There’s a lot going on here, some of which is verifiable, some of which is speculative, and all of which is fascinating! Let’s take a look at the major “players” in this developing saga.
Burton Albion F.C./Manager Nigel Clough/Jackson Irvine
There are two things happening here. First, after a single “break out” season with the Brewers it appears that former County man and all-around good guy Jackson Irvine will be leaving the club sooner rather than later (Clough has admitted as much in recent interviews), with Premiership hopefuls Derby County, Wolves, Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, and Fulham all thought to be interested in the Australian international.
With that in mind, Burton have come looking for another County player- Liam Boyce. Burton have made an offer- which was rejected- and are now apparently preparing another offer to bring the Premierships leading scorer to Pirelli Stadium.* Some sources say that the initial bid was rejected because it did not meet the £500,000 opt out clause in Boyce’s contract. Of course, nobody really knows if that clause exists. Other sources claim that the bid was rejected because County wanted a better “sell on” percentage from Albion if they sell him to a bigger club down the road- as it appears they are going to do with Jackson Irvine. Still other sources say that County will reduce the sell on clause if Burton Albion improve their bid to something in the neighborhood of £750,000.
Ross County F.C./Liam Boyce
(All of the following assumes that Ross County don’t have the kind of money it would take to get Boyce to agree to a contract extension with the club)
As much as it pains me to say it, Liam Boyce is not staying at Ross County. Given the stature of County and the kind of money that selling Boyce can bring to the club, they have to sell him and they might as well do it now: he’s the reigning scoring leader in the Premiership and becoming a regular for Northern Ireland (a country making more noise internationally than anyone could have predicted), so I can’t see his value ever being higher than it is now. I suppose County could wait until the January transfer window in the hope that Boyce will have another goal-filled half-season and increase his value further, but he could also get hurt, not score many goals, or (sigh) Jim McIntyre could move him into the midfield again and reduce his value! So, County have to sell him and they have to sell him now. Letting him play the coming season at County and then walk for nothing would be a catastrophic mistake.
Having said all of that, I think even £750,000 is far too low for Boyce. Imagine County accepts that fee for him and he goes to Albion and steps up his game in the way that Jackson Irvine did? If that happens it will be hard not to feel like County were fleeced in the deal- especially if they’ve bartered away a higher sell on fee for more money up front! What County needs is one more club interested- or even seemingly interested- in Boyce to start a bidding war. Without that, County really don’t have any leverage- they can keep asking Albion for more, but at some point Albion walks away and presumably waits to pick Boyce up for free when his contract runs out because, again, there don’t appear to be any other suitors at the moment. I may be being overly optimistic, but I think his value should be more in the £1m to £1.5m range with a decent sell on clause.
As for Boyce himself, most of the same things that apply to the club apply to him: his value will never be higher, he would benefit from a bidding war, there’s little to be gained (and much to be lost) by playing for County until January, and this is the right time for him- he could be at Albion for as little as a single season and then find himself either at a better Championship club or even in the Premier League by the age of 27.
I have to think that one of the reasons that Nigel Clough wants Liam Boyce is the success that Jackson Irvine has had at Albion. Specifically, that the competition level in the Premiership and the way Irvine was developed at County prepared him not only to have a smooth transition to the Championship, but allowed him to thrive their to the extent that he may earn Albion a substantial transfer fee. I would assume that Clough feels the same thing could very well be the case for Boyce. So here is my suggestion…
Assuming it is legal (within and without the world of football), why can’t the clubs come to some sort of arrangement where, in addition to buying Boyce, Albion is willing to loan out players to County, have County youngsters take part in training at Albion, maybe even come up to County for a preseason friendly that could potentially include a Brewer’s side with both Boyce and Irvine in it? I’m sure there are other arrangements that could be made, but I guess what I see is two clubs that punch well above their wait, but who, because of that, are always in a scramble to hold their position in the league system and who might benefit from some sort of working arrangement going forward. Just an idea…
Either way, this is compelling stuff and I can’t wait to see what happens!
*Can I just point out that Pirelli “Stadium” is only slightly bigger than Victoria Park and that only a third of it’s 6,900 capacity is seated!? Given that and given that I saw all of County’s facilities during my tour in April I can’t imagine that the “quality of life” at Burton Albion will really be a step up for Boyce. Yes, he’ll travel to and play in some impressive grounds against impressive clubs, but on a day-to-day basis, will it really be better? Which brings us back to the necessity of a bidding war, because we all want the best for Boyce and the club!