Don’t waste a good mistake
The push towards data driven decision-making demands that we base our future strategies on evidence and, as some of the biggest decisions a club makes, dealings in the transfer window are no exception. But how can we benchmark our transfer policy against other clubs’ when there are so many different factors at play? Without a solid basis on which to evaluate our past decisions, we’re just as likely to lead ourselves astray as to learn from our past mistakes.
Comparing the success of two marquee signings for clubs competing at a similar level can be fairly straightforward: looking at the players’ minutes played over the subsequent seasons is a good starting point. However, a player might be brought in to provide squad depth, in which case, how far should we lower our expectations of a player’s pitch time? And how do we account for young signings who are not expected to impact as much in the short-term?
To help cut through these conflicting factors, we’ve looked at historic data to create some benchmarks for how many minutes we’d expect a player to play over the next two seasons given their position, their age and their fee as a % of the squad’s total value.
This gives us a simple way to evaluate a transfer’s success: if the player featured more frequently than their benchmark, the deal represented good value. If they play less than the benchmark, the transfer was less successful.
As an example, we can compare two strikers who recently moved to Premier League clubs: Callum Wilson and Rodrigo. Wilson signed for Newcastle for around €22m. The fee amounts to a little less than 10% of Newcastle’s total squad value, and at 28 Wilson is clearly expected to be a regular first team starter. Given these two things, our benchmarks suggest Newcastle should expect Wilson to play 65% of minutes.
How does that compare to Leeds’ acquisition of Rodrigo? Here, the player’s €30m price tag represents a much bigger chunk of his new club’s total squad value and so the benchmark playing time we’d expect is accordingly much higher at 85%. Few Premier League strikers consistently attain this much pitch time: if Rodrigo is to hit the level demanded by his fee, he will need to become as integral to his club as Jimenez, Aubameyang and Vardy are to theirs.
We’ve so far evaluated two signings of a similar profile, but we can now compare them to a younger signing, such as Fabio Silva’s move to Wolves for €40m.
Wolves will be looking to secure a long-term return on their investment, and so Silva’s playing time might not be too great a concern in the short-term. We have written before, however, that the market valuation for a player prices in their expected future performances: a young player needs to exceed these expectations in order to increase in value. Despite his young age, the size of the transfer fee means Fabio Silva’s benchmark is ~55% of minutes. This feels difficult to achieve given it would represent a big step up from his pitch time at Porto last season. Should he instead go on to reach a more attainable 35-40% of minutes, his playing time would be more in line with a signing worth €20m.
Simple benchmarks like these can help us to objectively evaluate our previous transfer strategies, while also providing a sense check against a proposed transfer fee: if the playing time benchmark feels too high, it might be a sign we’re overpaying.