Do I not like that . . . True price of a pounds 5m man: Gordon Taylor, the PFA chief executive, fears the long-term consequences of Chris Sutton's transfer fee

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The Independent Online
AT THE culmination of the World Cup - a real festival which has allowed skilful players to perform - a headline about a pounds 5m transfer fee would spark any supporter's imagination about the likes of the Baggios, Romario and Hagi. How far from reality such thoughts turn out to be. In fact, we were talking about four Premiership clubs asked to pay pounds 5m for Chris Sutton, last season's PFA Young Player of the Year, a 21-year-old of great potential but yet to win a full cap, never mind play in a World Cup.

The idea of the brave, new Premier League was that, while the rest of the clubs left behind in the Football League were going to suffer in comparison, all Premiership members would be able to compete on equal terms. This would mean having a fairer share of the pounds 60m television and sponsorship money, thus enabling them to keep their best players. But, for Norwich fans, the hopes and excitement created by their win in Germany against Bayern Munich last season must seem a distant memory; they have since lost their manager and now two leading players, Ruel Fox and Sutton.

Some people may say the fee is indicative of the healthy state of our game where attendances are on the increase for the eighth year in succession. However, the other side of the coin is that a three-fold problem may have been created.

Firstly, a pounds 5m fee for such an inexperienced player is clearly inflationary in football's economy. And while being indicative of the demand for scarce talent, it could well lead to a return to the bad old days of the early 1980s when clubs were starting to pay over pounds 1m for less than proven players with money that they did not have, resulting in the official receiver becoming a regular visitor to football clubs. Wolverhampton Wanderers, Derby County, Charlton Athletic, Middlesbrough, Bristol City and Swansea City all faced extinction. .

The second problem is that the size of such fees gives out the wrong signal when the game is appealing for Government help. It is quite apparent to me, as a member of the Football Trust responsible for distributing Pools/Government money to implement the Taylor Report and improve the safety and comfort at stadiums, that while great advances have been made, millions of pounds more are needed to achieve what is required. As the National Lottery looms - and there is no guarantee that football is going to receive the same amount of help that it has in the past - taxpayers may well begin to ask whether football is the needy recipient it claims to be.

The third problem centres on the bypassing of home-grown talent. In the past, the English League has had more full-time clubs and full-time players than any other country in the world because the lower-division clubs have been treated as full-time breeding grounds for players to move to the top flight. This has meant that in recent years, out of a total transfer turnover of pounds 40-70m, an average of pounds 5m profit per year has gone to the lower-division clubs.

But lately this has begun to change. As a result of our high domestic transfer fees, clubs have been encouraged by agents and the opening up of Eastern Europe to look abroad for cheaper players who come as ready-made internationals. This week alone such a trend has been accelerating: Leeds United have been looking to purchase Tomas Skuhravy, a Czech, and Philemon Masinga, a South African, Nottingham Forest have bought Brian Roy, a Dutchman, and Portsmouth have been looking to take on Tomas Bestter, a German. Meanwhile Aston Villa are said to be looking to purchase Nii Lamptey, a Ghanaian, and Ipswich Town are looking to extend the work permit for Boncho Genchev, the Bulgarian, even though he started less than a third of their games last season.

Such a pattern will not only affect the long-term survival of League clubs but must also effect the development of national talent. Football's transfer system is a delicate mechanism, and if treated injudiciously, it could eventually be abolished to the detriment of the game and the loss of many clubs and jobs. If Norwich's pounds 5m trickles into the Football League, all well and good. But I fear it may vanish into thin air.

(Photograph omitted)

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