Following one of the lowest spending transfer windows in recent times, clubs may finally be coming to their senses regarding transfer fees. It is, however, far more likely that this is just a temporary blip and that summer will see a resurgence of ridiculous spending despite the number of big-money flops currently clogging up the Premier League. Nevertheless, there are a number of players who have proven to be bargain signings and shown to be amongst the best players in the league. Whilst this is hardly news to any football fan, the full extent of the disparity is easily overlooked. To clarify the matter, listed below are two teams: a Bargain XI and an Overpriced XI. The combined total of the Bargain XI’s transfer fees is lower than the wages of the Overpriced XI, demonstrating how a little shrewdness in the transfer market can reap great rewards, and reiterating what we all know already – that a big transfer fee does not mean a good player.
Tim Krul (free) – Newcastle United
Krul moved to Newcastle on a free transfer (though ADO Den Haag would later successfully claim €220,000 in compensation) way back in 2005, but had to content himself with various loan moves and deputising for Steve Harper before breaking into the first team last season following an injury to Harper. Krul looked impressive last season but has made a step-up with his performances this season, regularly keeping Newcastle United in games – Sunday’s win over Aston Villa being a case in point. Without Krul there is no doubt that Newcastle would not be in contention for a European place, so crucial have his performances been.
William Gallas (free) – Tottenham Hotspur
Becoming the first player in history to have played for Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham does not speak well of Gallas’ loyalty, but is no mean feat to have played for three of the Premier League’s biggest teams. Harry Redknapp described the decision to sign Gallas on a free as a “no-brainer” – a comment which is a testament to the 33-year-old’s ability, even if nobody would be surprised if Gallas completed the set and played for Fulham and QPR before his career is out.
Jonathan Woodgate (free) – Stoke City
Plagued by injury throughout his career, Woodgate was once one of England’s brightest prospects after breaking into Leeds United’s first team. The fact that Real Madrid were prepared to buy him from Newcastle United for £13.4m speaks volumes about how highly-rated Woodgate is and though his time in the Spanish capital was far from fruitful, it was his injury-proneness rather than his performance that necessitated his move away from the club. Sadly, we may never have seen the full extent of Woodgate’s true potential, but for a free signing on a pay-as-you-play deal he is a bargain.
Matthew Upson (free) – Stoke City
Upson, like Woodgate, is another England prospect who has been dogged by injury throughout his career. Despite this, Upson has managed to collect 21 England caps and was even the joint top scorer in England’s woeful 2010 World Cup campaign thanks to his goal against Germany. Though he has only managed seven appearances for Stoke this season, the left-footed centre-back is a valuable asset for Tony Pulis to have at his disposal.
Neil Taylor (free) – Swansea City
The young Welsh international has come a long way since his move from Wrexham in 2010. The talented left-back made an immediate impact in his first season with the Swans, helping them to reach the playoffs only to be sent off in under a minute in their semi-final clash with Nottingham Forest. Nevertheless, Swansea gained promotion and Taylor was subject to a £1m transfer bid from Newcastle United which was quickly declined. His performances this season have led him to be linked to move to Arsenal and though this appears to have been nothing more than media speculation, it would come as no surprise if Taylor becomes the target of numerous clubs come summer as they seek to find that most sought after of players – a gifted left-back.
James McClean (£350k) – Sunderland
The young Irish midfielder was confined to the reserve team during Steve Bruce’s time at Sunderland but has been given the opportunity to prove his first-team credentials under Martin O’Neill’s reign. McClean has repaid the faith O’Neill has shown in him with a number of stellar performances for the Black Cats, including two goals and a handful of assists. It will be intriguing to see whether Trapattoni selects McClean for the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2012 campaign, but Sunderland will undoubtedly be more concerned with holding on to their skilful young winger.
Joey Barton (free) – Q.P.R
Always controversial both on and off the pitch, Barton is a player who divides opinion. Twice convicted for violent offences – the first for actual bodily harm against teammate Ousmane Dabo which led to him being sold to Newcastle United, the second for assault and affray in Liverpool for which he spent 77 days held at her majesty’s pleasure – Barton’s discipline has always been a problem but his performances for QPR this season have repaid the faith they showed in signing Barton last summer.
Sebastian Larsson (free) – Sunderland
Larsson has been in fine form for Sunderland this year following his free transfer from Birmingham City following their relegation to the Championship. Along with his skill on the ball, Larsson has also shown his goal-scoring prowess with a fantastic scissor-kick against Liverpool on the opening day of the season and a brace of free-kicks, leading Arsène Wenger to describe him as one of the best free-kick takers in the league.
Martin Petrov (free) – Bolton Wanderers
Petrov made a name for himself as a dynamic attacking midfielder during his time at Wolfsburg and Atlético Madrid before his £4.7m move to Manchester City in 2007. The winger was impressive in his debut season with City, though his defensive capabilities left a lot to be desired and consequently Petrov struggled to secure a regular place in Mark Hughes’ side in the following two seasons. City allowed Petrov’s contract to expire and Bolton swooped in to sign the veteran Bulgarian and he has proven to be a shrewd signing for the Wanderers.
Demba Ba (free) – Newcastle United
Though the striker was unable to prevent Senegal making an embarrassing early-exit from this year’s African Cup of Nations, he has been prolific this season in the Premier League, netting 16 goals in 20 games for the Magpies. It remains to be seen whether Ba can maintain his rich vein of goal-scoring in the second half of the season, but with Ba averaging better than a goal every two games in his professional career, it would be a bold man who bet against him.
Craig Bellamy (free) – Liverpool
The tenacious striker is renowned for being a mercenary and a troublemaker in the dressing room, charges which are strongly supported by the fact that Bellamy has played for ten different clubs in his sixteen-year career. However, fans of whichever team he happens to be playing for in a given season always love him for his terrier-like work-rate and his desire to win and it is undeniable that Bellamy is a quality player, albeit now in the twilight of his career.
Brad Friedel (free) – Tottenham Hotspur
The veteran 40-year-old American goalkeeper has been ever-present in the league this season for Tottenham following his free transfer from Aston Villa in summer. Friedel is currently just two appearances shy of 300 consecutive Premier League appearances – a record which is testament to his consistency and shows remarkable fitness for his age. Although he only has one trophy to show for his time in English football (the League Cup with Blackburn Rovers in 2002), Friedel has been praised by fans and pundits alike throughout his career, and was named as the starting goalkeeper in Andy Gray’s ‘Team of the Decade’ in 2009.
David De Gea (£18.9m) – Manchester United
Flapping at crosses, letting shots squirm under his body and the ability to let even the weakest of shots bobble past him, David De Gea has it all. Signing a goalkeeper with eyesight problems was always going to be a gamble, but United surely couldn’t have expected to get a competitor to Massimo Taibi’s throne. That said, De Gea conceded the most goals from outside the box in La Liga last season, so perhaps there were some warning signs there. Sir Alex can back him all he likes but after relegating him to fourth choice goalkeeper on Tuesday evening against Stoke there is no doubt that he has no confidence in his big money signing.
José Bosingwa (£16.3m) – Chelsea
The full-back has struggled to live up to his outrageous transfer fee since he arrived at Chelsea sporting a mono-brow that Frida Kahlo would be jealous of. That isn’t to say Bosingwa is a terrible player, but he is a woeful defender whose only redeeming feature is his ability going forward. When you sign a player for that much money, you’re expecting someone worthy of a place in any Premier League side; sadly for Chelsea, Bosingwa possesses little in the way of awareness and at times appears utterly oblivious of his role as a defender (i.e. defending). To add insult to injury, Bosingwa’s price tag is thrown into stark relief by young players such as Chris Smalling and Micah Richards, both of whom have been impressive at right back this season and shown experience beyond their years.
Per Mertesacker (£10m) – Arsenal
Probably not the most outrageous transfer fee ever but Mertesacker was certainly overpriced and overrated. The German international has looked completely clueless at times this season and simply does not have the pace to cope with being a defender in the Premier League. In spite of his towering height and reputation for dominating his opposition, Mertesacker has by his own admission struggled to adapt to the physical nature of the Premier League.
David Luiz (£21.5m) – Chelsea
A hot-headed centre back is not what you want when you sign a defender for over £20m, but that is what Chelsea got. Though undoubtedly talented, Luiz has a tendency to make rash decisions, especially in crucial situations; for instance when Luiz bundled over Heidar Helguson in the box when the striker was going nowhere, conceding a penalty and costing Chelsea the game against QPR. The most scathing criticism of Luiz, and a perfect summary of his faults, came from one of the best defenders ever to grace the Premier League – Gary Neville – who described David Luiz as playing as though he was “being controlled by a 10-year-old on a Playstation.” Not ideal.
Aleksandar Kolarov (£16m) – Manchester City
The Serbian defender has looked a shadow of the player that he was during his time at Lazio since his move to City in 2010. The full back was criticised in his first season for his poor distribution, his lack of composure on the ball and his inadequate positioning. Though his performances this season have been an improvement, there still isn’t enough to suggest that his transfer fee was in any way justified. This has been exemplified by the emergence of Gael Clichy as City’s first choice left back after he was signed for less than half what Kolarov cost in summer. As a result, Kolarov has consistently been linked with a move away from the Etihad, with Real Madrid allegedly expressing an interest in the player, but one thing is certain: City will not be recouping anything close to the amount they spent should they decide to sell him.
David Bentley (£17m) – Tottenham Hotspur
In some ways Tottenham can be forgiven for their valuation of Bentley, who had made a name for himself at Blackburn Rovers for his creativity and his technique. Nevertheless, Bentley has been a complete waste of money for Spurs, having played only 42 league games for the club in four seasons. After making 25 appearances in the Premiership in his first season, Bentley’s form deteriorated and he fell out of favour at Tottenham, culminating in two loan spells in 2011 at Birmingham City and West Ham United, failing to make an impression at either club.
Jordan Henderson (£20m) – Liverpool
Henderson has appeared in all but one league game for Liverpool this season but you would be forgiven for not realising that given how anonymous he has been. He may well be a good prospect for the future, but to pay £20m for a player who is yet to demonstrate that he can become anywhere near as good as his transfer fee suggests is reckless spending at best for Liverpool. Moreover, Henderson’s transfer fee places him in the same price range as players – such as Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll – who have been bought at a young age for large sums of money, which inevitably places a great deal of pressure on Henderson to perform. Rooney may have lived up to his price tag but he hasn’t become the world-beater that he was touted as whilst at Everton, and the pressure on Carroll as a result of his ridiculously high transfer fee has done him no favours. It remains to be seen whether Henderson will develop into a good enough player to warrant his £20m price tag, but somehow I doubt it.
Michael Carrick (£18.6m) – Manchester United
Often unfairly vilified by this blog, his selection in the Overpriced XI is no exception. Clearly Samir Nasri’s transfer fee of £25m from Arsenal to Manchester City is far worse on the face of things, but at least we know what Nasri is capable of. The problem is, we know exactly what Carrick is capable of, and it isn’t particularly spectacular. Carrick was recently described as the Rolls-Royce of the United side by team-mate Paul Scholes, who was trying portray him as an unsung hero of the team who had quietly gone about his business whilst guiding United to five titles in six seasons. Unfortunately, not even United fans are buying this rhetoric. Rolls-Royce is, however, is a perfect description of Carrick – exorbitantly overpriced and costly to maintain, but still better than Bentley.
Stewart Downing (£20m) – Liverpool
Evidently not content with the number of overpriced Englishmen in their team, Liverpool swooped in for midfield maestro Downing in July of the last year. Quite why Liverpool decided that such a flagrantly average player was worth so much money is beyond comprehension. Unlike with Henderson and Carroll, Downing is in the prime years of his career – this is him at his best believe it or not. His crossing has left a lot to be desired this season, as has his attacking play generally; Downing has yet to get so much a an assist in the League this year, let alone a goal, and surely must be cited as one of the reasons that Liverpool currently sit bottom of the league for chance conversion.
Fernando Torres (£50m) – Chelsea
Fifty million pounds, thirty-two Premier League games, three goals – the facts speak for themself. Andre Villas-Boas claimed a few days ago that Torres’ goal drought is simply part of the settling in process, but few other strikers have gone 1,000 consecutive minutes on the pitch without a goal, certainly not when they have been bought for as much as Torres. His strike rate is less than half that of Emile Heskey – enough said.
Andy Carroll (£35m) – Liverpool
Much the same as Torres, Andy Carroll has struggled to recapture the form that convinced Liverpool to fork out £35m for the striker. There is an argument that Liverpool’s style of play does not suit Carroll and there is some truth to that claim. However, this cannot explain away the stats – Carroll has scored just five Premier League goals in 28 appearances, which simply isn’t good enough for any self-respecting forward, let alone for a team seeking to secure European football.
Samir Nasri (£25m) – Manchester City
Nasri only avoided inclusion in the Overpriced XI thanks to Michael ‘Rolls Royce’ Carrick. Having made a spectacular start to the season with Arsenal in 2010, Nasri’s performances rapidly declined in 2011. Manchester City bought him presumably convinced that he would recapture his form once surrounded by City’s star-studded squad but, since his promising debut, Nasri has been far from convincing and has failed to establish himself as a regular starter. All too often, Nasri looks disinterested and completely uncommitted in difficult games, which suggests that Arsenal fans are quite right to criticise him for being a mercenary.