It seems that Connor Wickham will shortly become a Crystal Palace player and that his four-year, largely unsuccessful spell at Sunderland will soon be coming to an end.
Different sources are reporting different fees, but the consensus seems to be that Palace will pay under £10m for Wickham and that any transfer will be structured to depend on the player’s future performance.
Still, the reaction to this is going to be fairly predictable: why spend any money on someone who has, for such a long time, failed to live up to his teenage promise.
It’s not an unfair point. Wickham has never produced a double-figure goal-return and, year-on-year, the reputation he acquired at Ipswich has been receding; he is, superficially at least, another example of an English player about whom too much was said too soon.
So, Palace are giving him a chance he probably hasn’t earned, but £8m now seems to be the generic fee for any homegrown player with so much as a season of top-flight experience. West Bromwich Albion have already spent the same figure on James Chester, Hull City made a whole raft of average signings for that amount a year ago and, in Wickham, Alan Pardew is at least acquiring a player who could - theoretically - have quite a substantial up-side.
Wickham passes the eye-test: he is the right size, build and shape for his position and even though his time at Sunderland was obviously under-whelming, that wasn’t solely his fault. He, of course, must take responsibility for much of his personal - especially given the whispers about his sub-par attitude - but consider the conditions at the Stadium of Light during the past four years, the management issues which have dogged the club and also the manner in which Wickham was frequently used. He was given plenty of opportunities as an orthodox forward, but he was also regularly shunted out to the flanks as a sacrifice to one of the side’s many structural weaknesses - Sunderland, for over two seasons now, have been an incredibly cautious football team.
Cumulatively, none of those factors have been conducive to the player’s growth and really, given how many established players have also failed in the North-East, it’s hardly a surprise that his stock has fallen.
That’s not a white-washing excuse and nor is it an accusation directed towards anyone at Sunderland but, sometimes, players can become victims of their environment or a club and a player just aren’t suited to one another.
Whether that’s been the case with Wickham is impossible to say, because only a change in his circumstances will show whether the issue has been with him or his employers - but, given that he’s twenty-two and that the theory of his ability is still relatively sound, Palace’s interest is fairly logical.
He’s twenty-two, people forget that. We’re conditioned to point and laugh when a club spends a high seven figure sum on a player who we deem to be average, but within the current financial climate it’s really not a lot of money.
Even if Wickham continues his current trend at Palace, the club is not going to fold as a result. It’s a transfer with a degree of attached risk, but also one which - given how quickly goal-scorers appreciate with a flicker of form - could prove to be quite smart.
Laugh about this in May rather than now, but Steve Parish and Alan Pardew might be getting a bargain.