I am well aware that money and football seem to be two entities that when together combust ferociously, exploding to magnitudes constantly higher than the one before it and capable of sparking even bigger and bigger with gentle encouragement from the other; however, every time I see an article linking Porto’s Hulk to another top European football team, I always run a double take on the figure he is quoted at costing for any potential suitor. He’s valued at £83.5m, a ludicrous amount for what is, when you strip down the image, the shirt sales and the potential fan base he brings, just a man in a kit who tribally kisses a badge his heart has no real allegiance to, whilst producing animalistic fist pumps in the sky.
In 1893, 119-years ago, a man from Leith in Scotland, aged 24, became the first player in Britain to cost a three-figure sum. Plying his trade as a striker for West Bromwich Albion, having enjoyed spells in his homeland with Hibernian and Celtic, Willie Groves was said to have been poached illegally by Aston Villa. The Villains were fined £25 by The F.A and were forced to pay £100 as the transfer fee for the Scotland international, who had made his professional debut at 16.
Fast forward 100 years, and the British transfer record had multiplied by 55,000: in 1991, and again in 1992 when Paul Gascoigne was bought by Lazio, a fee of £5.5m was paid and broke the previous record of £4.25m – a fee which took Spur’s Chris Waddle across the channel to Marseille. The £5.5m British transfer record was for the services of Aston Villa’s David Platt, now Manchester City’s first team coach, and saw him become the second Englishman to make a record breaking move from England to Italy.
That was in 1993 and back then £5.5m got you arguably England’s greatest player at the time: a 25-year old Paul Gascoigne. Nowadays, that same figure would get you half of a £10m Peter Crouch (potentially still taller than Gazza), the left leg of a £22m Jordan Henderson (potentially more capable of walking in a straight line than Gazza), or the whole of David N’Gog (potentially the lovechild of Gazza and Ali Dia).
Of course, it is all relative; however, it only takes one to look at the monumental fluctuations in price for similarly aged, talented and desired players to see that the correlations between time and price paid has its own peaks and troughs, affected similarly by its own externalities such as the economy, the ownership of the involved parties and the reputation of the player. In an article I wrote in August, I discussed how Wenger quite cleverly, yet almost certainly unknowingly, bought an XI for less than £50m and only had to sell three of them to make his money back and more.
?What went fairly unnoticed with The Invincibles, is how much investment it took to put together such a perfect eleven that struck a fine balance between creativity, fluidity and responsibility. In their 49-game unbeaten run, the most used XI was: Lehmann, Lauren, Campbell, Toure, Cole, Pires, Gilberto, Ljungberg, Vieira, Henry and Bergkamp. The Invincibles were the second only team to go an entire season unbeaten in the English top flight and it cost a mere £44.1m to bring them together.