Football: Home groans as transfer fees spiral out of control

Football: Hamann deal set to bring Liverpool's spending to pounds 25m as clubs pay pounds 65m for imports during close season
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The Independent Online
ASTON VILLA'S pounds 4.5m capture of the Dutchman George Boateng from Coventry City took the summer spending by Premiership clubs through the pounds 100m barrier last night - and well over half that sum has been invested in foreign talent.

If, as expected, Liverpool conclude an pounds 8m deal with Newcastle for Dietmar Hamann this week it will mean that one club alone have paid out more than pounds 25m for new blood; in other words, a quarter of the entire close-season expenditure by the elite.

Anfield's seven recruits so far are from the Czech Republic, Finland, Guinea, the Netherlands and Switzerland respectively, a list that is merely the most extreme manifestation of a trend within an English game which is now home to more non-nationals than any nation in the world.

Even without the Hamann fee, the overall outlay on foreigners already based here or from overseas clubs is nudging the pounds 65m mark after the Villa manager, John Gregory - who took an all-English side to the Premiership summit last autumn - made Boateng and Israel's Naguwan Garayeb his first imports. That sum is over pounds 26m more than the money invested in British players.

Worryingly for those who see the Nationwide League as a breeding ground for the top English teams, only four players from clubs who were in the lower divisions last season have found their way into the Premiership.

A situation whereby young British talent is squeezed out by ready-made internationals from Europe and beyond is sufficiently alarming for Geoff Thompson, the chairman of the Football Association, to have called for each club to be limited to three foreign players.

Such protestations, alas, bring to mind the words "stable door", "horse" and "bolted". Even if it were possible to roll back the tide of European integration and restrict the entry of players in a way that is currently illegal under European Union law, there would still be the problem of the over-pricing of home-grown players.

Arsenal, for example, paid only pounds 650,000 for Stefan Malz, a midfield player from TSV Munich 1860, yet are seeking pounds 4m for Stephen Hughes, who has been no more than a fringe player at Highbury.

Chelsea initially sought pounds 6m for Michael Duberry, who has found himself similarly marginalised, before accepting Leeds United's offer of pounds 4.5m. Meanwhile, it took a mere pounds 3m for Chelsea to secure France's World Cup-winning captain, Didier Deschamps, from Juventus.

Apart from the pounds 10m Gianluca Vialli lavished on Chris Sutton (after four goals in an injury-ravaged season with relegated Blackburn), the highest fee exchanged between English clubs is the pounds 6m spent by Newcastle on the Ipswich midfielder Kieron Dyer. While a hugely promising player, Dyer has played neither for England nor in the Premiership.

Wolves are seeking an even higher sum, believed to be pounds 6.5m, for their own prodigy, Robbie Keane, despite the fact that the 19-year-old Irishman's experience at club level has, like Dyer's, come exclusively in the First Division. Sir Alex Ferguson was being deliberately provocative when he suggested pounds 500,000 would be a more realistic price for Keane, but he had a point.

Even a player who could not break up Sunderland's first-choice attacking duo in the First Division last season, Michael Bridges, is rated at pounds 5m by both the selling club and, apparently, by Tottenham.

Small wonder that Arsene Wenger, admittedly talking in the context of Nicolas Anelka and the tedious saga of his on-off escape from London and the beastly British press, spoke recently of football being "out of control" because of spiralling transfer fees and wage demands. (Wenger, incidentally, has signed just two Englishmen, Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Upson, in his three years at Arsenal).

The notion that the Premiership clubs are living beyond their means gains currency when one considers that expenditure is outstripping the amount earned by offloading players at no fewer than 11 clubs this summer.

At five more - Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Leice ter, Watford and Southampton - the managers have not splashed out so much as a euro to date. There are, nevertheless, hidden costs: Mark Bosnich's arrival from Aston Villa under the Bosman ruling cost the Treble winners a sizeable sum in terms of the Australian's salary and signing-on fee.

At Everton, who are pounds 10.5m up on their dealings, the perception of renewed financial clout may be illusory given the uncertainty over the club's ownership. The same is true of Wimbledon, where the surplus of pounds 3m generated since Egil Olsen succeeded Joe Kinnear as manager is not necessarily available for team-building, according to Sam Hammam.

So who are the new members of the foreign legion, following the trail blazed by Ardiles and Villa, Thijssen and Muhren, and in the modern era by Messrs Klinsmann, Zola and Bergkamp? The most expensive, at pounds 5m, is the Spanish international centre-back Marcelino Elena, whom Ruud Gullit has brought from Mallorca to Newcastle. His new club-mate Alain Goma, from Paris Saint-Germain, set Gullit back a further pounds 4.7m, though it is hard to see either lighting up St James' Park the way David Ginola or Faustino Asprilla once did.

Liverpool fans are more likely to get excited by the deft attacking skills of Vladimir Smicer, who could prove a bargain even at pounds 4.2m. Scotland supporters could certainly vouch from bitter experience for the Czech's quality, as they could for the flair of Mustapha Hadji, the African player of the year and the Tartan Army's tormentor at St-Etienne, who will be bringing a dash of Morocco to Coventry.

But the suspicion that the Premiership, for all its current Sky-driven wealth, is still attracting "B-list" players who would not find a place in the top Italian sides may be reinforced by Arsenal's newcomers. Apart from Malz, who was not rated among the Bundesliga's outstanding midfielders, the new right-back from Kiev, Oleg Luzhny, is pushing 31, while left-back Silvinho did not make Brazil's squad for Copa America.


Completed Premiership transfers involving fees or Bosman deals


IN: Silvinho (from Corinthians, Bra) pounds 4m; Oleg Luzhny (Dynamo Kiev) pounds 1.8m; Stefan Malz (TSV Munich 1860) pounds 650,000. TOTAL pounds 6.45m.

OUT: Kaba Diawara (to Marseilles) pounds 3m; Jason Crowe (Portsmouth) pounds 1m; Steve Bould (Sunderland) pounds 500,000. TOTAL pounds 4.5m.


IN: George Boateng (Coventry) pounds 4.5m; David James (Liverpool) pounds 1.8m; Naguwan Garayeb (Hapoel Haifa). TOTAL pounds 7.3m.

OUT: Alan Lee (Burnley) pounds 150,000. TOTAL pounds 150,000.


IN: David Wetherall (Leeds) pounds 1.4m; Andy Myers (Chelsea) pounds 800,000; Gunnar Halle (Leeds) pounds 200,000; Lee Sharpe (Leeds) pounds 200,000. TOTAL pounds 2.6m.

OUT: None.


IN: Chris Sutton (Blackburn) pounds 10m; Didier Deschamps (Juventus) pounds 3m; Jens Hogh (Fenerbahce) pounds 300,000; Mario Melchiot (Ajax) free (Bosman). TOTAL pounds 13.3m.

OUT: Michael Duberry (Leeds) pounds 4.5m; Michael Laudrup (Ajax) pounds 2m; Andy Myers (Bradford) pounds 800,000; Dmitri Kharin (Celtic) free (Bosman); Eddie Newton (Birmingham) free (Bosman). TOTAL pounds 7.3m.


IN: Mustafa Hadji (Deportivo La Coruna) pounds 4m; Youssef Chippo (Porto) pounds 1.2m. TOTAL pounds 5.2m.

OUT: George Boateng (Aston Villa) pounds 4.5m; Philippe Clement (Club Bruges) pounds 770,000. TOTAL pounds 5.77m.


IN: Seth Johnson (Crewe) pounds 3m; Esteban Fuertes (Colon de Santa Fe) pounds 1.9m; Andy Oakes (Hull) pounds 460,000. TOTAL pounds 5.36m.

OUT: Paulo Wanchope (West Ham) pounds 3.5m. TOTAL pounds 3.5m.


IN: Kevin Campbell (Trabzonspor) pounds 3m.

OUT: Olivier Dacourt (Lens) pounds 6.5m; Ibrahima Bakayoko (Marseilles) pounds 4m; Marco Materazzi (Perugia) pounds 3m. TOTAL pounds 13.5m.


IN: Michael Duberry (Chelsea) pounds 4.5m; Danny Mills (Charlton) pounds 4m; Eirik Bakke (Sojndal, Nor) pounds 1m. TOTAL pounds 9.5m.

OUT: David Wetherall (Bradford) pounds 1.4m; Clyde Wijnhard (Huddersfield) pounds 750,000; Gunnar Halle (Bradford) pounds 200,000; Lee Sharpe (Bradford) pounds 200,000. TOTAL pounds 2.55m.


IN: None.

OUT: Pontus Kaamark (AIK Stockholm) free (Bosman).


IN: Vladimir Smicer (Lens) pounds 4.2m; Sander Westerveld (Vitesse Arnhem) pounds 4m; Stephane Henchoz (Blackburn) pounds 3.5m; Sami Hyypia (Willem II Tilburg) pounds 2.8m; Titi Camara (Marseilles) pounds 2.6m; Dirk Heinen (Bayer Leverkusen) pounds 400,000; Erik Meijer (Bayer Leverkusen) free (Bosman). TOTAL pounds 17.5m.

OUT: David James (Aston Villa) pounds 1.8m; Steve McManaman (Real Madrid) free (Bosman). TOTAL pounds 1.8m.


IN: Mark Bosnich (Aston Villa) free (Bosman).

OUT: Peter Schmeichel (Sporting Lisbon) free (Bosman).


IN: None.

OUT: None.


IN: Kieron Dyer (Ipswich) pounds 6m; Marcelino Elena (Mallorca) pounds 5m; Alain Goma (Paris St-Germain) pounds 4.7m; Franck Dumas (Monaco) pounds 500,000. TOTAL pounds 16.2m.

OUT: George Georgiadis (PAOK Salonika) pounds 1m. TOTAL pounds 1m.


IN: Gilles de Bilde (PSV Eindhoven) pounds 3m; Gerald Sibon (Ajax) pounds 2m; Phil O'Donnell (Celtic) free (Bosman); Simon Donnelly (Celtic) free (Bosman). TOTAL pounds 5m.

OUT: None.


IN: Bruno Leal (Sporting Lisbon) free (Bosman); Dean Richards (Wolves) free (Bosman).

OUT: Steve Basham (Preston) To be set by tribunal.


IN: Carsten Fredgaard (Lyngby) pounds 1.8m; Steve Bould (Arsenal) pounds 500,000; Thomas Helmer (Bayern Munich) free (Bosman). TOTAL pounds 2.3m.

OUT: Lee Clark (Fulham) pounds 3m; Andy Melville (Fulham) free (Bosman). TOTAL pounds 3m.


IN: Chris Perry (Wimbledon) pounds 4m; Willem Korsten (Vitesse Arnhem) pounds 1.5m. TOTAL pounds 5.5m.

OUT: Rory Allen (Portsmouth) pounds 1m; Andy Sinton (Wolves) free (Bosman). TOTAL pounds 1m.


IN: Dominic Foley (Wolves) free (Bosman); Des Lyttle (Nottm Forest) free (Bosman); Mark Williams (Chesterfield) free (Bosman).

OUT: Darren Bazeley (Wolves) free (Bosman).


IN: Paulo Wanchope (Derby) pounds 3.5m. TOTAL pounds 3.5m.

OUT: Eyal Berkovic (Celtic) pounds 5.75m; Lee Hodges (Scunthorpe) pounds 130,000. TOTAL pounds 5.88m.


IN: Walid Badir (Hapoel Petach) pounds 1m; Kelvin Davies (Luton) pounds 600,000; Chris Willmott (Luton) pounds 350,000; Kjetil Waehler (Lyn Oslo) "Nominal" fee; Tore Pedersen (Eintracht Frankfurt) free (Bosman). TOTAL pounds 1.95m.

OUT: Chris Perry (Tottenham) pounds 4m; Mark Kennedy (Manchester City) pounds 1m. TOTAL pounds 5m.