• Ollie Watkins (L), Mat Ryan (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Aston Villa broke their transfer record this week, paying around $50 million to Championship side Brentford for striker Ollie Watkins. It was a deal that shows how expensive English talent is, even those who have never played in the top tier before.
John Duerden

SBS The World Game
12 Sep 2020 - 9:10 AM  UPDATED 12 Sep 2020 - 9:10 AM

For Australian clubs, it was a deal more noteworthy for two other things however.

It marks another success for the Brentford model of buying low and selling high.

It also shows the value of sell-on clauses. Both should be of interest.

Clauses in contracts that are triggered in the future can almost go unnoticed. The fact that Barcelona had to pay almost $10 million to Liverpool after Philippe Coutinho won the UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich was a source of much amusement especially after the Brazilian helped the German team humiliate Barcelona 8-2.

But sometimes sell-on clauses can make a huge difference.

Exeter City sold Watkins to Brentford in 2017 for a fee of around $3.2 million. That is a big deal for a fan-owned club in the fourth tier of English football that averages an attendance of over 4,000 and is not exactly flush with cash.

A bigger deal, however, is the 15% sell-on clause that Exeter inserted in the deal when selling to Brentford. That has provided a very welcome windfall this week of around $7.5 million more.

That is roughly equal to the club’s annual revenue in a normal year and it is a lot more than 2020 income with no fans and little broadcasting money.

It’s an obvious point, but sell-on clauses can be worth their weight in gold.

There have been suggestions that Exeter should spend a tenth of the amount received by hiring a full-time scout for the next decade to cover the entire Southwest of England, a region that is short on professional clubs.

Watkins came from there and then entered the club's respected academy and there is sure to be more talent out there. Find another Watkins and Exeter can really build a network to hoover up the best in the region.

Sell-on clauses can help Aussie teams more than most. One problem is that Australian players coming out of the A-League are often undervalued.

The salary cap and the relatively short-term contracts don’t help and mean that Asian and European clubs can pick up established Socceroos for six figure sums.

But once they perform well elsewhere then things can be different. A young Australian player who goes to a mid-level Netherlands team is not going to command a big fee.

But if he does well and then makes the next step up then things are going to be different and 10, 15 or 20 per cent of that could be a game changer for an A-League team.

Despite the millions given to Exeter, Brentford have done very well out of the whole deal too.

In fact this is a club that has done very well out of many deals and built a team that came within a whisker of promotion to the Premier League and made lots of money at the same time. Data, hard work and research all play their part.

This is no secret as the club explains on its website: “We're data driven and at the forefront of analytics in football. By sourcing undervalued players and trading at the right time, we create a sustainable business model.

"Through this model Brentford FC have achieved five top half of the table finishes since promotion to the Championship.”

Scouring the lower leagues for players, getting some good years out of them and then selling them on at a major profit is easier said than done, but Brentford are doing it and are about to open a new stadium in the heart of West London (though the old one with four good pubs, one in each corner, will be missed).

This is a tough example for A-League clubs to follow but the principles are there and the methods can be adapted.

The ones who do their homework and invest time and money (and Brentford have invested money) can get their rewards.

There are also opportunities for A-League clubs to do the same in Asia. Again, it would be hard work, and take time and money - but the talent is there and plenty of it is cheap.

Get the right players, bring them on, insert a sell-on clause and do the deals. Nobody else is doing this.

Sounds easy. It isn’t, but it is possible.