Mauro Zarate’s Watford move sums up Premier League’s lazy recruitment

Ryan Benson

For much of the football world, the Premier League represents something of a ‘promised land’; a paradise of competitiveness, athletic brilliance and – perhaps most notably – outrageous monetary strength. A sporting El Dorado, if you will.

While the idea of the Premier League’s apparently unique competitiveness probably just comes from the marketing of media conglomerates such as Sky and BT, many of the world’s best players certainly play in the British Isles and in terms of finances, no other European league can compete with England’s top flight. And that’s a fact.

But that financial strength only appears to have made a large number of clubs more lazy in the transfer window, almost refusing to broaden their respective recruitment horizons and taking the easy and unimaginative route too often.

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So when Mauro Zarate’s transfer to Watford was confirmed on Tuesday, there was an air of predictability about it. Here is a player – a technically gifted one, granted – who has failed numerous times in the Premier League but is being given another chance.

As a 21-year-old, he actually impressed on loan at Birmingham City from Al-Sadd, while a similar deal at Lazio saw them buy him permanently for €20m after a decent campaign in Serie A. But he rarely matched that level again and was loaned to Inter in 2011, failing to make much of an impact there as well.

Following a season back at home in Argentina, Zarate found himself back in the Premier League with West Ham United. He flopped in his first season, of which the second half was spent rather miserably at Queens Park Rangers. He missed the end of the 2014-15 season after being fined and banned by the club for his reaction to being left out of a squad to play Liverpool. He never played for them again and QPR were relegated.

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His return to West Ham was less tumultuous, scoring five times in 22 matches. But he departed for Fiorentina in January 2016 and 12 unspectacular months later, he is back for another crack at the Premier League with his fourth club.

And that begs the question; why do English clubs keep going for him? Perhaps the reported £2.4m fee means there’s little risk, but he literally has a track record of failing in the Premier League. And Watford already have a host of forwards struggling to find the net.

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It’s the sort of deal which simply smacks of a lack of imagination in their recruitment team. He will probably score a couple of spectacular goals in his first four matches, but he will almost certainly end in failure.

Crystal Palace are also about to complete a rather lazy transfer, but one perhaps even more bizarre; a £14m move for Patrick van Aanholt. It’s a deal which sums up the Premier League’s mind-numbingly tedious approach to transfers.

No meaningful scouting has gone into that; they will see it as risk-free even if they are paying well over the odds because he has “Premier League experience”, which the average English pundit would have you believe is essentially football’s equivalent of “the Force” in Star Wars. Throw a rock in La Liga and you will hit at least five left-backs better than Van Aanholt, all of whom would be cheaper.

The rest of Europe is laughing at the Premier League in terms of player recruitment. One particular passage from Sevilla sporting director Monchi comes to mind in particular:

“There are loads of off-field things in which they [English clubs] beat us [Spanish clubs] easily, and on the football side I saw very good work being done. But there’s a disconnect between that work and the advantage they glean from it. I know English clubs that are very professional, scouts everywhere, but the information they gather isn’t always applied. Why? Because they have money. That enables them to take fewer risks: ‘I’m not going to discover [Seydou] Keita at Lens; let Sevilla do that and then buy Keita from Sevilla.'”

Monchi to the Guardian.

What makes this approach worse is that, although the Premier League buys all of this talent, English clubs are generally a complete disaster in Europe and have been for several years now. Granted, Liverpool reached the final of the Europa League last season, but they are a club who can afford to spend £34m on Sadio Mane – they were comprehensively and tactically out-classed by Sevilla, a club whose record signing is still Alvaro Negredo (£13m in 2009).

Money may make the world go round, but it makes football clubs lazy and less likely to produce their own talent. “Pan para hoy, hambre para mañana“, or “bread for today, hunger for tomorrow” as the phrase goes.


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