Another year and another transfer window. Throughout the entire summer clubs all over Europe frantically try to conduct business, and whilst some gain significant firepower, others lose crucial cogs in their machinery. It’s a brutal month for managers and fans alike, but there is a certain type of club that it usually spells doom for: The selling club.
Like a baton that nobody wants, the notion of being a selling club is usually placed on small to midsize provincial sides, which after a short period of sustainability in their domestic league have been deemed ripe for the harvest as larger sides cherry pick the highest performers (it’s also worth noting that any team can be classed as a selling club, but for the sake of argument we will go with this definition).
There’s an old adage in football that there is no time for sentimentality, and for fans of selling clubs this couldn’t be truer. No sooner has the club shop run out of a player’s name for the back of the replica shirts, the player is subject of a big money move elsewhere. It’s a harsh reality, but for a term that is usually considered an insult, is it really so bad?
Well, yes and no. The obvious question is why do clubs sell their best players in exchange of building for the future? Crewe Alexandra have often been regarded as having an excellent youth set up, with two recent graduates, Nick Powell and Ashley Westwood, securing moves to Manchester United and Aston Villa respectively over the past two seasons. Over the years they’ve had the likes of David Platt and Neil Lennon pass through the gates of Gresty Road and go onto bigger and better things, but for Crewe, their academy is what keeps them in business, as clubs frequently pay over the premium for younger players; so it makes sense to take up these offers when they come in.
This is crucial for small sides like Crewe who don’t have, or ever will have the fan base, facilities, or complete squad to climb higher and the immediacy of football, as a business, won’t allow it.
However, for larger clubs, like Arsenal and Aston Villa, who have both had the selling club tag placed upon them, it can prove problematic. As we know, both sides have run into problems since moving their bigger stars on, albeit for a profit. Wenger has seen success elude him, and now has to face angry fans and antsy board members on a weekly basis, which has only recently been remedied by an FA Cup win, whilst Villa have suffered a dramatic downturn in fortune since their quartet of England international midfielders haven’t been replaced.
Youth systems aside, a club needs to be able to replace these players as quickly as possible, which they have not done by spending wisely. It also helps if a club can abstain from bad management decisions like ongoing tactical errors or constant personnel changes. Something that the aforementioned Premier League sides have failed to do recently.
Southampton are the latest side that this tag can be applied to. After a meteoric four years that has seen them rise from League One to the cusp of Europe, they have lost all of their best talent in the space of a week, and look set to lose more.
Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert have joined Liverpool, with Dejan Lovren looking likely to join them, while Like Shaw has joined Manchester United and midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin has recently become the subject of interest from Arsenal.
Now whilst these moves and potential deals will earn the club a lot of money that they can re-invest what they will lose could be far greater. When players that have been with a club for a long time, and when they rise through the divisions with said club they become a part of its fabric, and that understanding of a club’s culture cannot be replicated by any expensive new signing. Not right away anyway.
This has been happening to Southampton for years, though. The club has raised and then released the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain over the past ten years, and have always been comforted to know that there are always going to be more coming through the ranks behind them.
But how long can that continue without moving the club forward? Their rise has been meteoric recently, but now that the core of their side has disappeared they face the uncertainty of entrusting new players that may or may not perform.
Football’s short-term nature means that if they don’t start winning silverware straight away, then ‘bigger’ sides will always be able to cherry pick the best talent and stop a club from building their own dynasty.
So while some players, particularly young English players, would ideally be playing at the top level in order to develop themselves and thus the national side, but the longer this cycle goes on the less chance these clubs have of breaking the mould and challenging the established clubs at the top of the league.