Friday 2 January ~
The transfer window has been flung open and we already know what some of the month's moves will be. With owners desperate to jettison their football businesses, Portsmouth and West Ham will sell their best players and replace them with less good ones, Arsenal and Man City will each sign one of the innumerable goalkeepers they're being linked with, Everton will fail to buy a striker from the Russian league and will have to settle for an ageing loanee from MLS, possibly Brian McBride, and Sam Allardyce will be reaquainted with at least a couple of the overseas players he previously signed for Bolton. Long before the window opened, one rumour in particular has been a fertile source of material for the football press. The story in question is that Liverpool's Jermaine Pennant would snub a move to Real Madrid in favour of joining Wigan, with Hull City now emerging as an alternative destination.
Several angles to this have been explored. Firstly it provided an illustration of the financial power of the Premier League, that what is currently the fourth biggest club in Greater Manchester would be able to offer better terms than the most famous side in Europe. Secondly to some it's evidence that Real, who seem to be in perpetual chaos, have made another mistake in appointing Juande Ramos as their coach - assuming of course that he is behind the club's interest in a reserve winger at Liverpool. Finally, and the cause of biggest concern, is that the overseas interest in Pennant is said to be the sign of a shift in the economic balance of power in European football.
According to this argument, the recent decline in the value of the pound - which is still the currency in which most UK-based players revenues are paid - means that Premier League clubs will be doing far less shopping overseas than in recent times and that European clubs will be able to lure away some of the League's playing talent, both the imported and domestically produced. But while it's easy to imagine that various French, Dutch or Portuguese players will now have less reason to sign for mid-ranking English League clubs, it's harder to imagine that the new economic chill will compel young English players to seek a fresh start abroad. After all, its never did before even over the several decades when clubs in other countries were able to offer more attractive terms to English player than what was on offer at home.
There have been isolated successes - Kevin Keegan at Hamburg being the most feted - but the last substantial exodus of British players to another club league occurred in the late 80s during the post-Heysel ban, when a dozen moved to the French first division, newly enriched with what in some cases turned out to be fraudulent money (two club owners, Claude Bez of Bordeaux and Marseille's Bernard Tapie, were later jailed for curruption). Even though these footballing expats had compelling reasons for staying abroad, only Chris Waddle was a major success, with Marseille, and most were back within a couple of years. However much hype is lavished on young English players, history suggests that foreign buyers will fail to see the appeal.