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Captain's Blog: Chasing A Cliché - What Constitutes "Value" For Sunderland?

Is there better value to be had elsewhere? Really? Captain's Blog tackles that very issue this week.
Is there better value to be had elsewhere? Really? Captain's Blog tackles that very issue this week.

This incessant search for a striker is all getting a bit tedious now. It is becoming the same thing, day after day, week after week. We desperately look for news, debate every name, and no matter how much we plead for a change in fortune our prayers never seem to be answered and we always find ourselves back at square one demoralized and broken.

Will this torment ever end?

I should stress at this point that I am not talking specifically about the club's difficulty in landing a striker this summer, but the endless insistence from some sections who are happy to tell us all how negligent Sunderland would be to shop domestically considering how brilliant the value is when you sign players from abroad.

The debate has been raised primarily in response to the difficulty in agreeing a fee with Wolves for top striker target Steven Fletcher, with many believing that the stage has been reached now where the kind of money it would seemingly take to land the Scot could go considerably further should it be spent on the continent.

It is not the assertion itself with which I have a problem. Unquestionably quality can be found abroad. The odd bargain, too. No issue with conceding that.

What is absurd, however, is when people selectively cite successful examples, herald them as if they were the norm, and confidently insist that they prove that Sunderland should be raiding similar markets.

It is all very well and good acknowledging that Papiss Cissé and Nikica Jelavic gave tremendous value to their clubs for their transfer fees last January. Both players had an incredible impact at their clubs after a relatively modest outlay.

But you could just as easily cite an even lengthier list of names including the likes of Johan Elmander, Alfonso Alves, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Alberto Aquilani, and Ryan Babel and 'prove' the exact opposite that the foreign market is a minefield full of overpriced over-hyped flops-in-waiting. That would be similarly absurd, of course, though it does hammer home the point that there are no guarantees when shopping abroad.

In reality, the 'better value abroad' rhetoric was only ever really little more than a stereotype, and these days even that is outdated.

Consider that this summer it took Borussia Mönchengladbach €15m to ensnare Twente's Luuk de Jong. The Dutch international is a highly-touted player but he is still just an emerging one. The same can be said of Arsenal summer signing Olivier Giroud, who spent a meagre two seasons in France's top division before commanding a knock-down fee in the region of £10m. The £10.5m Liverpool spent on Fabio Borini got them a striker who has not even amassed 50 career appearances yet. Fulham's Bryan Ruiz is another worthy of mention. Good player? Yes. But he certainly wasn't a bargain. Mind, it was still just half of what Chelsea reportedly paid for Romelu Lukaku.

Meanwhile, prices have also soared for established stars from the continent. Edin Dzeko's phenomenal record in the Bundisliga saw him command a fee of £27m, for example. What bargains can be found are generally on a contract rather than a map in the modern game. Contractual loop-holes and buy-out clauses and clubs fearing losing players for nothing under the Bosman ruling mainly.

At Sunderland, we ourselves should know as well as anyone. Asamoah Gyan, who was playing in a moderate foreign league, cost a higher reported initial fee than Darren Bent, who had a long and proven Premier League track record. Gyan came in and hit ten goals in his debut season and was hailed as a sound piece of business by the majority. Yet Steven Fletcher, who scored two more goals than that last term, is having his valuation questioned. A baffling double-standard.

It is also worth noting that the two big-spenders of recent times have predominantly spent abroad. Only two of Chelsea's top ten record transfers were signed from English clubs, and only three of Manchester City's. That doesn't exactly scream 'cheaper abroad'.

The truth is that the technological and information age has exposed football's hiding places. Anyone can sit at home, open an internet browser, and find a game from somewhere in the world to watch. A lot of people do. There are no secrets any more from fans never mind scouting departments of wealthy professional football clubs.

Clubs are better able to monitor the market, know the worth of their own players better, and the markets have all merged as a result. I am not even sure there is a foreign market these days. There is just one huge global football market place.

Football as an industry has simply moved on. The better value foreign market - if it did ever actually exist - has been resigned to the annals of time. Just one more footballing fad or relic like the snood, only being allowed one or two substitutes, boggy pitches, and golden goals.

It is time fans moved on too and stopped basing judgements upon an idea that has become nothing more than a clichéd comfort blanket. You want to know what will ultimately decide 'value' of signings arrive at Sunderland this summer? It isn't the past or the even present. Not what they have done before now or where they have played, or reputations or ego. It is the future. What they do in a red and white shirt. Everything else is just dust in the wind.

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