Manchester United and Chelsea are both being linked with a move for Ross Barkley, one of England's rising football talents.
The Everton starlet has emerged as one of the Barclays Premier League's hottest properties, making his senior debut against QPR in the Toffees' opening game of the season and featuring in two other domestic clashes so far this term.
Tipped for big things from a young age, 17-year-old Barkley joined the Everton Academy at 11 and has worked his way through the youth system to be in his current first team position. He was expected to make his debut last season before breaking his leg in three places last October.
None of these aforementioned pieces of information point you in the direction of a £20 million price-tag, but speculation in a variety of British national newspapers claim Andre Villas-Boas is now willing to challenge Sir Alex Ferguson for the player's signature in a big-money battle between the two giants of the game.
And the reason for the high figure? His nationality.
It should be no surprise that club's are not willing to sell to their domestic rivals on the cheap, and with that in mind, the 'homegrown rule' could be having an adverse affect on how clubs look to meet their quota.
Barclays Premier League squad rules require each club to name a 25-man squad, with at least eight of these classed as ‘homegrown’. These are defined as players of any nationality who have spent at least three seasons with an English or Welsh club before turning 21. The advantages of having a successful academy are clear, but the more cash-rich clubs can look to buy their number of players if needed.
For these very top teams, including Chelsea and United, the UEFA Champions League rules are also to be considered. Of a 25-man squad to be submitted for the competition, 17 are allowed to be 'non-homegrown', leaving an allocation of eight for domestic-raised players. This 32% quota is then split into two, with four players maximum 'association trained' (any club in England or Wales) and the rest of the group 'club trained'.
Whilst the rules become slightly clouded with B-lists and youth players, the simple fact is clubs need English players, and it's going to cost.
Take Romelu Lukaku, already a Belgian international with Champions League experience and regarded as one of the hottest properties in European football. Chelsea spent £18 million on the striker, but were forced to leave him out of their squad for the prestigious European competition due to his nationality.
Barkley, with none of these credentials, would cost the Blues £2 million more because he was born in Liverpool.
The list of big-money English additions is long for the top teams in this country, with Andy Carroll at £35 million to Anfield in January, with Jordan Henderson following suit in the summer for a fee in the region of £20 million. Manchester United got a relative bargain at £16 million for Phil Jones, whilst Connor Wickham joined Sunderland for 'silly money', as Paul Jewell explained in the transfer window.
Arsene Wenger brought Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the Emirates for £13 million, despite his experience being limited to the third tier, but balked at paying £17 million for Gary Cahill, who only has one-year left on his contract and no European experience. He got German international Per Mertesacker for just over half the price.
In a poll ran by The Guardian, 92% of people felt British talent as a whole was overpriced, helped in part by the media hype created in this country surrounding its top players.
It would be easy to blame Everton for Barkley's price tag, but clubs are willing to pay such figures for potential rather than proven ability. A club struggling financially and forced to sell some of its most valuable assets will look to get the most out of any opportunity if they have too, although David Moyes would undoubtedly want to keep the teenager.
£20 million is surely beyond the limits of a reasonable gamble as well, and is unlikely to be beneficial to the player in the short-term with a lack of first team opportunities at either Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford when on the verge of becoming a regular at Goodison Park.
Were the player's stock continue to rise, and progression match the potential on Merseyside over the coming season (or two), then such figures would be understandable given the rulings put in place over players.
But, at this time, banking on Barkley at £20 million doesn't represent good business.
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