One of the most protracted transfer sagas in recent Sheffield Wednesday history seemed to be over yesterday as George Hirst looks close to leaving the club.
But the team Hirst is close to signing for was a surprise to many. Instead of the likes of Everton and Manchester United who had been linked with him, it was Belgian second tier side OH Leuven. Many were perplexed until they did some digging. Their manager is former Leicester City boss Nigel Pearson and they are actually the sister club of the Foxes. Leicester of course were also linked with Hirst during the season.
It doesn’t take long to come up with a conspiracy theory. If Leicester were to sign Hirst, they would have to pay a compensation fee would could end up being fairly hefty. However because OH Leuven are a foreign team, they only have to pay a tiny fee which is barely worth bothering with. And with the links the two clubs have, it would be no shock to see Hirst head to Leicester in a year or two.
This has caused plenty of anger because it does feel like Sheffield Wednesday have been scammed. But if this move happens as expected, it could lead to a frightening precedent which could be abused By big clubs for years to come.
Pretty much every big team in the country has some links with a foreign side, some even owning them. Chelsea are very friendly with Vitesse Arnhem and Manchester United are the same with Royal Antwerp. If they sense they can get away with this sort of move, they will start doing it as well. And that leaves small clubs in such a big problem. Even teams with small budgets invest in their academies because one starlet can end up funding the team for years to come. And compensation fees for those aged under 24 are a huge protection. This stops players having all the power and forcing moves for minimal fees to big clubs when they come calling.
But if there is a loophole like this, it will be abused. Expect Grimsby Town’s new star youngster not to head to the Manchester City academy but to Girona in Spain for a while. And then the move to the big side will happen later. It’s a rule already abused by these sides to bring in top youngsters from other countries but now that’s obvious they can use it to bring in English youngsters it’s going to be a field day for them.
Whether the FA step in for this transfer now remains to be seen as some firm action here could make other teams wary of trying the same move. If it doesn’t, the name George Hirst could become as ubiquitous as the name Jean-Marc Bosman in the world of transfers.