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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


The Rise of the “Statement Transfer”

Written by on December 15, 2011 | 3 Comments »
Posted in General

It is certainly soccer’s blessing that it is a game that belongs to the world; a universal language that can make a conversation with a taxi driver in any city that you travel to far easier than it would otherwise have been.

Yet that universality can also be a curse, for it makes the game capable of being a symbol of so much more than sport, and in the last couple of years we have seen the growth of what we could perhaps call the “statement transfer”.

Perhaps the most audacious of these was the signing of Samuel Eto’o to FC Anzhi Makhachkala of the Russian Premier League.

Eto’o is 30 years old and still one of the best goalscorers in the world, so it took an awful lot of money to persuade him to ply his trade in the troubled Republic of Dagestan but Anzhi are lucky enough to have an awful lot of money, largely because they are owned by billionaire investor Suleyman Kerimov.

Kerimov has already indicated that he intends to upgrade all the clubs facilities and make them a genuine force in European soccer, but what he needed to do before all of this could come to pass was to send out a notice of intent to world football, and what better way to do it than splashing the cash on one of the best players around?

Similarly when it became clear that Nicolas Anelka wanted to leave Chelsea there was much talk that he would be on his way to MLS, admittedly rumours of players moving to MLS are not that unusual, but nobody foresaw that the striker would be making his way to China in 2012.

Yet it was Shangai Shenua of the of the Chinese Super League that convinced the Frenchman that that was where his future lay.

Shangai Shenua may have won the (now defunct) A3 cup in 2007 but theirs is not a storied history to compete with the many others that were undoubtedly showing an interest in Anelka; they are though owned by industrialist Zhu Jun who probably felt that he needed to garner some more attention after his purported bid to buy Liverpool in 2010 failed to materialise.

Anelka may not be on the same level as Eto’o but his is a name that will attract attention to a club that has had little (if any) in the past.

It won’t stop here either, there is already talk of Didier Drogba following Anelka’s lead and heading to China and, as the post Brazil World Cups approach, it is worth remembering that both Russia and Qatar have a plethora of billionaires with money available to burn on players that will enhance individual reputations as much as improve a clubs on the field performance.

Maybe the surprise destination in all of this could turn out to be Brazil itself.

A soccer obsessed nation with a growing economic platform, and an ever increasing number of very wealthy individuals, could well be the go to destination for star players in the coming years, and maybe the fact that Neymar has stayed with Santos instead of seeking a deal in Europe says as much about the future of the game in his home country as it does about his own ambitions.

It should be deeply concerning however that a few fabulously wealthy owners are more interested in star-studded individuals than actually building viable teams, and while everybody would welcome the growth of the game in China it won’t be achieved on the back of a temperamental French forward no matter how well-known his name.

It used to be the case that Olympic medals were an authoritarian nation’s way of garnering prestige and proving their worth, now it seems that world-class footballers are the must have accessory for the slew of relatively young billionaires that have as much money and influence as those nations used to wield.

There may be some very surprising deals being made in the coming years. 

3 responses to “The Rise of the “Statement Transfer””

  1. John Bladen says:


    I agree in general: Adding an Anelka or an Eto’o won’t make these clubs or leagues world class.

    It is possible these guys are just part of a childish fascination the wealthy owners presently have with the game. That has certainly happened before… but it is also possible that this is just step one in a longer term plan for these owners to remake their clubs (and perhaps to some extent leagues) into household names or , more likely, media properties. Dagestan may never be a footballing titan, but having big names associated with the club & league may attract interest (assuming the average spectator can afford to attend even a modestly priced game, which is uncertain) domestically and internationally.

    Time will tell, but the signings you mentioned could be the first step in a long process to remake Asian football (or at least a couple of pieces of it).

    Whether we are talking about Asia or MLS, I would rather see balanced team building and continuous improvement amongst member clubs. However, that seldom happens when PR and media money is involved. It’s about the “splash”… and nothing says ‘hey look at me!’ like signing an Eto’o, Anelka or Beckham (can’t imagine LAG would have had any interest from Asian tour hosts absent his inclusion, can you?)

    Whether having a multimillion dollar player mixed into a squad largely filled out with journeymen and locals actually helps the club’s on pitch competitiveness is another matter entirely.

  2. Gus Keri says:


    “It should be deeply concerning however that a few fabulously wealthy owners are more interested in star-studded individuals than actually building viable teams”

    You are worried about nothing. I really mean “nothing”.
    Soccer in China has been “nothing” for as long as I remember. So, whatever attention it gets, it’s going to be good.

    No body expects a massive and sudden improvemment in the standard of Chinese soccer and having an international star will only help this nation building its own soccer tradition.

    There is no doubt that bringing any international star to any league will elevate the status of the league among the rest of the world.
    What it does at the club level? It all depends on the clubs themselves.

    A little commercialization never hurts.

  3. might be, their will be mr. berrisford. This is also about the change in the non european world. We forget that South America, Asia, and Africa 100 years ago, 1911, were all run from Europe or the USA, and not from any whites in those areas. Japan was the only non White country that was going toward independence in a real way.
    But, today, Brazil, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, China, Southern Russia which is mostly in Asia, has grown, imperfectly, in some ways sadfully, but grown to greater places of independence and with that independence, especially economically, they have rich who want to show their wealth. I think Russia and China see soccer as a growth area and have the real money to back it up, because many of their most wealthy deal in natural resources.
    We keep forgetting, you will rarely see someone in the States, Japan, or Western Europe make billions from owning huge estates of natural resources, like in Russia and Western Asia. Oil companies have stock holders.
    And, I think the proof of the real wealth of Russia and West Asia made FIFA’s decisions to put the next two world cups in those countries respectively is genius. The USA does have the largest economy, but it is in many ways a country whose wealth is based on its militaries position and managing, not pure natural resource wealth.
    So, as you said correctly, many interesting deals will be made, and most will involve players going to Russia and West and East Asia.
    On another level, I am glad Anelka didnt come to MLS and to be blunt, with the recent changes MLS will have, I think MLS is really not a place for talents like Anelka.

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