It’s summer. The football season ended a couple of months ago, but it’s still over a month from starting up again. There hasn’t been a major men’s international football tournament to watch. We’ve all watched the women’s World Cup in France – which has been a big success – and many of us have been surprised by how much the women’s game has improved in what feels like a small number of years. Even that, though, is now at an end. That leaves only one thing for football fans to talk about – transfers.
Ever since the introduction of transfer windows, the process of buying and selling players has seemed frantic and haphazard for clubs both big and small. Transfer fees have gone through the roof because of concentrated demand, agents now seem to have more control over where their players play than clubs do, and panic buying is everywhere. All fans have an ideal shopping list of who they’d like to see their team acquire before the first game of the new season. Almost nobody – other than Manchester City or Real Madrid fans – gets to see it happen.
Even when it does happen, it’s no guarantee of success. Although scouting and data analysis can tell you a lot about a player, making a marquee summer signing is always a gamble. Spending big money on an unknown striker is no more a guarantee of success than spending all your money on ‘Striker Goes Wild’ when you’re playing mobile slots; sometimes you’ll win, and sometimes you’ll lose. UK Mobile Slots at least have the decency to state their odds before you stake your bets though; agents looking for big money moves for their players have no such manners. They’ll assure you their man is a 30-goal-a-season guarantee, then shrug their shoulders as they toil to achieve a third of that figure. Managers are left wishing they really had spent their money on slots instead.
None of this will stop players and managers from wheeling and dealing though, and there will be major money transfers happening over the next four weeks. What we’re less likely to see is a big money move for an Irish player. Despite the recent revival in the fortunes of the national side, there are no obvious candidates likely to attract bids above £10m from top clubs. In fact, the list of the five most expensive Irish players in history has barely changed at all in the last five years. Here they are in all their glory – see if you can guess who turns up twice!
- Robbie Keane (Coventry City – Inter Milan, £13m, 2000)
It’s not yet been a year since Robbie Keane finally hung his boots up for good, so it seems crazy that he was playing nineteen years ago. Not only was he playing, but he was also attracting huge bids from top European clubs. Coventry City didn’t have a chance of hanging onto their young prodigy when Inter Milan came knocking with a £13 bid at the turn of the century – they’d never seen so much money before. Sadly for them, it doesn’t seem like they’ve seen it since either.
Keane was barely 20 when he signed for Inter, having been spotted by then-manager Marcelo Lippi. Disaster struck almost immediately. Lippi was fired, the new manager didn’t like what he saw in Keane, and the first team contained both Ronaldo and Christian Vieri. Robbie was never going to get a look in, and was at Leeds United by November the same year.
- Robbie Brady (Norwich City – Burnley, £13m, 2017)
The only move from the past five years to make this list is Robbie Brady, who went from a recently relegated Premier League side to a solidly mid-table Premier League side when he swapped Norwich for Burnley in 2017. He was arguably in the form of his life when the move occurred, having starred for his country against Italy during 2016 with a goal that will live in the memory of Ireland fans forever.
Although he’s still in his 20s, so far that season was as good as it’s got for Brady. He’s not been used regularly by Burnley, playing in fits and starts and perhaps struggling to find his best form as a result. If any major Ireland player is to move clubs this season, Brady is probably the most likely candidate. Just don’t expect it to be for £13m again.
- James McCarthy (Wigan – Everton, £13.5m, 2013)
The tale of James McCarthy is something of a sad one. During his youth, he was whispered about as being the kind of player who could sit at the heart of the Ireland national side for the next decade or more. Now, even though he’s not yet 30, his career may already be effectively over. It could all have bee so different.
McCarthy was a favourite of former Everton manager Roberto Martinez – the Spaniard was the man who signed him for both Wigan and Everton, seeing him as the perfect player for his style of football. Subsequent Everton managers have been less sure of his talents, and then a badly broken leg suffered in January 2018 put him out of action for over a year. Although he’s believed to be fit again now, he’s played just one league game for Everton since the injury. He’s another who could move again this summer – although probably for free.
- Damien Duff (Blackburn – Chelsea, £17m, 2003)
Perhaps because Robbie Keane was the definitive star of the Irish national side for nearly twenty years, it sometimes seems that Damien Duff doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his stellar career. The flying winger was unstoppable on his day, more than holding his own in a Chelsea side full of top talent drawn from around the world. It’s no wonder that Claudio Ranieri’s wife once told the Italian manager that he had to pick him.
Duff picked up a pair of Premier League winner’s medals at Chelsea before moving on to Newcastle and then Fulham, before finishing his career back at home with Shamrock Rovers in 2015.
- Robbie Keane (Tottenham – Liverpool, £19m, 2008)
Robbie Keane and Liverpool had what was effectively a holiday romance before the eyes of the world in 2008. Keane spoke of his joy at signing for the club he’d supported as a boy (although, to be fair, he said that at every club he signed for). Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez felt like he’d found the missing piece of his jigsaw. Everyone was happy for a brief and joyous fragment of time – and then it all fell apart.
Keane, it seemed, had left his shooting boots in London. A six-week spell without scoring a single goal seemed to convince Liverpool they’d made a mistake, and the fling was over. Just six months later Keane was back at Tottenham for £7m less than Liverpool had paid for him. A little over a year after that, he was equally delighted to sign for the ‘other’ club he’d supported as a boy – Celtic!