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Torres & Carroll: transfers with more than meets the eye

1 February 2011

Torres: worth £50m?

In Why England Lose (or Soccernomics outside the UK), authors Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski make the humorous claim that “anyone who spends any time inside football soon discovers that just as oil is part of the oil business, stupidity is part of the football business.”

This was perhaps never truer than on Monday’s transfer deadline, where the Premier League indulged in a day of madness, illogic and most of all exorbitant spending. Torres’ departure from Merseyside for £50m to Chelsea allowed Liverpool to hedge £35m worth of their bets on Andy Carroll, a man with one international cap to his name. As a sideshow, Harry Redknapp approached the transfer market with a scattergun tactic that hoped to tempt a striker, any striker, to the club, preferably from La Liga.

Before we go into any analysis, it’s worth putting down groundwork of facts and rules to refer to for the rest of the post.

The money spent on Carroll and Torres drew comparison to previous big-money purchases in the Premier League, as the transfer record was smashed twice in one day. Paul Tomkins, Graeme Riley and Gary Fulcher provide the best source for comparison with their Transfer Price Index, which converts fees from the Premier League era into ‘2010 money’ (Current Transgfer Purchase Price or CTPP) thus taking into account ‘football inflation’. The most expensive transfers from the Premier League, up until the end of the 2009/10 season, are as follows:

# Player Club CTPP Original fee Year transferred
1 Shevchenko A Chelsea £53,542,884 £30,800,000 2006/07
2 Rooney W Man Utd £49,119,283 £27,000,000 2004/05
3 Ferdinand R Man Utd £48,409,013 £30,000,000 2002/03
4 Essien M Chelsea £47,443,584 £26,000,000 2005/06
5 Drogba D Chelsea £43,661,585 £24,000,000 2004/05
6 Shearer A Newcastle £39,683,045 £15,000,000 1996/97
7 Wright-Phillips S Chelsea £38,319,818 £21,000,000 2005/06
8 Veron J Man Utd £36,829,602 £28,100,000 2001/02
9 Carvalho R Chelsea £36,111,170 £19,850,000 2004/05
10 Duff D Chelsea £34,355,304 £17,000,000 2003/04
Note: Robinho bought for a then British record transfer fee of £32.5m, was signed in an inflated market in 2008/09; his CTPP is £25,411,527

Although prices haven’t been adjusted for transfers in 2010/11, the table still provides a good basis for which to compare the transfers of Torres and Carroll. Given the inflation seen in this transfer window, coupled with the premium placed on English players over the past two windows, it’s fair to suggest that the CTPP for the players in the top ten will increase when adjusted for 2010/11.

It’s also worth taking note of Kuper and Syzmanski’s golden rules of the transfer market, which they outlined in Why England Lose. They show the most sensible way to approach transfers from a business and football point of view:

1. A new manager wastes money on transfers: don’t let him
2. Use the wisdom of crowds
3. Stars of recent World Cups or European Championships are overvalued; ignore them
4. Certain nationalities are overvalued
5. Older players are overvalued
6. Centre-forwards are overvalued; goalkeepers are undervalued
7. Gentlemen prefer blondes; identify and abandon ’sight-based prejudices’
8. The best time to buy a player is when he is in his early twenties
9. Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth
10. Replace your best players even before you sell them
11. Buy players with personal problems, and then help them deal with their problems
12. Help your players relocate

With these facts and rules in mind, let’s take a look at the two main deals of transfer deadline day.

Fernando Torres & Chelsea

What seemed a purely speculative bid a few days before the closing of the window turned into another Liverpool-Chelsea transfer saga, only this time the Liverpool player in question chose London over Merseyside.

In real terms, Torres’ transfer hasn’t broken the British transfer record; Andriy Shevchenko still remains the most expensive player purchased by an English club. It’s widely believed Shevchenko was an Abramovich buy rather a Mourinho purchase, and there are perhaps shades of the same situation here as ex-Arsenal striker Alan Smith points out.

Is Fernando Torres worth £50m? The player who tore apart Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Manchester United (not to mention Marseille and Chelsea) definitely warrants a high price. His strengths have been well documented, but the root cause of his decline in the last two seasons less so. Torres began to look disinterested as early as the start of the 2009/10 season, and after an opening day defeat to Spurs Benitez told his striker to calm down and focus on his football:

He seems to be distracted more and arguing a lot more, and I told him that he has to stop this. He knows he has to improve this aspect of his game. He has to be completely focused on his football and he knows that the way forward is to respond to any intimidation by scoring.

The bickering with opponents and referees was a new side to Torres, illustrated by the 13 yellow cards he’s picked up in his last one and a half seasons compared to 10 in his first two seasons in all competitions. Five yellows in the space of seven games last season and 3 in his last 4 Liverpool appearances cut a frustrated character, as much as his aimless wandering and slightly lack of goals.

So what happened in the summer of 2009 that triggered Torres’ lingering bad mood? Liverpool had narrowly finished second to Man United in the league, but sold key player Xabi Alonso and brought in a crooked replacement in Alberto Aquilani (sound familiar?) without any striking support. We can only speculate and go on hearsay, but Torres was disillusioned with the lack of investment at the club, and was supposedly convinced last summer by Kenny Huang to stay. For all their riches, Henry and Werner are not the owners Huang wished to be at Liverpool.

Coupled with recurring injuries and long-ball tactics under Hodgson, Torres saw football matches as a place to vent his frustration, an attitude many Liverpool fans reluctantly accepted given the iconic status he had already achieved. In hindsight, however, Liverpool fans acknowledge his attitude was unacceptable, and that manager Kenny Dalglish was correct to let him go.

Torres, at 26 years old (and 27 in March), has at the very most 3-4 more years at his frightening peak. His main asset is his pace, which, like Michael Owen, will depreciate with age. With it will go Torres’ resale value, though Abramovich has shown little interest in making substantial returns on his player investments, as shown by the CTPP table. Chelsea have ignored point 5 and 6 of Kuper and Syzmanski’s golden rules, that older players and strikers are overvalued, whilst Liverpool have capitalised on rule 9; Torres, at 26 years old, is not worth £50m. Two years ago, off the back of goals against Real Madrid and Man United in the same week, he perhaps was worth the money.

Verdict: Torres and Drogba will unquestionably complement one another, but signing a player around or even after his peak does little to bridge the gap between Chelsea’s ageing stars and inexperienced but talented young players, which will continue to be a problem for the club.

Andy Carroll & Liverpool

Either Damien Comolli knows something we don’t, or else Andy Carroll is ludicrously overpriced at £35m. In current prices, his signing may not match the fees of Shearer, Drogba, Rooney or Shevchenko, but nevertheless Liverpool have forked out an inflated sum for a player that is still unproven in the top flight, despite media hyperbole.

The signing has created some confusion over the approach of John W. Henry and Tom Werner, Liverpool’s new owners. Their arrival in October was greeted with the belief that they would bring Moneyball to football; signing players from cost-effective markets (see rule 4) based on statistical analysis to avoid issues from rule 7. The latter rule claims that scouts and experts can be influenced subconsciously by factors other than talent when judging players, such as noticing a player more on a pitch because of the colour of his hair. Comolli’s appointment, given his fascination with statistics, only supported the idea that FSG were targeting a numbers-based approach.

The Andy Carroll signing has blown this belief out of the water, but Paul Tomkins points out on Twitter a quote from Henry’s book on the Red Sox:

“Fill holes at above market prices when necessary” – part of John W Henry‘s strategy according to book “How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart…”

This was validated by Liverpool and Red Sox fan Paul Valentine in reply:

True, they paid $51m just for the bidding rights for Japan pitcher Dice-K in 06. Not afraid to splash cash when they need to

Clearly Moneyball in football is not at the forefront of their thinking for the time being, and the owners have made a statement that they can compete with Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United (but perhaps not Man City) when it comes to signing players.

Back to Carroll, and one comparison that was made throughout the day was to David Villa, the World Cup winner and world-class striker that cost Barcelona in the region of £34 million in the summer. The comparison was of course that of value-for-money, for which there is no argument for Carroll; Villa definitely fits the bill of a £30m+ striker whereas Carroll’s value would be much closer to the £10m mark.

Villa, however, is now 29 years old, and like Torres has little or no resale value to Barcelona. With UEFA’s financial fair play rules coming into effect, whereby clubs must break even from the 2011-12 season on a three-year rolling basis, Carroll at 22 years old at least represents an asset that Liverpool can sell for a reasonable price even if he proves less than  successful. In Kuper and Syzmanski’s rules, Carroll fits rule 8 and possibly 11, though Liverpool have ignored rules 4, 6 and 9. One can presume the new signings are largely the responsibility of Comolli than new manager Dalglish, though there is now added pressure on the club legend to produce results for the rest of the season.

Carroll’s arrival has meant the signing of Luis Suarez has been largely overlooked. The Uruguayan striker is much better value for money at £22.7m, and at 24 fits the bill to sell in the future for funds if required. The pressure is somewhat off Suarez, and he could prove a good foil for Carroll.

Verdict: Carroll is hideously overpriced, but his age and potential partnership with Suarez mustn’t be overlooked. Liverpool are still in much better hands than they were under Hicks and Gillett.

Harry Redknapp & Tottenham

Harry Redknapp may be next in line to become England manager, but his scattergun approach to transfers in the January transfer window is doing himself no favours at club management level for the time being.

It was plainly evident before the transfer window that Spurs needed a striker; Crouch, Defoe and Pavlyuchenko have mustered up a paltry six league goals between them this season. Why Redknapp chose until the final two days to lodge outrageous bids for La Liga strikers is therefore baffling. It is believed Spurs were interested in or put in bids for Aguero, Llorente, Forlan and Negredo, with a confirmed £35m bid for Giuseppe Rossi also rejected.

Whereas Liverpool and Chelsea targeted players they knew to be available at a price, Redknapp chose to throw a net out and hope for the best. In the end he got nothing, and the tactic must come as a worry to Spurs fans. When you recall the signing of Rafael van der Vaart in the summer was more opportunistic than planned, one wonders where Spurs’ season would be without the Dutchman’s influence.

Spurs and Redknapp need a Director of Football who they can trust. The club need to be able to successfully target signings in weak areas, and have someone who can concentrate on that role whilst Redknapp conducts the day-to-day running of the club. It is too much to expect of Redknapp to organise his team to perform on a weekly basis and individually recruit players; he needs the support of backroom staff.

Summary

Both Liverpool and Chelsea were prepared to sign players sooner to negate some of the effects of UEFA’s financial regulations, but the fact remains they paid over the odds for the two strikers. Clubs would be wiser to use Kuper and Syzmanski’s rules.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Duchezeau permalink
    1 February 2011 5:33 pm

    Thoroughly enjoyed this as usual, particularly as the tone was devoid of the sensationalist drivel that has already been written about this, and in particular Chelsea’s ability to meet UEFA’s FFP rules. Taking the Labour line of “this being a good day to bury ‘bad’ news” may have come to bite Chelsea back in the derrière, but some time needs to be spent looking at the figures more closely. Yes there is a loss of £70.9m, but importantly a significant portion of this is to ‘write downs’ or decreases in players values. As important is the fact that Chelsea have become cash positive, and this is an important step in moving to be in step with UEFA’s regulations.

    If anyone is interested, a little more detail in the figures can be found on the official website: http://www.chelseafc.com/page/LatestNews/0,,10268~2281149,00.html

    As it is, it is also the clubs prerogative to worry about the finances to an extent (as they know the full story/greater access to financial expertise) as long as they bare in mind how much the club means to the supporters, and in the mean time I’m going to bask in the glory of Chelsea signing Torres. I can’t recall the last time I have been this excited by a Chelsea signing.

    The normalisation of the transfer figures was something I intend to do for my own interest, and perhaps shows Torres and Carroll (Suarez’s transfer I feel can be ignored) are, or have the potential to be of great value.

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