From Zlatan to Vardy: Is the trend of top clubs pursuing older players here to stay?

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From Zlatan to Vardy: Is the trend of top clubs pursuing older players here to stay?

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Abhinav Kini

06/26/2016

Recent rumours and transfer news seem to indicate that, clubs are now more than willing to spend on players approaching the “twilight” of their careers. This article coincidentally looks at four players who are all 29 years old and are linked with moves.

A couple of seasons ago, it would have been absurd for a top club to spend on players who were in their late twenties, let alone pay a transfer fee of double digits. A Daily Mail article in 2011 stated that old players were now, deemed unwanted, citing the example of the transfer window that summer. At one point in August of that year, only three players who were above the age of 26 were signed for over £4.5 million.

There are of course exceptions like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robin van Persie (though they have been world class for a more sustained period), however, recent rumours and transfer news seem to indicate that, clubs are now more than willing to spend on players approaching the “twilight” of their careers. This article coincidentally looks at four players who are all 29 years old and are linked with moves.

Arsenal recently activated the £20m release clause of Jamie Vardy, who had a great season with champions Leicester City. No top clubs were even interested in the former Fleetwood Town striker’s signature before the start of last season.

Also read: Arsenal FC | Midfield merry-go-round and the barren Emirates

However, we all know about his exploits that followed and Vardy is now rightfully regarded as one of the best strikers in England. Still, Arsenal’s intent to spend £20 million and reportedly offer a reported bumper four-year contract for a 29-year-old clearly shows that the Gunners were very serious about their pursuit for Leicester’s number nine. But, the striker signed a new contract with the champions Leicester City rather than moving to Arsenal.

 © Gettyimages

Dmitri Payet was another revelation this past season and he is only increasing his value with his performances in the Euros these past few days. The former Marseille man is now being monitored by Chelsea, while there have also been reports of Real Madrid and Barcelona being interested in the Frenchman. We can expect more clubs to show an interest in the West Ham man after the Euros come to a conclusion, with the Hammers reportedly slapping a £60m price tag on Payet.

Celta Vigo’s Nolito, who five years ago saw no future at Barcelona, is another target perennially linked with Arsenal and a move back to the Nou Camp. After scoring double-digit league goals for the last three seasons, he is now not only a starter for Spain, but is currently linked with a £14m move to Tottenham and Manchester City.

Also read: Liverpool FC | Europa League failure proves to be much-needed wake-up call

Lastly, there’s Lazio’s Antonio Candreva, who came to prominence a few years ago after having unsuccessful spells at Udinese, Juventus, and Parma. The Italian, now a regular for the Azzurri, is currently linked with a £20m move to Inter Milan, Chelsea, and earlier in the summer, Napoli and Atletico Madrid.

So why are the top clubs now linked and ready to spend so much on players approaching the stereotypical end of their careers? It might have happened in the past once or twice but for context, in the Premier League, only two players at the age of 30 or above were bought for at least £10 million and one of those players in goalkeeper Petr Cech, who was bought last summer (the other being Claude Makelele in 2003). In La Liga, only Michael Laudrup, at 30, was bought for €10 million. In the Bundesliga, only two 30-year-olds were bought for over €10 million - Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Luca Toni.

Nolito © Gettyimages

This could be attributed to a couple of factors. For one, there is the obvious reason being inflation in the market. Payet for example, is not worth £60m, but would you really be surprised if a club like Real Madrid contact his agent when the Euros end and strike a deal? Players are naturally more expensive than they were in the past, but if that were the case, won’t clubs rather spend more on younger players even if they were slightly overpriced?

There is also the factor of more competition in the transfer market. More clubs today (especially in the Premier League) have the famed transfer war chests and are willing to compete for desirable targets on the market. This leads to some clubs ready to pay higher wages and agent fees, while in some cases, the location, history and current situation of a club come into play.

Also read: Jose Mourinho vs Pep Guardiola | The Disease arrives in Manchester

An example of this is Manchester United’s pursuit of Renato Sanches. It seemed for a while that Old Trafford would be the destination of the Benfica teenager, however, other clubs were soon interested like PSG, Manchester City, and Real Madrid, before he eventually moved to Bayern Munich. Because of more clubs battling each other for the same target, it could be that clubs are now targeting the “older”, more attainable players as their main targets are now unavailable.

This leads to another factor - the lack of availability of desired targets. No one could have predicted Arsene Wenger vying for the signature of Vardy. After all, strikers that are always linked with Arsenal are Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema, and Robert Lewandowski. One reason a club like Arsenal could be targeting Vardy is because of these high-profile targets simply being too expensive or too hard to sign. It makes sense then that Vardy at £20m would be the best option for Wenger as he is relatively affordable and has proven that he can score goals in the Premier League.

Another factor could be the rise in the late bloomers. Vardy only gained prominence this past season, while Candreva was only getting talked about in 2012. Payet, while his talent was always there (leading people to wonder why no top club snatched him up all these years), was very inconsistent and also had attitude problems in Ligue 1. Nolito only started getting the attention of Europe three seasons ago.

The biggest reason of all, however, could be that these top clubs are now acknowledging that sustained spells of dominance from players are increasingly harder to achieve. As a result of this, clubs seem to be striking when the iron is hot, as is the case with Vardy and Payet. Even if these potential signings are short term, they come with many advantages. Sir Alex Ferguson’s signing of Robin van Persie being a prime example, plus everyone loves players who make it to the big time after humble beginnings.

Whatever the main reason is, the last few seasons have shown that a player’s career can still be on an upward trajectory, even if it’s at the age of 29.

Also read: Manchester United | Five players who could get the boot from Jose Mourinho

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