By Tony Attwood
A few days ago we ran a little piece about players that are transferred to clubs but then don’t deliver in the way that the clubs and their supporters might have anticipated. This was based on the notion that although buying players is one way of developing a team, and the way that the media like – it is not the only way. Bringing in young players, either as children, or as transfers in their teens, and then educating them into your way of playing, is an alternative.
And indeed there are many other factors.
As I have mentioned many times now (but I say again just in case you are here for the first time) Coquelin and Bellerin don’t appear on our chart of transfers for last year, but their arrivals in the first team were of the same impact as if they had just been bought for ££££m
So focussing on the immediate transfers is interesting, but only part of the story. Other players arrive through different means, and some of the big name transfers don’t make it. And other factors come into play.
Now in that earlier article, we took a list of players who “flopped” from the Tomkins report, and then subsequently printed out the list. That gave rise to the interesting discussion of whether Reyes could be called a “flop” in the way that Shevchenko, Torres, Mutu etc could be called flops.
I agree that was an unfortunate term in his case – he seemed to have difficulties in adjusting to the local environment, and was clearly a target for brutal behaviour from other teams. So “flop” really wasn’t the best choice – and really I should have said, “failed to deliver to the level expected over time”.
Now following those two articles about big money transfers that don’t deliver in the way hoped for we have a screaming headline in the Telegraph today
It’s official – Manchester United have wasted more money on transfers than any Premier League side since 2013
They take their data from a different source from mine – The Soccerex Transfer Review – and they view flops in a specific way – measuring the amount of time a player gets on the pitch after transfer.
This definition is more accurate than the one I took from the Tomkins article, but it has problems, in that a player like Debuchy can be included because he had the misfortune of serious injuries, during the course of which his place was taken over by Bellerin. (Indeed this saga points to the importance of the youth development programme for it was only through having multiple young players of talent that we had a player available to take over at this time).
The Soccerex definition also causes problems for Chambers who was clearly brought into the squad to develop over time, and with the hope (now being fulfilled) that he could change positions. At the moment he would be classified by Soccerex as a failure.
The figures from Soccerex are also interesting for showing what the Telegraph (and I am sure other newspapers) will fail to pick up. Their message is always “now now now”, as in who is bought in this transfer window (or starting this week, who will we buy in January next).
For example on page 28 the report shows “net investment” over three transfer periods – 2013/14, 2014/15. 2015/16. For the first of these Arsenal is shown as having the top net investment in new players at 98 million euros. Indeed the net investment figure is so interesting over these three periods that I want to do a spot of investigating into it, and will come back to it shortly in another article. I just need to find the calculator that slipped down the back of the sofa.
I must add for clarity, and to stop the discussion on the topic going off in a different direction, this is not me saying that “look Arsenal is fine because we do spend money on transfers” because I maintain that transfers are just one part of running a club, and to judge the club according to what it spends on transfers either now or over the past ten years, without taking into account other factors like stadium development and youth team development etc etc gives an inaccurate picture.
But back to the main thread of this morning’s little piece.
“Manchester United have wasted more money on expensive flops than any other Premier League side since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, according to a new report,” shouts the excitable right wing broadsheet.
The Soccerex Transfer Review by Prime Time Sport found that United had blown almost £118 million on players who were used for less than half of the minutes played by the club since the summer of 2013.
They cite Angel Di Maria (£55m) and Marouane Fellaini (£24m) as the naughty fellows in this regard.
And to be fair to the paper for once they do actually quote a positive…
The report also found Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez to be the most profitable signing in Europe last season, the striker having played 86% of the club’s minutes.
During the same campaign, Di Maria clocked up just 48% of minutes, with £27m Luke Shaw even lower on 33%, the latter due to injury.
They then highlight the overall picture.
The report found a total of £475m had been spent by Premier League teams since the summer of 2013 on players who have gone on to complete 50% or less of their club’s minutes.
Tottenham Hotspur were the second worst offenders, contributing £100m to the total, well out ahead of Manchester City (£53m), Liverpool (£50m), Arsenal (£34m) and Chelsea (£33m).
The above shows the biggest “flops” in terms of minutes played, across the last three seasons – but as I say, injury and the development of players for the future can make the picture misleading.
Tottenham turn up in the category because of Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela. Liverpool had certain difficulties with Lazar Markovic and Mario Balotelli although I am told that suddenly Balotelli has come back to life with his new club.
But my main point (and clearly one that I have been singularly unsuccessful at making plain in recent posts) is that my beef with the issue of transfers is not about who we should buy, for how much and when, or that we should not buy, but that the simplification of the issue by the press (and their allies with the childish blogettas that Sir Hardly Anyone has regaled us with this year), has led to a very misleading analysis.
Transfers in and out are important, but just one part of the show and in my view need to be judged over time – three years is about right – both to take into account a lot of activity in one window, but none in another, and to take into account players who are slow to develop or hampered by injury.
Likewise stadium development has been important over time. Likewise bringing youngsters up through the youth system such that they can play for the first time. Likewise careful use of the loan system. Likewise, keeping an eye on the way clubs like Watford, Man City and Chelsea are now seeking to move in different ways, by having close links with other clubs in other countries. Likewise state funding of stadium building.
All of these issues are phenomenally complex in themselves as you will have seen if you read the correspondence here about the income from the Emirates and the cost of building the stadium (which incidentally has now been explored enough in my view, so no more on that please).
My point is that the media and correspondents who reduce everything down to a single issue when measuring the success or failure of a club are doing us all a profound disservice. Worse, if that single issue (eg transfers) is considered in terms of one measurement (how much spent, how many players bought, did we buy a centre forward) in terms of one transfer window, the whole picture gets totally lost.
For as Walter said recently, which club has won more Premier League games than Arsenal in 2015? None. Isn’t that important when debating what the club needs to do next. As is “Which club has won the FA Cup for the last two seasons?” To dismiss that and the incredibly complex nature of how a team is put together across an entire season, and reduce everything to buying two players who (on the basis of the Tomkins report and the Soccerex evidence) might or might not make it, to me seems daft.
To be clear then, I am trying to write about the need to take all these factors into account rather than a single one off factor. If anyone wants to debate that point, I’d be glad to join in.
Now to find that calculator and see what these net investment figures over three years actually mean.
The Untold Books
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal
- 8 September 1888: The first Football League games were played – although without complete agreement on how the League table would be constructed. The first ever League goal was an own goal by Aston Villa defender Gershom Cox.
- 8 September 1894: Henry Boyd scored his first goal. Of all the players who played 30+ games for the club he had the highest goals to games ratio scoring 32 goals in 41 league games between September 1894 and December 1896.