Everton striker Fraser Hornby moving to Belgian side Kortrijk hasn’t made many headlines. It probably slipped the radar of many Preston fans entirely.
After all, a 19-year-old striker with no Premier League appearances heading off to Belgium doesn’t scream ‘major news’. However, his move does maybe highlight Preston’s changing transfer strategy.
Back in October 2017, the Daily Star noted that Preston wanted to sign Hornby. A loan deal was touted then, but he appeared to drift off the radar entirely.
Hornby is now off on loan to Kortrijk, penning a loan deal with a view to a permanent move. The teenager is 6ft 2in, comfortable on the ball and possesses decent movement, meaning it’s no surprise that Alex Neil had an interest in him.
Yet, despite him seemingly being available, it seems that North End haven’t returned for Hornby. He could have been what Neil is looking for in attack, but Preston not moving for him again highlights a change in strategy over the last two years.
Under Simon Grayson, North End liked to pick off Premier League reserves for permanent moves. Daniel Johnson, Callum Robinson, Ben Pearson, Liam Grimshaw and Josh Harrop all arrived from top-flight clubs, and only Grimshaw can really be considered as a failure.
In fact, from Daniel Johnson’s move until Grayson’s exit, North End signed a host of Premier League players on loan or permanently. Those five mentioned, as well as Paul Gallagher, all arrived permanently. Add in Sam Johnstone, Anders Lindegaard, Jordan Pickford, Tyias Browning, Alex Baptiste, Aiden McGeady and Will Keane on loan, and North End were prominent in signing fringe Premier League players.
Yet since Alex Neil’s arrival, that influx has been halted. Only four players have arrived from Premier League clubs under his management; Stephy Mavididi, Brandon Barker, Lukas Nmecha and Andre Green – all on loan.
The days of picking off those Premier League reserves appear to be gone. Instead, North End have focused on League One players in Darnell Fisher, Billy Bodin, Andrew Hughes, Ryan Ledson, Brad Potts, Josh Ginnelly, Joe Rafferty and Tom Bayliss. Players from even lower in the pyramid like Jordan Storey, Jayden Stockley and Connor Simpson have signed too.
The strange thing is that many of those players have arrived around the age of 25, somewhere in between having major potential and being proven players. In some cases, they have been worth the gamble. In others, it seems like North End have wasted money.
It’s unclear just what has changed in terms of North End’s strategy. It may come from Alex Neil or recruitment chief Joe Savage, or above him from Peter Ridsdale or Trevor Hemmings. It does though seems that the cost of such signings is rising a little now.
Pearson, Harrop, Johnson and Robinson cost Preston around £1.25m combined. Derby County signed Krystian Bielik from Arsenal for around six times that amount. Other clubs have though managed to find decent value; for instance, Middlesbrough landed West Ham winger Marcus Browne for just £200,000.
A little higher up in price, Wigan signed Everton reserve duo Antonee Robinson and Joe Williams for around £3m combined. It would be a huge shame if this market was to become beyond North End, as we’ve taken great value from signing Premier League reserves. It’s even an approach Preston have taken since previous eras with Jon Macken, Michael Appleton, Colin Murdock, David Healy and Neil Mellor.
Hornby may no longer be available, but it would be great to see North End go back to some of the old approach, especially with local Premier League clubs, with more potential for resale value than with many of the League One players Preston have signed under Nel.