Because Premier League clubs may have actually spent smarter than ever in the summer of 2019


The ovation reflected the return of the hometown hero. Or so it seemed at the time. Perhaps when Jay Rodriguez made his second Burnley debut in a late cameo against Southampton on Saturday, it was simply a certain sympathy for the elderly.

The striker may have just turned 30 and been over eight years younger than Gareth Barry, a West Bromwich Albion teammate last season, but he has a distinction that makes him look like a retired soccer player. It is the only player of 27 years or more purchased from an English club of the first order for a sum of eight figures this summer. The oldest man to command a commission of more than £ 10 million that Burnley paid for Rodriguez is Harry Maguire, who is younger than the Premier League itself. The most expensive defender in the world is an outlier in more than one way.

After a weekend in which Frank Lampard chose Chelsea's younger Premier League team for seven years and were even older than their opponents, Manchester United, England cannot feel like a country for old men. Or, indeed, for relatively young men. The summer business focused on players whose peak should reside in the future. Most of those who went for £ 10 million or more are 21, 22 or 23. There are more teenagers, in Ryan Sessegnon and Moise Kean, that expensive additions over 26.

All of this marks a contrast to the recent past, when considerable odds were paid to players at the end of the 1920s such as Kyle Walker, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marko Arnautovic, David Luiz and Danny Drinkwater, while the short-lived twins Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte quarreled over the services of an old Nemanja Matic.

But also foreign events. Real Madrid and Barcelona paid nine-figure sums for Eden Hazard and Antoine Griezmann, the type of Galacticos that their Premier League peers did not pursue, but also 28-year-olds with a decreasing resale value. The most extreme example of the cancellation of a transfer fee in the pursuit of immediate glory was Juventus' € 100 million move for 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018.

In contrast, the thirty times in the Premier League have imposed fairly reasonable taxes. The Arsenal will lose money on David Luiz and Aston Villa on Tom Heaton, but relatively little. The investments are just that: try to find resale value; get players able to block a position for a decade; to attract those whose careers are on a rising curve and who will improve.

Consider the full list of eight-digit summer signatures, excluding the agreements previously agreed, with their ages at the start of the season – whether for the young Christian Pulisic or the more experienced Raul Jimenez, but also for Giovani Lo Celso, whose loan commission is over £ 10 million:

19: Moise Kean, Ryan Sessegnon.

20: Lloyd Kelly.

21: Douglas Luiz, Ezra Konsa, Neal Maupay, Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Moussa Djenepo, Ismaila Sarr, Patrick Cutrone.

22: Kieran Tierney, Wesley Moraes, Arnaut Danjuma, Youri Tielemans, Joelinton, Allan Saint-Maximin, Tanguy Ndombele.

23: Matt Targett, Philip Billing, Jean-Philippe Gbamin, Alex Iwobi, Rodri, Lys Mousset, Oli McBurnie, Che Adams, Young Lo Celso, Pablo Fornals.

24: Nicolas Pepe, Leandro Trossard, Adam Webster.

25: Wonderful Nakamba, Mateo Kovacic, Dennis Praet, Joao Cancelo, Sebastien Haller.

26: Tyrone Mings, Andre Gomes, Ayoze Perez, Harry Maguire.

30: Jay Rodriguez.


It reflects the way different elements have combined. The appointment of younger managers with a focus on young people – in particular Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but also Graham Potter, Ralph Hasenhuttl, Brendan Rodgers and, apparently, Dean Smith, may have changed recruitment strategies. Meanwhile, some of those who prefer the experience – Mourinho, Conte, Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce, Rafa Benitez, Maurizio Sarri – are not part of the division or, in the case of Roy Hodgson, do not spend much.

Manuel Pellegrini, another not averse to the signing of experienced players, bought younger than usual. Tottenham's preference for acquiring the promising could reflect Daniel Levy's profit search, but binds to Mauricio Pochettino's coaching skills; Newcastle is certainly part of Mike Ashley's enduring attempts to make money. The Magpies' past shows that their attempts to outsmart the market can go very well or very badly. In a division in which three clubs will go into crisis, some expenses will be considered bankruptcies and in one in which 1.4 billion pounds have been paid this summer, some purchases will backfire.

Yet the idea that the Premier League has more money than sense could be less true than usual. Perhaps the lessons were learned after losing money in the past; perhaps strategy and scouting took precedence over fame and reflected glory. A group of clubs that have begun to gain reputation as good traders, whether they are Manchester City, Liverpool, Leicester, Watford or Wolves.

Now a myriad of new recruits in their late teens or early twenties have the appearance of astute acquisitions, both short and long term: Kean, Sessegnon, Ndombele, James, Wan-Bissaka, Tierney, Tielemans, Cutrone , Pepe, Rodri. In many cases, they appear to have acquired a style of play, a manager and a broader plan.

It's not about spending shotguns, with barely a thought for tomorrow. It can offer a future-proof club element. And if that means they don't need to buy their position in the next few years, or if they sell for large sums, these could be the big purchases that save their new clubs money.

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