With sell-on clauses at the forefront of Liverpool fans' thinking thanks to the 25% Southampton would owe to Bournemouth should they sell Adam Lallana, many have wondered how the Saints could have allowed themselves to be held to such an extortionate clause. The simple truth, of course, is that such clauses are common when young players move, and especially when they move on for relatively low fees.
Recently, Liverpool had a 35% sell-on fee on Tom Ince only for the player to run down his contract with Blackpool, depriving Liverpool the chance to make a few million off the promising player they'd let go on the cheap when Ince and his father started agitating for a move. And on the other side of the ledger, it turns out that QPR negotiated a sell-on fee for Raheem Sterling when they sold him to Liverpool in 2012.
"Rangers will get 20% [from] the sell-on fee, not that QPR probably need it right now," said former Rangers chairman Gianni Paladini when he was asked recently about having sold off his club's brightest prospect in recent history. "The new owners have more money than ever existed in my time. Still, a £40M sale nets them £8M—not bad for a 15-year-old, eh? But I doubt Liverpool will ever sell him."
Such clauses can, on occasion, come back to haunt a club who buys a young player. Clubs buying young players, though, continue to agree to them for the quite simple reason that they keep the initial fee down and limit risk. If the player pans out—as Sterling and Lallana have—they might find themselves some day paying a hefty chunk to his former club, but if he doesn't then they will have saved money.
"He was still without a professional contract," added Paladini. "I could see him walking away for nothing. All we would get is compensation. [U18 coach] Steve [Gallen] will tell you how much we tried. We got every penny we could, but we still knew he was headed to great things, and since we had Raheem from the age of nine, it's still a source of pride that he's done as well as he has."
Liverpool only paid QPR £600k for Sterling up front, but there were additional clauses—clauses it seems impossible won't eventually be triggered and some of which likely already have been—that could raise that fee to around £5M. Throw in a 20% sell-on fee, and QPR would stand to turn a solid profit on Sterling if such a sale ever came to pass.
One would still have to say Liverpool still got the better of any deal, though, no matter how many extra millions QPR might some day get out of it. After all, Liverpool got Raheem Sterling.