The number of clubs who can afford to consider nothing beyond a player’s current or future quality when recruiting is very small. In the Premier League, you are probably only talking about the top 5 or 6 clubs, and one of those clubs, Chelsea, cannot recruit this Summer due to their transfer ban. Every other club, whether they approach recruitment in a ‘Moneyball’ style or a more traditional model, have to at least consider value, which leads to transfer trends as clubs identify certain leagues or nations offering comparatively better value than others of an equivalent quality. This Summer, recruiting young players from the Football League, particularly the Championship, appears to be one of the more popular trends.
Last Summer there were 26 transfers from Football League clubs to the Premier League, either permanently or on loan. However, that number was swelled by 11 transfers from the 3 relegated sides; Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City. Others including Adama Traore and Matej Vydra had previous Premier League experience too, whilst the likes of Max Kilman at Wolves and Ben Wilmot at Watford were very much long-term prospects and only played a handful of minutes. In terms of young players from recruited from Football League with no prior Premier League experience who played regularly last season (i.e. more than 1000 minutes), David Brooks (Bournemouth), James Maddison (Leicester), Joe Bryan (Fulham), Josh Murphy and Bobby De Cordova-Reid (both Cardiff) are the only examples from the Summer transfer window. This figure increases to 7 if you also include the January transfer window, when Chris Mepham joined Bournemouth from Brentford and Karlan Grant joined Huddersfield from Charlton.
This Summer, there have already been 20 transfers to the Premier League from Football League clubs, with plenty of time for that figure to grow before the window shuts. However, just one player, Jonas Lossl, has joined from one of last season’s relegated clubs, leaving Huddersfield to join Everton. Stoke, West Brom and Swansea continue to offload their Premier League squads, with Erik Pieters and Jay Rodriguez both joining Burnley and Craig Dawson joining Watford (Daniel James also left Swansea to join Manchester United, though did not make any Premier League appearances with the Swans). That leaves 16 players recruited from the Football League without previous Premier League experience, and whilst it is always difficult to say with certainty how many will make regular appearances this season, based on the transfer fees involved, it appears likely that there will be an increase on the 5 regulars from last Summer’s group.
The question therefore is, what has driven this current trend for recruiting young players from the Football League? Any form of statistical analysis of the trend itself rather than the players involved would have little value due to the fact that the sample size from last season was so small. That sample size could be increased if you included the players who stepped up from the Championship with the 3 promoted clubs; Wolves, Fulham and Cardiff. However, this would prevent any assessment of the value of these players as those who were recruited were recruited by clubs then in the Championship, and therefore would not have paid the same premium that Premier League clubs typically have to play. It would also ignore the fact that playing in the Premier League for the first time following a promotion is a different challenge to joining a new club and playing in the Premier League for the first time simultaneously.
The main hypothesis I could pose would be that clubs have looked at the success of David Brooks and James Maddison last season, as well as the success of Wolves as a team, and have drawn the conclusion that the quality gap between the Championship is not too big. Brooks was Bournemouth’s joint 3rd top scorer with 7 goals and joint 3rd for assists with 5, whilst Maddison was Leicester’s 2nd top scorer with 7 goals and topped their assists chart with 7. Wolves were best of the rest with their 7th placed finished built around a core of players who had won the club promotion like Conor Coady, Matt Doherty and Ruben Neves, so it is clear that it is possible to jump from the Championship to being an important, effective player in the Premier League straight away. So who, if anyone, will become the Brooks’ and Maddison’s of the 2019/20 season, and will the trend continue into next Summer’s transfer window?