Raheem Sterling is good value at £49m – and here is why
It was back in the summer of 2010 that Sir Alex Ferguson, having secured the "value" signings of Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling and Bebe at Manchester United, turned his ire on Manchester City by deriding the "kamikaze" spending over at the Etihad Stadium.
Roberto Mancini had just invested almost £120 million in five players who would all, within two years, help City knock United off their perch by claiming the club’s first league title in 44 years.
In contrast, Ferguson had spent a little short of £25 million in recruiting Hernandez, Smalling and Bebe, with the Scot insisting that United’s policy of looking for value in a market overheated by those "noisy neighbours" across town was the sensible option and a blueprint which would prove the right one in the long term.
Time has not been kind to Ferguson’s comments, however, and his frugal philosophy has been spectacularly abandoned by United since his retirement as manager two years ago.
Indeed, dispassionate reflection on the two routes taken by United and City points to the conclusion that, if anyone was on a kamikaze spending spree when Ferguson lobbed his hand-grenade towards Eastlands, it was United.
While United looked for bargains in Poundstretcher, City spent their millions at the top end of the market and proved that you really do get what you pay for.
City spent big in 2010, but they also spent wisely, with Yaya Touré and David Silva both arriving at a cost of £24 million from Barcelona and Valencia respectively. James Milner eventually cost £26 million from Aston Villa, with Stephen Ireland going the other way as part of the deal, while Aleksandar Kolarov also came in at £17 million from Lazio.
Mario Balotelli, a £24 million acquisition from Inter Milan, was the luxury signing granted to Mancini by the club’s Abu Dhabi hierarchy, but for all the trouble he caused during his time at the Etihad, his eventual £22 million sale to AC Milan ensured that City lost just £2 million on a player whose one memorable on-field contribution was the pass which led to Sergio Aguero’s title-winning goal in 2012.
Aguero himself arrived in the summer of 2011 at a cost of £38 million from Atletico Madrid, but what would the Argentine be worth now?
Which brings us to Raheem Sterling and the deal worth up to £49 million which has finally resolved the acrimonious saga of his move from Liverpool to City.
Sterling, at just 20, has become City’s record signing and the most expensive Englishman in history. Few would argue that £49 million is value for money for a player with fewer than 100 Premier League appearances to his name.
But even at £49 million, City see the long-term sense in investing in Sterling and their track record of being similarly bold with Touré, Silva and Aguero – all of whom have handsomely repaid their transfer fees at the Etihad –highlights their confidence in the England youngster.
When Ferguson paid £29.1 million and £27 million respectively for Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney at United in 2002 and 2004, similar noises about football going mad were aired, but with both players giving over 10 years of silver-plated service at Old Trafford, their transfer fees now look to be the definition of value.
City will see Sterling as a player who can bring success to the Etihad for the next decade and if he does, nobody will even remember his fee.
Sometimes, it pays to write the big cheques.
By spending £12m, £8m and £7m respectively on young Englishmen in Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair and Adam Johnson, City fell into the United trap of believing that value could only be found at the lower level of the market.
City wanted home-grown, domestic talent, but while Rodwell, Sinclair and Johnson proved to be the equivalent of a fleet of Austin Allegros, Sterling possesses all the signs of becoming an Aston Martin.
Quality does not come cheaply, but in the end, it is worth every penny.