At the core of the Netherlands’ impressive run to the Women’s World Cup final was a group of four Arsenal players: Vivianne Miedema, Daniëlle van de Donk, Dominique Bloodworth, and Sari van Veenendaal. The Netherlands are far from the first national team that has leveraged a club connection, but could domestic clubs also take advantage of playing partnerships? What premium should we pay to transplant cohesion from one team into our own?
“Obviously it’s really easy, we’ve been playing together for two years,” said Miedema after their quarter-final win. “I just need to look at Dominique Bloodworth and I know where she’s going to play the ball. It’s the same with DVD (Van de Donk), we just have that connection. It helps me a lot and it helps our team a lot.”
For the Netherlands, there was no cost to utilising these relationships in their own team; they didn’t have to ‘recruit’ any of these players. But if, hypothetically, a club team like Manchester United wished to strengthen their defence, would they be better off spending €80m on two centre backs from different teams, or €120m on two equally-good centre backs from a single team – like Atlético Madrid’s Diego Godín and José Giménez (assuming in this hypothetical scenario that Atléti would demand a premium for having the heart of their defence ripped out)?
In other words, what is the extra monetary value of the relationships and understanding that a pair or groups of players bring? 10 percent? 70 percent? There’s no clear cut answer to this – there’s too few case studies to conclude from – but the question creates a framework that we should consider when recruiting players this summer. We spend time trying to ensure that players are the right fit for our side, and to consider the context behind their success at their current club; but what if the best solution is to directly transport that context to our own club? Should we try and sign not just the striker who impressed at another team, but the number 10 who was crucial to his success?
Indeed, this type of approach is not uncommon in the corporate world, where entire teams are poached by competitors. You could make a fair argument that the synergies between teammates in football can be much greater than those in business.
Of course this approach comes with practical challenges, and selling clubs would have every right to negotiate hard on such deals. But even the limited case studies we do have – at national level from Northern Ireland, to the aforementioned Uruguay pair, to (albeit indirectly) Tottenham’s former Ajax pairing of Alderweireld and Vertonghen at club level – suggests there is some merit to actively pursuing this recruitment strategy. Assessing and quantifying the performance benefit, and therefore monetary benefit, of this approach can help us determine the cost we’d be willing to pay.