16 million, 16 million, Nathan Patterson - The deals that Irish clubs should strive towards

by Ryan Kilbane

When a young fullback moves from the Scottish Premiership to a mid-table Premier League club, it normally doesn’t raise too many eyebrows. Especially for those of a League of Ireland persuasion.

20-year-old Nathan Patterson did that yesterday, signing for Everton from Glasgow Rangers for an initial £12 million plus add-ons which could bring the total value of the transfer to a potential £16 million On the surface, it’s a reasonably normal transfer. A promising young player moves to a team in a bigger league. For a fee that’s in line with what the club normally pays. But it also amplifies a major issue in Irish football - how little money League of Ireland clubs get from transfer fees when players leave.

Patterson, a mobile, attacking right-back, has been brought in to add competition and eventually take over from Seamus Coleman. The Ireland skipper is 33 now and while still capable, it makes sense for the club to sign a younger option. Speaking to Everton’s YouTube channel after the move was announced, the Scot said he was, “looking forward to working alongside him (Coleman) he is an experienced pro, he has been through it all and I am just looking to learn from him. Hopefully, we can work together."

"He let me know he was a Celtic fan so he had to get that in there early on,” he added.

The Killybegs native is now in his 13th year at The Toffees, racking up over 300 appearances in that time. His name is even immortalized on the Goodison Park terraces with a chant - ‘60 grand, 60 grand, Seamus Coleman’. A reference to his value-for-money £60,000 transfer fee from Sligo Rovers in 2009. It’s seen as a badge of honour in Liverpool, but it must feel like an opportunity missed in Sligo.

The traditional lack of academies, financial instability and the prevalence of one-year contracts in the League of Ireland has created a short-term culture that’s seemingly slow to change. In-demand players are reluctant to sign long contracts. This makes it easier for them to leave and sign for clubs in the UK.

Sligo’s latest prospect, Johnny Kenny did recently sign a three-year extension. However, this includes a €150,000 release clause which is still considered paltry for a player of his potential. He’s expected to join Celtic or Hibernians before this month is out.

It’s not just the Old Firm clubs that are getting ahead either. In the 19/20 season, Motherwell sold 19-year-old James Scott to Hull City for £1.5m while Scott McKenna, 23 at the time, swapped Aberdeen for Nottingham Forest. The Dons pocketed just under £3m in the process. This year, St Johnstone received £630,000 for 24 year old defender Jason Kerr from Wigan and Dundee United got £1.06m for Lawrence Shankland. Fees that some countries might consider modest, but something that most Irish clubs can only dream of.

To add insult to injury another worrying trend is the increased number of League of Ireland players now signing for Scottish clubs. The success of Jamie McGrath and Conor McCarthy at St Mirren has opened the eyes of their competitors. The Buddies are managed by Waterford native Jim Goodwin who regularly speaks highly of the Irish market.

2021 PFAI Young Player of the Year nominee Ross Tierney has recently left Bohemians for Motherwell. The midfielder starred in their Europa Conference League run and is a regular member of the Republic of Ireland under 21 squads. Bohs received an undisclosed fee

St Johnstone replaced Kerr with centre-back Dan Cleary from Dundalk. The ex-Liverpool youth player reportedly had offers to stay in Ireland but decided against it. £630,000 for Kerr and Cleary for free. It’s smart business from the Perth club.

Traditionally Irish players played with top amateur schoolboy clubs and went to the UK at 15/16 generally only receiving the required legal compensation. Recently there are signs of change in culture. Gavin Bazunu’s move from Shamrock Rovers to Manchester City in 2019 is the first example of a player, progressing through a club's youth team, playing in the first team and leaving as part of a substantial deal. The initial fee was worth an estimated €500,000, with an additional €120,000 per competitive international Bazunu makes (7 to date) up to a capped amount reported to be €1m. Making it comfortably the biggest deal in League of Ireland history. The money can now be put back into Rovers’ academy.

There’s a food chain in football, and while it’s unrealistic to think a League of Ireland club can command fees similar to Rangers or Celtic at the minute, the country can and does produce players of a similar profile to Patterson.

Is the fullback a better prospect than Gavin Bazunu? You could make a case either way. Both have played a similar amount of senior international football and numerous games at club level. You can't be certain about who will have a better career, but because one comes from a better-established league (and club) they can demand over 10 times more when negotiating a sale.

Or will he have as good an Everton career as Seamus Coleman? he might, but again you could make a case the answer is no. From a Rangers point of view, it doesn’t matter. They’ve helped with his development and can now re-invest the transfer fee back into the club, something League of Ireland clubs need to get better at.

There's chicken and egg dynamic at play too. Irish clubs need to be more financially stable in order to offer longer deals so they then receive bigger transfer fees. It’s certainly not straight forward but better contracts for saleable assets need to be a central part of their plan.