OYEZ! Vitor Silva could be the first name on the Golden Easel outside the Riverside gates in the next few days.as Mogga closes in on a right royal treble swoop,
Oyez! The move marks a switch in Boro’s recruitment policy that may – may – just give the cash-strapped club a slight edge in a belt-tightened transfer market.
Portuguese attacking midfielder Vitor, 29, is nudging closer to a deal to join Boro from the tiny Porto-based club Pacos de Ferreira – ‘the Beavers’ – who upset the odds and the traditional triumverate when they finished third in the league last term to earn a Champions League play-off place.
Our boy, an advanced play-maker with a reputed fine range of passing and who chips in with goals was among their star performers. He played 29 games last season which saw Pacos claim third place in Portugal’s top-flight and sneak a Champions League play-off spot. Here he is in action:
Vitor will miss out on the Portuguese minnows’ moment of glory though iif he joins Boro. He signed up with super-agent Jorge Mendes in January with an eye to engineering a move to a higher wage economy and that detail could be key to any Boro signing. Mendes pretty much runs Portuguese football. And a decent chunk of Spanish football too.
Mendes is one of the network of contacts that Boro have been cultivating over the past 12 month as they bid to find a new model of recruitment for more prudent times and under the restrictive shadow of Financial Fair Play. Low cost, short term free transfers and one year loan deals to put potentially valuable players from leagues with little or no money in a shop window close to the greedy eyes of Premier League clubs. If they can get noticed then they can be sold on a profit to the big boys. The player gains. The agent gains. The club gains. Everyone’s a winner and all within the FFP ceiling.
Mendes’ door was opened by well connected Peter Kenyon, the former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive. He has been working with Boro on a semi-detached informal consultant basis as Steve Gibson’s envoy in markets where Boro have little knowledge of the nuances of football lore. That link up led to the wrong-end-of-the-stick ‘takeover talk’ last week as the Spanish press added two plus two and got cinquo on a Watford style set-up
That link with Mendes and the extensive scouting missions and thousands of air-miles clocked up watching potential targets are, working in tandem, starting to bear fruit. Boro have drawn up a list and, in Iberiia at least, if Mendes is not the targets’ agent he knows who is. And people there want to do favours for Mendes. He is a serious mover and shaker. And in other countries too, Kenyon can guarantee a sympathetic hearing. He knows people. Like Joe Kinnear he can ‘pick up the phone and people will answer’.
Nothing is sealed but Vitor now looks the closest to completion. Boro have also been linked with Atletico Madrid second string striker Borja Gonzales, a physical frontman, 20, who was on loan at second divsion side Huesca last term. There are a couple of others bubbling under too.
They won’t all go smoothly. Boro had a nibble at another Atletico frontman Pizzi who was on loan at Deportivo last season but the Portuguese fringe international – full name Luís Miguel Afonso Fernandes – opted to go home and is set to join Benfica. And Napoli’s Chilean striker Eduardo Vargas was also a mooted target although early hopes on that deal seems to have faded..
The club are working on several potential deals simultaneously right now – Mogga mentioned three attacking players this week plus two defenders are in the pipeline too. They may not all come off, it is not an exact science and funds remain limited (although the exit of Scott McDonald has helped enormously) . There is always plenty that can go wrong in signing players. But even if one or two stutter and fail there are other names on the list eager to chance their arm in England, in the fourth biggest league in Europe, at a club that so recently played in Europe and with incredibly impressive facilities.
The club have spent a year preparing for this recruitment drive. As well as the link with Mendes in Spain Boro have set up a network of contacts across the continent that can help open doors. A link with Croatian FA bigwig and assistant manager Alen Boksic has been mentioned. Marco Branca has been courted at Inter Milan. Former players in other countries have been approached. Gary Gill has spent a lot of time in Holland and France for instance. The fledgling system is far from a finished product but the basics are in place and it will be fleshed out further next term.
This is not a quick fix. It is an approach that, if successful, can reap dividends for years to come. The intention is to slowly build up a network of trusted local scouts that is second to none and eventually cut out the middle-men. They can give it a kick-start this term bu tthe long term aim is to build not just the scouting system but the reputation as a club that can be a stepping stone for success to young talent.
It shows that Boro are being pro-active in trying to find ways and means of squaring the circle on the need to recruit quality and the stringent limits of FFP. They are not just settling for the restrictions their income levels dictate. We would all love it if Boro could go out and spend a million here and a million there on players we all know and covet but Albert Adomah and Charlie Austin are not in our price range and even average Premier League outcasts want £20,000 a week. Its not going to happen.
But bringing in players from low wage leagues is a viable way of a club like Boro finding value for money. Jozsef Varga came from Debrecen in Hungary, a Champions League club, where even senior players are said to earn just 2000 euros a week. In Portugal, outside the big three clubs the average is not much more. Even in Spain most clubs beyond the top five or six clubs are really struggling. See also Italy and Holland.
This is a quantum leap forward from last season when the stop-gap signings came on frees from Walsall, the bargain bucket or as loans from big clubs with barely a handful of first team games. Almost all of the players being targeted have extensive experience in their top flights. Many have played in Europe. Some are internationals.
Pessimists and cynics will ask can do it on a wet Tuesday night in Stoke? I’m guessing Dean Whitehead can. Varga has played in the German Bundesliga which is far from tropical. And the others? Well, we’ll see. It is an interesting project. It is succeeds then Boro can add the five or six ‘core’ players they need on the cheap. They haven’t spent a penny yet on fees, the players coming in are on far lower collective wages than those they replaced and the overall budget has come down considerably which will help them get closer to the FFP target.
There are wider issues of course. Wages levels are being pushed down in the bigger economies across Europe with the free movement of labour in the EU being used by employers to cut costs. This is not specific to football. But it is a reflection of the game starting to adapt to the wider political economy. It is starting to break out of its unsustainable bubble of reckless spending. And that is a good thing. And as one of the clubs most in pain from a sluggish legacy of debt, Boro need to adapt more than most.
Of course, we have yet to see if it will come off. Everything brings with it a risk. But there are also potential rewards. We must hope the gamble succeeds.