Politicians continually tell us that times are hard, the country is battling a recession and a very tough year lies ahead. However, no one, it seems, has mentioned this to football clubs in the obscenely rich English FA Premiership where the closing of the January transfer window a few days ago saw millions of pounds change hands - or rather bank accounts. Within minutes on the last day of January, not one but two British record transfer fees were created amid a buzz of helicopters and sports cars racing between Tyneside, Merseyside and London as Liverpool and Chelsea reached new levels of transfer madness.
At the beginning of 2011 Liverpool were adamant that star striker Fernando Torres would not be leaving Merseyside. The very fact the men in suits at Anfield made that statement indicated there were other forces at work and, sure enough, it emerged towards the end of the month that the Spanish striker had a clause in his contract that said he could leave Liverpool if the club didn’t qualify for the Champions League and a sizeable offer was made for his services. Step forward Chelsea with an astonishing offer of £50m - one that even Liverpool could not refuse. The Reds, in turn, made an arguably even more astounding offer of £35m to Newcastle United for the talented but far from the finished article that is England striker Andy Carroll. On the same day they bought Torres, Chelsea splashed out another £20m on Benfica defender David Luiz - and dripping in irony was the fact these two huge signings came in the same week the Stamford Bridge club posted a loss of nearly £71m for the financial year ending June 2010. Earlier in the month, Aston Villa had forked out £24m to bring another striker - Darren Bent - from Sunderland. Heaven knows what fans in Tyne & Wear thought at seeing two half-decent, but hardly world-beating centre forwards leave the north-east of England for a combined fee of nearly £60m.
Meanwhile, in Scotland fans could only look south with open mouths and mounting incredulity. No big money signings this side of the border. Celtic did sign Kris Commons from under the noses of their arch-rivals Rangers who, in turn, displayed an element of tit-for-tat by bringing Blackburn Rovers striker El Hadji Diouf on loan from Ewood Park - this the player who infamously spat at a Celtic fan at Parkhead while playing for Liverpool in an UEFA Cup tie in 2003. Other clubs were looking mainly at loan deals and/or players few supporters had heard of.
In my view, players such as Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll have only one ambition - to make as much money from football as possible. With the vast sums of money available in the English game, no one could really blame them. However, when Torres nets for Chelsea and Carroll eventually breaks his Liverpool duck there may well be the now customary run towards their newly smitten supporters and the quite sickening kissing of the club badge on their new team shirt. Given his much-quoted love for Liverpool and his apparent admiration for all things Scouse when he was a kid growing up in Madrid, what does it now mean to Torres to play for the Red’s bitter rivals Chelsea? Probably not a lot but it does mean a lot to his bank balance. Similarly, Andy Carroll who has replaced Torres in the red and white of Liverpool. Three years ago, few people outside of Newcastle had heard of him. Now, one full season in the Championship and half a season in the FA Premiership, a huge amount of money has made him forget his north-east roots and become a mercenary on Merseyside.
In an age of financial austerity such transfer madness sticks in the throat of the working classes who will find it more difficult than ever to meet the cost of going to watch football. Scottish football learnt the hard way a few years ago when the likes of Rangers spent £12m on Tore Andre Flo and Celtic tried desperately to keep up. Now the Glasgow duo - and others - are paying the price and are left to scurry around Poundstretchers rather than waltz arrogantly like their English counterparts through Harrods. And in a way that might not be a bad thing. Young talent such as David Templeton at Hearts, Chris Maguire at Aberdeen, Jamie Ness at Rangers and James Forrest at Celtic will be given their chance to make an impression in their respective first teams - and in the long term this will benefit Craig Levein as he attempts to make Scotland a half decent football nation again. Most Scots fans will be able to relate better to young talent in their clubs, particularly those coming through the youth set-ups, than over-paid and over-rated fly-by-nights…
The English game has never had as much money as it has now. Conversely, Scottish football has seldom been so financially embarrassed. You might think I’ve been at the brandy but, honestly, I’d rather see a committed Kevin Kyle in a Hearts shirt than a here today, gone tomorrow Spaniard who only has eyes for pound signs. And I’m not talking about Suso Santana!