Cardiff City have had an £8m offer for Tom Ince accepted by his club Blackpool. There’s no doubt that Ince is an effective offensive presence and has shown that he can score and make goals. However, he’s only done so in the English second tier, albeit with a spectacular output; but he’s only reached high end levels once. Last season, he scored 18 and made 14 goals to make him one of the most dangerous players in the Championship. But it’s his only big year. The season before that, he scored 6 and made 7. Decent enough certainly, but worth £8m? The only reason he costs so much is his nationality. He is a prime example of the problem of buying British players.
One of the biggest bugbears about English football is the number of overseas players that clubs sign rather than choosing British players. However, there is such a premium on British players that it is easy to see why. For example, Swansea signed Michu and Pablo Hernandez last summer for a combined £7.5m. Two players, barely older than Ince, with La Liga, and in Hernandez’s case, Champions League experience. Spurs paid £7.5m for Rafael van der Vaart from Real Madrid. Man United paid £7m for Nemanja Vidic. Chelsea paid £7m for Kevin de Bruyne. The list goes on. But compare that to Sunderland paying £12m for Steven Fletcher and £10m for Adam Johnson or Liverpool’s famous £70m binge on Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing. So why do clubs keep paying so much for British players?
The most obvious and well worn-out reason is that when you sign a British player, they take less time to adapt, and they don’t need to learn a new language and culture. But this is incredibly outdated. The likes of Eden Hazard, Santi Cazorla, Demba Ba and, once again, Michu, have all shown that if you are good enough, it doesn’t matter. Not only that, but with English now so widely spoken, and with many players even choosing to learn it in the hope of a move to the Premier League, the settling-in time is negligible. Really, this is just laziness. It is bad scouting.
It’s much easier to buy a player you have played against and watched lots of times in your domestic league. Martin O’Neill spent fortunes at Aston Villa and Sunderland doing this. He bought inferior players for exorbitant fees, just because he knew and felt he could trust them. Tony Pulis did the same thing at Stoke, and various other ‘old school’ managers have done the same. It’s easy enough to say, ‘well they were good in the Premier League, we had no indication they would fail’ rather than plucking someone from overseas only to see them fail.
A lot of this is driven by the media. Most transfer mishaps that are retold involve overseas players. Somehow, that they are foreign means their failure is more obvious. ‘Of course they were going to fail, they’re not English’. But for every Shevchenko or Veron, there is a Downing, Bentley or Jeffers. It attracts less criticism to sign a player the fans have heard of. Cardiff fans know Tom Ince. They know what he can do as he has done it right under their noses.
However, a quick look to Italy sees Juan Quintero starring for Pescara and available for the same money, if not less. If Ince fails though, it is because of the wider malaise in English football. If Quintero failed, it would be because Cardiff took too big a risk in signing an overseas player. Or so the common misconception goes.
Of course, this sort of thinking doesn’t infect everyone, just the teams with an inefficient transfer policy. It’s never a good idea for anyone other the very rich clubs to sign a player for far more than they are worth, simply because of the name on the back. Cardiff evidently want Tom Ince and are willing to pay. But they are paying far too much money compared to what they could find elsewhere. Is there really no player in the £3-4m in range in Holland, for example? PSV are about to spend £7m on the massively superior Adam Maher, and he is considered the cream of the Dutch crop.
The likes of Swansea, West Brom and, before last season, Newcastle, have all found success down a different route. They have carefully scouted Spain, the Benelux and France respectively and found incredible value. In order to get yourself above the log jam at the bottom of the Premier League, you need to be innovative, or just fairly clever in the market, and you will see a noticeable upturn in your fortunes. Teams that ignore that (Stoke, Sunderland, even West Ham to a degree) have found themselves below where they should be considering the amount of money they spend.
Tom Ince is a good player, but made to look better by the dearth of English talent. Being the star man in England’s youth set up is not the same as being the star of Spain’s. For a club to be willing to pay £8m for a young player with only one good season, in the second tier at that, on his CV is a huge risk and shows why you can’t buy British unless you can afford to easily replace them. Liverpool’s mistakes have set them back about 5 years.