In today’s article, you are cast in the role of Director of Football or Manager of your favourite football club. Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to pick the player that represents the best value to you and your club.
The meaning of the word “value” in this case is decidedly squishy. You have a large, but finite budget, and anything you spend on this player takes away from what you could spend on other positions of need at the club. Stuff you care about when considering value:
- Money spent (obviously), both on transfer fee and on wages.
- Statistical performance. Mostly goals and assists for forwards.
- Resale value.
- Potential length of service.
- Big name impact. This translates to immediate shirt sales. On the other hand, if the player succeeds, shirt sales will bear fruit in the long run.
Now, there’s a lot of noise in football. Players have reputations one way or another. Some are head cases and hard to work with, others are amazing leaders and team players. Additionally, some players are easily adaptable to whatever style a manager wants to play, while others tend to be best in very specific systems. All of this makes analysis of which player to buy hard.
What we’re going to do today is strip out the noise and just focus on the production of a group of forwards over the last two seasons.
From a statistical point of view, you definitely care about the following when it comes to front men.
- % Shots on Target
- Conversion Rate
- Key Passes
- Pass Success %
- Successful Dribbles
Additionally, you also care about these things, which are not specific to forwards:
- Injury history. You can use Appearances as a minor proxy for this, but you really want more data.
With all of that in mind, let’s look at the production of the best forward in the world, Lionel Messi. Messi is obviously unbuyable, but if you are shopping at the top of the market for world class strikers, you probably want to know the benchmark against which all players are measured.
So there it is, the top of the mountain. Unbelievable production and efficiency in a 5’7” unmarkable package.
The players that follow are all allegedly on the market. I’ve stripped the names and leagues out to remove the additional noise of reputation and production. Just know that all of them play in one of the big 5 leagues. I’ve also stripped the ages out, and lumped them into two groups – Peak Players and Post-Peak.
The guys in the Peak group are all just entering their prime. The numbers listed below were put up when most of these guys were still maturing, but from next season going forward, you should get their full production. Signing them now means you will likely get 4-6 strong years of production from your investment.
First of all, All of these are good players. Nearly every one of them is averaging a scoring rate of .5 goals per 90 minutes or better.
As you can see just from the stats, each player has a different skill set. Four out of the five are what I’ve taken to calling “shot monsters” (all but PeakB)– guys who are able to create large volumes of shots, presumably either via beating their man off the dribble or via runs into space, superior athletic ability, etc. 3.5 Shots per Game is strong, anything over 4 is elite. Obviously, just creating a lot of shots isn’t enough – you also need to convert them as well.
Purely from a minutes per goal standpoint, the guys you really care about are A, B, and E. Their rates, while not Messi-esque, are among the best in the world.
PeakC stands out for two things. In year 1, his conversion rate was awful. 4.5 shots per game is great, but not if you aren’t putting them on target. If you are going to have shot rates like this, you need to be scoring more like Players A and E. On the other hand, you can see he improved in year 2, and you can see his key passes nudge up, while the turnovers and dispossessions drop dramatically. The other thing this player stands out for is some serious dribbling ability, especially when compared to the rest.
If this were a draft like in a US sport, I would first pick PeakA or PeakB. Their goal totals aren’t bloated by penalty conversion figures (consistently converted at a 75-80% clip by most players), and their goal rates are incredible. PeakB is the most efficient of the lot in terms of goals per shot, but they probably also benefit from great service. PeakE is also a strong option, but grades out just a touch worse than the other two.
To be fair to them, both Jovetic and Aubameyang are a year younger than Hig and Lewa and two years younger than Cavani. They both improved this season versus last, and project very well as long as they continue to develop.
Lewandowski’s price is what it is because he only has one year left on his contract. If he were signed for longer and still wanted to leave Dortmund, you could expect his price to be more in the neighbourhood of Cavani’s. As I have been saying on Twitter recently, Higuain’s price is just bizarre. Now 25, he’s had the same consistency of stats since he was 21 and is one of the most efficient forwards in the world. Unless he’s injured, wanting to sell him doesn’t make any sense to me, and whatever team buys him improves immediately.
Each of these players are on the back side of the peak for their position. This means you can expect them to put up similar numbers for another year or two, and then you’ll see a gradual decrease in productivity. Their productivity levels are starting high, so as long as the increase is gradual, you’d be delighted to have them on your team as long as you don’t overpay for their services. Overpaying for deteriorating assets is the opposite of value.
Goalscoring rates and shots per game here are all incredible. Both B and C have high levels of substitute appearances in at least one season, but the goalscoring rate is so high, I can’t count that against them very much. C’s passing success rate is pretty low, which either means they aren’t very good at passing or – given this player’s clear skill at scoring – they have a lot of balls played to them in the air.
Player A is extremely interesting because of the huge spike in assists you see in year 2. That assist number is enormous given the number of games played, and while his goalscoring dropped, the rate of contribution actually improved in year 2 when you add in assists.
Player B’s rate in this group is ridiculous. This player is clearly one of the best goalscorers in the world and should have the reputation to match.
Despite the fact that Mario Gomez consistently has one of the best scoring rates in the world, he rarely seems to get that much respect, either in Germany or abroad. I mean, I know he isn’t flashy, and people regularly complain that he doesn’t move enough, but he’s in place to score a fantastic amount of the time. Goals must be boring.
Rooney, as we know, is an immense and versatile talent. He comes with an enormous wage packet, but as long as he cares enough to stay in shape, he’ll be great wherever he goes.
Much like Gomez, Dzeko rarely seems to get the respect his scoring rate deserves right now. He played in a team that didn’t accentuate his strengths and still posted numbers that rival Falcao’s per minute stats, without the benefit of any penalties. He’s still very good.
With transfer rumors flying fast and furious, I wanted to take a step back from digging for gold at the lower end of the pay scale and see what happened when you evaluate the best players in the world based on stats alone. I think there is some surprising material in here for comparisons, and teams with large transfer budgets should be doing exactly this sort of analysis as part of the shopping process.
Honestly though, what did you think? Who would you want for your team, and why?