Wednesday 23 January 2019

Aidan O'Hara: Player bartering phenomenon to rise as money means nothing

'In their most optimistic mood regarding what they might get for Alexis Sanchez this month, Arsenal's valuation would have been around £35m' Photo: Getty
'In their most optimistic mood regarding what they might get for Alexis Sanchez this month, Arsenal's valuation would have been around £35m' Photo: Getty
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

In the school playground, everybody knew certain players were scarce when it came to completing a sticker album, which meant that swaps were the only way to do business.

At the risk of age-profiling this column, if you needed Lee Sharpe to finish off your album, spending all of your pocket money on more packets of stickers was pretty risky because it would more than likely give you five more Gary Pallisters.

The positive to stockpiling, however, was that it increased your scope for bartering if you found someone with that elusive Sharpe sticker because you could offer them three-quarters of the Aston Villa squad which you had duplicated plus a few shiny ones to get the deal across the line.

Increasingly, the Premier League will have to adopt the schoolyard approach to doing business because money now means as much as having a five-inch wad of stickers - it's great to have, but pretty useless if it can't get you what you want.

In their most optimistic mood regarding what they might get for Alexis Sanchez this month, Arsenal's valuation would have been around £35m.

This, it seems, was too expensive for Manchester City, so the club who over the years have paid £24m for Joleon Lescott, £28m on Wilfried Bony and £25m on Stevan Jovetic decided to negotiate to get better value for money.

That delay allowed Manchester United to swoop, but also set up a situation in which Arsenal and Arsene Wenger can't believe their luck.

Had City agreed to the £35m price, Arsenal would have entered a market in which that figure buys Danny Drinkwater, as it did for Chelsea last summer. It's a figure £10m short of getting Gylfi Sigurdsson, who will be the benchmark by which all selling clubs now operate.

Or, to put it another way, it would have been £15m more than they got for a player who played 63 minutes of league football for them this season, Theo Walcott.

In other words, for a team trying to bridge the gap between themselves and teams getting further away, having just sold their best player, the £35m from City would have been useless.

Instead, in Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Wenger now has an established player who should be able to slot into Arsenal's system. Given a straight choice between the two, Wenger would still have chosen Sanchez but, despite themselves, Arsenal may actually do well out of what they had set up to be a disastrous situation.

Arsenal may have to offer Olivier Giroud plus cash to Borussia Dortmund to get the Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang deal over the line which, ideally, Wenger probably wouldn't want given the French striker's ability to play the 'In Case of Emergency' option from the bench. But if it's the difference between getting a player you want while losing one who rarely starts when everyone is fit, it would seem an obvious move.

The contracts of American sports stars are structured differently to those in the Premier League, which means that if an NFL player is being traded to another team, his options boil down to 1) Go to the new team and get on with it or 2) Retire. So, unlike the Premier League, players do what they're told.

In basketball, American football and baseball, trades are the mode of moving players from team to team, with draft picks or lesser lights usually thrown to sweeten the deal.

Historically, such player exchange deals haven't worked as well in football as they do in the American version of it, but that's because money always talked.

Now, in an era when Stoke can break their transfer record to sign Giannelli Imbula (me neither) for £18m from Porto and then send him on loan a year later, the impact of having money has been diluted simply because every team in the Premier League has so much of it.

Looking back, Liverpool should have insisted on Alexis Sanchez being part of any deal for Luis Suarez with Barcelona, because while the money (£75m) was great, spending over half of it on Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, Alberto Moreno and Divock Origi rather dampened any celebrations of Liverpool suddenly being cash-rich.

It's a similar predicament to the one Southampton find themselves in, with the money from Virgil van Dijk burning a hole in their already bulging pockets. The magic tricks they have performed over the past few seasons to produce a conveyor belt of talent and signings appear not to be working this time around, and they find themselves battling relegation.


Yet their plight would have been helped enormously had they a player like Daniel Sturridge in their ranks. Signing him would have taken a fair chunk off the £75m they received from Liverpool but when fit, he would have given them exactly the sort of proven Premier League striker they'll desperately search for before the transfer window closes next week.

It would, of course, have meant convincing Sturridge to move to Southampton but, if their wages are being increased by whatever means necessary, most players won't take much persuading to take a step down.

For unwanted players, money is a very simple method to soften the blow to their pride but, increasingly to the selling clubs, all the cash looks great but not much good when they're in desperate need of Lee Sharpe, and all they can buy is Gary Pallister.

Irish Independent

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