Earlier in the season I wrote a blog commenting on how ridiculous it was that so many people, fans and journalists alike, were comparing the transfer fees of James Milner to Manchester City and Mesut Ozil to Real Madrid when there were a number of extenuating circumstances. And predictably enough, as a new transfer window swings into action, we get the same shock, horror and outrage at the fee being discussed for the transfer of Darren Bent from Sunderland to Aston Villa. Yet again people are all too keen to point out other transfer fees as some sort of proof that he is overpriced.
Why is it so black and white with some people when discussing transfer fees? Every transfer is unique – so many factors come into play that decide what that fee is, that the actual skill of the player becomes the tip of the iceberg. And what is a market value for a player? Well the fact is there isn’t one. There’s no manual available, no graphs to check to see what a player is worth, no complex formula – it is a figure that cannot be determined – what is the worth of a human being to a football club? Almost impossible to say. And there are other costs as well of course – wages, signing on fees, payments to agents and so on. The transfer fee is just the beginning, and it often includes add-ons that will only be paid if the player is successful anyway, plus sell-on clauses, image rights, and so much more.
So it might be stating the obvious, but what are the factors?
Do the selling club need to sell? If the selling club are desperate to sell, this puts the buyer in a better position to haggle a good price.
Do the selling club want to sell? If the buying club is after a player the other club had no intention of selling, then the price will inevitably rise. The favourite quote of those shocked at the Bent fee over the last 24 hours has been to mention that van der Vaart only cost £7m. Good value for sure, but then he wasn’t wanted by Madrid, was languishing on the bench, and thus probably wanted out anyway, and Madrid were a few hours from being stuck with him for at least another 4 months. Any potential buying club was in a very strong position.
Does the player want to leave? If he is angling for a move, it of course helps the buying club to come to a deal on their terms. If there is one criticism of Villa’s fee that I personally would make, it’s that Bent wants to leave – but of course Sunderland could make him stay if they so wished, though the player usually gets his own way in the end.
How good is the player? Quite important consideration I guess!
In what position does the player play? Quite simply, strikers cost more than anyone else, a simple fact of life. Every world record transfer fee of the last 10 years has been for a forward/attack-minded player – Zidane is the nearest to an exception. The seven highest ever fees show a similar pattern.
What nationality is the player? Yes there is a premium on English players in English leagues. I imagine there is for French players in France too. In a world where success is demanded instantly and a club is never more than 3 games away from a crisis or a manager 3 games away from the sack, their worth in being able to adapt and settle instantly should be apparent, and their experience in the league in question should not be underestimated either. Familiarity breeds high prices.
How long does he have left on his contract? The Bosman ruling changed everything, not just in snapping up free transfers, but in shaping transfer fees too. Any player can be purchased much more cheaply if he is near the end of his contract than if he has years left to run. And this is the crux of why Ozil cost less than Milner, in addition to some of the factors previously mentioned. Ozil was nearing the end of his contract – he had told his club he wasn’t going to sign a new contract, so the club had two options – keep an unhappy player and lose him for nothing at the end of his contract or sell him on the cheap (relatively speaking). Real Madrid signed Khedira under similar circumstances. And this is of course why Steven Pienaar is available for £3m.
Are there a number of clubs after him? Always useful for the selling club to instigate a bidding war.
Age? No need to explain this one. Bent has a good seven or eight years left in him, fitness permitting, maybe more.
The factors listed above are just some of the reasons. There will be more that I haven’t mentioned – injury history, attitude, lifestyle – the player might have a release clause – as I said, every deal is unique. But the facts are that Darren Bent is the 3rd top scoring player of the last 18 months in the Premier League. He has scored consistently for years, and not in one of your “Top 4” teams. In the last 5 years he has scored one less goal than Rooney or Drogba. Those statistics suggest to me that he also is not too injury-prone. He is English, under contract, and Sunderland were not looking to offload. Yes, it probably is still too high a fee when looking at that set-in-stone market value, but the fact is that we won’t know how good value the fee represents until he has stopped playing for Villa – if he is the difference between staying up and getting relegated (not that I think they will anyway), then he will have been worth every penny.
In the end, only time will tell.
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