Football hasn’t just evolved on the pitch it’s also progressed off of it over the past decade or so. These days fans have access to stats galore and if you’re prepared to pay for it you can even subscribe to scouting sites that clubs all over Europe use.
It’s this increase in exposure not just for fans but for clubs too which makes recruitment even more difficult. There are fewer undiscovered talents in the world football now. In the past only Europe’s elite would have been able to afford to scout certain regions but now practically professional club has access to these stats and videos. It was also easier when fans had no knowledge of players outside of the Premier League so when a player did arrive in England there wasn’t already a preconception. When a team spent £30 million on a player fans couldn’t turn around and reel off a list of 10 players who would’ve been cheaper but perhaps just as good and maybe even better.
It’s created the know-it-all fan who, no matter who a club signs, will say their team has missed a trick by not signing x player. But sometimes these fans may have a point. Over the past few years there’s been a rise in talented players joining mid-table clubs for one/two years before moving on to a bigger club. There’s always a stepping stone process involved in football but when these players are clearly good enough for the bigger clubs why are they so reluctant to make the move? Why do they allow the smaller clubs to sign these players and then have to pay triple the amount they’d originally have had to pay?
To get an insight into why I spoke to recruitment consultant and former analyst at Brentford and FC Midtjylland, Nikos Overheul.
Why do you think ‘big’ teams allow talented players, with clear strengths, traits and abilities to go to stepping stone clubs instead of missing out the middleman, saving money and bringing them to the club? I’m talking about the likes of Ngolo Kante, who did really well in Ligue 1, Vincent Wanyama and Virgil Van Dijk at Celtic, Naby Keita and Sadio Mane at Red Bull Salzburg.
- The reason why bigger clubs tend to let guys from worse leagues go to a smaller club is risk. Let's take Sadio Mané as an example. He was really good in the Austrian Bundesliga for Red Bull Salzburg. However, as we all know, the jump in quality from Austria to the top of the Premier League is very big. This means that despite performing at a high level in a lesser league, there is a significant degree of uncertainty as to how Mané would perform in a much more difficult league. Now that Mané has shown he's in fact capable of performing at the level required for Liverpool, there is a lot less risk involved in the deal. Of course, as you mentioned, this also means that the transfer fee rises considerably. In essence, the larger clubs pay extra to have less risk. With the amount of money these clubs have, that is a price they are willing to pay.
In a roundabout way Nikos is saying nothing in football is guaranteed but clubs are paying more for these players because there’s less chance of failure. It’s similar to buying a house. On one hand there’s a house that’s just been finished and the on the other one that needs restoring.
The latter may be a third of price cheaper than the former but you’ll need to invest time, energy and money to restore it and there’s no guarantee it will end up how you pictured it originally. Whereas if you opt to go with the finished product you’ll be paying big money to have to do very little, if any, work on the property.
The fact the TV deal pays so well means big clubs don’t have to take these risks. They can just head straight for the finished product in an attempt to get instant results. There’s copious amounts of money in the game meaning they can spend £35 million on a player that went for £12 million just 18 months ago. Of course, clubs and managers can opt to take the risk but it’s their reputation and job on the line at the end of the day and football these days is all about instant success and gratification. Patience is a myth. If managers were afforded time at clubs maybe there would be an increase in clubs taking chances with these players and cutting out the middlemen. Until then though there’s very little need for this.
In the modern game is there now less emphasis on playing positions and more emphasis on player profile? So if a manager has a certain profile in mind for an area of his team does it really matter what position the player is playing before the move?
- There's a move towards that at the highest level, yeah. It does require a very clear philosophy though, which not all managers have. Only when you have a coherent idea of how you want to play as a team, can you start thinking about which profiles players need to have. Of course, managers have to be capable of looking beyond what are doing right now and think about what they could do. Like players constantly on the half-turn managers have to do the same. Thomas Tuchel, Jorge Sampaoli and Pep Guardiola are good examples of coaches able to do that. This is not easy. Furthermore, as Jurgen Klopp has pointed out, internal improvement is also possible. Meaning that players can get better on the training ground, rather than bringing in extra quality through transfers. Players can adapt to different roles over time.