Sense Of Value Lost In Current Transfer Market

In the days of oligarchs with infinite pots of money, it is becoming impossible to assess value in the transfer market. John Nicholson has a headache...

Last Updated: 01/09/14 at 10:49 Post Comment

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Transfer deadline day has turned into one of each season's most dramatic, if over-hyped, moments of entertainment. The media gets very excited, especially Jim White who goes into a manic mode which could reasonably be said to have evolved to the point of self-parody.

The evening show which he fronts up has been trailed all week. And, let's be honest, it's a lot of fun, not for the transfer news, because that's all mostly been put to bed, but because of how so much is made out of so little for so long.

Television lights outside football grounds draw children to them like zombies to fresh meat, gurning at the camera like a long lost tribe in the Amazon hypnotized by technology. There's usually a worry-eyed reporter who fears the mob will turn on him and kill him if he doesn't deliver big transfer news. Then there are those people of all ages whose existence seems dedicated to wearing sports clothing in sizes either far too small or far too big for them, who seem hugely entertained by chanting names of footballers and jumping up and down. Sometimes it's like looking at animals in a zoo, but it's hard to know if you're on the outside of the cage or locked inside.

Interestingly, the early versions of the trailer for Sky's programme featured Jim White 'taking' a phone call and saying 'Harry - what have you got for me?' But this weekend appeared to have been edited to lose the word Harry. Perhaps it played up to one too many clich├ęs even for this far too self-knowing, shark-jumped event.

It seems hard to remember the time before the whole concept of the transfer window was brought into being but it was only made mandatory by FIFA in 2002 - before that you could just buy and sell anyone at any time. There were pros and cons of this, just as there are of the transfer window, but now it's all poured into two separate time periods it seems much less entertaining overall, but more entertaining on the final run-in. However, perhaps more seriously, it is surely this deadline that has slowly made transfer fees insane.

Indeed, the whole culture of transfers seems to have gone somewhere south of sanity. When Xabi Alonso is transferred to Bayern for £7m less than Ross McCormack's transfer to Fulham you can't help but feel something is out of whack with the world.

It now seems as if each transfer exists in its own bubble and bears no relation to any notion of the wider market or to anything paid for any other player. Prices paid seem to depend on where in the window timeline we are, how much the player is needed by the buying club and how much he is superfluous to the selling club, as well as on the motivation of the player to make the move and also, in large part, on a random number plucked out of thin air by an agent or chairman.

We used to have a notion of how much a player was worth in relation to the overall market. Fees would rise with inflation but the really crazy ones were few and far between. But now, in the era of richer-than-Cresus oligarchs for whom money could literally be confetti, any fee number seems to have become almost worthless. It has no relation to anything we might understand in our lives. It is just a number.

The Angel Di Maria deal will cost Manchester United £130m in total. Is that good value or poor value? Does it even matter anymore if it is or isn't? How will we ever be able to tell? It's impossible to say.

How do clubs come up with a price in the first place? Is £16m for Calum Chambers a lot or not much? Is £35m for Alexis Sanchez a really high fee? Lukas Jutkiewicz cost Burnley £1.5m from Middlesbrough and he looked a good player for them this weekend. Is that a pittance to pay or is it just the right amount? We no longer have any idea.

How can we? It's not even as if every cheap player is rubbish or decrepit and every expensive one brilliant - that is proven season after season. But, even more than that actually, I no longer know what is a high number or a low number when it comes to football transfers. In fact, even the highest of fees such as Gareth Bale's seem small in relation to the sponsorship and TV deal numbers. We might instinctively think the Di Maria fee is sky high but in relation to United's income, it isn't. So is it high or is it not? I wonder if those making the deals have any idea themselves.

The numbers involved are all over the place. I have no idea how a player is even valued any more. Why did David Luiz cost £50m? Based on what? Why was Diego Costa £32m and not £20m or £60m? How did Hull decide to pay, and Norwich decide to accept, £7m for Robert Snodgrass? Snodgrass seems a bog standard player really, so is seven cheap or is it much? How does anyone decide? Could Manchester United have got more than £4.4m from Dinamo Moscow for Alex Buttner or did they get £4m over the odds for a useless piece of meat? In one way £4.4m is a lot of money. Huge. But for United it's chump change. It's hard to know what value to hold over these numbers.

The meaninglessness of transfer fees doesn't actually help most clubs who are under pressure to spend money to improve the squad. It used to be the case that the more you spent, the better it would be. But not any more. You might spend £50m on a defender and still get David Luiz. Manchester United spending over £200m in the last 13 months should, you'd feel, guarantee recovery, but it probably doesn't. They might all be the wrong players. The very high numbers don't mean they'll work.

It seems that the fees paid for players have never bore less relation to what the player can deliver for the side than they do now, which is probably why so many are now officially 'undisclosed'. There's so little confidence in having paid the right amount for a player that the clubs have stopped even telling us how much they've coughed up.

You can test my theory that we have no idea how much a player should cost by picking a name from our Deadline Day Transfer Blog, Lewis Holtby. He could be leaving Spurs. You know Lewis, nice hair, looks like he smells of soap, you could take him home to meet your mam and he'd not poo on the carpet. He's a useful, once-loved player, now out of favour. How much would you pay for him? Spurs paid £1.5m for him. He's 23 and for a while was axiomatic to the Spurs midfield. So how much for Holtby - £2m, £5m, £10m? He's young with great potential, so maybe £15m or £20m?

You don't know do you? You haven't a clue. None of us has. If he's sold today for any number at all we won't know if that's a lot, some or not much for a man of his talent and not even Jim White's staring eyes can resolve that for us because, in the words of Jefferson Airplane, logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.

Buy a copy of Johnny's new Californian rock 'n' roll thriller,'The Girl Can't Help It' here www.johnnicholsonwriter.com/#girl

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