Value In The Market

8 09 2010

There are certain DOs and DON”Ts out there in the Footballing Twittersphere..

DO lament the state of mainstream punditry.
DON’T express interest in James Corden’s next ‘footie’ show.

DO read Iain MacIntosh’s tweets and wish you had his way with words. 
DON’T ever be impressed by Henry Winter when he uses Chaucer references.

DO surrender yourself to the wisdom of Zonal Marking & Jonathan Wilson.
DON’T say “false 9s??? hit the big man & shove inside-out wingers up your arse”.

DO nod when Tor Karlsen notes a chap in Norway’s 2nd tier is better than Santa Cruz.
DON’T wonder what johnny foreigner will be like on a cold Tuesday night in Bolton.

The trouble is.. what if you find yourself swimming against the tide of public opinion? What if you actually do find yourself wondering what kind of fist the 5’3” South American winger will make of his trip to the windy Britannia? The ugly question rises inexorably from somewhere within your gut – Am I a horrid xenophobe. Or am I something worse?

The issue that has sparked these feelings of angst that could soon see me sitting with Tony Gale & Phil Thompson, miserably shunned by the cool kids, was an article by the esteemed Mr Karlsen in which he set out his top five best/worst buys of the Premiership summer. In summary, it reads like this:

Joe Cole (Liverpool) – Free
Antolin Alcaraz (Wigan) – Free
Javier Hernandez (Man Utd) – £7m
Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) – £10m
Pablo Barrera (West Ham) – £4m

Mauro Boselli (Wigan) – £6.6m
Bebe (Man Utd) – £7.4m
Steven Mouyokolo (Wolves) – £2.7m
Steven Fletcher (Wolves) – £6.5m
Kenwyne Jones (Stoke) – £8m

Now your initial reaction may well be that there isn’t too much wrong with that assessment. In basic terms, most people would say that the 5 players in the ‘best list’ represent a more impressive bunch of individuals than the 5 players in the ‘worst list’. When you throw in the fact that the quintet of chaps who make up the ‘worst list’ have cost their clubs a staggering £10m more in transfer fees then it is surely an open and shut case.

Well here’s the thing. I say no it isn’t. And to explain why is to strike at the heart of the issue of that famous Fergie phrase – Value In The Market.

Antolin Alcaraz or Steven Fletcher

Alcaraz, the Paraguayan defender, was certainly a bargain signing by Roberto Martinez for Wigan – a free transfer no less. Fletcher, for his part, was clearly overpriced at a fee rising towards £7m. The former Hibs man had been signed by Burnley for £3.75m less than a year earlier. However, does a bargain represent a good signing per se? Is paying over the odds the real hallmark of a poor buy? I would argue not (Frank Lampard to Chelsea for £11m anyone?). Alcaraz has endured a difficult start to his Wigan career, looking all at sea in the opening day 4-0 mauling at home to Blackpool of all teams. Wigan’s display that day was hailed as one of the worst defensive efforts ever seen by a Premier League team. And yet, who could really have expected Alcaraz to hit the ground running? Many observers had spent much of the summer labouring the point that a good player in the Premiership does not necessarily make for a successful performer on the World Cup stage. This being the case, does the opposite not hold equally true – that a class act from abroad may find the challenge of Sky’s high tempo darling, the English Premier League, an alien experience for them.

Fletcher meanwhile, had a more successful opening day experience, scoring and producing a man of the match performance at home to Stoke City. Of course, the Scot was well prepared for the unique challenge posed by Tony Pulis’ side having come through a tough Premiership season with lowly Burnley. Although that campaign had been ultimately unsuccessful for the club, the experience had been an individual success with Fletcher scoring 9 goals and receiving many plaudits. Mick McCarthy would doubtless argue that he had paid a premium for a young striker with experience of thriving in the lower reaches of the Premier League. Could Wolves have convinced a better young striker to join them with this sort of experience as a pre-requisite? I remain unconvinced.

Joe Cole or Kenwyne Jones

This focus on ‘value in the market’ is not exclusive to bargain overseas purchases – so no accusations of little Englander mentality this time. Liverpool’s acquisition of England international Joe Cole was overwhelmingly hailed as a masterstroke by Roy Hodgson. Jamie Redknapp had clearly been taking tips on football finance from daddy ‘Arry when he brilliantly pointed out that ”you can’t get cheaper than a free transfer”. It is perhaps worth pointing out that a ‘free transfer’ on £80k a week for 4 years represents the same £16m outlay as an £8m signing on £40k a week for 4 years. Leaving aside the issue of signing on fees and Joe’s astronomical weekly wage, there is the intriguing matter of how the former Chelsea man will actually be used by Hodgson at Anfield. Initially preferred to Steven Gerrard in the role behind a front man in a 4-4-1-1, Cole struggled and the feeling persists that he lacks the vision or the goal threat to really make the position work. If Hodgson reverts to his favoured 4-4-2 this is unlikely to suit Cole either. The jury is out on whether Joe Cole, approaching his 29th birthday, is still a man in search of his best position.

Things are a little clearer in the signing of Kenwyne Jones by Stoke City. The former Sunderland man may be overpriced at £8m but it is hard to look past the fact that his signature is something of a coup for the Potters. Jones was heavily linked with a move to Liverpool as recently as January but now finds himself pitching up at the Britannia. At just 25 years of age, his best years may yet be ahead of him and one wonders whether Stoke could realistically have attracted a better striker to the club. The forward position had become an issue at the club following Tony Pulis’ falling out with, and the subsequent exit of, James Beattie. With Samil Tuncay also struggling to adapt to Stoke’s particular brand of football, it became clear that a quality target man is what would be needed. Jones impressed early on in the opening day encounter with Wolves and, equally significantly, Stoke struggled when he went off injured. Mama Sidibe is a desperately poor substitute for big Kenwyne and this highlights the value of Jones to Pulis’ side. In summary, Kenwyne Jones is one of the best strikers that Stoke could attract, he is at a good age, has experience of scoring goals in the Premiership, fulfils a vital role in the side and has been purchased at a price that this well-run club can afford.

Bebe or, say, Rafael Van Der Vaart

Ok. You may have to bear with me on this one. Firstly, let us look beyond the intriguing revelation that Bebe moved to Vitoria de Guimaraes on a free transfer just 5 weeks earlier. Whilst there is every reason to rue why this player was not spotted earlier, it is merely an extreme example of something commonplace in the football market – a player moving for far more money than he had earlier in his career. Does anyone at Chelsea really concern themselves with the fact they signed Didier Drogba for £24m just a year after he moved to Marseille for £3.3m? The only practical issue is whether Bebe is worth £7.4m of Man Utd’s money. To be frank, on the face of it the unknown Portuguese kid of little pedigree looks an extremely pricey £7.4m … a feeling exarcebated when compared to Spurs’ acquisition of Rafael Van Der Vaart from Real Madrid for £8m. I don’t doubt this is true. I would merely point out that Sir Alex Ferguson may well take the view that players in the Van Der Vaart bracket – very good but not great – aren’t exactly what Manchester United require. If Ferguson can no longer afford the £20m+ purchases then it would appear he is happier spending the funds that are available trying to find the next big thing. This has resulted in a significant outlay on youngsters such as Bebe and Chris Smalling when he could easily have brought in proven high class performers at a similar cost. Overpriced? Maybe. But if Mao Tse Tung famously thought it too early to know the consequences of the French Revolution, it is fair to argue that it’s also too soon to know whether Bebe is a bad purchase for Man Utd.


I realise that Tor-Kristian Karlsen has considered all the other factors when evaluating these signings. However, I’m also convinced that much of the bland assessments of these transfers elsewhere has been over-simplistic – there’s more to a good or bad signing than just the number crunching. The intangibles need to be considered. The different requirements of each club. Does the player need to be able to hit the ground running? Is he likely to fit in instantly – are there synergy benefits? Does a specific weakness in the team need addressing at all costs? A player that may objectively be considered to be worth £5m could quite plausibly be worth £8m to a particular team – especially if no £6m player can be persuaded to join!

This is surely an issue that takes in many factors and the pounds shillings and pence behind a transfer tell only half the story when it comes to the complex matter of ‘Value In The Market’.

Anyway, time to get back to my opus on why Jamie Redknapp is right and Jonathan Wilson is wrong – passion really is more important than tactics……………….




3 responses

9 09 2010

Top notch. For all the small minded nonsense that tv pundits come out with, some vaild points are overlooked due to being overshadowed by the bilge. The truth lies in between, much closer to the twitterati’s point of view but in between nonetheless.

9 09 2010

Good analysis. A lot of reasonable points.

Bebe might turn out to be a steal at £7.5m. Like Ronaldo at £12.2m. But he shouldn’t have cost that much; the pressure on him is far gelteater than necessary.

9 09 2010


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