyrics about loose affiliations of millionaires and billionaires and boys in the bubble, it could be a perfect soundtrack for the Premier League.

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And with hundreds of thousands of euros going into many of their bank accounts every month, it can't be too long until a player decides to put diamonds on the soles of his boots.

Perhaps the bosses at the Premier League should be allowed to run world economy given their ability to create a summer environment where one club can afford to offer £20m for Troy Deeney and the other club reckons it has enough money to reject it.

The €100m Manchester United paid for Paul Pogba sounds obscene but, in terms of the club's turnover, his ability to make money for them and, somewhere down the list, his playing ability, there's a strong degree of logic to the deal, albeit it is football logic.

Blades

Deeney is closer to the equivalent of a one-bed apartment in Dublin being worth €300,000 in 2005 which, as a result, meant that the nearby four-bedroom house, with a garden so small you could count the blades of grass, could fetch €900,000.

Last week gave us a new baseline figure by which to measure player values when Arsenal reportedly enquired about the availability of Jonny Evans from West Brom and were quoted a figure in the region of £25m.

Were West Brom acting like estate agents, they could justify their valuation by describing Evans as a three-time Premier League winner with Champions League experience who had just enjoyed a summer leading his country in one of their most successful campaigns on the international stage.

They might even tell Arsenal that there are other interested parties in order to drive up the price or, in the way that "in need of modernisation" actually means "in bits", could describe Evans as being a "one-off investment" which would be another way of saying that Arsenal would barely see a penny return in a few years' time.

The quickest way to sound like a curmudgeon is to complain about the amount of money sloshing around football but with the Premier League total spending heading towards £1bn - that's £1,000,000,000 - as the window closes on Wednesday night, the only response is bemusement.

If it does reach that mark - a figure which Sky Sports News will no doubt describe as "magical" - it will mean that Premier League clubs have spent an average of over £16m every day in the 61 days that the window has been open. And some team still has to finish bottom of the league.

Wenger described the levels of summer spending as "scary" but what will be far more frightening is if it manages, somehow, to be sustainable.

Like the recent queues every Saturday morning outside the aforementioned four-bedroom Dublin houses, the current spending levels in football are as if the economic turmoil of the last decade was just a bad dream.

The clubs will argue that they are simply spending the money they are receiving from the new television deal, which is worth billions, but there are several links in the money chain which need to stay rock-solid for it to remain sustainable.

In the same way that match-day revenue no longer means as much to clubs because of advertising, so too subscribers are no longer as important to the financial health of many of the broadcasters who show the Premier League.

Yet, if the falling numbers of people buying newspapers and music has taught us anything, it's that once people get used to not paying for a product, they aren't likely to start again at the level they did in the past and the next generation aren't as likely to pay a monthly subscription when, by whatever means necessary, they have grown up in an era of watching matches for free online.

Sport can't be watched as a box-set free of advertisements, which is what makes it so attractive to networks but, for many clubs, basing a long-term future on hundreds of millions arriving from elsewhere doesn't seem to have raised any red flags.

"Just as rising prices generate self-fulfilling expectations - you have to buy now before prices rise further, causing prices to rise - so falling prices generate their own momentum," wrote Morgan Kelly in his Irish Times article of December 2006 which, looking back, feels like somebody was predicting the future.

"Buying in a falling market is a guaranteed way to lose a fortune. Even if prices fall by only 5pc, a €500,000 house on which you paid 10pc in stamp duties and fees will leave you €75,000 poorer."

When it comes to the Premier League, instead of 'house', think 'centre-forward' or 'centre-back' when a critical shortage of a particular product drives up prices to the point where Jonny Evans is seemingly 'worth' £25m, or Juventus will pay £76m for 28-year-old Gonzalo Higuain.

Beast

Newspapers, websites and Sky Sports News will feed the beast to the point where otherwise rational adults feel justified in bringing placards inside a stadium with 'SPEND, SPEND, SPEND' written on them and the transfer window ladder gets ever higher for those trying to gain a foothold.

In the '80s, Serie A was able to attract the world's best players with more money than they could make anywhere in the world, which made their clubs successful.

If the Premier League goes the same way in the coming seasons, it's unlikely anybody will look to the fact that, once the money went away, Italy have had just three of the last 20 Champions League winners, and both Milan clubs average 37,000 supporters in a stadium that's able to hold 53,000 more people.

Even with his economics degree, Wenger last week sanctioned a double deal £52m in signing Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Peréz Martinez, which felt a little like Morgan Kelly buying a three-bed apartment in Coolock for €381,000.

Being prudent hasn't particularly worked for Arsenal in terms of trophies but, in terms of the overall game, there's a strong chance Wenger may be proved right in the years to come.

If he isn't, the next Jonny Evans is in for one hell of a career.

Irish Independent

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