The ‘English tax’ in the transfer market: reality or myth?

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The recent signing of Kalvin Phillips by Manchester City for £42 million sent many fans into a frenzy. It only took a quick scroll on Twitter to see the plethora of football followers calling the 26-year-old overrated and unworthy of that price tag, especially given that City already had one of the best defensive midfielders in the world with Rodri.

Yet with the huge numbers of games that City could play in any given season, coupled with the need to replace Fernandinho following his retirement, the valuation of Phillips at that price is fair. As is known with Guardiola, he loves to play ‘Pep Roulette’ and this rotation of the side requires strength in depth.

Yet even with these reasons for the signing of Phillips, many still talk about a bias toward English players, or a so-called ‘English tax’, suggesting that Premier League clubs pay a premium for them solely based on their nationality.

With other relatively recent, high-profile transfers, such as Jack Grealish, Ben White and Harry Maguire, it does not seem a farfetched narrative that English players are overvalued merely for being English, whether that be because of media hype or any other reason.

However, in reality, there is many a factor that affect the prices that clubs pay for players and, despite English bias overtones in the media, the ‘English tax’ is not one of them.

Their experience, as opposed to their nationality, is the real factor in their value

There are numerous elements that make up a transfer fee. Age is certainly one. Younger players have more longevity in their careers. Demand, position played and length remaining on contract are also crucial amongst a whole host of other reasons.

But the component that negates the notion of an ‘English tax’ to the greatest extent is experience. Most English players play in the Premier League and have already proven themselves in arguably the best league in the world.

Their experience, as opposed to their nationality, is the real factor in their value. It just so happens that very few English players play outside of the Premier League and, therefore, there has been a lack of transfers of English players in recent history between two non-Premier League clubs to analyse.

Clearly, being English gets conflated with Premier League with regards to the transfer market and player valuation.

If the signings aforementioned are analysed and these principles applied, the high transfer fees can be explained rationally. For example, the case of Harry Maguire.

Based on recent performances, it would seem that the price tag of £80 million is ridiculously high. Yet the form he was in at the time of his signing, coupled with his experience already in the Premier League, explains this cost.

Indeed, it is easy to forget that in his first season at Manchester United, he played a key part in the campaign of 2019/20, which saw them finish in third place, a success for Ole Gunnar Solskjær in his first full season as manager. Maguire played every minute of the 38-game campaign.

Why spend millions on an English player to meet a quota when it can be done cheaply

Again, there are numerous factors in the cost, but the notion of an ‘English tax’ is not one of them. This is reflected in the similar £75 million price tag that Liverpool paid for a non-English player in Virgil Van Dijk. His experience playing in the Premier League, alongside intra-competition inflation and demand, drove up the fee for the Dutch international. Evidently, English exceptionalism did not.

Whilst it would be wrong to extend this logic to every transfer, even in the case of a non-Premier League proven player such as Jadon Sancho, the £73 million Man Utd paid to sign this player cannot be explained by the idea of an English bias.

For instance, the recent transfer of Norwegian Erling Braut Haaland to Man City, for a similar price of around £85 million, dispels this argument. This is especially true when considering the similar career path of both players thus far, as opposed to focusing on the nationalities of the two players.

Often, proponents of the ‘English tax’ turn to homegrown talent quotas, suggesting they add to the cost of English players. Yet, in practice, it is usually keepers and other low-cost players who are used to fill the quota of eight out of 25 players having to be homegrown (defined as having played three years at an FA-affiliated club before turning 21).

For instance, Manchester City used Scott Carson, whilst Rob Green was used at Chelsea, both in part to meet this quota. This makes sense. Why spend millions on an English player to meet a quota when it can be done cheaply?

Whilst it is difficult to simplify the countless parts that make up the complexity of transfer deals in a short article like this, the idea of an ‘English tax’ driving up the price of players is not a reality, despite all the fuss on Twitter.

Image: Mark Freeman via Flickr

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