Or, at the risk of opening that can of worms, if Rafa rated him so bloody highly as to go through all that shit to get him... Gareth Barry was nearly off to Pompey for £3m when Rafa first came to England, at a time where we could have used a versitile British squaddie with a reasonable amount of ability.
There are bargains there to be had even with young British talent in the Premier League.
Absolutley. Milner is another one that springs massively to mind - when he was first loaned for Villa we could have had him for peanuts, and he always looked an ideal player for us, and especially Rafa (to me anyway).
but would they all have been the same players had they not had the full season's football at the lesser clubs.
Arguably true, but I'd suggest that those clubs in question did very little to actually develop them. What made the difference was faith and thus confidence.
EG, Glen Johnson was a promising attacking RB long before he joined Portsmouth, and Mourinho froze out a few very talented players with good attitudes. Milner was a hugely promising young talent with a great attitude and impressive versatility, with several solid seasons under his belt before a particular manager simply didn't fancy him. He then played great on loan at Villa too. Crouch 'flopped' at Villa - but again he wasn't fancied, had players ahead of him who were fancied and were of a different style. His prior form for Portsmouth always strongly suggested he would make it reasonably big somewhere, I wasn't in the least bit surprised that he did well at Sunderland. I don't think Pennant showed any promise at Brum that wasn't already obvious from his Arsenal appearances. Defoe was a good shout as well, albeit not a player I personally particularly rate - not for our system anyway (too one dimensional).
It's more the general sentiment that, given we all know funds are tight, and that has been the case for ages, and given the value of English players especially at times (plus there's not much gamble buying cheap and English, shit, even Pennant had Stoke happy to fork out £5million after a pretty poor season and being caught out on the piss), it's perhaps worth taking a gamble at some of these promising 'flops'.
Take Walcott as a potential example - if he doesn't settle a place soonish he might just be available for a reasonable fee, and at, say, £5million that wouldn't really be a gamble at all because even if he flopped we could make that back. Just strikes me as an area where a bit more risk might have brought some huge rewards by now - GJ at the time he left Chelsea would have been fine, fine competition for Arbeloa/Finnan who were never going to be a permanent solution, Milner would have been a pretty much no risk squaddie with huge potential, ditto Gaz Baz a few seasons ago as JL points out.
At the risk of going off topic but are there any of those around at the moment? Pretenting not to be Mac Red would suggest Adriano but I think that would be absolutely stupid. My personal suggestion - perhaps odd given how little I've rated him in the past - is one R. Quaresma. I wonder if he might not have re-thought his willing to adapt his game a bit after 2 seasons frozen out by Mourinho, and he would be available for cheap, and an undoubted game-breaker if we could get him playing for us. Heskey, albeit people generally don't rate him, is another I wouldn't mind seeing in January. This might be a fun topic to mull over actually.