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February 2021

“New is just new” and other insights into the transfer market


By Tim Charlesworth


As another transfer window wends its way to a close there has been a grumbling feeling amongst fans that we have been here before: disappointed expectations, Arsenal indecisive and penny-pinching in their attempts to buy new players, and then Arsene Wenger reminding us that new is just new, and not necessarily better.  

There can be little doubt that Wenger is a ditherer.  This is a bit of a prejorative word, so I would like to qualify it with the statement that I too, am a ditherer, and I think there is a lot to be said for dithering.  Ditherers can be very frustrating (and the Goonersphere is frustrated by Arsenal’s transfer activities), but they can also be the best decision makers.  Ditherers consider the widest possible set of options and worry about mistakes, and whilst this can occasionally paralyse them into inaction, it does have the advantage of helping to avoid the mistakes which are legion in the football world.  I dither at work, and this winds my colleagues up no end, but I do tend to make very good decisions in the end (in my opinion anyway).

It’s difficult as ever to know what is going on behind the scenes at Arsenal.  Transfers always include elements of bluff and negotiation, so they are necessarily conducted behind a veil of secrecy, and Arsenal are a secretive club at the best of times.  Above all, it’s silly to form a judgement on how well Arsenal have done in the transfer window before it closes – the one thing you mustn’t do with a ditherer is judge their performance before the end.

During Arsene’s golden years, David Dein brought boldness and decisiveness to the club, counteracting Wenger’s natural reticence, and in that sense they were the perfect partnership.  The club completed transfers like Sol Campbell (a free transfer which Arsene complained about the cost of), Thierry Henry and Robert Pires.  Since Dein left in 2007, it has been hard to fill the void.  I get the impression that Ivan Gazidis is trying to perform the ‘Dein role’, but perhaps lacks the moral and footballing authority that Dein bought to the problem.  

Football fans love a transfer, and even more than the transfer, we love transfer speculation.  Us Gooners, perhaps love the speculation a little less than others, as it disappoints us so often, but we still can’t resist it, even when we know that most of it is nonsense.  Hope triumphs over experience: however well-educated we are by Tony’s writings, we still can’t resist clicking on the clickbait and believing the claims that so-and-so has been ‘booked in for a medical’.

Untold Arsenal has run many stories demonstrating that, contrary to popular belief, transfers don’t’ win trophies and I don’t intend to repeat the overwhelming evidence supporting this conclusion.  So for the sake of this article, let’s take it as read that transfers don’t really win trophies.  Instead, I would like to have a look at some other possible benefits that transfers bring:

  1. The bold are always rewarded
  2. Transfers give pleasure in their own right
  3. Transfers often do succeed eventually.

The bold are always rewarded in the transfer market.

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Many of the complainants about Arsenal’s transfer policy point out that football generally rewards the bold.  Arsenal’s two most expensive acquisitions, Ozil and Sanchez, could almost certainly be sold today for more than they were purchased for, so despite the high, apparently risky, fees that were paid, it is difficult to argue that these weren’t good purchases.  

The one which really caught my eye this summer, was the sale of Christian Benteke from Liverpool to Crystal Palace.  Although it’s difficult to value transfers today with all the add-ons and secrecy, it seems as if the fee was pretty similar, maybe slightly less than, Liverpool paid Villa for him.  This is remarkable, because Liverpool have got out of a disastrous transfer with very little financial damage.  They probably paid him about £5m in wages in the year that he was their player, so they haven’t got off totally scott free, but then he did play a role as a squad player, scoring some goals, so he delivered something for that £5m.

Last summer, Liverpool paid a ridiculously high price (around £32m) for Benteke, who had showed some promise in a poor Villa team, but was a decidedly second rate striker, clearly not up to the standard of the much-derided Giroud, for example.  The purchase looked reckless (as so many have been from Liverpool in recent years), yet it has done Liverpool no real harm at all.  Benteke’s acquisition was basically a complete failure, but they have got almost all of their money back.  All this perpetrates the illusion that a transfer, almost any transfer, is a good idea.  

Of course, the illusion is created by the fact that all purchases look good in a rising market.  Benteke’s failure at Liverpool has reduced his value and knocked him down a peg or two in the hierarchy of world football players.  The problem is that the value of all players has risen, so the rise in the general market has masked the fall in Benteke’s relative value.  This is the same illusion that tends to make British people believe that it is always a good idea to buy a house – in a rising market it is difficult to make a mistake.

The current bout of inflation in the price of footballers dates back to 1987, when Liverpool broke the transfer record by paying the extraordinary price of £1.9m for Peter Beardsley.  This seems like a trivial fee in today’s market, and we should certainly adjust this figure for inflation – in today’s money, Liverpool paid £4.9m.  Back in 1987 English clubs were not active in the international market for players, and the world record transfer fee was also broken that summer when AC Milan paid PSV Eindhoven £6m (£15m in today’s money) for Ruud Gullit.

No rising market can rise forever, a lesson which human societies find almost impossible to learn.  History is littered with examples of ‘bull markets’, when people believed that prices would rise forever – the South Sea bubble of 1720, the railway mania of the 1840s, the 1929 Wall Street Crash, the late 80s housing crunch, the dot com bust of the early 2000s.  People get used to constantly rising prices, and are shocked when the prices stop going up.  One day, the value of footballers will level out or even decline.  At this point, the whole house of cards will come tumbling down.  If Arsenal persist with their current cautious strategy, it will eventually pay dividends.  This day will come, but unfortunately it could be many years away.  

It is notoriously difficult to predict prices collapses, but perhaps the most obvious sign is when people start to pay more than something is really ‘worth’.  Man U will pay about £150m for the services of Paul Pogba by the time they have finished paying his wages for the next five years.  However, the financial rewards of success in football are great, and if Pogba can make the difference between success and failure, he may well repay that £150m.  If there is a ‘bubble’ in football prices it is far from clear that it is about to burst.,

Transfers just make us feel good

This one is a little difficult to deny.  Even arch-sceptics like me are pleased when Arsenal signs a new player.  It is always difficult to imagine that a new player will fail to improve the team.  Occasionally we are wrong (Squillaci), but most transfers deliver at least something to the squad.  There is also something very satisfying about an ‘acquisition’.  Buying a player is an aggressive, acquisitive act, which demonstrates dominance over both the selling club, and other clubs who didn’t have enough money to compete.  It is a display of macho power, and these are important things to football fans, football supporting being very much a game of one-upmanship.

Manchester United fans have enjoyed the acquisition of Paul Pogba in exactly this sense.  They are not silly, they know he will not transform their team overnight into world beaters, but they enjoy what the transfer says about their club – an assertion of their ‘place in the world’, clarifying their place at the top of the pecking order.

This is a peculiarly male trait, and it’s a little bit silly, but football is still a predominately male world, with men forming the majority of fans, commentators, executives and players.  A few bright female voices are breaking into this world such as Karen Brady, Kelly Cates and, of course, our own Amy Lawrence, but these women are still notable by their rarity.

Some clubs become fixated on a single player and continue to negotiate relentlessly until they get their man.  This can result in very big fees being paid (Pogba), but does satisfy the demand for ‘alpha male’ behaviour.  Arsenal seem to conduct their transfer business in a smarter, more passive manner.  When faced with a selling club trying to extract a ‘ransom fee’, Arsenal tend to back out and look for an alternative.  This leads to Arsenal failing to sign an awful lot of players who they appeared to want, and this particularly frustrates fans who want Arsenal to assert their macho dominance.

So it seems that big transfers fulfil a particular need for some fans, particularly men.  Man U fans feel that they have ‘won the transfer window’, and this is an end in itself.  It may not lead to silverware for Man U, but it will make their fans happy.  Before you reject this as totally silly, think about how you felt when Arsenal ‘won’ the transfer window three summers ago with Mesut Ozil.

It’s strange to me that Arsene Wenger doesn’t appreciate the value of ‘trophy transfers’.  He has always taken the view that his teams need to entertain as well as win, so he is well aware that football is not just about winning, but he is reluctant to see the ‘big transfer’ as a legitimate form of entertainment.  He is also, of course, the man who invented the imaginary trophy (the fourth place trophy), so you’d think he might recognise the ‘transfer window trophy’.  Perhaps his training as an economist only allows him to view the spending of money as a question of ‘managing resources’ and not as a form of entertainment in its own right?

Transfers often succeed after a lag

We know that transfers don’t bring instant success, but they often do bring success a little further down the line.  In recent years this has been most clearly demonstrated by Chelsea and Man City.  Both clubs indulged in wild spending sprees that included a lot of ‘dud’ purchases and didn’t bring instant success.  However, in both cases, success did come a couple of years after the splurge.  The reason for this ‘lag effect’ is reasonably obvious.  Players take time to settle into a new team, and the English Premier League is a particularly difficult league to settle into – Arsene likes to ‘ease’ his new signings in, and often uses them from the bench initially.  

Attacking players seem to take longer to settle than defensive ones, presumably because their movement is more idiosyncratic than the movements of defenders. The job of attackers is essentially to use imaginative and unpredictable ways to break down defences in concert with their teammates.  The positioning and movement of centre backs is quite formulaic, and much easier for teammates to familiarise themselves with, so they tend to settle in more quickly.  

By contrast, the movement and passing of Mesut Ozil is bewildering even to those of us who have been watching him every week for three years.  Playing with him must really take some getting used to.  An interesting example of this problem is last summer’s big story, Raheem Sterling.  He is a very talented player, but despite being familiar with the Premier League, really didn’t settle at City last year.  I’m expecting a lot more from him this season as he and his teammates become more familiar with each other’s styles.

A good example of delayed success is Eric Lamela.  We all enjoyed the way that Spurs managed to waste the c£80m that they received for Gareth Bale a few years ago.  The worst purchase of all was Eric Lamela, a £26m flop who couldn’t even get into the team.  But a few years down the line, this one is looking a little different.  Lamela is the kind of transfer that Wenger likes: young, talented, pacy and skilful.  As Spurs made a late run for the title last season, Lamela looked frighteningly good, and I expect him to do even more this season.  In the current market, he looks like a £50m player at the very least.  There is even an argument to be made that Spurs have been successful in the medium-term, swapping a team with Bale in it that finished fifth (again) for one with a group of new players bought with the Bale money, that finished third last season (nearly second – oh so nearly!!!)

So we can certainly make an argument that transfers do bring success, but probably not in the season following the purchases.


So let’s have a little faith in Arsene the ditherer, let’s judge his performance over the course of the season, not now.  Let’s remember that big transfer fees are more about egos than football, that new really is just new, and that the outcome of this season will depend more on previous transfer windows than this one.


If you liked this article, you might enjoy Tim’s book “It’s Happened Again”, which is now available on Amazon (print and Kindle versions).  Read a sample chapter at

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29 comments to “New is just new” and other insights into the transfer market

  • GoingGoingGooner

    good ramble

  • Henry Root

    Arsenal were particularly active in 1991, 1998 and 2002. After each season they won the league and in two cases the double .
    We only bought one player in 2004 but evidence suggests that we do better the more ambitious we are in the market

  • Leon

    Thanks again for a great article Tim. You don’t do nearly as many as I’d like.
    Few points. I didn’t know Arsene complained of Sol’s fee which was presumably his £90K wages. Can you believe that?
    “Ivan Gazidis is trying to perform the ‘Dein Role'”. These words should never appear together in the same sentence.
    And thanks for name checking the ladies especially the much maligned (on these pages) Amy Lawrence and Karren Brady who could teach Gazidis a thing or two or even three.
    The transfer market is what it is and we play it well enough considering we don’t seem to have that much clout these days.
    Thanks once more.

  • Arvind

    Perez sure, if it happens – its unfortunate that we went and bought a CB too for a ridiculous price. Don’t get me wrong, that is the going rate – its just that it doesn’t make the price any less ridiculous. Thanks to Untold though, I have not clicked on a single f***** link except look up David Ornstein once yesterday.

    If these guys do come? good luck to them and I hope they do well – but its just sad, that we’re also spending such huge sums now.

  • nicky

    A fair summary, Tim, of the current situation in the professional code.
    A lot depends on how long this escalating increase in transfer fees and wages can go on.
    One answer might be to abandon the biannual Transfer Windows Over the past few months, the speculation, haggling, rumour and counter rumour has served no real purpose except to add fuel to the crazy inflation.
    Arsene Wenger has long advocated a free-for-all in the transfer
    market and he has a point.
    A return to sanity in football finance may be years away but the day will surely come when attendance figures will decline, forcing clubs to rein in ever-increasing ticket prices. The standard of play will suffer as players will perform before near empty stadia. The domino effect will follow. 😉

  • Leon


    Your last paragraph……so uncharacteristically depressing…….surely not?

  • colario

    The English are known the world over for being slow in coming to a decisions. Does this mean the English are a nation of ditherers?

    You could say when

    Taking your time to decide you are dithering.

    When making a decision quickly are panicking.

    Or you could say what is a difficult decision for one person to make is an easy one for someone else. Does that make the former a procrastinator and the latter impulsive?

    I have never met Arsene so I make no claim about Arsene and even if I knew him well I think I would dither in deciding as whether Arsene is this or that.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    I think Arsenal have been pursuing an alternative rout to this increasingly insane 2 transfer windows of summer and winter by establishing their own academy soccer schools. And these schools especially the Under 21 academy school has helped a lot as it has turned out and are still turning out academy school football graduates who have moved into our senior team squad. No need to be mentioning their names as I believe we all know these players.

    Therefore, one can assert that Arsenal youth policy of producing their own made in Arsenal players has succeeded to a large extend which has seen Arsenal moving away from a complete dependence on the transfer market to get their players every window.

    However, our academy schools are still short in turning out sufficient top quality players which should reduce Arsenal dependence on the transfer market for players to the barest minimum as against what we are witnessing this summer where Arsenal have committed a staggering sum of £87m to recruit 3 new senior players. This is not acceptable if the aims and objectives of establishing the Arsenal academy schools is taken into a serious consideration.

    I am looking forward to the day when Arsenal will stop depending on the transfer market for players recruitment. And be relying mostly on their academy schools for the supply of at least 80% of the top quality new young Gunners needed for our senior team squad.

  • Arvind

    A great post Samuel. I hope and wish that the day is near. I have little faith it will happen though in the market filled with players with inflated egos and relatively lower ability and even worse, truckloads of leeching, parasitic agents hanging around them, transferring them again and again and again while lying about their best interests.

  • Pat

    You lost me with that word ‘ditherer’ , Tim. Someone who thinks hard before making a decision and in bargaining tries to get the best bargain is not a ditherer.

    I don’t see Arsene Wenger as a ditherer myself. I see him as a determined person with a set of principles who is fortunately not swayed either by the mass media or by fickle fans.

  • Zuruvi

    Great point Pat.
    I too don’t think Arsene Wenger is a ditherer. A ditherer takes unduly long to make a decision or to act.
    I think Wenger is quite quick in making his decisions. I think he acts soon after he makes the decision.
    I think the media and pundits think he dithers because they will have diagnosed and prescribed a solution to Arsenal’s problems.
    Wenger doesn’t admit the problem (at least not publicly) but rest assured he will have diagnosed the problem before the media and will have already started working on it albeit quietly. A case in point is our need for an additional striker. Wenger has been publicly saying we have enough good strikers (and he even mentioned Sanchez and Theo as very good strikers). We all know that Wenger has been trying to buy a top striker for the past 3 or 4 years eg Vardy and Suarez and others we never got to know about.

    All along the media thought Wenger was dithering in buying a striker. Some genuine Arsenal fans (even some on this forum) who support Wenger became convinced that Arsenal doesn’t need a striker. Lo and behold, Arsene Wenger was working on several targets to join Arsenal as a striker.

    I think Arsene Wenger is not a ditherer. He is actually a shrewd manager who works hard in the background (whilst telling his current players that they are the best players). This approach works well for in the event of the targeted acquisitions failing to happen, he will not have lost the faith of his current players. The Vardy and Suarez potential acquisitions were made public (not by Arsenal) but by Leicester and Liverpool.

    Wenger’s principles sometimes work against him because we as fans love to hear the transfer gossips and the media loves the transfer gossips too. A manager who tips off the media of his transfer activities is loved by the media and pundits. Wenger is hated because he doesn’t participate in any of these transfer gossips.

  • bjtgooner

    A long winded pointless ramble based on the unproven accusation that our manager is a ditherer.

    Not for the first time, based on your ramblings, I could doubt that your allegiance is really to Arsenal.

  • goonersince72

    Another reason: Being active in the transfer market shows ambition. We haven’t seen enough of that lately.

  • marcus

    When the growth of the football industry does eventually slow down and come to a halt, it is very hard to say where it will end up. We think the fees paid now both to players and to clubs is obscene and it is if we measure it against other industries such as the labour market for teachers for instance.

    Teachers perform a far more socially beneficial job, it is quite probably far less enjoyable work than playing football, and it is a service that most people in the world will receive at some point in their life. In addition you could argue that paying for teaching essentially pays for itself in the long run if you use that teaching to then gain a job. You might expect teachers to be those on multi-million pound salaries, not thugs like shawcross.

    Football however like hollywood, is one of those industries which is funded off of escapism. These particular industries have a huge potential in financial terms because not only can they sell a product which has virtually no marginal cost (once they have made a film, or played a match, it does not cost them any more money to let someone else watch it) but people are willing to spend sizeable chunks of their income on it in the long run because it makes them happy.

    The nature of football makes it an industry with far more potential than the film industry. We can already see in the last 5-10 years a decrease in the production quality of many films, this is correlated to the shrinking margins that film companies face with the dual threat of both internet piracy and tv websites such as Netflix meaning that both DVD’s and cinema are losing appeal.

    Similarly to Amazon publishing only certain books, or supermarket chains only stocking certain products, Netflix seems to be gaining monopsony power over both television and film companies who’s main way of being exposed to the viewer is through Netflix. This means that they are able to refuse to show the film or show at the fair price and will be able to hold the film companies to ransom, because they now are now the first port of call for the customers.

    Football is different, unlike film it transcends language barriers this means that it is marketable to a far larger audience. Clubs also have exceedingly strong brand power which is robust to decline due to the “one-club” nature of football support. Just look at the way arsenal have been able to keep match day prices as some of the highest in the world during the last 10 years without losing out on crowd numbers. If this was happening in a goods market such as alcohol or household fuel, the competition commission would have shut them down years ago. This is nothing against arsenal just the nature of football in general which allows them to be able to do this.

    Another key point which is emphasized by the impact of the new tv deal is the complimentarity off football and other goods. UK pubs must rake in millions in extra revenue for beers sold to fans who are only in the pub for that reason, that is why sky and bt are able to charge them highly (as well as normal users) for the rights to stream football live. Which brings me to another point because football is live, their is always another game next week, the vast majority of old games will be forgotten, their footage almost worthless as it is no longer relevant to the now. This is unlike the film industry where there are still many good old films movie fans can watch now or even rewatch, and not have a wildly different experience to seeing a new film they haven’t seen before.

    In conclusion, I would contend that both rising wages and transfer fees are here to stay for a long time as rising football revenue is linked to increases in worldwide marketabiity aswell as the potential rising wages of people in third world countries.

  • Leon

    Wenger must have thought long & hard over his most recent decisions because it’s the third Saturday of the season & we’re already five points down.

  • Mick

    I agree with bjtgooner, to call Wenger a ditherer is an insult in my opinion.
    The media use the word because of its slightly derogatory flavour which suits their anti Wenger agenda, in their eyes it is just another stick with which to insult and beat Arsene with and it is disappointing to see a so called Arsenal supporter going along with this bullshit.
    Just because someone takes their time in making a big decision does not necessarily mean they are dithering.
    Without being on the inside and knowing what is going on in these transfer dealings it is impossible to conclude that Wenger is a ditherer and on that basis the whole article is pointless.
    I am not sure the writer actually knows the meaning of the word.

  • Mick

    Man City won their first five games last season and look where they finished.

  • Leon

    That’s not to say that he gets it wrong, just that he gets there eventually

  • Chris

    Talk about an anti-Wenger bias

    Here is the Daily Mail a few hours ago :

    “Finally, the price was right for Arsene Wenger. From being accused of penny-pinching to blowing more than £50million on two players in the space of a couple of hours, the Arsenal manager has gone from one extreme to the other.”

    Who the hell can 50 million pounds for 2 players be considered an extreme when we see what other clubs have been shelling out ?!?!

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

  • Lanz

    @Since72. I suggest the fans should appreciate what they have. In the last couple of years we have seen distressed economies get huge stimuli. Same goes for “footballically” distressed clubs. How active have Bayern been? Real, Barca? Let us not compare ourselves with our less fortunate rivals!

  • Andy Mack

    Henry Root,
    When you say 2002, are you referring to the season we got Kolo Toure, Sol Campbell and Van Bronckhorst,
    Or the season after when we got Shaaban, Cygan and Gilberto?
    Either way, not overly active in the market that I can see.

  • porter

    The thing about transfers is that they are needed to revitalise a squad. Throughout their tenure at Liverpool when they were stacking trophies both Shankly and Paisley refreshed their fringe players on a regular basis.They could have been accused of burning players out and then discarding them for newer models. They keep the players on their toes. They don’t have to be superstar transfer record breaking but as long as they patch up the previous years problems they are good for the team spirit and maintain the interest of the paying customer .

  • omgarsenal

    All this idle speculation and semi-morose angst about what Wenger is doing or not doing according to the media, the Arsenal-haters and some peptic ulcerated plastic fanboys, whose sole credibility comes from having playing FIFA manager once or twice.

    Maybe one day, Arsenal supporters will actually learn to trust the best professional manager Arsenal have ever had and just let him get on with the job, while learning to enjoy the journey!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Do you research and homework well ;trust only the true facts , your experience and best judgment and with a bit of god given luck , you’ll succeed .

    Don’t worry about the Joneses – its not your problem .

  • Polo

    ‘Dithering’? Or maybe just time constraints? Here are some recent quotes from AW. Copied from:

    “This season I thought we had the easiest transfer window ever, because we knew what we wanted and who we wanted, and it didn’t come off so you have to restart.

    It was a strange transfer market. It was more difficult than ever. When you restart, when you handle some leagues, they are on holiday.

    “There was the European Championship and nothing happened. You couldn’t find anybody. That is why it was very late. It is not ideal for us.”

  • OlegYch

    Tim, an interesting view
    however your assessment of Arsenal transfer policy seems flawed as it is largely based on what you see in media, and they can’t even cite Arsene correctly

  • Tom

    Replace the word “ditherer” with a ” measured go- getter” and the likes of bjtgooner and Mick will be calling your piece ” an insightful and full of perspective” instead of a ” long winded ramble” .

    So we can add another thing that Arsene Wenger defenetly isn’t – a ditherer.

    Every time there’s the smallest critic of our manager on any topic or issue , the usual suspects come out in force against it.
    These are of course the same people who say Arsene Wenger isn’t perfect and like all humans makes mistakes, but we still to this day don’t know what they are.

    It’s one of the world’s biggest mysteries .

    My guess is Mr Wenger’s biggest flaw is that he’s just too perfect.

  • Mick

    Tom being a pratt as usual.

  • Mick

    Hey Tom, I am sure Tim can speak for himself and doesn’t need you to poke your sarcastic nose in on his behalf.