This may be the only time you will see Neymar and Dominic Solanke’s names appear in the same sentence but the two forwards actually have something in common: both men may have distorted the transfer market with their fees.
At £198 million, Neymar’s world record move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2017 was a moment of financial folly that sent shockwaves through the game. The transfer was over £100m more than the previous record of £89.3m — set by Paul Pogba’s 2016 switch from Juventus to Manchester United — and it triggered a domino effect of similarly inflated deals. PSG went on to negotiate a £166m deal for Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe, following an initial 12-month loan period. Barcelona dipped into their Neymar cash by spending a potential £135m on Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele and then, six months later, splashed out a further £142m on Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho.
In a game flush with money at the top end of the market, those transfer fees were perhaps an inevitable consequence of the riches flowing through Europe’s biggest clubs. In fairness to the players involved — even Dembele and Mbappe, teenagers at the time of their big moves — they had all shone in the Champions League before making their moves. Even Bayern’s repeated bids for Chelsea youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi, an 18-year-old with high potential, looks reasonable given the Bundesliga giant’s need for young talent, as does Chelsea spending nearly £60m for Christian Pulisic, a player with a track record in Germany and a skill set that will help the Blues over the long-term.
Yet Bournemouth’s move for Solanke feels significant in a different sense. It’s not unusual to see teams completing surprisingly expensive deals but the Cherries’ £19m move for a player with one Premier League goal and just five starts since his Chelsea debut in 2014 feels significant for all the wrong reasons.
Solanke cost Bournemouth less than a tenth of Neymar’s world record fee but it’s still a major outlay for a club of their stature; it could yet rise to an eventual £25m if the former Chelsea youngster is able to trigger £6m worth of incentivised add-ons.
The deal means that Solanke becomes the third most-expensive English striker of all-time behind Andy Carroll and Wayne Rooney. Carroll ultimately flopped at Liverpool after his £35m move from Newcastle in January 2011, but he had at least proven himself in the Premier League at St James’ Park — Carroll had scored 33 goals in 90 league games for Newcastle — prior to his transfer. Rooney, aged just 18 when he completed a £30m move to United from Everton in August 2004, was a star for club and country before swapping Goodison Park for Old Trafford. He was also clearly a prodigious talent.
However, Solanke makes the top three on the list having scored just one Premier League goal during his time at Liverpool and Chelsea. The 21-year-old started five league games in a season-and-a-half under Jurgen Klopp at Anfield (also making 16 substitute appearances) and did not appear at all in the Champions League. At Chelsea, he never kicked a ball in the Premier League and became a symbol of the club’s failure to promote its highly rated youth-team prospects.
Bournemouth may have struck gold with Solanke, a player that has always impressed England manager Gareth Southgate, and only time will tell if he proves value for money. Yet the real question mark over Solanke’s fee is how it will affect the rest of the transfer market? His £19m fee could be to the Premier League what Neymar’s was to the world game: an artificially high watermark that will raise the spending bar again.
Solanke is two months older than Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford but there is no comparison between the two players when it comes to their development, achievements and market value.
Since making his debut in February 2016, Rashford has made 148 first-team appearances for United, scoring 39 goals in all competitions, and has won the FA Cup, Europa League and EFL Cup, while also playing in the World Cup and European Championship with England. If the Solanke fee is any gauge, Rashford would be worth well over £100m and perhaps even in the same region as Mbappe’s £166m valuation. Jadon Sancho, the 18-year-old England forward who is becoming one of the brightest young stars in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, is another whose value could one day hit the £100m mark. This might sound ridiculous considering Sancho’s inexperience yet Solanke’s fee has made English players, who are already over-priced, seem even more expensive.
There is an argument to suggest that Solanke is merely a victim of circumstance. English clubs have long had to pay an “English Tax” for homegrown players due to the need for clubs to meet quotas in the Premier League and UEFA competition, which is why a cheaper, more experienced foreign player is often preferred by the buying club. Had Solanke been French or Belgian, for instance, it’s unlikely that Bournemouth would have had to pay quite so much to sign him.
Bournemouth will soon find out whether Solanke is good enough to justify his fee but it’s an indictment of the transfer market, and what clubs are prepared to pay, that a player with one Premier League goal to his name is worth so much to a club in need of proven talent.