We’re halfway through July and basically halfway through what was expected to be an extremely busy transfer summer. And thus far it has been… for seemingly every big club in Europe outside the Premier League. Monaco made a huge splash, Dortmund restocked and reloaded their arsenal up front, and even Napoli have been frisky thus far, presumably knowing they will be selling Edinson Cavani before the window closes, and grabbing some excellent targets to replace his output ahead of time.
But teams in the Premier League – the world’s richest football league – have yet to take the leap. Maybe all the manager swapping made them extra deliberate this year, or maybe after years of binging, they have finally learned some frugality when it comes to buying football players. That said, some teams have made purchases, and as the self-appointed arbiter of transfer value, it is my job to judge them for it. Good buy? Bad buy? Incredibly stupid and overpriced buy? That’s what we’re here to find out!
Teams will be graded on three major principles
1) Did they get value for money?
2) Does the player’s age match the price paid?
3) Did they fill a need?
Principle one is fairly obvious to statheads, but seems to get glossed over in the general media. I absolutely do not care about whether a player’s name gets fans excited. I absolutely do care about their contributions on the pitch, both good and bad, across multiple seasons. Example: Luis Suarez’s headline numbers of goals and assists from last year look really good. However, when combined with his performance a year earlier and crossed with all the rest of his stats, Suarez adds up to a great big pile of statistical meh.
Principle two is also a very important one. Players tend to enjoy their peak years from age 24-28, and then experience a decline into their early 30s, at which point performance can fall off substantially. Signing younger players with good stats profiles has two major benefits. The first benefit is that they will likely continue to improve into their peak years. The second benefit is that they will keep a high resale value if they choose to leave or the team chooses to sell a few years down the road.
Thus if your team is paying big money for a guy who turns 28 this season and signs him to a 4- or 5-year contract, they are paying for one or two years of peak time and then two or three more years of decline, at which point the player will likely have zero sales value. This is “a big deal.”
On the other hand, paying big money for young players without the stats to back it up is a serious gamble, and something that should generally be avoided. To quote Moneyball, “A young player is not what he looks like, or what he might become, but what he has done.”
Principle number 3 is a tougher evaluation, especially at this point in the window, since there are six more weeks of shopping to be done. For now just know that if a club is spending big money on a position they already had good production at, they are either selling someone, crazy rich, or slightly confused.
Grades run from A+ at the high end down to F at the low end.
Note: The numbers are pulled from the reddit update thread on Euro transfers.
Arsenal – Current Grade: D+
Needs: World Class Forward. Error-free center back. Defensive Midfielder. Pacey left wide forward.
In: Yaya Sanogo (Free)
Out: Denilson (Free), Arshavin (Free), Mannone (£2M), Squillaci (Free), Djourou (Loan)
The rhythm of an Arsenal transfer window typically goes like this:
Leak star target name during season ticket renewals.
Dither, dither, ……… whiff.
Arsene commentates a World Cup/Euros.
Dither. Sign a child………………………………….
Dither, dither, whiff.
Additionally, Arsenal have a massive amount of dead wood on bloated wages that still need to be trimmed from the payroll, including Bendtner and Chamakh. That’s why right now, they barely receive a passing grade.
If Arsenal buy Higuain (despite their annoyance with Madrid moving the price on them), then this grade immediately jumps to a B+. Higgy is the most efficient forward left on the market, and he’s right in the prime of his career. There are no other targets that would deliver anything remotely close to what Higuain does without radically impacting the rest of the squad. However, if they miss out on Higgy and end up scrambling to find quality up front (Suarez ain’t it, Gomez is already gone), then who knows what this grade will be when the window closes?
Judging by his performance at the U20 World Cup, Sanogo could be a diamond in the rough, but Arsenal’s fans are ready for genuine class that can play now. Along with Higuain, they should be in for guys like Ljajic, Jovetic, Pizzi, Gonalons, and a center back who is both fast enough to make up for Mertesacker’s slowness, and error-free in judgment (unlike say, every other CB they have signed since Campbell and Toure left the club). Whether or not that will happen is another question, especially since Arsenal try to conduct their transfer dealings in complete silence. (This might explain why they rarely manage to complete a deal, though I hear Gazidis is an expert mime.)
There is a very real sense that this team could contend for a title this season if they buy well. There is also a very strong feeling that they lucked into the Champions’ League two seasons in a row, and won’t be able to do that a third time if they don’t open up the checkbook. If Arsenal fail to spend big money on quality targets again this summer, they will see another nine months of miserable fan response at The Emirates, and more protests from supporter groups.
Then again, they might get the exact same thing if they sign Luis Suarez. Damned if you do…
Manchester United – Current Grade: ???
Needs: Central midfielders. A happy Wayne Rooney. Fergie’s magic offense.
In: Varela (1M)
Out: Scholes (Ret)
With the retirement of Paul Scholes, United are perilously short on quality bodies in the center of the pitch. Fergie somehow managed to win his final league title with 34 starts by Carrick, 18 from Cleverly, 17 from Kagawa, and a crazy midfield by committee/whoever was healthy this week. It was a masterpiece of management, but not something that could be repeated a second time, and especially not with The Special One back on the prowl. Therefore United need quality passing, like the kind Thiago Alcantara would have provided if Pep hadn’t snatched him off to Bayern Munich. There are other strong young players out there who are good enough to play in Manchester, but given how deliberate Moyes has been while shopping in the past, there’s an open question of whether we’ll see anyone new in a red devil kit until right before the deadline.
If Rooney leaves, United will also need to get involved in the forward market. If he stays, they need him happy and motivated to stay in shape and employ his amazing talents. I think he’ll stay – United would have been more active in the forward market by now if he were leaving – but I have no idea whether he will be happy.
The other area of concern for United is how their offense will perform without Sir Alex around. United are one of the very few teams in Europe (Barcelona was the other) that employed an offensive system that was truly adept at shooting a bit less than you might expect from an elite team, but creating higher value chances in the process. David Moyes, on the other hand, has never had a team that analysts would consider offensively adept. His defences have often been great, but the best Moyes has managed on the offensive side of the ball is “average.” If Moyes learns from the master and United attack like they did in years past, everything will be fine. But if United attack more like Everton, except with better players… let’s just say it will be a very interesting season at Old Trafford.
Manchester City – Current Grade: C-
Needs: Wide Forwards. Midfield and Center Back youth and depth.
In: Navas (15M), Fernandinho (30M)
Out: Kolo Toure (Free), Bridge (Free), Tevez (10M), Santa Cruz (Free), Kolarov (???)
City were always going to be in a weird spot this summer, with or without Mancini around. Most of their initial purchases after the takeover have either run their contracts out, or are getting too old to fully contribute (Gareth Barry). That meant they would have a ton of wage money cleared from the books, but also need to fill in the gaps with new talent. City owners were also going to have to decide what to do with Tevez, and presumably replace Balotelli and potentially Dzeko as well.
Then Mancini was fired and everything was suddenly up in the air.
City’s owners are aggressively moving to give Manuel Pellegrini what he wants, but they are doing it in a way that is neither cheap nor efficient. I like Navas and his gorgeous eyes just fine, but he’ll be 28 in November, and as a roadrunner-type player, I’m concerned about his age. Players get slower as they get older, and he might lose some of his effectiveness in a year or two. I’m probably more concerned about the fact that they overpaid by potentially £5M for a player almost no one else was in for. He’ll be good, but they should have gotten a better deal.
My concern about the Navas deal pales next to my alarm at the £30M City spent on Fernandinho. He’s already 28 years old, and while he’s likely an excellent player, he blows right through every price to age parameter I could construct that doesn’t involve Zinedine Zidane. I just can’t see how other, younger targets with similar skill sets weren’t available for that amount of money or who City was competing against that they felt they needed to place a bid in that range for a midfielder. Oh, and the last time he played more than 24 matches in a league season was six years ago, so uh… he’s got that going for him?
Stevan Jovetic is rumoured to be signing with City as early as this week, and he’d be an excellent signing that fills one of their forward needs with an exciting young player. If they get him for £23M or less, that would represent the first decent value-for-money transfer City have made this summer. Beyond that though, City seem to be shopping mostly off their own menu, the contents of which are known only to club insiders and extremely expensive, so who knows what else they will do? (Note: if they buy Negredo instead, I’m marking them down again.)
Luckily for City fans, the one thing they seem to have more of than anyone is money and a willingness to spend it. Even if they are spending too much, they are at least signing good players and aren’t in any danger of going bankrupt.
Everton – Current Grade: B
Needs: To get younger. Scoring punch. A fairly substantial rebuild.
In: Kone (£6M), Alcaraz (Free), Robles (Und), Delofeu (Loan)
Out: P Neville (Retired)
What happens when Roberto Martinez takes his passing and possession system and plugs in better players, but also ones that might not be wholly suited to it? We’re going to find out.
This is a talented team, but one whose parts are finally starting to show their age. Phil Neville retired and is now on the coaching staff at Manchester United. Distin turns 36 this season, Howard 35, Pienaar 32, Osman 33, Hibbert 33, and Heitinga 30. As we all know, Everton don’t have a ton of cash to spunk on a Martinez-lead rebuild. Therefore further buying will likely happen because
A) Everton sold Leighton Baines and/or Fellaini to a bigger club or
B) there is no B.
If it’s me, I sell both for the best price I can get, and then use the 35M or so on picking up talented younger players that will help build the next generation at Goodison. Political realities being what they are (fans will mutiny if Baines gets sold for anything less than a crazy sum), I’m not sure Martinez will have that freedom.
Regarding the transfers they have made so far, I’m on record as liking Kone, but disliking that price. Kone may help in attack, but he just makes them older and will have no resale value in a year. Since they presumably cost next to nothing, Alcaraz and Robles are fine, but getting Delofeu for a year is a real coup. Delofeu destroyed Segunda last season, and is definitely ready to test himself against better competition (and he’s one of the best silver players in FIFA13 Ultimate Team, a clear analytics indicator of future talent*). Meanwhile, Everton need more speed and creativity in an attack that largely focused around the talents of Leighton Baines last year. Kone and Delofeu should help them play it on the deck more, which may also allow Jelavic to return to the form of two seasons ago.
In short, I think Everton are getting better, but I’d rather see them sell their stars at peak value and reinvest than try to make Martinez’s tactics work with Moyes’ players.
* I am totally lying. Well, about the analytics part.
Swansea – Current Grade: A-
Needs: Friends for Michu. No Capitol One Cup hangover.
In: Bony (13M), Canas (Free), Amat (2.5M), Pozuelo (425K), De Guzman (Loan again)
Out: Gower (Free), Ashley Williams (Maybe?)
After being extremely frugal their first two seasons in the Premier League, Swansea seem to be comfortable now and splashed out big for Wilfried Bony (presumably at Laudrup’s behest). This makes a lot of sense to me, as it’s hard to see Swansea as relegation candidates anymore – they have done a good job securing their place in The Show. Because of that, they should likely be willing to spend a bit more on good players, especially at the offensive end of the pitch. Look at it this way – for most of last season, Danny Graham was Swansea’s 2nd best forward after Michu. Now Swans fans can look forward to another season of De Guzman (who was important to them last season) setting up Michu (presumably as a second striker now) and Wilfried Bony. That’s a big upgrade, and one that will help mitigate any regression from Michu’s second season in the Prem. (I am saying this knowing full well Bony will not replicate his goal rate from the Eredivisie in England. Er, and Wales.)
The rest of Swansea’s buys so far have bolstered the defense. Part of this is cover for if/when Williams moves, and part is likely an acknowledgment that they just weren’t good enough when Chico was injured last season. They allow too many shots per game and especially too many shots on target for a team whose system allegedly involves a lot of resting on the ball.
I really like what they have done so far. I’m not fully convinced Laudrup is anything more than an average manager, but he definitely has an eye for talent, and Swansea should once again end up safely midtable at the end of this year.
They signed Jonjo Shelvey from Liverpool?
FOR SIX MILLION POUNDS?!? That’s three Michus!
Revised Current Grade: B-
Tomorrow: Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and more.