Rise of David Brooks shows big clubs that less really can be more

The 21-year-old has been a revelation since joining Bournemouth for £10m and proves to such clubs as Manchester United they do not have to spend big to succeed

Bournemouth have been one of the stories of the season and one of the stories behind the Cherries’ rise to sixth place in the table has been David Brooks’ almost instantly establishing himself as a Premier League performer.

The Warrington-born midfielder is a big Manchester United fan, despite starting his football career in Manchester City’s academy, and when José Mourinho and his players pitch up at the Vitality Stadium for Saturday’s early kick-off, Brooks will get a bigger thrill than most from the fact Bournemouth are currently three points and two places better off than their illustrious visitors.

Not too many people had heard of Brooks before this season, though they probably ought to have for, when England Under-20s won the Toulon tournament last year, he was named the event’s best player. He was playing for Sheffield United at the time and flying so low beneath the radar that Eddie Howe was able to pick him up this summer for £10m, rising to, wait for it, £11.5m.

That money is not exactly peanuts but for a 20-year-old home-produced player with an international pedigree (Brooks has since turned 21) it is the nearest thing you will find to a bargain in the absurdly over-priced marketplace of English football.

Talking of English football, and international pedigree, Brooks now plays for Wales and his decision to opt for the country of his mother’s birth after trying out for both nations at junior level may yet become a source of regret to England managers of the future. Chris Coleman, significantly, called him up for a Welsh friendly while he was still in Sheffield.

Despite his slender build and impossibly youthful appearance, Brooks was making a name for himself, even when spending a handful of games, Jamie Vardy-style, on loan to Halifax. So if Bournemouth have ended up with one of the steals of the season, it is tempting to wonder why no one else thought of doing the same.

Not Manchester City, obviously, because they had Brooks in the first place and they have so much talent crammed into their first-team squad that Phil Foden is struggling for game time and Jadon Sancho has left for Germany. Perhaps not Chelsea or Liverpool, for similar reasons. But how about Everton, who have picked up a few decent Welsh players over the years? Or Manchester United, the club Brooks supports, the one with a long-standing tradition of sourcing and encouraging local youngsters?

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This is not to suggest that United presently have a hole for an attacking midfielder that needs filling, though they must have thought so when they recruited Alexis Sánchez on such spectacular wages a little less than a year ago. United also have Paul Pogba, Fred and Juan Mata jostling for midfield places at the moment, not to mention their own Warrington-born product in Jesse Lingard, so there is no pressing reason to be scouring the country for promising prospects that might be available quite cheaply.

The question is more a rhetorical one. Would United be interested in a promising 20-year-old at £10m, or would they rather have a marquee name, or record-breaking capture, that would then incur Mourinho’s sarcasm by finding it hard to settle into the side?

Andy Robertson reached the Champions League final with Liverpool last season and has become Scotland captain since joining the club.
Andy Robertson reached the Champions League final with Liverpool last season and has become Scotland captain since joining the club. Photograph: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Bournemouth probably have a unique advantage here, because they can take a player like Brooks and put him into the team without worrying too much about which established international and his agent are going to be upset by being left out. The player can then sink or swim according to his ability and aptitude, which is sort of old-fashioned but probably how it should be.

Brooks is definitely swimming and not sinking at Bournemouth. “There hasn’t been a bedding-in period,” Howe said admiringly a few days ago. “David fits well into the team and he has got better as the season has gone on. He suits our style of play and, when we first scouted him at Sheffield, we thought we saw enough to suggest he could be outstanding in the Premier League.”

This might just be the most uplifting story since Liverpool took a chance on Andy Robertson from Hull City, who then seized his own chance and turned himself from a squad signing into a consistently excellent first-team regular. It also brings to mind Arsène Wenger’s comment after Leicester had signed Riyad Mahrez for £400,000 and turned him into a title winner. The then Arsenal manager said he would have been mocked, presumably by board and fans alike, had he produced an unknown from French football costing so little. He would at the very least have been accused of parsimony and lack of grand ambition.

The general feeling seems to be, even among those who should know better, that genuine quality starts at around £25m and that anything substantially cheaper is a risk. This is what happens when clubs have too much money. The easy option is to keep handing it over, in the agent-fed belief that there are very few players out there who will improve a good side.

Yet for every Virgil van Dijk there is a Romelu Lukaku, a Sánchez or a Pogba, and for every expensive misfit there is a relative unknown who can do the job from day one. Leicester ended up making a £59.6m profit on Mahrez, recouping their modest outlay more than a hundredfold. Bournemouth are not looking to recoup anything at the moment. They are simply sitting pretty because they have a recruitment team capable of recognising potential and a manager willing to trial a young prospect from the Championship.

Brooks should count himself lucky, because at a time when young English talent is looking to the Bundesliga, what Bournemouth are able to offer is becoming quite rare.