Twice a year, on the 1st of January and the 1st of July when the transfer windows open, Spurs fans line up excitedly with baited breath, hoping that the new window will represent the water shed moment whereby we finally dig into our coffers and buy those 1-2 players to push us on to the very top level.
Each and every window, rumours circulate, media outlets print stories, and small shards of insider ‘info’ are leaked to the thousands upon thousands of hopefuls, clinging on to the prospect that now is the time that their club will chase those players of the top level, and this time around, they will get their men.
It has happened time and time before, primarily since we qualified for the Champions League at the tail end of the 09/10 season. If you were to believe the stories then the likes of Fabiano, Moutinho, Willian etc are all players who have come mightily close to playing for Spurs. Most markedly, there was the ‘Levy in Spain with his barrels of cash’ incident whereby we were led to believe that our club had put in offers for Aguero, Llorente and Rossi on the deadline eve of the summer of 2011.
As the windows have gone on, more and more questions over these alleged efforts have begun to surface. Have we really been going for those players, only to come up slightly short? Or have bits of misinformation been leaked, simply to keep the fans expectant, interested and convinced that we will strike when the time is right, and splash out on some big signings?
In short, is Levy a Spurs supporting hero, desperately trying to wrangle out some magical deals on financial restraints? Or is he pulling the wool over our eyes and operating under a very strict criteria that will never see us get those type of players that many of us desire?
The answers may lie in looking at two specific examples of work. Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon), a small provincial French club, took their domestic league by storm, during the 2000s. Identifying that the vast majority of clubs wasted considerable amounts of money purchasing overvalued players, and quite often simply the wrong players, they devised a new and cutting edge system of how to deal in the transfer market. The result was that Lyon went from achieving nothing of note in their entire history, to winning eight consecutive league championships, and performing admirably in the Champions League on a yearly basis.
How did they do this ? This question was answered in 2009 when two men, one a football journalist interested in statistics, the other an economist interested in football, presented their findings in a book entitled Soccernomics. The two men studied Lyon’s activities and picked the brains of Lyon’s owner, Jean-Michel Aulas. The result was a twelve point system to operating in the transfer market.
The idea behind this article is to go through the twelve point system and see if we can understand Daniel Levy’s motivations and tactics in the market. The results may be surprising to a lot of Spurs fans, and less so to some others. So, without further ado:
THE TWELVE MAIN SECRETS OF THE TRANSFER MARKET
1. A New Manager Wastes Money On Transfers
The theory behind this is that managers actually play very little part in how successful a club is. Success is more directly connected to how much you pay players. The better a player is on the pitch, the more he will end up being paid. Football clubs are stupid in that they often feel the need to sack a manager very quickly if results go bad. If they don’t act, the media and fans will crucify them. Every time a manager is sacked, a new one comes in and tries to get rid of players he doesn’t like, whilst bringing in his own players that he apparently must have in order to succeed. This wastes an incredible amount of money. Furthermore, quite often there is nothing wrong with the players that are already there, and they can also end up being better than the new ones that are brought in. Most importantly, managers only have short term visions for a club on the whole, and will bring in players that help themselves out, and not necessarily the club. One year on, the new manager gets sacked, and the cycle is repeated with yet more money wasted. It is far more important to be buying the correct players, for the correct prices, than it is to change manager all the time and bow to each of their demands.
In relation to Spurs, Levy is currently showing signs of going down that route. AVB has been given the title of ‘head coach’ and has thus far not been given any of the players that he apparently wants – Moutinho, Willian et al. Levy seems content to continue buying players that suit the club in long run, in terms of its finances, rather than appeasing AVB in the short term.
2. Use The Wisdom Of Crowds
This one is pretty logical. Basically, it has been shown that by gathering more opinions, you are more likely to end up with the better result. For instance, one human being alone has his own preferences, discriminations, his own judgement and his own preferences. In the case of a manager, those preferences may not be the best option for the club in the long run. Almost every time, it is better to get the opinion of multiple people and take the common consensus answer. Usually, this answer is based on cold hard facts, and relevant opinion, than just one man picking his personal choice. Lyon president Aulas never let any managers pick their own players. Instead, the manager was but one voice amongst a crowd of former players, head scouts, statisticians etc etc who would all get together in a room and come up with an answer they could best agree upon. A player picked by 7 people out of ten, is far more likely to be the correct player, than one just picked by a solitary person.
Levy clearly follows this principle. This window has been awash with information regarding committees deciding upon targets, and AVB not getting his way. A lot of this has been dramatised and been made out to be something that is against the grain, and something that AVB is not happy with. Some Spurs fans have wrongly been declaring doomsday, simplifying the situation as one that is unacceptable and in danger of leading us to crisis. The opposite is true. The truth is that we have been operating under this principle for many years and will continue to do so. Moreover, it will allow us to maximise our potential in the long run and keep ourselves financially viable.
3. Stars Of Recent World Cups Or European Championships Are Overvalued: Ignore Them
Speaks for itself and we have all seen the evidence. This is the worst time to buy a player – his value has rocketed, he will demand big pay and this is all off the back of a mere handful of games. Furthermore, the player is likely to be tired and already saturated and content with success, thus not being so hungry for more. It may satisfy fans, but usually doesn’t help the club. Poborsky, Arshavin, El Hadji Diouf are all examples of this. Signed for big fees and failed to succeed at the clubs they went to.
No problems here in recent. Levy has never made a habit out of buying this type of player, although he did relent and sign Pavlyuchenko after Euro 2008. That was more of an emergency purchase, however, after losing Keane and Berbatov late in the window, and we managed to almost recoup our money on him. Whilst Pavlyuchenko couldn’t be considered a success, his value wasn’t too badly inflated, and he was nowhere near being the biggest star to come out of his own team, let alone the tournament. The only time we came close was Arshavin, and looking at that deal now which was around the 20m mark, we did very well to avoid it. Moutinho may be the current player in question, and it easily arguable that he is overvalued.
4. Certain Nationalities Are Overvalued
This has been an inherent issue that has been in football for a long long time. Everybody complains about English players being overvalued and they are correct. English clubs will pay an absolute premium to buy an established English player. However, this issue isn’t confined merely to one nation. Brazilian players are also overvalued due to the country’s rich history, success and the type of skills Brazilian players often possess. Most times a club likes to, or would like to, have a couple of Brazilians in their team. The country is clearly in vogue in football terms, and clubs therefore overpay to secure the services of a Brazilian in most instances. A lot of the biggest transfer fees, and a lot of the biggest busts/failures have occurred with Brazilians. I’m thinking about the likes of Robinho, Denilson, Alfonso Alves, Rafael Scheidt (only £4m really, but he could hardly even kick a football) represented huge fees for players who were distinctly average or had major weaknesses to their game. Of course, many Brazilians are the world’s best players and a success wherever they go, but unsurprisingly, you have to bankrupt yourself in order to buy them.
In contrast, there are thousands of undervalued players from less in vogue countries. Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia are just some of the areas where you can find much better value. How much would Modric have cost if he was a Brazilian? And would we even have ever got near him ?
You can apply this practise to Levy as well. In recent times, we have bought Croatians, South Africans, French, Icelandic, Irish, Russian, American and Mexican all in attempt to find better value. In this instance, Levy seems to have learned and moved to this place, from a few of his own errors – Bentley and Bent were huge fees, but at least we recouped a good fee for Bent. Furthermore, we have also shown an ability to work around this rule finding good value in well picked English youngsters such as Lennon, Huddlestone, Dawson, Walker and Naughton. Even then, Walker and Naughton cost a lot more than an exact counterpart, in terms of ability, would have done from the likes of Serbia or Mali. Lastly, we were able to defy the laws of logic and nab Sandro for what was a very reasonable price. Most likely because he wasn’t a traditional Brazilian flair player.
5. Older Players Are Overvalued
Wenger was the master of this, moving on the likes of Petit, Overmars, Vieira and Henry for big fees as soon as they hit their 30s, replacing them with younger players at better values. Every single one of them moved on to other clubs and failed to hit the heights they had at Arsenal. Arsenal’s real problems started when they began to sell players who were in their mid twenties – Adebayor, Fabregas etc etc. Older players are physically declining, have more expensive contracts, and their sell-on value also declines at a rapid rate. Too many of these type of players and your wage bill can become fairly bloated, whilst your squad is on a downturn with less ability to regenerate with fees accrued from sales. The correct sprinkling of them is an advantage though, with added experience to pass on, off and on the pitch. Mostly though, these players should have been at the club from when they were younger anyway, initially purchased for better value fees or having organically grown at the club from child hood.
No lack of clarity here. At most, Levy has allowed the old older purchase if he is in a good negotiating position with the selling club (Parker, Van der Vaart), or when he can grab players on a free with short term contracts (Gallas, Saha, Nelsen). Apart from that, Levy simply refuses to spend big money on players in their late 20s early 30s, and this has helped us to not end up with old players on astronomical contracts, with no sell-on value.
6. Centre Forwards Are Overvalued, Goalkeepers Are Undervalued
This has pretty much always existed. Despite keepers having longer careers, and being one of the most important players on the pitch, their values are ridiculously low compared to those of centre forwards. Centre forwards are prone to dips in form, loss of value, and sharper ups and downs, thus making the purchase of the correct one, at a good value, a hell of a lot harder than in other positions. Furthermore, their wages are more costly than in any other position. Therefore, it is not wise to overpay and collect an inordinate amount of strikers. It is interesting to note that Houllier left Lyon in 2007 proclaiming annoyance at the fact that Aulas would never buy him any strikers, even when he sold players to drum up funds.
Levy seems to have applied this theory very strictly in the past year or two. Gone are the days of us having a quartet of expensive strikers – Keane, Berbatov, Defoe and Bent – as an example. In fact, it could be argued that Levy has taken this almost too literally, given that we have had FOUR senior keepers on our books, whilst only owning one striker for the second part of last season. It seems that Levy has taken note and acted accordingly – one needs only to look at how protracted our talks for Adebayor were, yet we never allowed ourselves to deviate from his purchase. Most likely because Levy saw value in him, that isn’t common in a striker of his repute.
Stay tuned for part 2 and 3 of Euan’s take on Levy’s Transfer Strategy.