‘Manchester United’s Eric Bailly was Premier League’s most overpriced summer signing, claims study’. It’s the perfect headline for our times: The guaranteed clicks of Manchester United, an emotive word – ‘overpriced’ – guaranteed to provoke banterrific megalolz, and the added implication that there is some science behind this claim. Or at least it would have been the perfect headline if Manchester United’s Eric Bailly was not already looking every heavily-muscled inch the £30m centre-half.
This latest release from the boffins at CIES Football Observatory with their algorithms and their ‘econometric model’ only serves to highlight the ridiculousness of deciding a player’s value for money before he has barely kicked a ball. Like posting your TripAdvisor review before tasting the meal, it is ludicrous to decide as-yet-unseen footballers are overpriced, though we have admittedly been guilty of similar when balking at Bournemouth paying £15m for Jordon Ibe or the £38m price tag stapled to Odion Ighalo’s head. Bear with us, we’re all getting used to this new normal.
That the same Football Observatory (is there more than one?) declared Anthony Martial and Kevin de Bruyne to be the most over-priced players of the 2015 summer window should have warned them against a similar declaration 12 months later; hindsight rather than algorithm is your only friend when decided whether anything is worth £30m.
CIES claim their market values are ‘based on contract length, player age, inflation, player ability and more’, but no formula can take into account a player’s compatibility with the buying club. When Jose Mourinho described his new centre-half signing, he was not describing a £30m investment, but a footballer who was the perfect match – whatever the price – for Mourinho’s Manchester United.
“He is very strong physically and very fast. It’s not so easy to find a fast player when you have quite a big body; he’s a heavy guy, a tall boy who’s really fast.”
That fact that Bailly is also “technically very good” was almost an afterthought as he underlined Bailly’s size and pace a combined seven times in just 34 words. As is often the case with Mourinho, physicality was the first consideration, and ‘big and fast’ is a priceless combination. It’s that priceless combination that sparked his longstanding love affair with Didier Drogba, and it’s no coincidence that Bailly cited Drogba as a major influence in him joining United; Drogba instinctively knew that Bailly and Mourinho were made for each other and was happy to whisper that in the young man’s ear.
“So is Eric ready to come here and start performing from day one? I don’t know. It is a question mark but my job is to delete that question mark as soon as possible,” said Mourinho in that first revealing interview on the subject two months ago, when United fans were underwhelmed by the signing of player who had barely registered on anybody’s radar when they wrote a wish list of defensive targets; they were yet to adjust to life under a manager who prizes a Willian over a Juan Mata or Branislav Ivanovic over any actual full-back with a normal-sized behind.
Two months have since passed and that question mark has been erased, with Bailly’s power, pace, hunger and surprising technical ability making fans talk headily of combining the best of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in a Rolls Royce with bull bars and a Ferrari engine. After four United performances, he has three Man of the Match awards and a nomination for the club’s Player of the Month accolade. The only person at Manchester United unimpressed with Bailly’s impact must be Chris Smalling.
‘Who do you think is the better signing ahead of the Manchester derby?’ asked Sky Sports News on Wednesday morning as they highlighted the statistics of Stones and Bailly. The answer? The possession-hungry Stones was the better signing for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and the quick, physical Bailly was the better signing for Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. Stick that in your econometric model.