A GREAT deal of hot air escaped when the transfer window opened last week.
Most of it came from agents keen to manufacture a move for some of their most prized clients, each one armed with carefully edited DVDs and collated figures to help convince managers that their man is a must-have for 2013. The needs of a club are unique to the position they find themselves in at this stage of the season, as are the regions of the market they can root around in but, for those on a modest budget, Scottish football has often seemed like a good place to start.
With clubs ill-placed to reject any realistic offers, the decision will almost certainly come down to the players. Stick or twist? The benefits of moving south are obvious – you get more money, much more, you gain better exposure and the chance to enhance your career by starring alongside the big names – but contentment is not always as easy to find once you get there. Young players will be made aware of those who have left Scotland and flourished but there are others who would provide more cautionary tales; Fraser Fyvie, David Goodwillie and Chris Maguire all left home comforts to move south and haven't been heard from since, while Leigh Griffiths only gained prominence after he returned north on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Derek Riordan also spent a short time in npower League Two with Bristol Rovers before being released last month without so much as a glimpse of his proficient scoring talent. A player who seemed to be brought in at a discount can soon be discounted.
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Patience is uncommon among clubs for whom the cost of relegation can only be understood with the help of a chartered accountant, so there is a need for new arrivals to acclimatise quickly. The difference in standards between the Premier League in Scotland and the lower leagues of England is continually debated, and can be skewed somewhat by crowd numbers and the interest of Sky television, although the main distinction is perhaps not the most subtle.
"Physically it is definitely a step up, as is the strength and the size of the players you are playing against," said Richard Foster, who joined npower Championship side Bristol City last January following spells at Aberdeen and Rangers.
"For a lot of teams, their best players tend to be their strikers or their wide men so I have come face to face with a lot of good players and have had to adapt my game and get better at the things I was maybe lacking in. I think I have done that reasonably well. You kind of get left one-on-one a lot of the time against good attacking players, guys who have quick feet. I have to work my feet better to try and get closer to them and not let them past."
The full-back has not let his opportunity pass him by either. Foster has been dedicated to meeting new standards but he has felt comfortable in his environment having been joined at Ashton Gate by Scots Mark Wilson, Stephen McManus, Stephen Pearson and Danny Wilson. City have been successfully colonised, then, although only five Championship clubs do not have a Scot signed permanently on their books.
That chorus of Scottish voices could begin to crescendo this month, the game in this country having become more attractive when viewed through a transfer window. The value of youngsters is only increased by the low fees involved in signing them, a juxtaposition which has been noted by English clubs whose purse strings do not stretch far enough to cover moves for aspiring talent in their own leagues. Young Scots may be attracted by the riches of the English game, but they can be acquired with what seems like spare change.
That has been criticised by Craig Brown, the Aberdeen manager likely to see teenage winger Ryan Fraser agree a move south this month and who has urged UEFA to increase the development fees paid to clubs. Given the time spent developing youth players, it is easy to sympathise with Brown, although clubs will take little notice as they continue to look for bargains in the Scottish market.
They have proven to be adept at that over the years. English clubs sourced eight players from the Clydesdale Bank Premier League last January – including youngsters Jack Grimmer, John Fleck and Scott Allan – and while it was their talent that caught the eye, their price tags were just as attractive.
"It is down to value for money; clubs in England can get good quality players at a reasonable price," said Jim McArthur, who has represented the likes of Riordan, Colin Cameron and Paul Ritchie during a 34-year career as an agent. "You don't want to say cheap, but it is a reasonable price because it would cost you a lot more down south. Clubs in England can afford to hold out for more, whereas there is very little money up here. Gone are the days that the likes of Hearts and Aberdeen could buy a player for £500,000."
Managers will no doubt quibble over the money their players go for, but it is perhaps unfair to accuse English clubs of scrimping unnecessarily. The Barclays Premier League uses transfer windows to flaunt its wealth, but McArthur believes that the perception of southern budgets has been skewed.
"This transfer window, there's not a lot going on because clubs haven't got the money and they're looking at loans," he said. "In England they are feeling the pinch. Obviously the biggest money is in the Premier League but, there will be more loans in England than anywhere else."