The point of Neymar
As European football restarts after the summer break, club’s’ performance expectations have been realigned based on the extent of their offseason spending.
While it is true that signings can often have a significant impact on a team, the points value of a new signing is generally overstated. One of the reasons for this is that league football is a zero-sum game, meaning that to win extra points requires someone else to lose. Simply put we just have to spend more wisely than our rivals. Secondly, one player can have a fairly limited impact on a team. Our analysis suggests that the maximum points impact of any single signing is around 5, which is lower than most expect.
That low points figure is logical, though. Let’s take Hull City and Tottenham last season, with 34 and 86 points respectively. The 52 point difference means that each Tottenham player, on average, was worth just under five points compared to Hull’s equivalent.
Furthermore, the impact of any new recruit is entirely relative to the player that they are replacing. Take Manchester United’s signing of Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku is a fine player and, at around £75m, fair value in the current market, but our player contribution model anticipates that he will have a negligible short-term impact on Manchester United’s ability to win games. The reason being that he is replacing Zlatan Ibrahimovic – a player of at least equal quality and anticipated impact.
For the top teams, finding players who make a material improvement on their existing core players is challenging. Even Neymar, who is undoubtedly one of the world’s best, will only add around 4 points to PSG’s expected points in Ligue 1, assuming he replaces Angel Di Maria.
So what can we take from this? Simply, that it is important to understand what the anticipated contribution of any prospective signing is. In many cases, it’s perfectly legitimate to sign a player who brings limited performance upside if they maintain existing performance levels. We may have to spend just to keep pace with our rivals (e.g. Lukaku, or Southampton’s many signings over the past few seasons).
Quantifying the impact of new players in points terms will help us stay focused on the goal of winning points, and ensure that we allocate our resources in the most efficient way. Ultimately, we will win more on the pitch if we are beating the market off it, and understanding player contribution is a significant step in that direction.