English football has cursed us. Our insecurity as a footballing nation in its own right,…
Victor Wanyama. Virgil Van Dijk. Fraser Forster. Over the last few seasons the path from Celtic Park to the English Premier League (and Southampton, in particular) has been a fairly well-trodden one, with many players seeing the English top flight as the logical next step to their promising careers to date. Stuart Armstrong is the latest player to have sealed a move down south and, if reports swirling around Kieran Tierney are to be believed, then he won’t be the last to do so this summer.
Over the last week or so, interest in Tierney has intensified greatly. Both Everton and Tottenham are said to be interested in Celtic’s 21-year-old academy graduate with a fee of around £25 million reportedly agreed. In the event of Tierney moving on for such an amount, Celtic would receive a record fee for a player based in Scotland, almost double what Southampton paid for Wanyama or Van Dijk. But there’s just one problem – Tierney is worth far more than his mooted valuation.
It all comes down to the nature of the transaction itself. No one player’s value is set in stone. The two most important factors in any transfer negotiation, by far, are the financial health of the buying and the selling club respectively. If you’re buying a player and you have deep pockets, you should expect to pay more. If the selling club are in a good state off the pitch, then a higher fee will be required to incentivise the sale. In Tierney’s case, both of these hypotheticals happen to be true.
As the Premier League pulls further and further away from other domestic leagues in terms of the amount of money on offer for clubs – last year’s 20th-placed team West Brom, for example, raked in nearly £100 million in television prize money alone – then it’s only natural that England’s transfer market has become vastly inflated. It’s a well-known fact that clubs outside of England prefer to sell players to Premier League teams, safe in the knowledge that the team can sell a player for double or even triple their estimated valuation. Everyone knows that Premier League sides have the money and as a result, selling clubs can afford to dig their heels in until the English side ends up overpaying for their player.
Celtic’s negotiating position is only strengthened by the nature of the club’s off-field finances. The club’s self-sufficient business model means the Glasgow side don’t have to rely on player sales or European prize money to stay afloat. In short, they don’t have to sell anyone they don’t want to and can afford to demand an inflated fee whenever they choose to eventually move a player on. This puts the Celtic board in an excellent negotiating position before talks even begin about a potential transfer. And that’s before we even consider Tierney’s own position – playing regularly for his boyhood club, in the Champions League, on a long-term deal. Any offer will have to be lucrative to tempt the club or the player into a move.The Celtic board, it seems, hold all the cards.
The Hoops board can also point to the various successes that other high-profile departures have enjoyed in the Premier League and raise their valuation accordingly. Historically, English clubs are a little hesitant when it comes to signing players who have looked a level above the rest of their Scottish counterparts. Van Dijk is the perfect example of this – those that had actually seen him play were convinced he was heading to the top of the game and he eventually moved to Southampton for around £12 million initially. After Liverpool saw that the transition from the Premiership to the Premier League wasn’t an issue for Van Dijk, they splashed out a world record fee for the defender – with many pundits now sheepishly admitting that the move has been a good one, after an initial backlash over the size of his £75 million fee.
Before Van Dijk dominated the Premiership, Victor Wanyama was the league’s standout player. Again, some English teams harboured some reservations about the midfielder’s ability and were reluctant to pay the fee that Celtic were demanding. Southampton eventually took a punt on him before Spurs came calling and the Kenyan hasn’t looked out of place in a squad with aspirations of challenging for the league title. There were doubters, Wanyama proved them wrong and then moved to one of England’s top clubs. Van Dijk was the same.
Tierney looks to be in a similar position, in that he’s already one of the best players in Scotland at the tender age of 21. Like Van Dijk and Wanyama, he looks a class apart from the rest of the Premiership and has developed a remarkable level of consistency since breaking into the team. The three players have a lot in common – they never seem to have off days for Celtic, hold their own in Champions League ties and dominate Premiership games with ease. Van Dijk is now considered to be a world class defender and Wanyama has proven himself to be a very capable midfielder for one of England’s best sides. Celtic should be putting Tierney in the same bracket and adjusting their demands accordingly.
How often are Celtic going to fall into this trap? On each occasion the club have sold their brightest talent to English opposition in recent seasons, the players have made the step up effortlessly. Then, a year or two down the line, they move on to a bigger club with deeper pockets and their value skyrockets. The Celtic board should be looking at the success of Wanyama and Van Dijk and using that as evidence that Tierney would almost certainly hit the ground running in England and continue to develop into an even better player.
In today’s market, particularly in the Premier League, Tierney’s mooted £25 million fee is around the going rate for a promising full back. Take Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake, for example. Like Tierney, Ake plies his trade in the left of defence and was seen as an up-and-coming prospect last summer when he moved from Chelsea. The Cherries shelled out around £20 million to secure his signature, and he’s proven to be a slightly-above average full back in the grand scheme of things in the Premier League. Tierney is more than a promising full back though – at the age of 21 he manages around 60 games a season, including Champions League and international fixtures – and as such, Celtic should be valuing him higher.
Wherever Tierney ends up, he’ll undoubtedly be a success. The full back’s remarkable rise to prominence has drawn admiring glances from across Europe and shows no sign of stopping or even slowing down. Every time he’s been asked to step up and perform on a bigger stage, Tierney has delivered in emphatic style. His impressive performances and relentless consistency make Tierney stand out amongst his teammates and the 21-year-old has all the hallmarks of a fantastic career in the game going forward. With no reason to sell, Celtic should have the courage to dig their heels in until someone makes an offer they simply can’t refuse. Tierney is an exceptional talent: only a truly exceptional fee should be enough for Celtic to let him go.