Selling our Coutinho
Selling our best player is an immensely difficult decision. We are naturally loss averse, and want to protect what we have. We imagine all the things that could go wrong without them. This is even harder in January, when it is felt the disruption is magnified.
Key decision makers at Liverpool probably went through this process in recent weeks. Philippe Coutinho seemed to make the team tick, and there’s a sense his departure could derail their season entirely.
One way to fight these feelings is to look at the evidence. If we look historically at clubs who had a high net income in the January window – that is, they sold valuable player(s) without bringing expensive talent in – many saw performance deteriorate. However, the deterioration was much less than many would assume; after accounting for fixtures and the role of luck, the biggest drops in performance were less than 0.1 points per game. Over half a season, that’s less than 2 points.
In some cases, a potential dropping of 2 points is significant enough to deter us from doing a deal, no matter how lucrative. It is, nevertheless, smaller than we sometimes fear, partly because we often underestimate the quality of our replacement-level player – something we measure with our Player Contribution model. In the case of Coutinho, where we estimate a similar cost in performance versus replacement, £142m far outweighs the potential loss of a Champions League place.
That isn’t to say results can’t fall off a cliff after the sale of a star player, but to attribute it to the sale alone would be overly reductive. Indeed, some teams can even kick on and improve – Benfica have made a habit of this.
Ultimately, strategic clubs try to estimate – in objective, considered terms – the on-field impact of a player, and weigh it up against the offer received. Often we’ll find that the offer is too good to refuse.