LONDON (Reuters) - The joke doing the rounds on Twitter on Tuesday was that manager Ronald Koeman was undergoing a medical at Everton after agreeing to pay 30 million pounds ($38 million) for Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
While the fee reported by the Liverpool Echo includes add-ons over the years and has yet to be confirmed, it appears close enough to the truth to provoke a sharp intake of breath.
After all, Pickford began last season in Sunderland reserves and ended it relegated with the first team.
Only Manchester City have ever paid more for a goalkeeper -- just last week -- and the deal is the fourth biggest between English clubs.
Pickford is a highly promising keeper, whose percentage record of saving 135 saves in 29 appearances was only bettered last season by Burnley’s Tom Heaton, but the huge fee is the latest indication of the rampant inflation coursing through the transfer market.
For the past four years, the respected Football Observatory website has attempted to adopt a scientific approach to valuing European talent, using performance data and the cost of similar players to set fees.
Significantly, before Tuesday, it valued Pickford at 5 million pounds, way below what Everton appear ready to pay.
“So paying 30 million pounds is indicative of Everton paying ridic (sic) prices,” tweeted Nick Harris, an authority on spending by English clubs who this summer are expected to smash their own transfer window record of 1.165 billion pounds.
Stoking the deals is the 8.3 billion pounds which Premier League clubs received for the latest three-year TV rights contract, which kicked in last season and meant that even Pickford’s club Sunderland received 100 million pounds for finishing bottom.
Pending deals are reported to include Roma’s Mohamed Salah to Liverpool for 40 million pounds, Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata to Manchester United to 52.4 million pounds and Everton’s Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea for a world-record 100 million pounds.
None of these figures are independently verified but Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger has long pinpointed the dangers of overspending, suggesting that English football risks “suffocating” itself.
”In Europe you have two markets,“ said Wenger last year. ”One for the English clubs and one for the rest of Europe.
”The danger is that the English clubs can suffocate themselves in the long term because they buy players at a very high price. That means there are very high wages and, if they are wrong, they will have these players with high wages who cannot move anywhere else.
“When the buyer is English, it multiplies the transfer sometimes by 10. If an English club does not come in, he is worth 5 million pounds but, if an English club comes, he is worth 35 million pounds or 40 or 50.”
There are signs that English clubs may have to kick its transfer addiction, however. Figures released this week showed that Premier League football had suffered the biggest drop in viewing, 14 percent, on Sky TV for at least seven years.
Analysts believe downward pressure will be applied to the next rights deal as a new generation of fans spurn the high cost of signing to a pay-per-view sports broadcaster in favour of illegal web streams or individual match deals on other networks.
But that is in the future. This summer expect to see English clubs continue to outspend the rest.
($1 = 0.7858 pounds)
Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Alison Williams