The Michael Wood Column

Saturday 01 December, 2001

Sign 'em up. What City should do when the Carbone money comes

It seems likely that Benito Carbone will be leaving City, and for that matter Derby County, to join Torino during the Italian transfer window in the Winter. City will collect a transfer fee of around £2m from the Italians, Derby will pay a further £500,000 for Carbone completing his three months at Pride Park, leaving City flush with cash for the first time since Chris Hutchings frenzied signing spree of August 2000.

The most obvious target for City to go after, that is assuming that the Carbone wages and transfer fee go to Jim Jefferies kitty, would be Spurs Matthew Etherington. Etherington's Peter Beagrie style charges and tricks on the left wing have endeared him to the City faithful and the former Peterborough winger's signature would reaffirm to many City fans that the club is serious about trying to maintain both it's place as a potential if not actual Premiership club and it's commitment to attacking football.

City fans expect two things in any player who wares Claret and Amber: Commitment and a willingness to attack. Etherington has them both.

Spurs paid a fee of £2m for Etherington and his team mate Simon Davies which is estimated to breakdown at £500,000 for the man who has spent three months at the Bantams and 1.5m for the Welshman. With Glenn Hoddle not playing wingers and with funds tight at the Lane following the splash of cash for Dean Richards Hod may take around the £750,000 with sell on and appearance clauses. If City could barter such a deal I would advise them to snap the Londoner's hand off.

Second signing for City, provided some way could be found to prise him form his current club, would be Stephen Caldwell of Newcastle United. His debut against Rotherham and the way he got to grips with the unusual back four is enough to convince me that he is talent worth having. More than his abilities defending, and these are considerable, his footballing brain and ability to affect a defensive line makes a lie of his youthfulness. This is a player who has the skills that keep the likes of David Wetherall and Gary Palister quality despite fading fitness and older legs. This would be a chance to get a Wetherall before his fitness reaches peak, not after.

So confident am I in Stephen Caldwell's abilities that I would have no qualms with the club selling Wetherall to give the potential signing from Newcastle a clear spot in the side.

Like Etherington Caldwell belongs to a Premiership side who do not want to sell but like the Spurs man, Stephen's way into the first team is blocked, ironically by former Bantam Andy O'Brien. No manager wants to sell his young players but Caldwell only gives up a year to OB and Aaron Hughes, at some point he is going to have to either dislodge one of those two or move away from St James'. Perhaps a bid of a further £500,000 to £750,000 would be enough to convince Robson that this player is worth cashing in to give him funds for other areas before his quality 21 year old becomes a 23 year old with scant experience at first team level.

His hat trick to knock Town out of the FA Cup at the weekend caught the eye, but scouts have been watching Mansfield's 14 goal striker Chris Greenacre for sometime. Gordon Strachan believes he is good enough for the Premiership. He is worth an enquiry before his price rockets. If Mansfield would let him go for similar money as Darlington sold Robbie Blake to us for then he might be worth pursuing, provided they will sell.

However there is one player that City should sign up that we do not need to wrench from a club, indeed this player would give his right arm to sign up for City. Stuart McCall is not a sprightly young thing anymore, but he has other qualities that City will find hard to replace. His leadership skills are there for all to see, his desire to win is transmitted throughout the team. His passing ability is still excellent, as is his level of fitness.

Put simply City should sign up Stuart McCall for another year. Jim wants to build a younger team, I agree with that, but young players need to be brought up correctly. Stuart McCall, as senior pro, shows any kid who joins City at whatever level that the club has levels that it expects players to reach. Commitment, attacking ability. Those traits are Stuart's currently, and will be next season, but there are skills he can pass to the next generation of City players.

Partly I do not like the idea of a City without McCall, but mainly I love the idea of a squad of Stuart plus 24 mini-McCalls who have had the leader's attitude instilled in them.

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From: Kev Neary

Agree about McCall, but I think you might be a little over hopeful on your Etherington/Caldwell pricing. At least "2M each would be more appropriate I think.

BfB replies

I believe that the amounts of money going into the pockets of Premiership players at the moment will lead to a reduction in transfer fees for players moving down the game.

I shall explain using Matthew Etherington as an example. All the figures here are hypothetical, we do not know how much Matthew was on, is on or should be on, nevertheless the figures do represent typical wages for a player in his position. The characters in this little drama are also somewhat hypothetical. I do not know how Matthew's agent acted, but it could have played out something like this.

Etherington is at Spurs after his transfer from Peterborough. His agent told Spurs that if they wanted Matthew to play for a Premiership club he would have to get Premiership wages. Nothing too expensive, but £8,000 a week shows that they are serious. Spurs are keen to get the hot property from the lower leagues so agree with the understanding that what the pay out now will pay back when the player matures. It worked for Darren Anderton, when he was fit, so it would work for Matthew Etherington.

A couple of years later and Matthew wants first team football. Spurs do not have room for him anymore a change of manager meaning that they do not need a flying left winger anymore. Matthew is still picking up his £8,500 a week and getting along fine, but the resources he is taking up are needed elsewhere in the team, Les Ferdinand is not getting any younger, so they want to cash in on Matthew.

While £8,500 is not a significant investment for Spurs, it is for a Nationwide league club. Etherington is a better player than he was when he signed his contract for Spurs, has proved himself at a higher level, so does not feel the need to take a pay cut, indeed he is looking to get a little more.

A club like City want him, but £9,000 a week puts him up with the club's better earners and resources are stretched. Nottingham Forest, Gillingham et al are in financial trouble so the market for selling players is reduced to the few clubs who have cash and want to strengthen in that position.

Spurs are left with a choice: Make a deal with the clubs that are interested or keep paying £8,500 for a player with fear of him walking away under freedom of contract a couple of years later. Demand is down, supply is up. Hence prices fall.

Etherington will not drop his price, although would not hold the club to ransom, so Spurs are forced to. They could hold out for £1.5m or £2m, but no one can afford to pay that so, figuring that £750,000 now will be offset by saving on the player's wage and can be reinvested, they take less.