There’s plenty of claims about the best John Rudge signings – here is our selection which we think demonstrate the genius of the legendary Port Vale manager.
If you disagree (or agree) with our selection of the best John Rudge transfers, please let us know in the forum.
Buy low, improve, then sell high – Smith the first of many…
Arguably the first sign of Rudge’s transfer acumen was the buying and selling of Paul Smith – a winger signed when Rudge was three years into his managerial stint. In many ways it showed what would be a tried and tested formula which was…
- Smith was out of the first-team picture at Sheff Utd and was snapped up for a small fee of £10,000. Rudge would repeat this with the signings of Ray Walker, Darren Beckford and Lee Mills – all persuaded to leave their team’s reserves for first team football.
- Smith started to shine under Rudge’s coaching. Dozens of players have said the same thing including Mark Bright and Robbie Earle. Rudge’s ability to improve players was a key part of his success.
- Having become a better player, Smith was then sold to a club prepared to pay over the odds (in this case non-league Lincoln City) with Vale making a handsome profit. In Smith’s case it was a £30,000 profit in twelve months but Rudge would take it to the extreme in 1998 when he bought Gareth Ainsworth for £500,000 and sold him for £2m just twelve months later.
So while Smith’s transfer itself wasn’t spectacular, it did display a template which Rudge would use again and again over the years.
The sale of Robin van der Laan
The transfer of Robin van der Laan to Derby County was a true Rudge masterstroke. Signed for just £80,000 in 1991, the £450,000 Derby shelled out four years later already represented a substantial profit. However, when you consider striker Lee Mills was also thrown in as a makeweight, the transfer moves into the realms of real genius.
Why? Well, Mills stayed at Vale Park for three years and was then sold for a million pounds. It was a classic Rudge manoeuvre – get the maximum for an established player while at the same time bringing in another potential star who could also be sold on.
The non-league gems…
Rudge used to call them his “chancers” but due to his nose for talent, there wasn’t much of a gamble about many of his non-league signings…
It started with the £3,000 purchase of Andy Jones, sold on for £350,000 a few years later, then continued until the signing Ian Taylor (bought for £15,000, sold for £1m). In between there were plenty of non-leaguers who didn’t net huge fees but still proved to be fine signings – among them Stewart Talbot and Gareth Griffiths.
Switching the wingers
Rudge had a tremendous record of replacing one winger with a better one. Arguably it started back in 1987 when promising youngster Steve Harper was surprisingly sold to Preston for £35,000. That money funded a permanent deal for John Jeffers, who joined for £5,000 less than Harper but gave the club much greater service. It continued in the 1990’s when Jon McCarthy was sold for £1.25m but on the same day Gareth Ainsworth was signed as his replacement for £500,000. Ainsworth was then sold for £2m 12 months later.
There’s always an exception to the rule. Steve Guppy – arguably the best wing signing of all – wasn’t financed by the sale of a previous winger. However, it was due to the million pound sale of Ian Taylor to Sheffield Wednesday so it did follow the Rudge method of using a transfer windfall to bring in another promising talent.
Paying a pittance for Ray Walker
There’s no windfall associated with this one as Walker was never sold – despite bids from Manchester City and Stoke City – because he was simply too valuable to the side (while a 50% sell on fee to former club Aston Villa no doubt payed a part too). However, to snap up arguably the most elegant central midfielder the club has ever seen for just £12,000 was a masterstroke.
Walker’s contribution to the Rudge years was significant – two player of the year awards, two promotions, two appearances in the PFA team of the year, over 400 appearances and THAT goal against Spurs. No wonder Rudge kept hold of him for year after year.