July Mailbag - Gotze and Nolito Analysis plus Discount Center Forward Shopping

By Ted Knutson | July 8, 2016

July Mailbag - Gotze and Nolito Analysis plus Discount Center Forward Shopping




Some football experiments do not work out. The Mario Gotze/Pep Guardiola experiment is definitely one of those failures. It reminds me a bit of the feedback from fans when Pep bought Cesc Fabregas and then tried to shoehorn him into the false 9 role at Barcelona. Fabregas actually did admirably in a completely new role for him, but no one is Lionel Messi, and that was a perception problem more than a performance one.

Gotze is probably at his best as a pressing 10 who can occasionally fill in as a creative wide forward when needed. What he is not is a center forward, and at this point it’s probably fair to say that trying to make him one has made Mario miserable, and given him perhaps the worst two seasons of his career.

I don’t think he was bad last season – 3 goals and 4 assists in about 1000 minutes is a solid return, and he’s still an outstanding passer and dribbler. On the other hand, everyone at Munich seems to want him to go, and he’s allegedly pissed off and being stubborn about leaving.

It’s clear to me he needs to get the fuck out of Dodge. My only concern is that he needs to go somewhere he wants to be, with a team and a head coach that will support him. Klopp might be the best option, but at a club level Liverpool is certainly a step down from mighty Bayern (don't @ me).

From the perspective of a buying club, you know he’ll be on big wages and has been a disappointment this move, so you’d negotiate aggressively for a lower fee while telling the player how much you want him. I think he’s a good buy if you can get the fee down to say £20-25M, provided he’s excited to come to your club. If he ends up at a port of last resort…




Probably £10 million, but it still depends on club. Arsenal could make a lot of £10M gambles and only wince a little when none of them pay off. A club like Burnley can only make maybe one before it really starts to create problems if they bust.

I was talking to another analyst recently, and we theorized that it might be impossible for Premier League clubs to get player deals with any "value" in them any more, strictly due to the fact that selling teams will hold out for much larger fees since they know everyone has money. Thus an objective value deal in real world terms becomes hard to find, but you can still find heavy "value" relative to the rest of the league, especially if you sell them to bigger PL teams down the road.




With that squad, I would probably not sign Nolito. People forget that money (in terms of fees and wages) is not the only scarce resource at a football club, so are minutes. I quite liked Nolito for the past couple of seasons at Celta, but City are O-L-D.

Aguero? 28. Bony? 27. Navas? 31 in November. Nasri? 29. Silva is 30.  That’s just in attack and most of those guys have had injury issues in recent years. Kelechi, Sterling are young, KDB is peak, but as it’s composed right now, the majority of team minutes will come from players who are 28 or older. It’s tough to do that in the Premier League with CL and Cup commitments and succeed.

On the other hand, City just don’t care about the funds spent and if Pep wanted him, the price is low enough to just splash the cash and assume he’ll deal with any other issues. Nolito is a clever player and should end up as an outstanding super sub for the next couple of years, regardless of whether he’s good enough/young enough to spend a lot of time in a starting role.

I expect to see a staggering amount of money spent by the time City are done buying this summer. Pep’s worth it, but this would have been a lot easier if more forethought and planning had gone into squad composition in the previous 3 seasons.




Andre Gray was bought last season for a base of £6.25M (with good add-ons) and he’s probably PL quality. The new TV deal will inflate prices paid, but up until last summer, you could probably find players dotted around Europe who could play striker for you at £5-6M and expect reasonable success. Now that figure £8-10M, and there will be fewer undiscovered gems.

Recruitment is hard. Every team has similar needs and a lot of money now. This is why it pays to invest in being smarter about it instead of simply throwing more money at the problem and hoping you succeed.




This is quite difficult, and most clubs are naturally risk averse in this situation. If you don’t see the player play in a similar system to the one your club plays, the natural instinct is to assume they can’t do it, especially at the back. It’s a safe assumption, and I completely understand the choice, but it’s not always the best one.

Some clubs will break this assumption for special players or when their options are dwindling and they are forced to make sub-optimal choices. The point here - like I mentioned above - is that this is hard, and it actually makes sense to be cautious because if certain players fail tactically, the whole system can fly apart.




I started doing this work back in summer of 2013 with Manager Fingerprints because I wanted to start profiling managers in a similar way to what I was working on for players. Since then, the process and KPIs have been improved dramatically, to the point that we can identify tactical style, strengths, and weaknesses in the data for each manager/head coach and give some advice on whether they will succeed.

Manager failures are EXPENSIVE. Not only do you need to worry about paying out the rest of their contract, you also have to pay off all the staff that each new manager brings with them. Doing as much objective due diligence as possible before each hire just makes sense.

At the very least, this information highlights some very interesting interview questions you would want to ask every coach as part of your hiring process.




I asked a couple of follow-up questions to Bobby to give me more information on this one.  He says we’re probably looking at a possession-based 4-2-3-1 with Gylfi playing behind the striker, so ideally you want someone with some pace, who can hold up the ball and pass reasonably well, and who won’t get destroyed by PL centerbacks. Tricky stuff, especially trying to fill two positions for only £25M, but we’ll see what we can come up with.

Two guys that I would have included, but whose price tags skyrocketed recently are Vincent Janssen (off to Spurs for 22M Euros) and Manolo Gabbiadini (West Ham allegedly in for him at £20M). Money still matters for at least part of the Premier League.

Most of the ones that I propose below are low risk type buys. There are others that are higher risk, but a) they are less known and b) your scouting department would have to be really happy with them before you make the leap.

Option 1 – Borja Baston

Current Owner: Atletico Madrid

Age: 23

Estimated Price: £12-15M




I spotted him in Segunda last summer, but the price tag was north of 5M Euros, which was not a fee my previous employer was willing to pay, and he wanted to play in a top league anyway. He did that last season on loan at Eibar in La Liga, banging home goals exactly like he did a league below. La Liga is the toughest league in the world right now - if you score there, you are definitely talented.

Age is right, production is right, body style is right. I suspect the only real question is whether Atletico want to keep him in the fold for next season.

Option 2 – Sebastien Haller

Current Owner: Utrecht

Age: Just Turned 22

Estimated Price: £8-10M

A bit less heralded than Vincent Janssen, he played on a slower-paced team than AZ, but still put up impressive goal and assist numbers the last two seasons in the Eredivisie. Pace is solid for a big man, and I love his ability to pass around the box. He had two assists late in 14-15 that were jawdropping. The usual stats might not look amazing this year, but I have pretty strong reasons I can't explain for why I am still high on the player. His highlight reel is exceptional.

Option 3 – Andrej Kramaric

Current Owner: Leicester City

Age: 25

Estimated Price: £12M?

An elite scorer in Croatia, Leicester snapped him up for somewhere around £7.5M in January 2015. Kramaric did quite well at Hoffenheim on loan last season after struggling a bit at Leicester. I think they pulled the trigger on him too quickly though and…

What do you mean already Leicester SOLD him to Hoffenheim for a tiny profit on what they paid?



Option 3.1 - Luuk de Jong

Current Owner: PSV Eindhoven

Age: 25

Estimated Price: ???

“Didn’t he fail at Newcastle and Gladbach?”

Sort of… hear me out.

Newcastle have been highly dysfunctional behind the scenes for years. They seem to destroy good forwards on a yearly basis, meaning they either have huge flaws in their recruitment process OR the club itself has systemic issues. Seeing as how they have been relegated again this past season, I’m going to go with the theory that it’s more Newcastle and less Luuk.

Meanwhile he has been fucking great at PSV, winning back to back titles and making the knockout rounds of the Champions League. He’s averaged 23 goals and 9 assists the last two years and totally deserves another shot if you can negotiate a reasonable price for him.

Maybe he’s happy in Holland, but I think he’s good enough to play in a better league, on a stable, more supportive team.


Luuk_de Jong_2014-15 (1)


Wissam Ben Yedder

Current Owner: Toulouse

Age: 25

Estimated Price: ?? Figuring out what Toulouse will sell anyone at is difficult and I have zero guidance on this aside from saying he only has 1 year left on his contract. Definitely less than £10M.

Ben Yedder was on the original list of attackers I reviewed way back in summer of 2013 and he’s been a great little value forward ever since. Goal scoring is consistently decent to good in a team that has been almost relegated two seasons in a row. One of the things I love is that he averages about .2 expected assists a season, which means he probably won’t screw up a possession game around the box.

If you are looking for a solid performer, especially as a PL backup, I think you could do a lot worse than Ben Yedder.