Robbery, bargains and Liverpool: making sense of the Premier League’s Summer transfer activity

During the Summer transfer period, teams are less desperate than they are at the time of the January window. The likes of Darren Bent and Andy Carroll may not have commanded such high transfer fees in the Summer, nor would you be likely to see a repeat of Chelsea’s bizarre decision to spend £50 million on Fernando Torres. But millions will continue to be spent in the days before August 31 and the Torres deal is not the only one that will raise a few eyebrows.

Sometimes you have to wonder how teams arrive at a particular price when valuing a player, particularly when you compare similar transfers. Obviously, there are several factors to consider for a transfer: ability, age, potential, time left on current contract, agents, the player’s willingness to move (i.e. will he bully his club and force through a transfer?). Even considering these aspects, it can often look like the two teams simply pluck a random figure out of the air. Maybe I’m doing these teams a great disservice; they could be basing their spending on the strength of one Summer tournament (aka the Liverpool way), grainy YouTube videos or even Football Manager games. However, this Summer it seems teams are paying for potential more than ever.

Summer transfer activity 2011

United see de Gea as a long term replacement for Edwin Van der Sar

Manchester United have signed David de Gea from Atletico Madrid for a fee around £17 million. The Red Devils see the Spanish stopper as a long-term replacement for Edwin Van der Sar and when you consider that the 20-year-old has just won the U21 European Championships, you can see what United are paying for. Meanwhile, Wigan have snapped up Ali Al Habsi from Bolton for £4 million. The 29-year-old Oman international was the Latics’ player of the season and although he is much older than de Gea, Wigan can consider the deal a bargain when you look at what United are willing to pay for a keeper.

United have also splashed out a reported £18.7 million on Blackburn Rovers’ 19-year-old defender Phil Jones. Impressive in the U21 European championships in Denmark and made an impact in the Premier League’s last campaign. Several big clubs were reportedly interested in Jones, but almost £20 million on a player yet to really prove himself at the top level seems a bit steep. United’s Manchester neighbours captured Gael Clichy from Arsenal in a deal worth £7 million. OK, he had only a year to run on his contract, but City have a 25-year-old left back with bags of Premier League and Champions League experience for less than half of what United paid for Jones.

Liverpool have splashed out £20m on Henderson

Liverpool never fail to baffle the world with their transfer dealings. They obviously saw Chelsea coming on the Fernando Torres deal and even though they spent £35 million on Andy Carroll, so far they look like they’ve gotten the better deal. But after they pantsed the Blues, collecting £50 million on Torres, Liverpool have closed their eyes and spent £20 million to bring 21-year-old Jordan Henderson to Merseyside from Sunderland. It’s things like this that will allow Harry Redknapp to demand £40 million for Luka Modric. The Wearsiders have brought in 24-year-old Craig Gardner from relegated Birmingham City for around £6 million. Are we really saying that Henderson made a bigger impact (to the tune of £14 million odd) in the Premier League last season than Gardner or Jamie O’Hara, who recently completed a £5 million move to Wolves?

After losing Henderson, Black Cats manager Steve Bruce has decided to invest part of the 21-year-old’s transfer fee back into youth, in the form of Ipswich’s hot prospect Connor Wickham. Sunderland have paid an initial £8 million to capture Wickham’s signature, with the fee potentially rising to £13 million. This certainly falls into the category of paying for potential. Wickham scored 9 league goals in 24 starts and 13 sub appearances for the Tractor Boys last term in the Championship. Compare that with proven Championship hit-man Danny Graham, who bagged 23 goals for Watford, earning the 25-year-old a £3.5 million move to newly promoted Swansea City.

Premier League sides would do well to do their homework on their transfer targets. Some teams still seem to think that a high price = great signing. Maybe it’s agents, maybe it’s Footy Manager and maybe it’s the transfer window, but fees are becoming increasingly random. Tottenham and West Brom managed to capture two of the best signings in the last Summer window for a snip in Rafael Van der Vaart (£7m) and Peter Odemwingie (£1m). There are bargains to be had out there – it just depends if teams are willing to pay for ability, potential or just media hype.

The most expensive import from the Championship: hot prospect or media hype?