So after months of rumors, negotiations, last-minute hijack bids and conspiracy theories Arsenal FC finally look like getting their man.
It turns out that after an opening offer below the $120 million mark, the Gunners did want to make Declan Rice the most expensive Englishman of all time.
Final work is being conducted on the purchase of West Ham United’s star midfielder, but there is understandable elation amongst the Gunners’ fanbase after what has felt like a protracted process of negotiation.
According to ex-Liverpool player turned pundit it’s an excitement shared by the man himself.
“It’s worth saying I saw Dec on Sunday at the cafe by mine,” Murphy told the FIVE YouTube channel.
“He was outside, I popped out to see him. And we were chatting, and he was buzzing.
“He couldn’t wait to get to Arsenal. He said Arteta was magic when he met him.”
Once the jubilation at landing the England midfielder subsides even the most ardent Arsenal fan will surely wonder: is $135 million not a bit expensive?
Few would dispute Rice is an excellent player, he wouldn’t have attracted interest from the likes of Manchester City and Bayern Munich if he wasn’t.
But the fee is ridiculously high when compared to the prices for other players of a similar level.
Take Sandro Tonali as one example recruited by Newcastle United for $70 million he is literally half the cost of Declan Rice.
Like Arsenal’s new man, he is a starter at international level, but his experience domestically far outweighs the Englishman.
He spent last season playing in the Champions League, something Rice has never done, and the year before he was an instrumental part of AC Milan being crowned champions of Italy.
At 23 he is a year younger than Rice and has similar room for even great improvement.
Of course, the key difference between the pair is Tonali is joining from a foreign division, he is not ‘Premier League ready,’ but is the value of that difference really $70 million?
The answer is undoubtedly no.
Even the most passionate backer of Rice would surely concede by, most objective metrics, he is not worth $134 million.
The reason he has gone for this fee is because of his nationality.
Rice is English and homegrown stars come at a premium for Premier League teams. The reasons why are both practical and based on long-standing prejudice.
‘The English Premium’
Irish soccer fans will point to the remarkable irony in the most expensive ‘Englishman’ of all time actually spending the vast majority of his youth career representing the Republic of Ireland.
They might also raise a wry smile at how the English love to overemphasize the importance of their own players.
Indeed, the concept of the ‘English Premium’ in Premier League soccer traces its roots back to the early 2000s when the scarcity of homegrown talent became an issue in the world’s richest league.
To begin with, this phenomenon was not driven by any regulation, it instead was down to a perception players from England provided intangible qualities without which success could not be achieved.
From Rio Ferdinand’s world record $42 million transfer to Manchester United in 2002 to Harry Maguire joining the same club for nearly double that amount nearly two decades later, the idea it is necessary to have an English presence at the heart of the team has persisted.
Such discourse was most evident when English sides played in Europe as confirmed by a set of London-based academics in a 2014 research paper titled ‘Myths of Nation in the Champions League.’
They discovered in media coverage of Europe’s top competition “nationalistic discourses in the form of symbolic Englishness, intertextual references to insider English knowledge, football history and conflicts, and ‘othering’ representations of England’s opponents.”
In practical terms, this perceived value meant leaders like John Terry and Steven Gerrard earned higher sums than their European counterparts.
The inflation of English player prices was intensified by the introduction in 2017 of a quota for the number of overseas players at Premier League teams.
Sides in the top division can only register a maximum of 17 foreign-trained talents in their 25-man squads.
The requirement to register a minimum of eight homegrown players means any English star who is of a level to be starting for a top side acquires a value that goes beyond their abilities on the field.
But even still the overvaluation of players from the British Isles goes beyond the regulatory impact, which has increased the values of homegrown players in other nations like Spain and Italy for years.
By analyzing a database of all of the European elite leagues a University of Reading paper found there is an “English player value premium of around 40% and a wage premium of 25%.”
When the academics explored the reasons for this startling high figure they found it the generally higher sums being spent by Premier League teams was a factor as well as a higher concentration of English talent in attacking positions where historically higher fees are earned. A better performance against other nationalities in the Premier League and the scarcity of Englishman abroad also had an impact.
However, the Reading researchers’ most fascinating finding was that the “higher valuation of English attackers and the higher salaries of English attackers and of English midfielders evaded explanation by any of these groups of variables.”
When it comes to examples of this phenomenon they don’t get much more obvious than Declan Rice.