On the blue side of Liverpool’s Stanley Park, the few hours leading up to 5pm on August 9th were, to say the very least, energetic.
Everton, in a triple deadline-day deal, signed Brazilian winger Bernard on a free, Andre Gomes on season-long loan and – most importantly given their weakness in that area – centre-back Yerry Mina for a fee in the region of £27m.
Marco Silva was clearly in need of a partner for Michael Keane, so the arrival of Mina, who they had pursued for weeks, was a huge positive for the club. He excelled at the World Cup for Colombia and has all the physical and technical characteristics to thrive in the Premier League.
The club had filled an obvious hole with a very good player. Why, then, was it so difficult to shift the sensation that the Toffees had overpaid?
Big Money Moves
In January, Barcelona had parted with £10m to secure the 23-year-old’s services. Wind back another 18 months and the very same player was transferred from Independiente Santa Fe to Brazilian giants Palmeiras for just £3m. In two years, Mina’s value has rocketed by almost 1000%.
Because of the immediacy of the jump in price and his performances in Russia, Mina’s move was the most attention-grabbing example of a Premier League club shelling out a substantial fee for a player who could have been bought for much less a short time ago. But he is far from the only one.
Bournemouth bought Mina’s leg-biting Colombia team-mate Jefferson Lerma for a reported £25m. Two years ago, he cost Levante around £450,000.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa went to Fulham for £30m just three years after a free transfer from Stade de Rimes to Marseille.
Liverpool purchased Alisson for £67 million, a full £60m more than Roma paid Internacional for the Selecao goalkeeper in 2016. The list could go on.
The interesting question is why Premier League clubs seemingly find it so difficult to unearth the bargains that their continental counterparts bring in on a yearly basis.
The answer lies in the piles of money the English top division provides for its participants.
Scared of the Drop
Last year, each club received at least £94m in television money alone. And with that amount growing with every new deal, the pressure to stay up is huge.
As Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish recently told BBC Sportsweek, “Relegation now is such a huge number… People say, ‘Oh, but you get the parachute money.’ Parachute money is 55% of [what] the bottom club [gets]. All your sponsors go, your ticket money reduces, your premium seating revenue reduces.”
That breeds an environment where Premier League clubs feel they cannot take risks.
Instead of investing in young, untried players with an eye on the future, chairmen and chairwomen would rather take a substantial chunk of the aforementioned television riches and buy a player they know can compete at the top-level right now.
One of the most successful clubs in the international transfer market this century has been Sevilla, with director of football Monchi, now at Roma, credited with doing the deals that helped the club to 11 trophies during his tenure.
He was the man who signed an unknown 19-year-old named Dani Alves for £150,000, bought central-midfielder Julio Baptista and turned him into a lethal forward and made a £14m profit on the purchase and sale of Ivan Rakitic.
In Monchi’s opinion, it is not for a lack of wherewithal that English clubs do not do the same. In a 2016 interview in The Guardian, he recalled that during a spell working in England, he “saw very good work being done.”
“I know English clubs that are very professional,” he continued, “scouts everywhere, but the information they gather isn’t always applied. Why? Because they have money. That enables them to take fewer risks: ‘I’m not going to discover [Seydou] Keita at Lens; let Sevilla do that and then buy Keita from Sevilla.’”
At the time, he was probably speaking with the Premier League’s big boys in mind. But with the ever-increasing television quotas, that sort of attitude has now spread down the league to the likes of Fulham and Bournemouth.
Brighton Bucking The Trend
Brighton, praised for their transfer dealings this summer and last, are the only club to have really bucked the trend. In the most recent window, some players with experience in top European leagues came in, like Bernardo from RB Leipzig and Florin Andone from Deportivo La Coruna.
But among those signings, there have been some from further afield. Percy Tau, African Champions League winner with Mamelodi Sundowns, arrived for £2.8m. And Billy Arce turned up from Ecuadorian minnows Independiente Del Valle, a club that have built a reputation as a talent factory in South America.
Both players have had to go out on loan owing to the UK’s strict work permit conditions, and there is no guarantee that either will be a success. But they must be seen as speculative investments for the mid-term.
They will likely receive the green light from the Home Office when they have more international caps and if they then come off at the top level, like Lerma for Levante, Alisson for Roma and Mina for Barcelona, they will be worth a huge amount more in years to come.
At the bottom end of the league, for clubs like Newcastle, Brighton, Crystal Palace and Burnley, who do not have owners willing to invest huge sums from their own pockets, there is a constant need to find innovative ways to gain a competitive advantage.
Instead of buying players ready to slot straight into their teams, they may be best advised to take a leaf out of Sevilla’s book and cast their nets wider in search of up-and-coming talent from lesser leagues and little-explored markets like South Africa, Ecuador or Colombia.
And for clubs like Everton, who are looking to purchase players for the here and now, there is nothing to stop them simultaneously planning for forthcoming seasons.
They may have bought a fully-developed central defender in this transfer window, but in the future, it will surely be worth looking for the next Yerry Mina, while he is still an unknown quantity playing for Independiente Santa Fe.
They would certainly save themselves a few quid that way.