It is at Brighton & Hove Albion once again that Chelsea FC has decided the talent lies.
Not content with taking the club’s manager, backroom staff, recruitment team, sporting director and $80 million full-back, the West Londoners have decided defensive midfielder Moises Caicedo is also required.
But, as was demonstrated in Brighton & Hove Albion’s negotiations for most of those outgoings from the South Coast for Stamford Bridge, a successful transfer won’t be easy or cheap.
Although he was acquired for a mere $6 million from Ecuadorian club Independiente del Valle just two years ago, an impressive season at the American Express Stadium, the fact he is just 21 and has a freshly signed 5-year contract means the club has set a high price.
Last week, a $100 million offer was rejected by the Seagulls with one source claiming to Sky Sports News Brighton valued Caicedo “in the same bracket as Arsenal’s record-signing Declan Rice and will look to get in the region of [$125 million] for him.”
When asked about the status of one of his key performers, Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi sounded relatively laid back.
“If Caicedo leaves, we will bring another big player. If Caicedo stays with us, I will be very happy,’ he said after a recent preseason friendly.
“But it’s not my job to decide who leaves and who comes [to the club].
“I hope we can bring another couple of players because I need it. But if we sell anyone we will bring other big players, other good players,” he added.
You wouldn’t bet against Brighton adding an equivalent talent should Caicedo leave, in the past few years the club has demonstrated an uncanny ability for developing stars it can sell to the league’s richest teams.
Youth product Ben White was bought by Arsenal for $64 million a couple of seasons back with Leandro Trossard making the same move in January for nearly double the $20 million fee the Seasiders paid.
Marc Cucurella went to Chelsea earning a $50 million profit and Alexis Mac Allister moved to Liverpool for three times what Brighton’s outlay.
These deals are not only a product of the club having a successful scouting operation and good strategic operation, it’s because there is a ready market of buyers.
The widening gap
A club of equivalent standing in another division, Spain or Italy, would simply not be able to quote the type of prices the Seagulls do because there is maybe one club at a push that could afford such an exorbitant fee.
Brighton, just as was the case with Cucurella last summer, have multiple clubs interested in the Ecuadorian.
They all have money and are willing to spend it. At Chelsea alone, should Caicedo make the move he’ll become the club’s third $100 million deal in six months.
By comparison, only one Italian team, Juventus, has ever broken the $100 million barrier when it signed Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018.
That acquisition, albeit some years back, was for one of the world’s greatest stars, not as is the case with Caicedo, a talented young player with a handful of seasons’ experience.
Juventus are still dealing with the consequences of that outlay and it will be a long time before any Italian other side makes a similar purchase.
This means if a Series A club, such as Torino or Bologna, discovers a talent like Caicedo the only chance of getting a fee even half of what Brighton is charging would be to sell abroad.
In Spain at the top more money exists, but for clubs of a similar standing to Brighton, the situation is the same as in Italy.
Buoyed by years of dominating Europe, Real Madrid and Barcelona have breached the $100 million mark on numerous occasions, even Atletico Madrid has surpassed the landmark fee.
It’s when you examine the profile of the players acquired that you start to see the difference.
All of the players on that list have been signed from Champions League clubs and are talents who’ve established themselves at the top of the game.
To put it in another, slightly more disrespectful way, Spanish clubs aren’t buying defensive players from mid-table La Liga teams who’ve had one really good season for $100 million.
Double the price in a decade
The overwhelming reason for this is that the sums swilling around the English game far exceed those in countries like Spain and Italy.
To put this in perspective Real Sociedad who finished 4th in La Liga last season has a combined top 10 all-time biggest transfer spend of $146 million.
Brighton’s ten largest deals come to a total of $260 million. The distance between the sums is more remarkable because the English club managed to reach that figure having spent half the number of years its Spanish counterpart in the top flight, the Basque club in that time has also competed in Europe on numerous occasions.
Analysis by the CIES Football Observatory found the annual growth rate for transfers by Premier League clubs to be 12.5% annually for the best part of the past decade, a rate which is well over a third more than the other five biggest league’s joint average.
The upshot is transfers for clubs in England are essentially double what they were 10 years ago.
In many ways, that data tells us what our eyes can already see, the values of players in the Premier League have inflated beyond any logical expectations.
But few would argue the market has peaked, if anything it’s getting worse.
The fact defensive players, like Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo, who’ve traditionally gone for lower amounts than attackers are being traded for fees in excess of $100 million is a clear indication of that.
What once was a landmark figure is being normalized as a selling price.
As former Premier League defender Alan Hutton told Football Insider the $125 million Arsenal paid for Rice “seems to be the talking figure for top-end footballers in the Premier League.
“Of course, he is going to go to a good football team but Brighton are the ones coming off the best in this, their recruitment has been outstanding so if they were able to make $125 million on Caicedo, it is an amazing bit of business.”