The price is not right
So the summer’s most laborious transfer saga has finally come to an end, with James Milner joining the Eastlands revolution from Aston Villa for the princely sum of £26m. Yes, you read that right – £26m, with Manchester City’s Stephen Ireland heading in the opposite direction.
Various reports put Ireland’s transfer value at around £8m, so if you factor in the reported £2m pay-off City’s oil-rich owners paid the 23-year-old Irishman to release him from his contract, that’s still £20m for a player that looked woefully out of his depth in South Africa, having been run ragged by the United States’ full-back Steve Cherundolo in England’s opener in Rustenburg. To put it in perspective, Real Madrid captured two of the breakout stars of the World Cup, Germany’s Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, for a combined fee of £23m.
Where Milner will fit into Manchester City’s overstaffed midfield is anyone’s guess, but it is his transfer fee that really raises eyebrows, even if City’s owners are used to paying over the odds due to their unrivalled wealth. Milner is clearly a versatile player and a model professional, whose all-action displays in Villa’s midfield last season earned him a deserved call up to the England senior squad where he remains a useful, if limited, squad member. Yet the 24-year-old had often flattered to deceive at his previous clubs, and does not have the finesse to make the step up to world class level.
Often derided as a utility player, Milner appears to have finally discovered his best position after Martin O’Neill moved him into centre midfield. With Adam Johnson and Shaun Wright Phillips operating on the flanks at Eastlands, it is unlikely that he will be deployed in his previous position by his new boss Roberto Mancini. But with the club’s billionaire owners looking to bring the Premier League title to the blue half of Manchester, is Milner really an astute signing? He has one significant advantage over Ciy’s other marquee signings, in that he at home in the Premier League and won’t have to adjust to the pace and physicality of the English game. However, if Mancini’s expensively assembled side are to compete in the holy grail of the Champions League next season, they will surely need players of a higher calibre than the rugged Yorkshireman to make an impression amongst Europe’s elite.
Milner’s transfer also reignites the age-old debate about the inflated transfer value of English footballers. Arsene Wenger once wryly observed that he would bankrupt Arsenal if he were to only sign English players. Of the 83 players signed by Wenger during his tenure in North London, only seven have been English. When you consider that £7.5m was squandered on Francis Jeffers, and a further £9.1m on Theo Walcott, it is little wonder that the Arsenal boss prefers to shop abroad. In fairness to Milner, City have also paid out a huge sum for the unproven and erratic Mario Balotelli, who incidentally silenced some of his critics with a debut goal in Romania last night. But with the World Cup and European Championship-winning David Silva and the decorated Ivorian midfielder YaYa Toure snapped up for around £24m apiece, it does raise questions over the Englishman’s relative worth in the transfer market.
As England’s dismal showing in South Africa underlined, players from these shores are vastly overpriced when compared with their more technically adept counterparts on the continent. Ironically, the inflated sense of English players worth could be having an adverse effect on the fortunes on the national team, as elite foreign clubs are less likely to pay exorbitant sums for promising English talent when they can buy the finished article on the continent for a fraction of the price. As a result, many of England’s top players have missed out on the chance of honing their skills abroad in one of Europe’s elite competitions rather than in the familiar hustle and bustle of the Premier League.
Despite its reputation as the most exciting league in the world, the Premier League is not the be all and end all, and English players and their agents would do well to remember when they push for their next (overpriced) move.