“So it begins.” As King Theodon solemnly declares in a downpour prior to the Battle at Helm’s Deep, the Bristol City hierarchy hunkered down at the High Performance Centre on the rainswept fields of Failand may be uttering similar words, with the bidding finally commencing for Alex Scott.
After weeks of endless speculation, talk of “interest”, “front-runners” and “preparing bids”, Bournemouth have made the first clear move with an unsuccessful £15million plus add-ons offer that indicates two things: City look to be staying true to their word regarding the midfielder’s valuation, and it’s evidently a lowball offer that almost certainly won’t be the Cherries’ last.
To address the first part, yes, Nigel Pearson and Steve Lansdown have maintained what they believe to be the 19-year-old’s worth in the marketplace, but £15m guaranteed is still a considerable amount for a Championship club, something the Robins haven’t received since Adam Webster’s departure four years ago, before you consider what it could potentially rise to. But clearly it’s not enough, and from a City perspective, of course, that is pleasing.
As for the second aspect, while supporters spent the evening guffawing on social media, the people pulling the strings at Bournemouth - namely CEO Neill Blake and technical director Richard Hughes - aren’t stupid, they know (or at least think they know) precisely what they’re doing here and it’s all part of the battle plan to break through City’s stoic defences when it comes to negotiations.
To return to the Helm's Deep analogy, it stands up to a point, but while that purely fictional battle, conjured through the pen of JRR Tolkien and visualised so profoundly by Peter Jackson in the Two Towers, revolved around multiple armies attacking a solitary and under-manned fortress, the Cherries see the current state of play in a very different way.
Heading into the summer the widely-held belief across the clubs who had the name Alex Scott on their recruitment chart, and you, I and probably everyone else, was that such was the level of interest in him, the price would be automatically be high and to get him you’d have to work very hard and very smart. If anything, timing would be key.
Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham, Newcastle United, Leicester City and Leeds United (before relegation), Crystal Palace, Brighton & Hove Albion, Wolves, Inter ruddy Milan, all were mentioned as holding varying degrees of interest in the Robins’ No7, and simple logic dictated that at least two would have a nibble at some stage.
But while the interest has always been there and calls surrounding Scott have been fielded by CEO Phil Alexander asking various questions, everything has kind of been quiet and after some initial hype, there has been a slight sense of surprise at the lack of offers in the midfielder.
That seems to be directly related to what City want for a player who, as talented as we all know he is with a pretty phenomenal potential ceiling, has never played in the Premier League, and the fact that Financial Fair Play seems to be biting for a number of clubs.
In very simple terms, while lots of clubs may dearly want to sign Scott, the concept of paying £25m for him renders that a wish rather than an actionable idea.
That appears to be the case with Brighton, Wolves and Palace, while internal changes at West Ham, as Tim Steidten has been appointed to oversee recruitment, has complicated their process a little; any desire to sign Scott had been largely driven by David Moyes and Rob Newman - a frequent visitor to Ashton Gate for business as well as pleasure - rather than the German.
We’re singing from the Bournemouth hymn sheet here to emphasise a point but the understanding is, at this stage anyway, that they see themselves as the only credible club at the table. And while, given the circumstances, City rightfully want to encourage a bidding war, to try and maximise Scott’s value as much as possible, it’s unlikely to ever materialise and the best offer they’ll get is the next one that the Cherries will present to them.
That’s the theory, anyway, hence the £15m plus; close enough to show they’re serious to City, while also giving themselves flexibility to top it up a little and try and reel the selling club in further.
This does fall down to an extent if you stick to the concept of City’s position only ever being £25m and not a penny less. Which may still be the case but there will still be pressure, understandably so, to walk away from a sum of money that isn’t too far from that that dramatically covers a large proportion of their likely losses for 2022/23, gives them a degree of FFP freedom for the next 2-3 years and equips manager Pearson with significant money to sign two, three, maybe even four high-level players for the Championship season ahead.
Not to mention pressure on Scott who, while almost disconcertingly mature for his years, level-headed, professional and well-looked after, now knows an opportunity to play in the Premier League is there for him.
Ignore his brief period spent in the Cherries academy six years ago, and even their status as one of the two smallest clubs in the division, it’s a squad where he’ll have an immediate opportunity to play significant minutes in the most visible domestic league in the world.
As far as career moves go, it’s a pretty sound one, irrespective of how you may or may not view AFC Bournemouth in a historical sense. They are a Premier League club paying Premier League wages who play Premier League teams in Premier League stadiums and if you do that, and perform to a high level, then you start moving yourself into a position where you can climb the ladder further.
This is all on what Bournemouth are banking on, and it’s part of the game to subtly break City’s resistance with seven weeks of the summer window to go, beyond just paying what the club want, but if the Robins continue to hold out, it could prove to be quite the lengthy siege.
But while the Lansdowns hold a price point, there is also a time aspect to all of this. They don’t want or need it to drag on through the summer, never mind all the way to August 31. If Scott is to be sold, it’s better to do it sooner rather than later. The more the latter word becomes a factor, the more of a potential impact it has on their season.
Let’s say it does run all the way until the end of the window, City have little time to recruit viable replacements or, best case scenario, will be forced into overpaying given clubs also won’t want to sell their players at that time, knowing the Robins have however many million burning a hole in their back pocket. It also will be an ongoing “Will they? Won’t they?” narrative that could have a negative impact on the start of the season, with Pearson wanting to make an early statement on the 2023/24 campaign.
For now, at least, we don’t need to worry about that and internally City believe their position remains the right one and there are other clubs suitably interested lurking in the background who may be forced into action following Bournemouth’s first assault on the battlements. That theory is likely to be tested in the coming days, with a second bid thought to be imminent, and while unlikely to be the full £25m, something that’s enough to cause them to potentially drop their guard.