The Magical Mysteries of the Transfer Market

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From the outside, it can be more than a little enigmatic. How exactly do clubs decide on the amounts they pay for the players they buy? What makes one player more or less valuable than another?

Of course, the answer is a miasma of different factors. First and foremost, there’s talent – pure footballing ability. It goes without saying that talent and value are directly proportionate. From then on, the list gets more and more vague – age, of course, the younger the better. Position – yes, the more glamorous positions, the wingers, the attacking midfielders and the strikers will command larger fees, such is the highly visible way they contribute to the success of the team. Then what? The length of time left on a player’s contract? Nationality? Injury history? Recent form? The global status of the selling team? Some immeasurable amount of untested, locally concentrated hype? The factors get murkier.

What results is that transfers occur every off-season that prompt rounds of vigorous head scratching. He went where? And for how much? Deals done in previous seasons are dusted off and brought out as comparison fodder. The phrase “if this player is worth that much, then he must be worth [insert exorbitant figure]” is heard reverberating around the world. Coups are secured by some, and other clubs overpay by amounts that can skyrocket into the millions.

When West Ham had to cough up somewhere in the region of £11 million for Matt Jarvis in 2012, does it make much sense that Stoke City might secure Xherdan Shaqiri this year for £12 million? If we go by the reaction of this potential deal from Twitter, then the answer appears to be a resounding ‘what?…no!’ Jarvis was a player on the wrong side of 25, with one senior international cap, coming to West Ham from a recently relegated team, Wolverhampton. His skill set did not extend beyond that of the highly traditional, byline-seeking winger, and he did not register an assist in his first season for the Hammers. Shaqiri is 23, with 46 appearances and 17 goals for Switzerland. He did not cement a place in the Bayern Munich first team when he was there, but asking a young player to usurp Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller is like trying to cleanly peel a yoghurt lid off – not easily done, if at all. As this is written, Shaqiri is still officially at Inter, who have agreed to the fee offered by Stoke. Whether or not the Swiss attacker will agree to switch Milan for the very birthplace of the stereotypes about terrible British weather, is yet to be seen. But, in terms of the money changing hands, this deal defies logic.

Equally curious is the odd tale of Paulinho, a player who was bought by Spurs for £17 million in 2013, and who was, a few days ago, sold to Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande for close to £10 million. The affair winds up as a hefty £7 million loss for the London club, and yet at the same time, it looks like tidy business too, considering how far the Brazilian has slipped down the pecking order. His is a tale of how value can diminish faster than you can say “Na bancada, novamente?“. From bossing the midfield, to bussing to the airport in two mere seasons. He played around seven hours of football for Tottenham last season, with both Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason ahead of him in midfield. With a shot against Burnley twanging horridly off his boot, he sealed his fate at Spurs. But does one poor season, and one poorly executed outside-of-the-boot attempt on goal, mean a £7 million mark down? There was a clear reason why he was bought from Corinthians in the first place, why he was a key part of Brazil’s triumphant Confederations Cup victory in 2013. Such is the vicious life of a professional athlete; when your form drops, your stock goes down with it, and it can sink with a cast iron anchor attached.

There a more examples to be found in this young 2015-16 transfer period. What makes Gerard Deulofeu, who shone on loan with Everton two seasons ago, worth less than £5 million? Yes, he is still young, only 21, but should that not count firmly on his side? The Spaniard is exquisitely talented, a dribbler of impossible slipperiness and confidence, a player that should only improve. He is coming from the reigning European champions, albeit as a member of the second team. He is only a year older than Raheem Sterling; had Deulofeu been given the stage Sterling was given at Liverpool, you might be adding a zero to his price tag to match the one that Manchester City are trying to fix to Sterling’s chest.

And then another, this time a young Englishman, Nathaniel Clyne. The fourth player to move from Southampton to Liverpool in the last year, the 24 year old completed a move to Merseyside, for around £12.5 million. After a compelling campaign last season, Clyne established himself as one of the league’s top three players in the right-back position. Who was the last defender to make the now well-worn trudge out of the St. Mary’s stadium? Well, Luke Shaw, five years Clyne’s junior, but whose final season at Saints was not any more or less impressive. He was bought by Manchester United for for around £30 million, more than double the amount Clyne commanded. His youth was probably a factor, as would have been the fact that he had just signed fresh terms with Saints when United came knocking. But even so, the disparity is still considerable.

It’s a funny business, one that rises and falls on the ebb and flow of the market, a restless tide that no one can hope to predict with any surety. Who can say what is and is not a fair deal, when you know that some other transaction is about to bound over the horizon to reset what can be considered good value? It almost makes you feel a little queasy, that such monumental amounts of money are being flung around a system that only pseudo-science would attempt to predict. Let us just hope there is a bargain in there somewhere.

This article first appeared on Outside90.com

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