Thursday, 27 December 2012

How much would it REALLY cost to buy Brighton's star performers?

The transfer window is about to open and Gus Poyet seems determined to wield Tony Bloom's cheque book in a bid to push for a play off place come the end of the season.

However, January could be just as much about which players the Brighton boss sells as who he brings in, with a flurry of rumours surrounding some of the Seagulls' key performers.

Liam Bridcutt, Will Buckley and Craig Mackail-Smith have all been linked with moves away from The Amex in the New Year and fans have already flooded forums to say how important it is the Albion hang on to Bridcutt and Buckley.

But are they right? The two are certainly key players, but should the club be cashing in on the interest when it is at its highest?

Here I look at some of the rumours circulating in the press at the moment and assess the likelihood of them happening over the coming weeks and how much Brighton should be looking to get for their star players.

Rumour 1: Liam Bridcutt to Aston Villa

Since rocking up in Brighton, Bridcutt has been the Albion's most consistent performer. A key player in the promotion season and a solid and impressive figure in the last season and a half of Championship football. Possibly the player Brighton fans would be most loath to lose.

Linked to Premier League Aston Villa in the last week or so, if he were to leave, the Albion would be a poorer side.

And yet defensive midfield players are hardly a scarcity at this level. Dean Hammond performed that role for Southampton in their promotion season and the question would need to be asked as to whether Brighton with Hammond in the middle and funds to strengthen elsewhere would be better than keeping Bridcutt but not having the cash to add to the squad in more creative positions.

Villa boss Paul Lambert has a track record of buying promising players from a division below - turning Norwich City into a top flight outfit with that approach and continuing it at Villa Park. His side is leaking goals and a cool head in front of an inexperienced defence is surely a priority.

And there is also the issue of buying low, selling high. Bridcutt arrived as an out of contract player. If the club could get upwards of £2.5million it would represent some excellent business and more than fund a replacement.

Verdict: SELL for more than £2.5million.
Likelihood of leaving: 3/5.

Rumour 2: Will Buckley to Southampton

Brighton's most potent attacking threat and scorer of vital goals over the last season and a half, Buckley is sure to attract interest from teams at the lower end of the Premier League. Southampton are rumoured to be leading the way, with one tabloid suggesting Nigel Adkins was preparing an opening bid of £2million.

This was ridiculed by Brighton fans, but in reality that figure is nearer to his true value than the £8million being demanded by some supporters.

Buckley is a crowd favourite and superb player. However, a season and a half ago hardly any Brighton fans would have signalled him out as a top performer at this level. In fact, there were more than a few eyebrows raised when Poyet made the former Watford man the club's first £1million player.

His value has not increased eight-fold since his arrival at The Amex and any Albion fan who thinks it has needs perhaps to look again. The main reason for his sky-high price tag is Poyet's comments in the press that he is worth more than Palace winger Wilfried Zaha. That is simply not true. Zaha is younger, has an England cap and is attracting interest from teams at the highest echelons of English football. Buckley, if we are to believe the press, is wanted by Southampton. That has to be reflected in his price.

Perhaps a better comparison would be former Seagull Craig Noone who headed to Cardiff for around £1.6million earlier in the season. Since then he has clocked up seven assists and a few goals for the team pushing for automatic promotion.

Buckley is probably worth more than Noone, but certainly not two or three times more. Elliott Bennett went for less than £2million to Norwich City. Is Buckley worth four times more than Bennett? Of course not.

Brighton fans, as are supporters of any other club, have a skewed appreciation of their own players' abilities. Quite simply, by watching the same team week in, week out, fans often over-estimate their standing in comparison to other players playing for opposition clubs who they see only two times a year.

If an opposition players does not play well against their club, they automatically appear less talented than their own players who, while they also have the odd off day, are seen playing well enough to compensate.

Blackpool's Thomas Ince seems close to heading back to Liverpool after an impressive start to the season. Reports suggest Liverpool are ready to pay £6million for Ince, safe in the knowledge that 35 per cent of the fee will go back to them from a sell-on clause when he left the Kop for ­Bloomfield Road 18 months ago.

If there was no such sell-on clause, the fee would be smaller. Can Brighton fans genuinely argue that Buckley is worth more than Ince, who has twice as many assists and eight more goals?

Buckley arrived for £1million. Any bid trebling that will be looked at.

Verdict: SELL for £3million plus.
Likelihood of leaving: 3/5

Rumour 3: Craig Mackail-Smith to Norwich City

This is not the first time Mackail-Smith has been linked with a move away. Leeds United and Norwich City have both already expressed an interest in the striker and the Seagulls' leading scorer is sure to attract attention again next month.

The word on the Seagull street is that Poyet wants to spend big on a new centre forward. To do this he will almost certainly have to sell in order to fund any extravagant spending, and to many Mackail-Smith seems the obvious choice.

Signed for an initial fee of around £2.5million rising as high as £3.25million depending on his and the club's success, the weight of being the Albion's record signing - and by some distance - has at times weighed heavy on his neck.

His scoring rate is not too shabby, certainly not as poor as some fans suggest, and this season he is finding the next from 22 per cent of his efforts at goal, a rate in line with many of the division's leading marksman.

He is on the fringes of the Scotland squad and, while guilty of missing some relatively easy chances in recent games, he has clocked up a string of impressive performances, not least his game-winning brace away at Burnley.

It is no wonder he has interested other clubs.

The question though is whether that interest will be backed up with concrete bids. Norwich City managed Chris Hughton appears to favour a lone centre forward in a system similar to the one which so often frustrates Mackail-Smith at The Amex. Would the Canaries really be willing to splash out £3.5million plus on a striker to warm their bench or play out of position? That probably depends on whether they can farm out some of their existing stable of strikers.

And would the Seagulls really benefit from selling their leading scorer? Many Albion fans say they would like to see someone arrive to play WITH rather than instead of Mackail-Smith. That seems unlikely giving Poyet's preference for a 433 and the way Stephen Dobbie has found first team chances limited since signing from Swansea.

It looks increasingly likely that Brighton transfer target Chris Wood will sign for Leicester today and the Albion already failed to tempt Jay Bothroyd to the south coast on loan from QPR earlier in the season.

If that pair represent the level of striker the Albion are missing out on, will the targets they end up signing be of a sufficiently high calibre to risk letting Mackail-Smith go to fund and accommodate?

Verdict: KEEP unless bids top £4million.
Likelihood of leaving: 2/5.

It may not be what Brighton fans would like to hear, but I genuinely do not believe there is a player at the club who does not have his price. Poyet said as much during a recent interview, although he spun it by saying the club would have to listen to "crazy" offers. I imagine his idea of a crazy offer and the fans' idea of one are slightly different.

The club is making steady progress and, particularly in the cases of Bridcutt and Buckley, could turn a healthy profit if either were sold.

The Albion may not unearth another gem as talented as Bridcutt, but they may already have a replacement in their ranks.

And the one position Poyet has shown he can identify talent in is out wide. Both Kazenga Lua Lua and Will Buckley were virtually unhead of before they signed for the Stripes, as was Craig Noone. All three have flourished.

Fans would perhaps be less confident in Poyet finding a suitable centre forward given that he was the man who signed Mackail-Smith as well as Will Hoskins and Dobbie.

No fan will want to see the Albion lose its top players, but clubs do pay silly money in January and there may not be a better time to cash in.

All the time the club is buying low, selling higher, the Albion's future is secure. Poyet found Bridcutt and Buckley. Who is to say he won't find similarly talented replacements?

And, when push comes to shove, if a top flight club comes in for a Championship player, they more often than not want to move.

Bennett's wages increased from around £3,000 a week in League One to nearer £17,000 at Norwich. Any jump from their current deals would of course be less drastic for Bridcutt, Buckley and Mackail-Smith, but would they be increases they would be willing to forgo? Unlikely.

It may be that the Albion are backed into a corner where they have to sell their best players.

The important thing is that if that is the case, Bloom and Poyet get the best price they can.

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