Transfer bargains and hidden gems beneath the Premier League

Matt Grimes, playing for Exeter before signing for Southampton

Charlie Austin’s form and goals for QPR have not only elicited support for him to be given a chance for England but also drew a pragmatic suggestion from Arsène Wenger.

Austin’s climb from shelf-stacker, via non-league football and the lower leagues to the Premier League has been well documented. But then the Arsenal boss weighed in with the suggestion that maybe Charlie’s story should encourage other clubs to look lower down the pyramid at potential recruits.

Lo and behold 2015 was less than a week old when Premier League Swansea City announced they had plucked 19 year old Matt Grimes from League Two Exeter City for £1.75 million. Matt has already been capped by England at Under 20 level and was the Grecians Player of the Year for 2013-14.

In such cases of players being plucked from the obscurity of lower league football, which are unfortunately rare, the player is usually loaned back to the selling club or sent out to another club but that looks unlikely for Matt. Swans boss Garry Monk, who played in all four divisions of English football, has other plans. He has already stated that the youngster is in contention for Premier League action this weekend after being ineligible for last week’s FA Cup tie at Tranmere.

In these days of sky high ticket prices and huge wages for top flight players it’s amazing that more Premier League clubs do not take a chance on plucking someone from lower down the football pyramid. It’s not like they do not scout those arenas but in the modern game the quick fix has become the mantra for most.

Clubs don’t have time to spare, so tend to recruit players who are ready made and ready to hit the ground running, hence the influx of players from overseas who have been enticed to this country by television money that has given clubs carte blanche to buy. Which is why it is good to see Swansea making the move they have in buying Grimes. Even if the player does not immediately make a mark on the Premier League, Garry Monk has also stated that the youngster is part of the future of Swansea City.

Although a move from lower league to top flight is uncommon these days, one only has to look at a handful of current Premier League players to appreciate that it does happen.

Joe Hart went from Sunday League football to Conference then League Two football with Shrewsbury Town, before Manchester City bought him for the insanely low price of £100,000! Another England goalkeeper, Ben Foster, was a trainee chef while playing Sunday League football for Racing Club Warwick. He was signed by Stoke City and after a number of loans with non-league clubs, the last being Wrexham, he was signed by Manchester United. Chris Smalling was waiting on tables and playing for Maidstone United before Fulham signed him, paving the way for his move to Manchester United. Then there’s Rickie Lambert whose path mirrors that of Charlie Austin.

Rickie was released by Liverpool and played for Blackpool, Macclesfield, Stockport and Rochdale before joining Bristol Rovers. His 51 goals in 128 appearances earned him a move to Southampton where he continued progressing until his career came full circle and he went back to Liverpool.

Evidence if any were needed that there are gems to be found outside the Premier League. It’s not that top clubs aren’t looking there, they are, it just needs more clubs to be as brave as Swansea have with Matt Grimes and take a punt.

By
Longest serving freelance football reporter for Sky Sports, 1,000+ games. Author of Breedon Book of Premiership Records and Three Lions.
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