Is there an exodus of great players from the Premier League?
Every year there is a round of conjecture about players who might leave the Premier League, with this year`s stars in the football gossip columns including Diego Costa, Wayne Rooney and Alexis Sanchez. It`s all part and parcel of commenting on the game, but there is an odd sense of urgency to this year`s discussions that isn`t usually there. Some are even asking if there is a mass exodus of our best players, and wondering how the game will cope.
Two of the players we would be most sorry to lose are David De Gea and Eden Hazard, who both have a well-earned spot among the 888sport list of the World`s Top 10 Football Players. The talk is that Real Madrid is chasing the pair, though it`s unclear if the Spanish team can afford both the stars.
To some extent, we`ve seen all this before. Players come and go from the Premier League all the time and it always balances out in the long term. It is a little different this time, though, because there`s a major new agent in the field: China. Not only do the Chinese have a lot of money to throw around, they`re chasing players in the prime of their career instead of those who are looking for an easy few years outside Europe as they cruise towards retirement.
The prime example is Chelsea`s 25-year-old midfielder, Oscar, who signed with Chinese club Shanghai SPIPG for the eye-watering sum of £60 million. It turned him into the seventh most expensive player in football history. Another is Ramires, the Chelsea midfielder who joined Chinese Super League team Jiangsu Suning for £25 million. The comments by Ramires on the move are telling, and if they can be taken at face value, reveal that there is more at play here than an excess of cash on the part of our Chinese counterparts. ‘I see a lot of people saying that I came to China just for the money, but that’s not true,’ Ramires said. ‘If you look at the situation I was going through at Chelsea at the time of the transfer you will see that I was [Guus] Hiddink’s last option in my position and this was frustrating me a lot. The situation was only getting worse and at that moment came the interest of the Chinese club.” Ramires insists that one of the main selling points for the move to Jiangsu was that it gave him a long-term project where he would be a key player.
Nobody will deny that the size of the salaries on offer is a major factor luring bright young players out of the Premier League, but that is clearly not the full story. None of them started playing football simply for the money and they want to feel valued in the teams they are part of. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger summed up the competing forces well when speaking about Oscar: “Will it be a problem for the Premier League in the future? It could become one. When you`re a football player, you want to combine the quality of the competition with the quality of your wages – and the quantity. It is a surprise to me. At the moment I think Oscar moves because he doesn`t play in the Premier League. China gives him that opportunity.”
It`s too soon to draw any conclusions about the impact this seemingly one-way flow of players will have on the Premier League. However, it`s certainly a trend that needs to be watched closely.