Tuesday, 9 July 2013


The transfer market is the arena in which football players are available for transfer to clubs.

In their aptly-titled football manual SOCCERNOMICS, Stefan Szymanski (a sports economist) and Simon Kuper (a journalist) outline a simplistic 12-step guide to the transfer-market. In this article I outline 10-steps that still pertain to the current transfer market these steps can be found in Chapter 3(GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDS-How to Avoid Silly Mistakes in the Transfer Market);

A new manager wastes money on transfers; don’t let him.-there is a tendency in football when a new manager arrives at a new club to clear-out all existing players of the previous manager and sign his own players. In football a manager in any part of the world is considered lucky if he can have 3 years at a club. So never leave transfer issues to managers as you will be stuck with the dead wood long after they are gone.

Use the wisdom of crowds.- the wisdom of the crowds deals with how many individuals sanction a transfer i.e. the transfer of a player. They cited the example of Lyon(2002-2008), where club president Jean-Michel Aulas, the technical director Bernard Lacombe(who was the club coach between 1996 and 2006 but was given this role because Aulas wanted to keep him forever than lose him after he lost four matches) and whoever was the current club coach also sat-in during such transfer meetings ensuring that individual biases were disposed off when trying to sign a player. “Lyon’s method for choosing players is so obvious and smart that it’s surprising all clubs don’t use it. The theory of the “wisdom of crowds” says that if you aggregate many different opinions from a diverse group of people, you are much more likely to arrive at the best opinion than if you just listen to one specialist. For instance, if you ask a diverse crowd to guess the weight of an ox, the average of their guesses will be very nearly right.

Stars of recent World Cups or European championships are overvalued; ignore them.-  Stefan and Simon argue that “The worst time to buy a player is in the summer when he’s just done well at a big tournament. Everyone in the transfer market has seen how good the player is, but he is exhausted and quite likely sated with success.” They agree that clubs make these sorts of transfers because the clubs demand it and also it is a marketing gimmick to the fans; “Buying a big name is a way of saying, “Yes, we are a big club.” It gives the sup porters the thrill of expectation, a sense that their club is going somewhere, which may be as much fun as actually winning things. Buying big names is how these clubs keep their customers satisfied during the three-month summer shutdown.

Certain nationalities are overvalued.- “Clubs will pay more for a player from a “fashionable” soccer country. American goalkeeper Kasey Keller says that in the transfer market, it’s good to be Dutch. “Giovanni van Bronckhorst is the best example,” Keller told the German journalist Christoph Biermann. “He went from Rangers to Arsenal, failed there, and then where did he go? To Barcelona! You have to be a Dutchman to do that. An American would have been sent straight back to DC United.” A wise club will buy unfashionable nationalities—Bolivians, say, or Belarusians—at discounts”.

Center forwards are overvalued; goalkeepers are undervalued.- Center forward is the most overpriced position in the transfer market. (Goalkeeper is the most underpriced, even though keepers have longer careers than outfield players).

Gentlemen prefer blonds: identify and abandon “sight-based prejudices.”- On a random soccer pitch you are most likely to pay notice to a player with an outrageous Mohawk, a player wearing colourful boots or a blond. “At least one big English club noticed that its scouts kept recommending blond players. The likely reason: when you are scanning a field of twenty-two similar-looking players, the blonds tend to stand out (except, presumably, in Scandinavia). The color catches the eye. So the scout notices the blond player without understanding why. The club in question began to take this distortion into account when judging scouting reports.”   

The best time to buy a player is when he is in his early twenties.- In soccer, brilliant teenagers tend to disappear soon afterward. “Here are a few recent winners of the Golden Ball for best player at the under-seventeen World Cup: Philip Osundo of Nigeria, William de Oliveira of Brazil, Nii Lamptey of Ghana, Scottish goalkeeper James Will, and Mohammed al-Kathiri of Oman. Once upon a time they must have all been brilliant, but none of them made it as adults. (Will ended up a policeman in the Scottish Highlands playing for his village team.) The most famous case of a teenager who flamed out is American Freddy Adu, who at fourteen was the next Pelé and Maradona. Only a handful of world-class players in each generation, most of them creators—Pelé, Maradona, Wayne Rooney—reach the top before they are eighteen. Most players get there considerably later. You can be confident of their potential only when they are more mature.”

Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth. sell any player if another club offers more than he is worth. This is what Aulas means when he says, “Buying and selling players is not an activity for improving the soccer performance. It’s a trading activity, in which we produce gross margin. If an offer for a player is greatly superior to his market value, you must not keep him. Before Essien’s transfer, Aulas spent weeks proclaiming that the Ghanaian was “untransferable.” He always says that when he is about to transfer a player, because it drives up the price. In his words, “Every international at Lyon is untransferable. Until the offer surpasses by far the amount we had expected.”

Replace your best players even before you sell them.-“ Lyon knows that sooner or later its best players will attract somebody else’s attention. Because the club expects to sell them, it replaces them even before they go. That avoids a transition period or a panic purchase after the player’s departure. Aulas explains, “We will replace the player in the squad six months or a year before. So when Michael  Essien goes [to Chelsea for $43 million], we already have a certain number of players who are ready to replace him. Then, when the opportunity to buy Tiago arises, for 25 percent of the price of Essien, you take him.”

Help your players relocate.- the most clear example is of Nicholas Anelka’s protracted transfer to Real Madrid. “Real had spent $35 million buying him from Arsenal. It then spent nothing on helping him adjust. On day 1 the shy, awkward twenty year old reported at the club, and found that there was nobody to show him around. He hadn’t even been assigned a locker in the dressing room. Several times that first morning, he would take a locker that seemed to be unused, only for another player to walk in and claim it. Anelka doesn’t seem to have talked about his problems to anyone at Real. Nor did anyone at the club ask him. Instead, he talked to France Football, a magazine that he treated as his newspaper of record, like a 1950s prime minister talking to The Times. “I am alone against the rest of the team,” he revealed midway through the season. He claimed to possess a video showing his teammates looking gloomy after he had scored his first goal for Real after six months at the club. He had tried to give this video to the coach, but the coach hadn’t wanted to see it. Also, the other black Francophone players had told Anelka that the other players wouldn’t pass to him. Real ended up giving him a forty-five-day ban, essentially for being maladjusted. Paranoid though Anelka may have been, he had a point. The other players really didn’t like him. And they never got to know him, because nobody at the club ever seems to have bothered to introduce him to anyone. As he said later, all Real had told him was, “Look after yourself.” The club seems to have taken the strangely materialistic view that Anelka’s salary should determine his behavior. But even in materialistic terms, that was foolish. If you pay $35 million for an immature young employee, it is bad management to make him look after himself. Wenger at Arsenal knew that, and he had Anelka on the field scoring goals. Milan: best club ever. AC Milan is organized in a way you can’t believe. Anything is done for you: you arrive, you get your house, it’s fully furnished, you get five cars to choose from, you know the sky’s the limit. They really say: we’ll take care of everything else; you make sure you play really well. Whereas unfortunately in a lot of clubs, you have to get after it yourself. . . . Sometimes you get to a club, and you’ve got people actually at the club who take profit from players.

Alternatively, clubs could just stick with the conventional wisdom.

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