Undisclosed Fees are Warping Football
Yesterday, Queen’s Park Rangers brought Matt Phillips to London. In the past twelve months, the 22 year old winger has been eclipsed somewhat by the arrival on the scene of teammate Tom Ince, while injury hampered his progress in 2012-13.
Even allowing for the stuttering nature of the player’s career, also highlighted by an earlier, slightly bemusing loan spell at Sheffield United in 2011, he remains hot property given this appearances for the England Under-21 and the full Scotland teams, the turning down of a £5 million bid from Premier League Southampton a year ago amid interest from Reading and others as well as, before he nailed his colours to the Tartan mast, the odd rumour linking him with the Three Lions (us, admittedly!)
So QPR have signed another proven performer to shelve alongside Karl Henry, Richard Dunne and the myriad of additional stars already occupying the pieds à terre of Holland Park. The question is though — how much did they pay for him?
We can only surmise — because the press reports of yesterday’s deal reported the fee as undisclosed.
Similarly, this Summer has seen a whole host of players move on to new climes with we, the public, unaware of the true value of the deal – Jà©rà©my Hà©lan to Sheffield Wednesday, Royston Drenthe to Reading, Jermaine Beckford to Leicester City and James Perch to Wigan to name but a quartet.
Then there is the case of Watford — who have skilfully sidestepped the criticism of their loans policy by capturing the likes of Gabriele Angella and Marco Fabbrini – among seven Udinese players to sign for the club on permanent deals.
Donald Rumsfeld will have had little compunction explaining away how much money changed hands to bring these players to Vicarage Road and the lack of transparency is worrying.
Of course, if one buys a car from one’s parents (as I have just done), all I have to do is fill in the log book while declaring the price I paid to the taxman is not a legal requirement – hence, Watford may reasonably point out that the fee disbursed for — say — Almen Abdi — is a matter between themselves and the Italian club.
So one can assume that the monies that brought the Magnificent Seven and others to Watford will have been minimal, reflected by the fact that some of the deals players signed were very lengthy indeed — Fernando Forestieri agreed to stay in Hertfordshire for five and a half years in January. In short, most of the financial elements of the transactions can be assumed to be taken up in player wages.
But football is a public business and in a League where so many clubs laugh in the face of financial ruin, shouldn’t the public be party to the true level of spending taking place?
Take Pavel Pogrebnyak’s arrival at Reading a little over year ago on a free transfer from Stuttgart. At the time, the Royals indicated that the Russian striker’s wages were in the region of £35,000 a week — provoking head scratching that the blond bombshell had opted for Reading over Fulham, themselves hardly reticent with the readies — the went on to acquire Dimitar Berbatov after all.
A recent interview with an agent in Michael Calvin’s excellent new book The Nowhere Men provided a possible explanation with ‘The Pog’ said to have accepted a signing on fee totalling £5 million.
So it’s as murky as a fracking operation in Sussex but if that’s all within the rules, there is also a touch of spin about it all.
Not publicizing how much has been paid for players or, to put it more accurately, their true market value, is seriously warping any reasonable view of the runners and riders in the Championship race. Taking Watford again, it would perhaps not be unreasonable to suggest that their current squad could fetch anything between £20 and £25 million — and that may well be a conservative estimate.
Instead, the grids that showed the ‘ins and outs’ from Vicarage Road at the start of the season in August are as free of numbers a high school English lesson, save the £150,000 the Hornets collected for Craig Forsyth.
Sven Gà¶ran Eriksson’s Leicester were less clever when they started as favourites two years ago. One bad result for the most expensively assembled squad in the division and the press talons were unsheathed and the criticism raining in from all sides.
Realistically though, Watford and Reading’s outgoings may be up there with the likes of previous ‘buy to succeed’ outfits such as Blackburn Rovers, Fulham and Newcastle United — but by hiding behind the arras of the undisclosed fee, these clubs, along with QPR on Friday, have cleverly lessened the pressure on their squads.
For the absence of the adjectival phrase ‘big spending’ in front of your team name can lead to press coverage and public perception that is far less intense than it might be, allowing the players to concentrate on their game away from the full glare of publicity that Charlie Nicholas for one found to be insupportable after he joined Arsenal from Celtic in the Eighties.
The way things are going, we’ll soon reach a situation where no transfer fees are reported at all — we need to go the other way — all elements of a transaction including wages, signing on fees, tax and emoluments need to be accounted for.