News Column

Football: Young English talent suffers amid the frenzy of big-money purchases

September 2, 2014

David Conn



Manchester United's high-priced loan grab of the Colombian striker Radamel Falcao from his odd year out at tax-lite, thinly supported Monaco planted the transfer deadline day story where the focus has been all summer: on the tumultuous leavings and frantic arrivals at Old Trafford.

It is acknowledged now that clubs doing huge deals as late as United have this year are not as stable or organised as their rivals - notably Chelsea and Manchester City - who have recruited players early enough to show them round, at least, before the season starts. Yet this feverish United activity, more than pounds 120m spent including the staggering pounds 59.7m for Angel di Mariia's left-midfield thrust, pounds 6m for a season of Falcao and Daley Blind at pounds 14m, goes way beyond that truth about thinness of planning. This is historic upheaval - as, in hindsight, the eventual retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, like Sir Matt Busby's before him, was always going to be.

How odd it is to recall Ferguson leaving 16 months ago, the 2013 Premier League won, an impregnable-seeming dynasty to pass on to his anointed heir David Moyes, a farewell statement in which Ferguson said credibly that he was leaving "an organisation in the strongest possible shape". Of the players he promised enviable continuity. "The quality of this league winning squad, and the balance of ages within it, bodes well for continued success at the highest level," he said, "whilst the structure of the youth set-up will ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one."

Few foresaw anything like the crumbling which Ferguson's leaving, and that of his chief executive David Gill, has in fact revealed, leading to Moyes' rapid dismissal and this summer's scramble for Louis van Gaal. The hectic squad stocking, pursued to the last day, has lent yet more awe to Ferguson's managerial record: that he wrested such triumphs from a squad which, as Moyes complained in vain, actually needed major reconstruction.

Shocked out of eight merry years re-financing and brand-sweating, United's US owners, the Glazers, have had to sanction their eager executive and former banker, Edward Woodward, to tear up years of restraint. Luke Shaw, a pounds 27m left-back, and Ander Herrera, pounds 29m, would have sufficed in a normal Ferguson years but Woodward has clattered on. He will hope that Di Maria, an undoubted star acquired at a seller's price, the pounds 16m Argentinian defender Marcos Rojo and the late coup of Falcao will reburnish the brand Woodward has sold for the Glazers to multiple sponsors from an office in Mayfair.

His work appears frantic compared with the strategic reinforcing by Chelsea, with the pounds 30m Cesc Fabregas and pounds 32m Diego Costa, among others, signed early, and City securing the defender Eliaquim Mangala for pounds 32m, Fernando's midfield bite for pounds 12m and more squad depth including Bacary Sagna and Frank Lampard.

Yet there is a sadness here, too. In the rush two at United deemed as surplus stock were Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, young English players polished in the "youth set-up" whose merits Ferguson sang. It was another of Ferguson's distinctions that he continued to promote homegrown players when his rivals mostly stopped. These deals risk ending a great Old Trafford tradition. Cleverley and Welbeck were both Ferguson first choices in the 2013 Champions League round-of-16 second leg, when United were thrillingly beating Jose Mourinho'sReal Madrid until the turning point of Nani's sending-off.

The money reaped by Premier League clubs, from the record pounds 5.5bn 2013-16 Sky, BT, BBC and international TV deals, plus high-priced tickets and merchandise the fans stump up for, and layers of sponsorship, has meant more than pounds 700m spent on players this summer. After brief, dutiful head-shaking following England's World Cup exit the clubs' response has been to spend around pounds 600m of that on talent from overseas. The stand-out exceptions have been the elevations from a shaken Southampton of Shaw, Calum Chambers, signed for pounds 16m by Arsenal, Adam Lallana, and Rickie Lambert, bought for pounds 25m and pounds 4m respectively by Liverpool, where Brendan Rodgers is continuing with a core of English players.

Yet Liverpool apart, at the clubs eyeing the title and elite European competition, movement is the other way. Ryan Bertrand, who famously made his Chelsea first-team debut in the 2012 Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich, has gone to Southampton, his seventh club on loan in seven years since joining from Gillingham. Manchester City prided themselves at first under Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan's ownership on fielding a corps of England internationals, but that policy has been revised. Joleon Lescott and a largely unused Jack Rodwell left this summer, while Micah Richards, City's one academy graduate in the billion pound Abu Dhabi makeover, signed for Fiorentina on a season-long loan.

Transfer deadline day gives way now to a week of kitchen sink suffering with Roy Hodgson, lamenting modest players called up and several England internationals no longer regulars at their globalised clubs. There was never going to be much of a debate after England's World Cup failure, despite the many lessons in Germany's triumph. The chances of having one now can be measured in the frenzied summer at the Glazers' Manchester United.

In numbers:

pounds 800m+

Total spend in the Premier League in this transfer window, a record sum that eclipses the pounds 631m spent in the summer of 2013

pounds 151.7m

Manchester United's spending this summer, a figure that far exceeds the second-highest spend, Liverpool's pounds 117m

pounds 3m

The amount spent by Stoke, making the Potters the Premier League's lowest spenders of the summer

pounds 59.7m

The biggest single deal of the window - Manchester United's outlay on Angel di Maria



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Source: Guardian (UK)


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