Aberdeen need to aim higher. Over the course of this season, my belief has strengthened that…
The transfer market in British football is polarised. £420 million was spent by the collective might of the English Premier League this January. That’s more than Scottish clubs have spent on transfer fees in their entire history.
In psychological terms, it could be argued that Scotland is suffering from the “anchoring effect.” With such huge spending in England coupled with a sensationalist Sky Sports, a perception exists that price equals quality, and Scottish clubs can never hope to compete. We have been indoctrinated into the belief that top class talent can never be developed, only imported. That quality will only arrive with an eight figure sum behind it.
Yet, price does not equal quality, and a transfer market exists almost entirely separate to the one that’s running in England.
Portimonense, a small Portuguese outfit, sold a player to Porto for £6m in January. Since 2016, Zilina have brought in £10 million in transfer revenues from selling players abroad. Both of these clubs would have the lowest average attendance were they in the Scottish Premiership. If these comparative minnows can make millions on the transfer market, then why can’t Scottish clubs?
Over the past five years, Aberdeen have been the second best club in the country. With healthy attendances and a stable financial backing, the Dons have consolidated their position as Scotland’s closest challengers to Celtic through signing low risk, proven players.
Looking at the league table, you could argue that this has been a successful strategy. And yet, Derek McInnes is yet to make a single signing who has no prior experience of British football. If England is a wealthy market, and if England is interested in novelty, then this strategy immediately reduces your chances of selling a player to England for big money.
Consider FC Midtjylland in Denmark. The Danish league is similar to Scotland in terms of attendances, sponsorship and TV money. Aberdeen actually have a higher wage bill than Midtjylland (£7.2m vs. £7m). Yet over the past decade, the Danish club has sold players to the Premiership, the Bundesliga and Serie A in multi-million pound deals.
So how can Aberdeen possibly have a bigger wage budget? Aberdeen only sign players with a British connection, therefore they probably have to compete on wages with teams in the English Championship. This is not a fight you want to get into. So how can Scottish clubs start winning in the transfer market again?
Getting a work permit is much less complicated than you’d believe. Neither Rangers nor Hamilton had a problem in obtaining them for relatively obscure South American players this summer. With that in mind, there is no reason for Scottish clubs not to take a global view to recruitment.
Yet since transfer records began, 761 players have been signed from England as opposed to 445 from every other country on this planet. Rather than rely on cast offs from the English lower leagues, Scottish Premiership clubs should be looking at areas like Eastern Europe, Western Africa and Oceania for players. Take the chances English sides are not prepared to take. In an interview with El Pais, former Sevilla sporting director spoke of how wealthy clubs happily pay a premium in transfer fees if they perceive a reduced risk.
Following this logic, signing a player directly from Ghana would be a pretty large risk. Signing the same player who has two seasons of British football under his belt? Not so much.
Liam Lindsay should prove to be a useful precedent for Scottish clubs. The 22 year old defender was sold to Barnsley by Partick Thisle over the summer for a reported £400k. In January, Brighton had a £5m bid for the Glaswegian rejected by Barnsley. Does 25 games in the Championship really merit a twelvefold increase in value? If you work in Scottish football, the answer’s on a postcard.
These clubs clearly have the money to pay more, as evidenced by their transfer dealings in other countries. So when Hull City come back for Scott McKenna in the summer, Aberdeen are well within their rights to turn down anything south of £4 million. It’s the going rate.
Once the bar has been set, higher offers will follow. It’s happened in Portugal, Belgium and Denmark. This is precisely why Scottish football needs Alfredo Morelos to move to China for £10 million, or Moussa Dembélé to England for £25 million. That sets a precedent that clubs can and will pay for Scottish-based players.
When clubs start receiving higher transfer fees, all round improvement becomes easier. Players are attracted to play at Scottish clubs as they know it’s a good country in which to develop, clubs can spend more money attracting better coaches and scouts to better develop these players, and ultimately fans have a higher quality of football to enjoy. It’s time for our country to wise up.