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What the Hell Are We Doing? Goals and Transfer Shopping

By Ted Knutson | July 2, 2013 | Analytics

ss_moneyball_gunshipToday’s piece is inspired by the early summer transfer signings. The goals in the title don’t refer to actual goals that are scored on the pitch, though that’s what I normally write about. Today, the word “goals” is referring to team milestones.

Literally, what is your team trying to accomplish this year?

Are they simply hoping to survive in the top tier of football? To snuggle deep into mid-table obscurity? To compete for a spot in Europe? To get into the Champions League? To win the Champions League?

All of those goals have different requirements in terms of what kind of players your team should be buying, how much they should be spending, how many players are needed in the first place, etc. Everything in football has a cost, not just in terms of £££, but also in terms of expenditure.  Money is a resource, but so are effective player minutes. At some point, rotation becomes absolutely vital, even for smaller teams.

Want your team to make a deep cup run or two? You either need a bigger squad, or you can expect it to cost you places in the league. Given how much the English Premier League now pays out in prize money based on league finish, that money adds up quickly.

Want your team to compete for the Europa League as well? That will burn a lot of player minutes. The more minutes your team plays, the more likely they are to get injured. If your first team is absorbing all of those minutes, then your best players will be the ones who get injured, and that has an effect on every other competition you are in. Also, even if nobody really mentions this, fatigue is totally a thing.

There is a reason Sir Alex and Arsene Wenger have fielded reserve or youth squads in the Capitol One Cup year after year, and it’s not just because they wanted promising youngsters to get some exposure. They did it because they understand fatigue and injuries build up over the course of the season, and the only way to make sure your best players are ready for the competitions that matter is to make sure they aren’t running around in the competitions that don’t.

Superior Strategies
Depending on what your team’s goals are, there are superior strategies to help reach them. Relegation candidates should be looking closely at cheap, resellable resources that can keep them up, but won’t put the club into bankruptcy if they go down. They should also prioritize defensive signings and systems over splashing for offensive players. Finally, they should absolutely, positively not do what QPR did. I’d much rather take all the money QPR spent on players and develop an academy system like Southampton have instead (or obviously like La Masia, should you have the resources and nous to develop one).

Teams at the other end of the spectrum should be looking to buy excellent players just entering their prime, and/or discount stars on the back end (like Mario Gomez). Wages are a killer here, so making sure that you buy and spend efficiently on player salaries is the most important thing you can do – bloated long-term contracts for mediocre performers have rapidly turned into sunk costs these days (hellooooooo Arsenal and Liverpool), which can hamper competitiveness significantly for some time. Ensuring long-term success in this area requires savvy purchases, excellent player development (something that can definitely be improved in England), and efficient wage spend.

What about teams in the middle that are just trying to improve? If running a football club is a big Choose Your Own Adventure book, what path do you set out on to try and make your team sustainably better in the long run? There isn’t enough space to cover everything here and the whole subject deserves a more detailed treatment, but your potential options are dictated mostly by your revenue stream, your current expenditures, and the yearly goals you set for your team.

Kone for Everton?
koneAnyway, the reason why I am writing about this is because Everton have been linked with Arouna Kone fairly regularly of late, and I find myself wondering what their end game is for this season.  Kone was a great punt for Wigan, whose clear goal every season they were in the Premier League was to stay there. £3.3 million for a 28-year-old athletic, creative goal scorer was money well spent, and Kone delivered for them. It was the 73 goals Wigan shipped at the other end that sent them down.

What about Kone for Everton? This isn't a club struggling to survive – under Moyes, Everton entrenched themselves as part of the Premier League’s best teams, despite the fact that their revenue stream suggests doing so is an overachievement every time. Should they be interested in a now 29-year-old goalscorer? It’s true Everton really struggled to score goals in the league last year, despite playing a fairly high-tempo game that generated quite a few shots, but is Kone the guy they need?

In the end, as almost everything does, it comes down to price. How much are they paying for Kone? At a couple million quid, then I could get on board with this buy, despite the fact that Kone will likely have no resale value after this transfer. At anything more than Wigan paid though? For a guy you can’t sell to another club later, and who likely is at the end of his peak years as a player? What’s the point? Everton are going to be mid-table with or without him. Kone isn’t the type of player that will push them over the top this year, and he’s certainly not an investment that will pay off in the future. One of the big issues Everton already have is that their team is mature. They aren’t developing and selling new assets (though they probably should be since that would help revenue generation). Instead they have a team comprised of older players who were good performers, but now have little or no resale value, and some good buys that are now in their prime. Kone would be another one of those older guys that they arguably already have to many of.

Instead of spunking £5M or whatever plus high wages on Kone, why not take a risk on younger guys with similar stats in other leagues? Gladbach bought Max Kruse this year, at age 25, for £2.5M. Swansea bought Michu for £2M at age 26, and might now resell him for £12-15M. This is the type of thing Everton should be doing if they want at least a chance of getting back to Champions League football, or even if they just want to make sure they consistently compete with their Merseyside neighbors.

Do Everton owners realize this though? And can they take the steps to revamp the club as a younger, athletic assembly line for the future? You tell me.

Paulinho to Spurs

Bale image from
Bale image from

So this is an interesting one.  Tottenham’s clear remit is to get back into the Champions’ League. They were agonizingly close this past season after being unfairly denied by Chelsea’s incredibly unlikely victory the season before, and both years were somehow pipped by their greatest rivals overtaking large point gaps in the second half of the season. How they could be that good, and that close to reaching the CL, and not make it at least one of those seasons is beyond me. That’s a pretty wicked accumulator of bad luck and bad decisions over back-to-back years.

Anyway, £17M for a good 24-year-old midfielder isn’t unreasonable, but the move is a little funky in that it further strengthens Spurs’ strongest area – the midfield. It’s great in that it makes sure AVB never has to play Scott Parker in a real match again and it gives Sandro some leeway in his recovery. On the other hand, it’s slightly confusing because Spurs have a number of more pressing needs than this, and a fairly limited budget.

To recap, AVB instituted a really good tactical system last year that saw Spurs suddenly become a lot better at winning the battle for Shot Dominance. On the other hand, Spurs were bad at scoring non-Gareth-Bale goals last season, and their non-Vertonghen defenders were a combination of slow (Dawson), old (Gallas), and/or unreliable (Naughton/Assou-Ekotto).

Paulinho is clearly very good, but his rather large signing does nothing to answer either of those issues. Will he make them better? Probably. Will the return of Kaboul and the maturation of Caulker solidify the center of defense? Maybe. Will Adebayor and Defoe continue to be the most frustrating, overpaid, and potentially useless forward pairing in recent memory? I certainly wouldn’t want to find out.

But the big question is: how are they getting back to the Champions’ League?

Then again, this is Spurs and I’m an Arsenal fan, so just forget everything I said. I hope Levy buys three more players just like Paulinho. Everything else will be fiiiiine, I guarantee it.

Aside: Bennie had 73% passing on 43 passes a game when he played (OMG percentage bleed!). Want to know why AVB sounds so gravely? Because he shouted at his fullbacks the entire season.

Article by Ted Knutson