The signing of Romelu Lukaku for £28m was a great day for Everton fans, but a sad day for the neutral observer.
Critics dismissed the European Financial Fair Play rules when they were introduced, suggesting the laws would not be adequately enforced. However, the teams have taken the regulations seriously. Although the fines for failing to comply are relatively small (Manchester City received ‘only’ a £50m penalty for spending more than £1bn), it is the damage to the clubs’ reputations that is the greater deterrent.
Consequently, teams are exploiting every possible avenue to overcome Uefa’s legislation. Under the terms of the law, teams are able to spend freely on youth development, so clubs are now stockpiling emerging young talent. After coaching the players for a short time, they are then loaned out to attract potential suitors. This tactic allows the club to make a tidy profit on the young players, thus boosting their own revenue and increasing the money it can spend on transfers.
Lukaku is a perfect example. When they signed him, Chelsea were convinced the 18-year-old would become a star and hoped he would ultimately replace Didier Drogba as their talismanic target man. When they decided he wasn’t quite what they were looking for after all, they loaned him out for two years, to West Bromwich Albion and Everton respectively. Then, after the footballing world had been alerted to his talent, Chelsea were able to sell the player at a far higher price than if he had been playing in the reserves at Stamford Bridge.
At first glance it appears everyone, to some extent, wins from the deal. Chelsea make a profit, Everton pick up a proven commodity they are already familiar with and Lukaku receives a substantial salary increase after two successful years on loan.
But at a time when one-club legends are increasingly rare, it’s a pity that so many young players will realise their dreams by signing for a big club, only to find their playing chances limited.