Transfer Too Soon: When Is It Right to Make That Big-Money Move?
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You are the next big thing. You’ve broken into the first team and the big boys are sniffing around. Every time you, or any one you know, opens a newspaper the gossip column links you with football's elite.
When is the correct time to move? Will moving early, having the best facilities and the best coaches putting you through your paces help you achieve your potential? Or, do you simply need first team football and the best thing to do is stay put for a few more years.
The transfer window just past saw Wilfried Zaha sign for Manchester United after playing 110 games for Crystal Palace and scoring 12 goals in the process. Hardly a record to set the world alight if you’re a Moneyball disciple.
This week my club, Sheffield Wednesday, signed Conor Wickham on loan. At 19, this hardly signals the end of his career, but after an 8.1m move in 2011 to month long loanee two years later is, at best, a slight fall from grace.
A footballer has a notoriously short career. Most get around 10 years, the best get a few more. The temptation of honours and money are big draws, and naturally the worry is the first opportunity might be your only opportunity. Professional footballers didn’t get where they are by not backing their own ability or having shovels loads of ambition.
There is a stream of young players from South America who at the first sign of a trick have moved across the Atlantic to much fanfare before quietly heading back a few years later.
Over the last decade or so the arrival of inconceivably rich people into club boardrooms resulted in first teams being stockpiled with talent. No matter how big your squad is, you can still only put 11 on the pitch.
The result is a host of players lured by big moves who stall their careers with seasons of inaction.
Scot Parker, after breaking through at Charlton was the hottest property in English football before his move to Chelsea. Two years and only 15 league games later, he moved to Newcastle, before rediscovering his form at West Ham and earning himself another big move to Spurs. His performances over the last two years show his ability to play for a top four team, but he went too early, when there was no space and he suffered.
It was refreshing to see , during this January’s transfer window, Jack Butland currently of Birmingham, turn down a move to Chelsea citing a lack of potential first team opportunities before signing for Stoke. Chelsea have Peter Cech still going strong, and have Thibaut Courtois on loan at Athletico Madrid.
Some may see this as a lack of ambition. However, a goalkeeper has a much longer career than an outfield player. Presumably Butland believes he will be a better goalkeeper in five years as a result of playing regularly.
The same applies with good young managers. Too often after a good season with a smaller team they get snapped up only to struggle at the first loss of form.
It is important to learn how to play at the top level. Even more important, if you want the type of career to warrant being involved with a top club is to learn how to maintain success.
Speaking to the BBC this week Sir Alex Ferguson lamented mangers being promoted too soon. “Whether you have been an international or a non-league player, to be able to be successful in management, you have to have a long apprenticeship.”
And if Sir Alex says it, well, it must be true.
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