Clubs forced to accept crumbs for our crown jewels

Former Sligo Rovers player Seamus Coleman is all the rage these days.

Clubs forced to accept crumbs for our crown jewels

And rightly so. Individually, he has had an outstanding season, with many respected commentators suggesting he and Leighton Baines form the finest full-back partnership in the English Premier League. On top of that, his team, Everton, are close to Champions League qualification.

So it is no wonder that he is being talked about as one of the best bargains in Premier League history. London’s The Metro recently wrote about Coleman’s transfer from Sligo to Everton in 2009: “There’s cheap, and then there’s just plain ridiculous. To discover such a diamond in the rough for the price of a one bedroom flat in Croydon is almost unheard of in top-flight football, and the right back must go down as one of the biggest bargains in Premier League history.”

But where such a bargain exists, there’s a good chance that someone else is being ripped off. Here’s what The Guardian thought of the joint signings in 2005 of Kevin Doyle and Shane Long by Reading from Cork City: “…when Long arrived from Cork City in 2005 in a £92,000 deal — the word bargain hardly does it justice — that also brought Kevin Doyle to the club.”

Our league is synonymous with bargain buys, a sign of its underdeveloped and unprotected nature. No surprises here. However what may surprise some is that when a few League of Ireland clubs became fully professional (roughly between 2004-2009), they began to sell players to the UK for fees more reflective of these players’ true values. For Cork City FC, this meant that, after the initially low fees received for Doyle and Long, there followed players such as Alan Bennett, Roy O’Donovan and David Meyler who were sold for hundreds of thousands of euro. The bargaining powers, though still unequal, were slightly more balanced.

The graphic, above, in this article for the period between 2000 and 2012, according to my figures, shows the club received transfer fees of less than €100,000 on average per player. When the club was fully professional, between 2004 and 2009, the average increases to roughly €275,000 per player. The average for this full-time period would have been higher but for transfers made as the club was in a vulnerable position.

The sale of David Mooney in August 2008 coincided with the club entering examinership and selling Colin Healy and Denis Behan in 2009 was a last-ditch effort to keep the club alive, in the face of High Court proceedings.

By 2012, all of the bargaining chips had slid to the other side of the channel once more. The part-time Cork City FC received roughly €100,000 for Graham Cummins, similar to fees garnered in 2000 for Damien Delaney.

There are many ways to criticise the graph. There are variations within the group of players cited above. Furthermore the figures themselves are merely reported fees, derived from internet sources. Some transfer fees, such as that paid for Meyler, are bolstered by add-on payment. Despite these limitations, the graph supports the theory that a positive correlation exists between full-time professionalism and the transfer fees a club is likely to receive.

Norway’s league is more developed than our own and every club is full-time. Players are sold for millions rather than hundreds of thousands to the UK. Cardiff recently paid €3.6m for 18-year-old Mats Moller Daehli. A League of Ireland player, even if he were Lionel Messi, would never attract such a fee.

Other Scandinavian countries also outdo us. Last year FC Copenhagen sold their 20-year-old striker Andreas Cornelius to Cardiff for €7m, while Gothenburg sold 22-year-old David Moberg Karlsson to Sunderland for €1.75m.

Coleman may soon join the list of Ireland’s best ever players. How much did Everton pick him up for in 2009? £150,000 (including add-ons). His full back partner, Baines was bought for £6m (including add-ons) from Wigan. That’s 40 times more. Have no doubt that at last night’s game there was a scout or two about the ground bargain shopping for the next Coleman, Doyle or Long. And who could blame them?

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