Euro no match for the pound

There can be only one conclusion after another summer of hectic transfer activity across Europe: The Premiership is the richest league in the world
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The Independent Online

From the high plains of Castille, across the Rhône valley to the far distant Ukraine, the most welcome sentence in European football this summer was: "An English club is interested."

When the summer transfer window was forced shut on Wednesday night, with the likes of Liverpool and Everton still desperately trying to squeeze one last deal through it, Premiership clubs had spent a staggering £235m. So much for the belief that, post-Bosman, the transfer market would collapse.

Around half of this expenditure has been on players from overseas, equivalent to the entire spending, internal and external, of La Liga or Serie A clubs and well in excess of that spent by Ligue 1 and Bundesliga teams. Of the 36 deals of £5m or more, 15 were made by English clubs, eight by Italian and Spanish, four by French and one German.

Thus players, chairmen and agents rejoiced when they got that phone call from across the English Channel. And while some coaches could only weep as their best players were lured to the promised land others overhauled their team with the proceeds.

That was Gérard Houllier's response when the Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas dragged £26m out of Chelsea for the ludicrously overpriced Michael Essien, the summer's biggest single deal. The former Liverpool manager laid out £10.5m on the splendidly named Fred from Brazilian club Cruzeiro, and parlayed the rest of Roman Abramovich's largesse on a clutch of players including Tiago, the Norwegian striker John Carew and French midfielder Bruno Pedrettri. Lyon should be stronger, not weaker.

The same tale is repeated across Europe. On Wednesday morning Newcastle completed the £17m purchase of Michael Owen; on Wednesday evening Real Madrid spent it on Seville defender Sergio Ramos. Indeed, La Liga seems to be underwritten by Premiership cash. A few years ago no one left Spain for England, especially not Spaniards. Now a decent team could be constructed from the players who have made the journey.

"Italy and Spain have lost their spending power and England is now the market," says Colin Gordon, a player turned agent. "If a player needs to move his first thought will be England. Most of the buyers are here."

Jon Smith, of First Artist, concurs. "The English league has been the engine room of Europe for three years," he says. "I don't see that changing unless the EU breaks up the next TV deal."

Alan Switzer, from the Sports Business Group at Deloittes, has the hard facts. "The Premiership is biggest earner of revenue in Europe and the gap between them and the others is at record levels. [In 2003-04 Premiership clubs earned £66.3m each; next highest are Italian clubs with £43m.] That means they can pay big fees and wages. They pay the highest wages in Europe but at 61 per cent [2003-04] the ratio of wages to turnover is lower than in Spain, France and Italy."

Why are English clubs so rich? "It is a combination of things," Switzer says. "TV, merchandising, sponsorship and gate money. The current broadcasting deal, though slightly lower, is still the best in Europe. The Premiership attracts more fans than anyone except the Bundesliga, but ticket prices are much higher so there is more cash per fan. They also do well commercially. There is no reason this cannot continue."

As a consequence, medium-sized clubs are able to be big players in the market, outbidding foreign teams of greater renown. Deportivo La Coruña have been major players in the Champions' League in recent years, reaching the semi-finals in 2004. Yet they sold key players to Newcastle (Albert Luque, £9.5m ) and Birmingham (Walter Pandiani, £3m).

PSV Eindhoven, last season's semi-finalists, may have expected to lose Park Ji-Sung to Manchester United but it must have been a blow to see Wilfred Bouma head for Aston Villa and Lee Young-Pyo join Tottenham. But then, PSV have long been a feeder club for the Premiership, starting with the 1998 transfer of Wim Jonk to Sheffield Wednesday - which underlined why. Jonk had starred in the Netherlands team which reached the semi-finals of the World Cup yet he joined Wednesday, then an average Premiership side, as they quintupled his wages.

Jonk proved a disaster, one of many poorly judged foreign recruits. "The market is more sophisticated now," says Gordon. "There is less buying on video, but many still make mistakes."

He adds: "With England being the buying market we have to do more homework. We have to travel a lot, building up good relationships and associates in Europe and getting to know the character and strengths of players. We work hard to make sure our information is better than anyone else's. Our scouting is better than that of many clubs and some recognise that. They come to us saying, 'We need a right-back, what's out there?' Others think they know best and get fleeced. Some people making decisions aren't qualified to do so. Look at the panic buys at the end of the window and you can see clubs that haven't done their research."

Some of the biggest names moved for free but Gordon would not advise clubs to agree too many such deals. "You don't get many bargains. You've still got to pay the wages and invariably if a player is free something has gone wrong. Either he's been cute and let his contract run out or the club doesn't want him." Patrick Kluivert, anyone?

There is one caveat when it comes to acclaiming the Premiership's muscle. The stellar names, Zinedine Zidane, Robinho, et al, still seem to elude it. Ronaldinho yesterday demonstrated this when he signed an extension to his contract which ties him to Barcelona until 2010. His buy-out clause is £85.5m, small change for Abramovich. But after he was turned down by Andrei Shevchencko, David Trezeguet and Steven Gerrard this summer, it seems there are still some people whose heads are not even turned by the sentence, "Chelsea are interested".

I do want to go to Chelsea: The summer's big moves across Europe

TRANSFERS OVER £5m

£26m M Essien Lyon-Chelsea

£21m S Wright-Phillips Man City-Chelsea

£18m A Gilardino Parma-Milan

£18m S Ramos Seville-R Madrid

£17m M Owen R Madrid-N'castle

£16.5m Robinho Santos-R Madrid

£14m J Baptista Seville-R Madrid

£13.7m P Vieira Arsenal-Juventus

£12m W Samuel R Madrid-Inter

£10.5m Fred Cruzeiro-Lyon

£10.2m S Frey Parma-Fiorentina

£10m A Hleb Stuttgart-Arsenal

£9.5m A Luque Deportivo-N'castle

£8m D Villa R Zaragoza-Valencia

£8m A del Horno Bilbao-Chelsea

£7.5m M Petrov Wolfsburg-A Madrid

£7.5m D Pizarro Udinese-Inter

£7.5m A Yakubu P'mouth-Boro

£7.2m L Toni Palermo-Fiorentina

£7m P Crouch So'ton-Liverpool

£7m J Jenas N'castle-Tottenham

£6.5m M Baros Liverpool-A Villa

£6.5m S Parker Chelsea-N'castle

£6.25m M Jankulovski Udinese-Milan

£6m J Kronkamp AZ Alk-Villarreal

£6m J Reina Villarreal-Liverpool

£5.8m B Kalou Auxerre-Paris SG

£5.6m M Sissoko Valencia-Liverpool

£5.5m S Makinwa Atalanta-Palermo

£5.5m Tiago Chelsea-Lyon

£5.5m Miquel Benfica-Valencia

£5.4m V Ismael Bremen-B Munich

£5.3m M Kezman Chelsea-A Madrid

£5m C Bellamy Newcastle-Blackburn

£5m J Carew Besiktas-Lyon

£5m P Koldrup Udinese-Everton

BIGGEST SPENDERS

Top 10 clubs this summer

1 Chelsea £55m

2 Real Madrid £48.5m

3 Lyon £44m

4 Newcastle £33m

5 Milan £24.25m

6 Internazionale £19.5m

7 Liverpool £18.6m

8 Fiorentina £17.4m

9 Juventus £13.7m

10 Valencia £13.5m

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