In about 36 hours the summer transfer window will slam shut with the sound of a thousand clichés (and the weeping of a million twitter users). In years past, I've dedicated valuable brain power to analyzing why it's okay to let a favorite player go and spent hours trawling social media for hints and hopes as to what special deal is going to change our season. But this summer I just can't be bothered. Perhaps my detachment is the result of shifting priorities due to a very pregnant wife, a fairly serious meditation practice, years of disappointment, or our against-all-odds finish in the previous campaign. But, much more likely, it's the result of a book I read this summer.
"Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Spain, Germany, and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia--and Even Iraq--Are Destined to Become the Kinds of the World's Most Popular Sport" is remarkable for more than its absurdly long title. It's one of the very few books that have applied Billy Beane's cold market analysis to the game of Football. The book is good but not great. For one, it was written and updated before the last World Cup and so is exposed (before you even open the book) for being incredibly wrong about Brazil. It also predates the massive influx of television money in the Premier League making some of its authors' claims about profit in the league no longer accurate. But what it gets very right -- in the tradition of Beane -- is in its analysis of the transfer market.
In just the second chapter of the book, Kuper and Szymanski lay out "twelve secrets to the transfer market." The chapter is brilliantly constructed and filled with anecdotes and statistics that show how they reached their conclusions. I've read it a few times and come to the unavoidable truth: not only is Tottenham Hotspur's transfer policy working, but Pochettino is as by the book as you can get.
The Twelve "Secrets to the Transfer Market."
From "Soccernomics" by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
- A new manager wastes money on transfers; don't let him.
- Use the wisdom of the crowd.
- Stars of recent World Cups or European Championships are overvalued; ignore them.
- Certain nationalities are overvalued.
- Older players are overvalued.
- Center forwards are overvalued; goalkeepers are undervalued.
- Gentlemen prefer blonds: identify and abandon "sight-based prejudices."
- The best time to buy a player is when he is in his early twenties.
- Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth.
- Replace your best players even before you sell them.
- Buy players with personal problems, and then help them deal with their problems.
- Help your players relocate.
Perhaps the most obvious success in Levy's and Pochettino's reign can be seen by looking at the very first point.
A New manager Wastes Money on Transfers
Pochettino signed on as "head coach" in May of 2014. Over the next few months he signed seven players.
- Ben Davies
- Michel Vorm
- Eric Dier
- DeAndre Yedlin
- Federico Fazio
- Benjamin Stambouli
- Deli Alli
These less-than-magnificent seven cost the club a grand total of £27.7M. Worth noting, here, that in the summer window we sold 9 players for a total income of £37.7M including "big names" like Michael Dawson, Sandro, and Jake Livermore, and Gylfie Sigurdsson.
Compare this with Louis Van Gaal's first term at Manchester United that year. Van Gaal signed 8 players.
- Ander Herrera
- Luke Shaw
- Vanja Milinkovic-Savic
- Angel di Maria
- Daley Blind
- Timothy Fosu-Mensah
- Victor Valdes
- Sadiq El Fitouri
Van Gaal's bill at the end of the transfer window was a whopping £132M with profits from sales a reported paltry £27M. Also worth noting here that of their three big money signings only Luke Shaw is so far playing a big role in the current side with di Maria (£59.7m!!) having fled to PSG at a loss of almost one Vincent Janssen's value to the club.
Of course, Manchester United finished above Tottenham Hotspur that season... by six points. That's approximately £17m per point that they gained over us. (Or one Vincent Janssen per point).
Have United learned from their errors? Who knows. But I can report that in their current window they've plunked £145.3M on four players one of which they signed on a free but to whom they are shelling out astronomical wages.
Which leads us to point two:
Use the Wisdom of the Crowd
Many in the twitterverse lamented to the loss of Paul Mitchell and his Black Box. Similarly the question of "who the hell is making these transfers anyway?" seems to be a constant. No one really knows what happens inside the offices of THFC (though I hear they do a lot of cross bar challenges) but we can say for sure that no single person is making the call here. And that's a good thing. Both Van Gaal and Mourinho are, by all accounts, dictatorial in their approach to the transfer market. Pochettino is a dictator when it comes to training and his demands, but Levy has built a team that identifies and approaches targets for the club. Rather than rely on a DOF and Chairman we now seem to have a group of people that share the responsibility. And while that may be frustrating (who do we blame for failure???), the loss of Mitchell ought to be mitigated by the fact that there remains a continuity of leadership.
Stars of recent World Cups or European Championships are Overvalued; Ignore Them
Paulinho. Yedlin. Here we've failed. By the way this is an interesting point when considering Sissoko. More on him later.
Certain Nationalities and Older Players are Overvalued
Here I think we have truly shined. Much has been made of Pochettino and Levy's policy of buying youth. But what does that really look like? During Pochettino's reign we've bought 14 players. Their average age is 23.2 years old. In the past three years THFC have bought six players over the age of 23 for an average fee of £7M. In his first season at United alone Van Gaal spent an average of £34.25m on players over 23 years old.
Worth noting is that Van Gaal and Mourinho have spent big money on players from Spain, Argentina, and France. Our biggest splashing out during the Pochettino era was on Son Heung-Min a South Korean. Now, it certainly remains to be seen if Son was worth the £22M but I think we can agree that had Son been from Spain or Argentina or Belgium he'd be wortha bit more.
Center Forwards are Overvalued
This is a big one (and perhaps the most frustrating one for fans of Tottenham). This is the "Why don't we sign backup for Kane? / Who should we sign?" problem. The simple fact of the matter is that we can't afford to play the market the way Chelsea, United, City, and even Liverpool do. They are always going to be willing to outspend us on players like Batshuayi and we should be content to let them. Our current top choice number 9 is playing at 10, Ronaldo and Messi aren't big ol' CFs, and we got ourselves a Janssen. I'm fine with that. I'd rather that than spend over the odds for a player that may not be able to change the game and will almost certainly fall into the many other categories of overvalue (age, nationality, position, recent performance at an international tournament).
Sell Any Player When Another Club Offers More Than He is Worth
This is another big one, and one that causes endless pain for supporters who seem locked in an infantile "but, but, but, I WANT him to stay" mentality. Since Pochettino took over we've seen a LOT of players leave the club. Of note, we've sold:
- Ryan Mason (£13M) - age 25
- Nacer Chadli (£13M) - age 27
- DeAndre Yedlin (£5M) - age 23
- Alex Pritchard (£8M) - age 23
- Andros Townsend (£12M) - age 24
- Aaron Lennon (£4.5M) - age 28
- Roberto Soldado (£10M) - age 30
- Vlad Chiriches (£4.5M) - age 25
- Younes Kaboul (£3M) - age 29
- Etienne Capoue (£6.3M) - age 27
- Lewis Holtby (£4.6M) - age 24
- Paulinho (£9.9M) - age 27
- Kyle Naughton (£5M) - age 25
- Sandro (£10M) - age 25 (what?? really he seemed like he was fifty)
- Michael Dawson (£6M) - age 30
- Iago Falque (£4M) - age 23
- Jake Livermore (£8M) - age 23
What's interesting here is that if one ignores what we paid for them (almost all were bought before the Pochettino era) there's hardly a person on the list that we sold for less than their value. Perhaps an argument can be made that Pritchard's value would have gone up had he been given more time, but that argument is specious. We got £8M for a player that barely featured a minute last season. By definition that is an offer mare than he is worth.
Also of interest is that all of these players (there were many others sold but for much less money and of much less note) are 23 years old or more. Meaning they are at least approaching the point at which they will by Kuper and Szymanski's rules be overvalued. When viewed through the lens of time, for example, £4,500,000 for a 28 year old winger was pretty slick business.
Another way of looking at this point is take a good hard look at that list and ask yourself if you'd buy any of these players now for their sale price. If the answer is yes, let me know in the comments.
The last two points on the list: taking personal care of our players. When my friend, Javad, went to Hotspur Way he observed something that I had never thought of.
...Even seemingly little details like what the players are doing and where they should be [is] catered for in the way of a digital display...telling them exactly where to go and at what time. Passports, bills, buying furniture, all taken care of by the club. The idea is that no excuse can be used by a player to get in the way of the task at hand: contributing to the success of Tottenham Hotpsur Football Club. [Javad Movahedi via The Fighting Cock]
I don't know for certain whether or not Pochettino has helped his new signings settle in, but I can observe that Lamela has become a new player under Pochettino. Dier, Dele, Toby, Wanyama, Son, Davies, Trippier, and Janssen have slotted right into the squad with practically zero issue. And players that have not responded to the club's attempts to help them with their personal lives have been shunted off to the side with very little fanfare.
So what to make of all of this? As of this posting we are currently linked with Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Moussa Sissoko.
Sissoko has three marks against him: age (overvalued for being older & won't gain value because he's already 27), nationality, and a recent performance at the Euros. However, Kuper and Szymanski suggest that there's value in buying players with personal problems that can be rehabilitated. Sissoko's value is low largely because he's perceived to have a "bad attitude" and because he underperformed at Newcastle. He's always struck me as being dangerous, but I think his other marks against him outweigh the positive. Maybe he underperformed at Newcastly. But maybe he overperformed at the Euros. Either way he's too old and too French (vis a vis overvaluation because of nationality) to touch.
Nkoudou, on the other hand, looks to be smart business. We may miss out but it will have been worth the punt.
In the end, all this amounts to one simple phrase: we're doing fine. As television money pours into the league pushing prices higher and higher, we've managed to buy smartly and cheaply while strengthening our squad, blooding the youth, and challenging for another spot in the Champions League if not more. And while the clubs around us seemingly buy with glee, let's try to remember that smart money is better than dumb money, that there is almost no correlation between cost of squad and league position (though there is correlation to salary amount which is another story and perhaps another post), and that Pochettino has proven worthy of our trust.