What is the first thing you do when you start a new game of Football Manager?

If you’re at all like me, you look for players to sell so you can raise money, especially ones with big contracts. The second thing you do is go shopping for all the young talent (wonderkids) you can possibly find in your price range.

(Note: This assumes that you are the type of person who likes a challenge, and takes charge of a League One/Championship side at most. If you just want to control Manchester City or Chelsea, may god have mercy on your soul.)

In business terms, you are looking to sell overvalued assets to some unsuspecting sucker and turn the cash from those into undervalued assets that have a strong likelihood to appreciate. By doing so, you create a “wonderkid revenue stream,” which is really useful in both acquiring better players, and later selling those players at large profits. Lather, rinse, repeat.

1)      Sell old dudes. Sell expensive dudes.

2)      Buy young dudes.

3)      Train young dudes well and wait for them to become older.

4)      Profit!!!

It sounds kind of silly, but that’s one of the fastest roads to prosperity in the world’s most addictive game/spreadsheet.

One of the things you almost never do at that level is take large salaries on loan. The reason for this is simple – unless you think the loan player will get you promoted, you are completely destroying any asset value that money would have. It flies right out the window as a cost and never comes back. Spending that money on one year of player performance is almost always inferior to buying a good player that you can later sell down the road.

(There is a middle ground of taking great young players from bigger clubs on loan (their wages are usually reasonable or subsidized by the big club), but that’s not the point I’m after right now.)

Why are we talking about Football Manager?

Because I suspect most of our audience have played it, and it’s a reasonable analog for running a football club. You have a fixed budget. You have to balance spending on transfer fees and wages. And the point is most certainly to try and win games, but also to increase the value of your club overall.

The Curious Case of the Everton Loans
Andy Hunter had a piece in The Guardian on Tuesday detailing Everton’s deadline day transfers. The article leads off with this:

The Everton chairman, Bill Kenwright, showed an astute business head as three signings were completed late in the day and the Marouane Fellaini deal delivered more than expected.

Impressive, right? Then it ends with this information:

Everton intend to offer Baines a new contract now the window has closed and, despite making a profit this summer, £2m of the Fellaini fee is owed to his former club Standard Liège while the loan deals for Lukaku and Barry will cost close to £10m. Kenwright, meanwhile, finds himself in the rare position of receiving credit where credit is due.

Oh cool, that’s great business then. You sold Fellaini for £27.5M, and grabbed two strong players for your starting eleven for the next year.

They only cost… TEN MILLION?!?

GarryBarryNow the fact of the matter is that these are the reported fee and salaries. The actual amounts could be less than these, and I would hope they are. There are also deals like the David Villa one that looks crazy on the surface – Atletico bought him for about 5 million euros – but in reality contain things like first option on Oliver Torres that make them much more valuable. Torres is already incredibly talented at age 18, and virtually guaranteed to be a starting midfielder in Spain’s national team in the future.

However, even if the fees/salaries were 75% of the reported amount, the size of them turns a transfer window that was championed as great completely on its head. A club with a revenue stream the size of Everton’s (£80M in turnover) simply cannot pay these types of expenses for a one-year rental. Everton management is delusional if they think the addition of these two players will get them into the Champions’ League. And if that isn’t the result, then what’s the point?

And Now For Something Completely Different…
LambertMagicTo illustrate a different way of spending that money, look at the last two transfer windows for Aston Villa. Villa are a club of similar size and stature to Everton, but one that has been through a rough patch recently, caused by years of ridiculous transfer and wage spending crossed with bad managerial choices.

Under Paul Lambert, all of that has changed. Instead of buying Premier League players for large fees, Villa focus their efforts on overseas and lower league youngsters. I have no knowledge as to their scouting network or how they use analytics, but I can say that last year’s purchases were excellent, and this year’s crop seem good as well.

Player Age Position Fee(£M)






















For £1M more than what Everton are spending on Lukaku and Barry this season, Villa added five potential stars to their lineup. This isn’t to say that they will all be good – on average about half of all transfers are a probable bust – but they aren’t risking much in the gamble. Their biggest risk came on deadline day, where they grabbed 24-year-old Libor Kozak from Lazio for a rumoured £7M. My guess on this one is that they either decided Helenius wasn’t a good enough backup, or they found a good deal on a player they liked, and get to let him bed in for a year before selling Benteke next summer. [All hate mail and inquiries from Villa fans should be directed to @footballfactman on Twitter.]

One of the massive benefits of buying younger players is that basic physiology tells us they are likely to get better. Their muscles and body of males continue to develop until about 25 years old, and age curves for the different positions suggest there will be peaks at 25 for forwards, 27 for midfielders, 29 for defenders, and 31 for goalkeepers. Buying young players who already perform well lets teams naturally benefit from the age curve.

Also, because the players are young and the transfer fees are low, they are likely on comparatively low wages. This means that they don’t cost much if you aren’t playing them, and you can resell them fairly easily to other teams/countries if things don’t work out. Compare this to Arsenal’s disastrous last four years of loaning out underperformers again and again because they are overpaid and no one wants to buy them, and you will see what I mean. Overpaid bad players are football’s herpes, destined to come back again and again, right when you don’t want them.

Villa are already in a position where they can flip multiple players they bought during Lambert’s first season in charge. For a fee of just under £8M, Christian Benteke made an immediate impact in the Premier League, helping Villa avoid relegation, making Darren Bent and his giant wages expendable, and parlaying one year of performance into a hefty new contract. Given the goalscorer inflation from this summer, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Benteke sell for £35-40M a year from now.

Matthew Lowton and Ashley Westwood, both purchased from League One, are other players whose value appreciated dramatically after one year of Premier League action.

Villa were never really skint, but their savvy in the transfer market paid almost immediate dividends, both in terms of performance on the field, and performance as a business.  A guaranteed £25M profit from Benteke can then be sunk back into the product on the field while continuing to develop players for the future.

It’s a simple philosophy, but one that is correct and hugely rewarding when employed correctly.

Back to Merseyside
koneNow compare this to what happened up at Everton this summer.  Selling Fellaini for £27.5M was good business (though not incredible, since Fell is alleged to have cost £17+M initially), as was the sale of Anichebe to West Brom for a rumoured £5-6M. However, Everton’s incoming players leave a lot to be desired. I liked the loan for Delofeu, who was excellent in Segunda last season and should develop into a fine player. The fee and wages are likely nominal, so this move just makes sense. I also like the purchase of James McCarthy for a rumoured £12.5M. He’s only 22 and is already maturing into a valuable player at the Premier League level. After that though, things go bad quickly.

First you have £5M spunked on a 29-year-old forward in Arouna Kone, a player who will have zero transfer value in a year or two. Wigan buying him for 3M when they were desperate for a scorer was a good gamble and he produced. Everton allegedly paying twice that price a year later is not.  The verdict is out on Robles, but the fee is low enough and he’s young enough that it’s hard to quibble there.

Then you have the reported £10M spent on loans for Barry and Lukaku. £10M to rent two players for a season, when there is no way this team is making the Champions’ League – what’s the point? None of these help the team get younger or add to the asset list of the club. Did Martinez sell Kenwright a bill of goods in getting his hopes up for Champions’ League football? Is Kenwright willing to offset these fairly crazy expenditures with cash injections, something that hasn’t happened before?

Compare this to what Villa are doing and it all looks foolish and misguided. In fact, it’s a lot like what happened to Liverpool during the Hicks, Gillett, and then Comolli eras. Money is going out the door on things that cost too much, don’t add enough to the product on the field, and provide no long-term value for the club.

Mistakes like this when you have Liverpool’s revenue stream costs you hundreds of millions of pounds and years of lost Champions’ League participation.

Mistakes like this at Everton’s level are likely to yield a plunge in performance that takes years to dig out of, especially since the clubs around them (Liverpool, Swansea, Aston Villa, Southampton) suddenly seem really smart.


  • Gary

    All seems a bit knee jerk to me.

    As a Liverpool fan I’m not usually found defending Everton, or indeed fond of it but I have a few quick points to make.

    Firstly the loans; we seen it at Liverpool last summer when Rodgers, a new manager (like Martinez is) only brought in players he knew (Borini/Allen) or were established players (Sahin). He hadn’t had the time to get his feet under the rug and spend time acquiring other targets etc. Then January and this summer hit and everything seemed much more thought out and generally much better business was done. These additions to Everton’s squad will undoubtedly help Everton’s transition under Martinez go by more smoothly and keep them competitive.

    Secondly, it is nothing at all like what happened to Liverpool under Hicks/Gillett or Comolli. These are one year deals, expensive though they may be, Everton are rid of them in 12 months time. No 5 year deal for an aging star who you then have to pay off millions of pounds to get rid of them, after spending 2 years on the bench as one of your top earners. Unless Everton get relegated (they won’t) these loan deals are highly unlikely to plunge them into any future difficulties.

    Thirdly, just a general point. Everyone is fixated with sell on fees nowadays. If you find a player who you feel can do a job for you, pay the fee, get him in and enjoy him. They may be worth it.

  • jem

    you can take advantage of a bug in FM that lets you sell dudes at 248M each.

    not sure how that fits in with all the analogies. ah i know: your team just pulled a manchester city!

  • SuperGrover

    Good article, but I feel you gloss over what improved performance on the pitch can mean even if it doesn’t result in a UCL berth. Possible benefits of playing well:

    1. Europa qualification (not UCL lucrative, but worth something nonetheless)
    2. Increased (or maintained) ticket sales (does Everton sell out consistently?)
    3. Maintained fan enthusiasm the loss of which could result in hits to apparel sales, ticket sales, etc.
    4. Maintained club stature for future transfers. Does anyone want to come in to a rebuilding situation?
    5. Provides a soft landing for a new manager. If Martinez tanks does he even make it past this season? If not, doesn’t that then create a repeat of the same cycle?

    While I understand the argument, I do think that there is more to EPL life for Everton than just making the UCL. If that’s the only goal, they should cut any player over 27 or so and play a bunch of kids while finishing 16th or so.

  • Colin Smith

    Everton reported to be paying 30% of Barry’s wages. Sorry I don’t have a link to that, since I heard it on TV. Anyway, that makes his cost dramatically less than the 10 mil the article indicates. This is often the case when teams take players from clubs that pay them stupid amounts of money. Adebayor loan to Spurs was another good example of this. City happy to get a little money for him, and get a potentially unhappy player out of the locker room since he would not have seen the field under Pellegrini.

    Also, you know there is salary that comes off the books when you sell a player (e.g. Fellaini) that you have not taken into account when doing the math evaluating Everton’s business here.

    Barry for 30% of 130k/week = 39k/week
    Fellaini rumored to be on roughly 80k/week

    Everton are saving money by making this swap, not accounting for the profit made by the sale.

    Don’t know how the math would come out on the Lukaku for Anichibe situation as Anichibe could not have been on much salary-wise, but either way, clearing those salaries is part of the business here, and you somehow forgot about that. Everton don’t take the transfers if they don’t sell those guys. That’s why stuff happens right up to the deadline.

    • tknutso

      If there’s an issue with the total cost amount, then blame whoever gave the information to The Guardian. Outgoing salaries don’t change the fact that dumping 10M (again, the reported cost in a paper of record) on a single year’s rental is almost always a bad idea for a team with Everton’s revenue stream.

      If they somehow qualify for the Champions’ League this season, I will make a public apology for doubting them.

      • Jay Hughes

        It’s not looking good for you now is it

        • tknutso

          You mean the team that needs to get into a Champions League spot for this expenditure to look good is… currently not in a Champions League spot?

          • Netto

            “when there is no way this team is making the Champions’ League”

            You indicated that Everton wouldn’t even be competing for a place in the Champions League. Now Everton are in the top five – and Chelsea look old and tired. They may not ultimately achieve it, but there clearly is a way for Everton to make the Champions League this season.

          • tknutso

            I stand by what I said, but will be happy to review this again June 1st.

  • davros

    What about the £5million they got for anichebe?? that alone pays for the loan fee for lukaku.. which is tremendous business!

  • Moss

    Interesting article but it is a little simplistic. Of course when you buy an asset you have the right to future benefits and risks associated with it and taking an asset on loan you don’t.
    Even if your calculations are correct which I don’t for a minute think the are -( Everton paying wages of 120k a week for both Barry and Lukaku? Lukaku signed a 5 year contract at Chelsea in 2011 as an 18 year old) there are major benefits of not paying higher transfer fees and instead putting the not forgone money into paying better players more money in the form of wages. It is indisputable that the clubs that pay the higher wages perform better in the league and the resulting prize money associated with ending say 5th as opposed to 12th becomes very material. In this instance the two players Everton have taken are at the opposite spectrums of their careers
    Gareth Barry has no future at Man City and would be a very unlikely transfer to the other clubs chasing the premier league. He signed a 5 year contract at City in 2009 and so will be out of contract next summer. His negotiating leverage as a 33 year old will be a fraction of what it was as a 28 years old and I suspect the arrangement at Everton will be made permanent next summer.
    Lukaku on the other hand will no doubt not end up as a permanent employee at Everton. However Everton will have enjoyed the services of a player for a season they would have absolutely no chance of affording; who would not look out of place at the vast majority league winning teams across Europe and if his goals bring Everton to places in the league table that will deliver more prize money, potentially better endorsements for the club and a shot at winding up in either of the European competitions surely that must be money well spent.

  • Henry Peacock

    “Then you have the reported £10M spent on loans for Barry and Lukaku. £10M to rent two players for a season, when there is no way this team is making the Champions’ League – what’s the point?”

    28/3/2014 Everton are now six points behind Arsenal and have a game – home to Crystal Palace – in hand.

    The next games are; Arsenal v Manchester City and Fulham v Everton. Then Arsenal have to go to Goodison.

    There clearly is a way for Everton to make the Champions League. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Arsenal and Everton respond.

  • Craigers


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