So often nowadays do we see the larger clubs in the Premier League going abroad in search of talent to bolster their squads. Such examples of this are evident throughout every transfer window. Take for example Manchester City who recently signed Edin Dzeko from Bundesliga club Wolfsburg for £27.5 million; or Chelsea who are currently in pursuit of Brazil centre-back David Luiz, valued at as much as £25 million by his current club Benfica.
Even lesser clubs, with pockets less deep than the big boys, still end up packing their bags and travelling abroad for players. Aston Villa, currently just above the relegation zone, earlier this transfer window announced the signing of Cameroon international midfielder Jean Makoun for £6 million from Gerard Houllier’s former club Lyon.
If you thought it was only big name players who light up the pitch with their skills and trickery on a weekly basis that come to the Premier League with inflated price tags, you would be wrong. Manchester United are currently in the market for a goalkeeper, with their veteran stopper Edwin van der Sar rumoured to be retiring at the close of this campaign while Tomasz Kuszczak’s contract will not be renewed. As a result United have been linked with Bayer Leverkusen and Germany number one Rene Adler, who has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave for £15 million.
So why do these clubs so often make such signings from abroad, when there are players of equal or better quality available already playing in the Premier League? For instance Chelsea could sign Gary Cahill to alleviate their defensive worries, however Bolton Wanderers are rumoured to be holding out for in excess of £20 million for the Yorkshireman.
It could well be therefore, that clubs go abroad where, although the prices are inflated, they are nowhere near as excessive as those required from their league counterparts. Instead then, could it not be that the real value lies not with fellow Premier League clubs, but instead in the lower leagues. After all, the highest division has a rich history of players successfully making the step up. The greatest example of which surely must be Ian Rush, who moved from Chester City to Liverpool in 1980 and immediately found his feet, going on to score 200 goals for the Merseyside club.
There have even been examples in more recent years. Everton’s Australian international Tim Cahill moved from Millwall to Goodison Park in 2004 after spending seven years in the lower leagues and looked as right from the start looked as though he had been playing his entire career in the English top flight. Birmingham City, even more recently, have recruited well from below. Their centre-back paring of Scott Dann and Roger Johnson was put together after the pair signed from Championship clubs Coventry City and Cardiff City respectively, while even the big spending Manchester City snapped up now England international midfielder Adam Johnson from Middlesbrough at the start of last season, although he did already have Premier League experience prior to ‘Boro’s relegation.
Therefore, what players currently plying their trade outside of the top flight could offer real value for money for a Premier League club looking for the odd bargain?
For an out and out consistent goal scorer clubs should look no further than Cardiff City’s Jay Bothroyd. The London born striker has played Premier League football before, although his last such appearance came back in 2006 for Charlton Athletic, a season in which he scored just twice in 18 appearances. Since then Bothroyd has matured and improved, scoring 36 goals in his last two-and-a-half seasons in the Championship. His form this season even saw him earn and England cap against France in November.
For a strong but skilful defender clubs could do a lot worse than Leeds United’s Alex Bruce, son of former Manchester United defender and now Sunderland manager Steve Bruce. Although Bruce, like Bothroyd, also has top level experience, this time with Birmingham City, it amounted to just six appearances during the Midlands club’s 2005/6 season that eventually ended in relegation. Since then the younger defender has spent four years at Ipswich where although making over 100 appearances, he was in and out of the team for some time. He also had spells on loan at Oldham Athletic, Sheffield Wednesday, Tranmere Rovers, and Leicester City. These tough times appear to have made Bruce a stronger minded player, and so far this season with Leeds he has looked a top player whose career could well go further.
Down the wing this season there have been few that have looked a finer player than former Chelsea prospect Scott Sinclair. Sinclair, now at Swansea City under former Chelsea youth team manager Brendan Rodgers, has been at the top of his game. Having for so long been heralded as the “next big thing” at the current Premier League champions, he went on loan last season to Wigan Athletic, also of the Premier League. During his time in the northwest the Bath born flyer was unable to get a clean run of matches and, come the end of the season, he found himself in South Wales after the Swans shelled out £500,000 for him. At the Liberty Stadium club he has so far netted 16 times in all competitions after less than six months at the club. This, combined with his blistering pace and intelligent playing style that so often sees him perfectly time a run into the box, could well soon see Sinclair terrorising Premier League defences throughout the country.
Finally we come to Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici who, at the age of just 25, is already an Australia international, and has played over 80 times for the Royals, including two Premier League appearances during the 2006/7 season. Although Federici has been at the Berkshire club since 2004 he spent much of the first four years as understudy to USA ‘keeper Marcus Hahnemann, going out on loan no less than five times, as far down the ladder as Northwood FC and Carshalton Athletic. Federici has used these experiences, as well as representing Australia at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and being part of his country’s squad for the 2010 World Cup, to develop into one of the best goalkeepers outside of the Premier League whilst still being well below the average age at which a goalkeeper finds their best form.
It is likely that these players, plus others like them, will make an impact at England’s highest level, however with the quality of the Championship rising season upon season we may have a situation where the clubs in England’s second tier are also raising their prices above those of foreign clubs. This could lead to yet further acquisitions from abroad, or force clubs to look even lower down the Football League for a bargain or two.