Two uncapped forwards from midtable Bundesliga clubs have moved to the EPL for a combined fee of over €75 million. To German football watchers, the fees involved in sideways moves seem crazy, but is that the case?
But on Wednesday, the Frenchman's move from Eintracht Frankfurt to West Ham netted the German club a €33 million profit — or nearly 500 per cent in two years. Six days later and the numbers for Joelinton made even better reading for Hoffenheim. The burly Brazilian was signed for €2 million, has played a single season in the Bundesliga and moved to Newcastle for €44m. A staggering 2,100 per cent rise.
The fees for players with such limited international and continental experience are significantly greater than those paid for German internationals Mats Hummels, Julian Brandt and Nico Schulz and for World Cup-winning French defender Benjamin Pavard this summer. Proven Bundesliga performers like Thorgan Hazard and Kerem Demirbay have also moved clubs for less in the current transfer window.
The reasons for the discrepancies vary. Forwards like Haller and Joelinton tend to require bigger outlays, Brandt had a release clause at Leverkusen while Hummels' age counts against his value. But the decisive factor is that none of those transfers were to clubs in the Premier League.
The English top flight has, in the eyes of many other leagues, more money than sense. While the nouveau riche clubs Manchester City and Chelsea have long had to pay above the odds, an enormous new TV deal signed in 2016-17, combined with the way that money is distributed, has meant even the Premier League's also-rans can blow Germany's top clubs out the water. A stark demonstration of that is the fact 11 clubs currently in the Premier League have a record purchase higher than Borussia Dortmund's.
Over the years, and with the constant exception of Bayern Munich, the Bundesliga has built a reputation as a league for talented young players to develop before moving on to richer pastures. The thrill of seeing a great player emerge combined with a strong terrace culture, low ticket prices and a more egalitarian model has compensated for the absence of the world's best players.
So, in some ways, this is nothing new. Ten of the 25 highest fees in Bundesliga history have been paid by Premier League clubs, eight by Bayern Munich and the rest by Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Julian Draxler's move to Wolfsburg is the outlier. Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gündogan are among those who have excelled after swapping Germany for England.
But what is different about Haller and Joelinton is their destination. The pair are moving from sides who played in Europe last season to outfits who finished 10th and 13th in England in 2018-19. Both West Ham and Newcastle have broken their transfer records for the second time in a year, yet still appear unlikely to smash the glass ceiling that separates the Premier League's big six from the rest.
Of course, a big money move means big wages, while the visibility and reputation of the Premier League will boost the players' profiles should they succeed. But even if they fail, both Haller and Joelinton would likely be able to get another Bundesliga club easily enough, just as Shinji Kagawa and Andre Schürrle did when their moves to England didn't work out. The only risks for the players are emotional: dealing with moving from their comfort zone, learning a language, adapting to a new style and a different fan culture — the sort of things every player copes with in moving abroad.
At first glance, the risk in such inflated fees appears to be with the buying club. But it's all relative. Even before the new TV deal, West Ham could afford to spend huge sums on players who didn't really work out and not really suffer any consequences, sporting or financial. Andy Carroll, Enner Valencia, Javier Hernandez and Andre Ayew (all forwards) have all been record signings for the Hammers since 2014 and all have failed to deliver on the pitch or make a profit.
Where's the risk?
This level of wealth appears to have made middling Premier League clubs a little lazy with their scouting. Rather than sign Haller from Utrecht, the London outfit can wait to see how he does in a better league before pouncing. The cost may be more but the risk is, in theory, less. Newcastle bucked the trend a little around 2012-2013 with a number of astute signings from France and have continued to act differently to those around them, with owner Mike Ashley reluctant to sign any players, relying instead on the nous of now-departed head coach Rafael Benitez.
So, if the risk for the buyers is less than first appears, what about the sellers? Well, flogging your best players is always a gamble, and both Frankfurt and Hoffenheim have taken several this summer. The departures of Jovic and Haller have stripped the Eagles of two of their brilliant front three while exits for Schulz, Demirbay and Joelinton leave Hoffenheim looking short in each department.
But both these sides, and several others in the Bundesliga, have become astute at replacing their best players. While doing so immediately is difficult, it's what you must do to thrive in a league which specializes in developing and moving on talent.
The upside is that with plenty in the bank, not every transfer needs to pay off. If Joelinton and Haller hit the ground running and Fredi Bobic and Alexander Rosen can sniff out their replacements for a fraction of the price, these deals could just suit everyone.