Our unhealthy and unnatural obsession with the economic value of everything in society does not exclude our obsession with football. I remember when Newcastle broke the transfer record to buy the £15m Alan Shearer in 1996. It was, at the time, especially for a nine year old, an unfathomable amount of money. However in hindsight it, sadly, seems rather meagre in footballing terms. It even seems to be an exceptional bargain when you consider the cretins that have been sold for more in recent times. And that is something important to remember.
The monetary value placed on players rarely depicts their actual value. There are few players who are bought for large transfer fees that truly warrant the sum spent on them; there are also many players who exceed the value put on their heads. Such is the transfer market, and such is the value of a good scouting network. You don’t need to look any further than the Premier League to see examples of this misguided market where the price elasticity of a product depends wholly on the purchaser rather than the product itself as it would in other markets. Some clubs will pay over the odds; some clubs will rarely if ever break the bank. Some clubs have shrewd negotiators; some clubs have wealthy negotiators less concerned with the cost than with the idea of the player.
There are a number of players and teams out performing their more expensive counterparts this year. Take the Chelsea game against Tottenham at Christmas. The entire Tottenham team, including the subs, cost less than Fernando Torres and David Luiz combined. You might say, and rightly so, that the same could be said for most teams in the league. But most teams aren’t third at the moment; Tottenham are. If you were to actually consider how much that Chelsea team cost, don’t forget that the manager cost over £10m, then you would have little hesitation in saying that they are under performing, or perhaps that Spurs are over performing. Either way it proves that money isn’t everything. To say that of a team is apparent without my drawing attention to it. Tactics, management, team spirit and desire all factor in to the performances of a team. However more notable is the outperforming of stars worth £20m+ by players who cost as little as £0. Take Demba Ba for example. He cost Newcastle a grand total of £0. He is now the second top scorer in the league with fourteen goals. Or you could look at Blackburn’s Yakubu who has scored twelve league goals who cost Blackburn a fee rumoured to be as little as £1.5m. In fact if you look at the top five league goal scorers then you have Rooney and Aguero in third and fourth place who cost around £70m between them but van Persie, Ba and Yakubu only cost a combined total of less than £5m.
Now obviously Aguero and Rooney might bring more to the table than just goals but the most expensive ever Englishman Andy Carroll and the British transfer record Fernando Torres who cost a combined £85.5m appear to be bringing far less to the table than most other strikers in the league. Did you know, for example, that Fernando Torres has, at Chelsea, a worse goal to game ratio than Arsenal’s left back Andre Santos?
It’s not just up front either that expensive players are shown up by their price tag. It happens in all areas of the team. Take arguably the season’s stand out goalkeeper Michael Vorm of Swansea. He joined the Welsh club late in to pre-season for £1.5m and therefore had as much time to settle in as someone like David De Gea. The difference is, apart from the fact that you could buy thirteen Vorm’s for every De Gea, Vorm has easily outperformed the other goalkeeper who is new to the League; what is more he has done it with a far inferior defence in front of him. Vorm has not only consistently put in excellent performances for Swansea this season; he has also saved over sixty per cent of the penalties he has faced.
We could also look at some of the season’s other standout performances such as that of Newcastle’s £4.5m midfielder Yohan Cabaye. The Frenchman has been crucial to Newcastle’s form so far this season and is a genuine triumph for the Newcastle scouting team. He is a living vindication of Ashley’s plan to reinvest the money from Carroll in scouts rather directly in players. He makes a mockery of Liverpool’s £18m spent on Henderson who is supposed to be a similar creative midfielder. Cabaye is barely even older than Henderson.
You can infer from these examples that perhaps money simply isn’t a guarantor of instant success whilst it still remains indicative of lasting worth. However I would urge you to think back to Liverpool’s signing Robbie Keane, Or Tottenham’s of Darren Bent for £16m, or Arsenal’s record signing Arshavin, or Veron for Chelsea, or Forlan for United. So many owners and chairman now have such important roles in football without, you fear, the proper knowledge of football. It appears by many to be treated as a rather expensive game of Football Manager rather than the running of a business come hobby. Players like Ba, like Yakubu, like Vorm, like Cabaye and like van Persie should be a stark reminder that some of the best players in this league were the cheapest. And some of the most expensive are some of the worst.
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