It is that time of year where the transfer rumour mill is in overdrive.
The so called ‘in the know’ accounts on Twitter surface to give football fans hope and despair in equal measure. National newspapers are guilty of doing the same. Only eleven days in to January and we have already been linked with a plethora of players from England and beyond.
Some of the names are pleasing, such as Michy Batshuayi from Marseille and some are less inspiring, like Jonjo Shelvey from Swansea City. Apart from a privileged few, nobody knows for sure who Alan Pardew may or may not have his eye on and as most people realise, the vast majority of these ‘rumours’ are false.
Still, it is hard to ignore them and it got me thinking about Palace’s transfer strategy in this window. The main question that I have been pondering is whether we should buy players that already ply their trade in the English leagues, or look afar to other top European leagues to bolster our squad.
It is glaringly obvious that we need a striker. As I have stated in a previous post, I rate Connor Wickham highly, but apart from him we look rather toothless up front. So, should we opt for a Charlie Austin or an Islam Slimani?
With a player like Austin, we know what he can give us from his stint in the Premier League with Queens Park Rangers. Players based in England are easier to judge, as everyone has seen first hand how they cope in this country. This gives a greater sense of security, as it is less of a gamble putting them in the team. Lots of players who thrive in other top leagues struggle with the physicality of the Premier League.
Former Spurs striker Roberto Soldado and countless others have scored for fun in La Liga and the like, but just cannot replicate that form over here. Algerian international Slimani has a decent record in the Portuguese league but it is a long way off the quality and pace of the Premier League, as are many other leagues. He could be a hit, like Christian Benteke was at Aston Villa, but in equal measure, he could be a flop like Bebe at Manchester United.
It is so difficult to judge this type of player, so why not just opt for a player that is already playing in England?
Well, there are many reasons. Transfer fees are inflated globally, but in particular, English players go for a premium that is way above what they are worth. Shelvey is a decent enough footballer, but at the rumoured (that word again) price of £10 million, we would be forking out almost as much as we paid for Yohan Cabaye, who is an infinitely better player.
At around the same price is Benik Afobe, who recently signed for Bournemouth from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Here is a player who did not even nearly make the grade at Arsenal, yet is back in the Premier League for a big fee. His record at Championship level is reasonable, but so was that of Patrick Bamford, and we all know what happened there. Clubs end up paying over the top for average English players, which is just as much of a financial gamble as buying someone from abroad.
Unless it is Charlie Austin, who apparently is holding out until the summer when his contract runs out before moving on, I do not see much point in buying from the lower leagues. Bamford is one example who did not cut it, and we have another striker at the club in the form of Dwight Gayle who would score a hatful of goals in the division below but has never quite cemented a starting place in the Premier League.
That leaves us with poaching players from other Premier League clubs. Of course, I am biased, but I see Palace as a really attractive proposition for anyone outside the ‘big’ clubs. Nonetheless, clubs do not want to be selling to their rivals unless an enormous bid comes in, and despite all our positives, we might not quite have the financial clout yet to buy someone like Graziano Pelle from Southampton, who could propel us to the mysterious and undefined ‘next level’.
Reserve players from the top teams are an option, and Loic Remy stands out here, but it is hard to lure a player away from their considerable pay packet they get for training and appearing for fifteen minutes here and there. Even in a non-monetary sense, footballer’s self-belief is generally sky high and they want to stay and prove themselves at these top clubs unless they have to move on.
There really is not that many options if we buy in England. We could utilise our spare loan now Bamford has left, but I am sure we would all prefer something long term. This brings us back to the ‘buying from abroad’ point.
Yes, there is the gamble of whether the player will be good enough for the Premier League. No more so than buying from the Championship, though. Yes, we might have to pay a sizeable fee to get someone from another top league, but no more so than the price of someone distinctly average in this country. Besides, there are definite bargains to be had. Look at Bojan at Stoke City, a player who came from Barcelona, where he appeared over 100 times, and cost about a fifth of the price that Bournemouth paid for Afobe.
Our very own Pape Souaré was a snip, and Pardew would have seen this. You could say the same about Scott Dann, but we were lucky in getting him at the price we did. There are just more options abroad and more chance of finding a gem, especially if the scouting is done correctly.
Pardew was not shy in buying foreign players at Newcastle United, particularly favouring France to cherry pick.
Do it again Pards, you know it makes sense.