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'If half the players that leave here were from Scandinavia, would they be worth half a million? Of course they would'

Stephen Bradley gives his opinion on how Irish clubs can demand higher transfer fees for their players.

THIS WEEK’S TRANSFER of James Abankwah from Saint Patrick’s Athletic to Udinese happily bucked the off-season trend of talented young players leaving the League of Ireland for relatively little money. 

sse-airtricity-swi-personality-of-the-year-awards-2021 Stephen Bradley poses with his award from the Soccer Writers of Ireland. Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

Udinese have paid more than €500,00 up front for Abankwah, with the fee potentially rising to twice that. It’s reportedly a record up-front payment to a League of Ireland club, eclipsing the fees Shamrock Rovers were paid for Gavin Bazunu and Liam Scales by Man City and Celtic respectively. 

Otherwise, talent has drained from the league for relatively meagre sums. Ross Tierney and James Brown left Bohemians and Drogheda without a transfer fee, while teenager Johnny Kenny’s transfer to Celtic from Sligo Rovers was worth an initial €150,000 up-front, though with significant potential add-ons. 

Per Fifa’s annual report on the transfer market, the League of Ireland brought in $4.3 million in transfer fees and add-ons in 2021, which was a significant step up from the $700,000 paid the year previous, which was a third of what the Georgian league earned. The comparison to nations of a similar population to Ireland makes for ugly reading: Croatia raked in $74.2 million in transfer fees in 2021, while Norway $37.9 million. 

The issue was put to Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley, speaking to the media upon his announcement as winner of the SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers Ireland Men’s Personality of the Year award for 2021. 

He said the issue will only improve when Irish clubs begin offering longer-term contracts. (For context, according to PFAI Chairman Brendan Clarke, 75% of players in the League of Ireland were on a 38-week contract for the 2021 season.) 

“We have to be very careful, you can’t demand certain fees if you’re giving part-time contracts, one-year deals of 38 weeks”, said Bradley. “Then you expect to get half a million for a player – it’s not going to happen. If you want the respect of teams outside of this country then you have to respect your contracts and what you’re giving the players. It’s quite simple. If half the players that leave here were in Scandinavia, would they be worth half a million? Of course they would, but that is because of the way they run their clubs and the length of contract.

“Teams respect that and you have to build it up over a period of time. We have been trying to do that for a number of years and we’ve done quite well in that regard. I think we have to be very careful. Do we feel that certain players are worth a lot more money? Of course we do. Ross Tierney goes away and he’s obviously a very, very good player but we have to understand that the deals we’re giving them, what’s happening will keep happening and that’s the bottom line. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say to players at the end of the year ‘go sign on the dole’ but if someone comes in we want half a million or a million. It’s not going to happen.

“You’re not going to get everyone right and you will have certain players who run down their deals. That happens in every football club but in the main, we have to look at what we’re giving out before we can moan about the fees we’re getting and that goes for young players as well.” 

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fireworks-are-set-off-at-rsc-waterford-hitting-players-on-the-pitch Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

Meanwhile, Bradley confirmed that Rovers have submitted an appeal against an FAI punishment for the setting off of fireworks at last season’s league game away to Waterford. The game at the RSC was paused as fireworks exploded over the pitch, and two fans were subsequently arrested in the stadium. Rovers issued a statement condemning the actions of “two so-called fans” and said they would be issuing them with “indefinite stadium bans.” 

The FAI’s disciplinary unit has reviewed the incident and recommended Rovers play their opening home league game at Tallaght Stadium behind closed doors, a punishment which Rovers have appealed. 

“I think it’s really harsh”, said Bradley, giving his opinion on the punishment. “On the whole it’s dangerous grounds in terms of going forward: you could have a stadium ban every second week for different things. I’m not excusing what was done, no excuses at all. But I think it was harsh.”

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Gavin Cooney

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