With astronomical TV deals, sky-high ticket prices and owners with more money than sense, English football revolves around money more than any other European country. Even in the Championship, clubs are exchanging players for eight figure sums, something that seemed non-viable five years ago. But whilst the likes of Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Wolves might be able to cope with the hike in player prices in this country, the majority of clubs can’t. Speaking to GetReading in mid-July, Jaap Stam showed his frustration that transfer targets playing in England were massively overpriced, suggesting:
“The salaries that some players are asking are ridiculous, the amounts some teams are asking are ridiculous and that makes it harder to get players in.”
It’s true. After seeing Jordan Rhodes move from Middlesbrough to Sheffield Wednesday for £10 million and Britt Assombalonga join Boro from Nottingham Forest for £14 million this summer, you really do have to question whether either of those two strikers are truly worth those respective sums of money and whether they would cost as much if they weren’t playing in England.
All this points to the idea that Reading need to start looking abroad for players to bring in. Someone playing in Germany, France or the Netherlands for example, who is just as good if not better than a £5 million Championship player, will probably cost half that price at most.
I’ve been on holiday in Norfolk this week so decided to go to Carrow Road to see how a new-look Norwich side got on against Swindon in the Carabao Cup. Under new manager Daniel Farke, the Canaries have been busy in the transfer market this summer, with half of their 10 new players coming from abroad. A few of the new foreign imports were on show in a 3-2 win on Tuesday night and really impressed me - centre-back pairing Marcel Franke and Christoph Zimmermann and to a lesser extent midfielder Mario Vrancic.
Cheap foreign imports
Zimmermann joined on a free from Borussia Dortmund II when his contract ran out at the end of last season so it’s hard to compare his value to a defender in the Championship, but you only need to look at how much Franke and Vrancic were bought for to see that cheaper options outside of England exist. The former moved from Bundesliga 2 side Greuther Furth for an estimated £2.7 million. Yet I would say that he is no worse than Grant Hanley (£5.9 million), Marc Roberts (£3.60 million) or Tommy Elphick (£3.5 million) who have all moved between English clubs within the last year or so for bigger fees.
Meanwhile, Vrancic cost £675,000 from Bundesliga outfit SV Darmstadt 98. Again, plenty of other central midfielders have moved between English clubs in the last year for higher sums despite being around the same quality as Vrancic - Aaron Tshibola (£5.3 million), Craig Gardner (£1.6 million) and Jordan Cousins (£1.35 million) to name a few.
The man behind these deals at Carrow Road is sporting director Stuart Webber, who had a similar impact at Huddersfield last season, when he helped bring in Christopher Schindler (£2 million), Collin Quaner (£450,000) and Elias Kachunga (loan fee of £225,000) from Germany. All three players played key roles in the Terriers earning promotion to the Premier League. In February 2016 (three months after appointing David Wagner as manager), Webber commented on the need to scour the European market:
“When you look at the English market, especially the Championship, it’s become very saturated and very expensive and even average Championship players cost a lot to buy and a lot in wages.
“Our record signing is £1.3 million, so we have to have an open mind to foreign players and, again, bringing in a foreign coach we firmly believe will help that.”
It’s a system he has replicated at Carrow Road (David Wagner and Daniel Farke also both made the switch to the Championship from Borussia Dortmund II), and I’m confident in saying that it should see Norwich fighting for/achieving promotion in May.
Why are Reading seemingly not pursuing this strategy?
Of course there are a couple of issues with bringing in players from abroad. Firstly, as Webber points out “You need to do more due diligence, more travelling and watch them more often [before making a move]”. Moreover, foreign imports will often take time to adapt to the intensity and physicality of the Championship. You only need look at poor old Paolo Hurtado, who finally permanently left Reading this summer, to see that it’s not easy to take to this league like a duck to water. For these reasons, obviously a couple of players who know the division are needed as well, such Webber’s acquisitions of Rajiv van La Parra and Izzy Brown at Huddersfield last year and Marley Watkins and James Husband at Norwich this summer.
Incidentally, it is a strategy that Jaap Stam and Brian Tevreden pretty much nailed at Reading last summer. Joey van den Berg, Roy Beerens and Joseph Mendes arrived from Holland, Germany and France respectively, and were supplemented by Englishmen John Swift, Liam Moore and Tyler Blackett. I’m just a little unsure as to why we haven’t seen the same this summer. We’ve made just four new signings and the only one not to have come from an English club is Pelle Clement, who had worked under Stam at Jong Ajax anyway.
Even the majority of players linked with the club this summer currently play their football in England. From Sone Aluko to Nahki Wells and from Andy Yiadom to Leandro Bacuna it appears that the Royals are mainly targeting players from their Championship rivals. Danish defender Rasmus Thelander of Greece’s Panathinaikos is a rare exception.
Now, I’m sure it’s not the case that we aren’t looking overseas at all, but with better value for money around the continent, it wouldn’t hurt to try and push deals through for a couple of foreign targets. In Reading’s case, those from abroad could also be better suited to Stam’s style of player than English options as it’s fair to say possession football is much more of a European idea.
Agree with Olly? Or should the Royals stick to targets from around the Championship? Let us know in the comments below.
All quoted transfer fees found on Transfermarkt.