Everton's huge Richarlison deal proves how reckless spending is the new normal
At a certain point in the past few years it became almost pointless to complain or be shocked about the size of transfer fees. Money appears to have little value, it's just numbers on a piece of paper, and clubs know more will always be coming, rendering the rocketing prices of players meaningless.
But every now and then a fee will still give you a moment to stop and pause, the latest being the reported £40 million that Everton are paying to sign Richarlison from Watford.
The Brazilian forward is a player of fine potential, a thrilling mix of pace, aggression and quick thinking that, if harnessed correctly, could make him worth that sum. That he excelled under Marco Silva at Watford will also have been a factor in persuading Everton to pay the demanded amount.
Yet the ludicrous thing is, nobody should really be surprised that Everton are approaching their transfer record for a player who essentially has about three good months of Premier League football to his name. This is normal now.
The logic of the transfer market is warped. Everton spending £45m on Gylfi Sigurdsson last season, a transfer which -- for whatever reason -- did not exactly work as planned, is not viewed as a cautionary tale. Teams do not seem to think: "That was a risk that didn't pay off, we won't do that again." But, rather, they view the previous sum as the new baseline.
That was the real risk of the Sigurdsson deal: They weren't just overpaying for a player they didn't need, but were also inflating every other fee that would be demanded of them in the future.
It's not just the money, it's the sense of waste. Richarlison might turn out to be a fine player for Everton, but then again so might Ademola Lookman. When Everton signed the young winger from Charlton Athletic 18 months ago, it looked like a shrewd piece of business for a player that most thought was a star in the making. Now, having barely seen him play for their first team, it looks like he's off to RB Leipzig for not a huge amount more than they paid, and a fraction of the price for Richarlison.
This is not to pick on Everton. Chelsea did a similar thing last summer when they shelled out around £40m for the raw Tiemoue Bakayoko, when they already had Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Throw in the signings of Ross Barkley and Danny Drinkwater, and it starts to look like Chelsea basically paid something like £90m to replace a player they already had.
Clubs are seemingly not interested in releasing the potential they already have, and would rather just throw more money around because that looks like progress. They're like people who buy a new TV every year, regardless of whether they need one or if the latest, more expensive model fits in their living room.
The World Cup has meant the Premier League's traditional big spenders have been relatively quiet, but the Richarlison deal means seven players have already been signed for £40m or more. For reference, there were nine in the whole of last summer. And a thought to really fry your head is that two of this summer's big movers -- Manchester United's Fred and Riyad Mahrez at City -- might not get in their club's first-choice XIs.
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It's an addiction that stems from a conflation of spending and progress. In some cases, of course, moves are justified and entirely sensible: Liverpool needed a goalkeeper, the best on the market turned out to cost £65m, they had the money so naturally they spent it.
But often you get the sense that clubs are just spending for the sake of being seen to be spending. A summer without new arrivals is perceived as a failure, thus the onus is on teams to shell out more and more. Which leads us to this new normal, where £50m is waved away with barely a second thought.
It's worth remembering that it's only seven years ago Chelsea paid that amount for Fernando Torres, who at the time was a proven striker with roughly a decade of elite goal scoring to his name and who had scored the winner in the final of the European Championship. And that was viewed as a near monstrous figure.
The hyper-inflation of the transfer market has been made possible by huge broadcasting deals, but also the willingness of clubs to accept this as the standard. Which, at least in part, is a consequence of the lack of consequences: Waste £50m on one player? No matter, try again in a year.
Now, the failure of a big-money transfer doesn't make a club think twice about the next one. It only seems to strengthen their resolve to dive in blindly again.
If Richarlison doesn't work out, then you can bet Everton will be here again next summer, eager to hand over another two fistfuls of cash.