When it comes to transfer figures in today’s game, it’s hard to make sense of just what represents value for money or what represents a good deal.
In fact, as the wealthiest clubs get richer and even smaller clubs in the Premier League can afford to break their transfer record every season, the transfer fee is becoming more and more irrelevant, as long as the clubs can sign the player they want.
There seems to be a direct lack of correlation between the player and the price tag that is attached to him.
Getting a certain player can be crucial to a manager’s style of play or philosophy.
As traditional roles are becoming much more specialised – think deep lying central midfielders such as Jorginho, managers can become fixated on bringing in the player they think will suit the role the best.
This has led to clubs paying well above what might be the usual asking price.
When we try to compare and contrast players transfer fees to that of their ability or status as a footballer, the difference can be often very misleading.
Take Manchester United’s latest signing, Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Here is a promising young English full back who has made less than 50 senior starts in his short career so far, but has somehow demanded a transfer fee in and around the £50 million mark.
How did the two clubs involved in this transfer come to agree on such a figure?
Nearly four years ago to the day Manchester United signed Luke Shaw, another promising young English full back. He was signed for roughly £27 million, a then record fee for a teenage defender.
So how did the price of a player like Shaw increase to just over double in the space of five years?
A number of factors come into play, but one of the main reasons was that the club were willing to do whatever they needed to sign the player they wanted.
This means that the team selling is in much more powerful position and is able to raise the price of the transfer as they see fit.
Not that long ago, a player’s valuation was calculated on a number of factors, such as age, ability, and what other similar players were worth.
Past transfers were used a rough guideline of what a club should be expected to pay, with a small bit of inflation added in year on year.
Clubs and fans generally had a rough idea of what a player was worth in the current market, with the exception of a few world class players that would always go for a lot more than expected.
That has all gone out the window in the last few years though, around the time Neymar packed his bags in Barcelona and headed off for Paris with dreams of winning the Champions League.
This was the transfer that many pundits say broke the transfer market and changed the way clubs put valuations of their players.
For big clubs, when it comes to identifying targets and trying to acquire them, they will do whatever it takes and often pay whatever is the asking price in order for them to get their man.
The fee paid is becoming less and less relevant.
Yes, clubs don’t want to get their pants pulled down, but at the same time we have seen over the last few transfer windows that they are willing to part with far more than is usually expected so they can sign a player they really want.
Recently we have seen this with Eden Hazard’s transfer from Chelsea to Spanish giants Real Madrid. Hazard eventually signed on this summer after a couple of seasons of flirting with Los Blancos for an eye watering £88 million.
Madrid were willing to pay such an exorbitant fee to Chelsea even though the Belgian only had one year remaining on his contract.
Massive fees and Madrid have always gone together but even this seemed a little excessive considering the player wanted to join the club over any other potential suitors.
Madrid knew how important getting Hazard was though and so the fee became nearly irrelevant as long as they got their man.
In the summer of 2017, Southampton rejected Liverpool’s advances for Virgil van Dijk and subsequently reported them for trying to make illegal approaches for the player.
The Dutchman was Jurgen Klopp’s number one choice when it came to signing a centre back, and no other player would apparently do.
The chance to sign him looked dead in the water, but a few months later it was announced he would join Liverpool for a reported seventy million pounds, a world record transfer fee for a defender.
Klopp had not gone out and tried to sign someone else even though the club had the money to do so.
He was sure that Van Dijk was the right man for his team and how they played.
Liverpool had to pay what was seen as over the odds at the time for the centre back but they got their man and for Klopp , that was all that mattered.
In hindsight, it has been one of Klopp’s and Liverpool’s best transfer decisions in years.
A team that used to recruit a number of average players every season for above average fees, had finally realised that it’s worth the wait to get the player you want, and by spending big on the player you want, you can save money in the long term by not having to replace mediocre players personnel every couple of seasons.
The more and more revenue clubs take in from television deals and sponsorships, the more they will have to spend on player acquisition, and as long as the manager gets the player he thinks best suits his team he and the fans will be happy.
The days of rival fans using transfer fees as a stick to beat each other with is a thing of the past.
Fans would rather their club stump up the money instead of missing out on a player altogether.
How do we equate what is too much for one player and not enough for another now that the market has become so skewed?
The simple answer is that we can’t, and as long as there is so much money floating around at the top level of club football, then fees will only become larger and more exuberant.
In today’s game it’s definitely a sellers’ market.