Get the latest news and insights from 21st Club

Please read our Privacy Policy carefully to understand how we use your data. You can opt-out of our marketing communication at any time.

MailChimp Pop-Up

How to value the modern footballer: Algorithms, cheat codes and the scientification of the transfer market

There is a brilliant scene in the 1997 tragi-comic documentary There’s only one Barry Fry, a fly-on-the-wall chronicle of his disastrous time in charge of Peterborough Football Club, which reveals a bygone age when the wheeler-dealer manager was still a thing. Fry is sitting in a cluttered office negotiating the contract of potential new striker Miguel De Souza, repeatedly swatting away his agent’s demands with: “You ain’t gonna get that, fuckin’ hell!” As the talks are finally concluded, Fry shakes the player by the hand, smashes a gavel on his desk, looks down at himself and shouts: “Sold to the fat bastard in the blue blazer!” before laughing maniacally.

You suspect that, for better or worse, managers like Barry Fry are few and far between in football these days. The recent documentary All or Nothing: Manchester City revealed a slightly more considered approach – City’s executives are sitting in a swish suite discussing transfers and although their target list is blurred out, with hindsight it is easy to trace the shape of the letters spelling out the top name in the summer of 2017: Aymeric Laporte. With clinical efficiency, City signed their first choice and he played a key role in their 100-point season. Few clubs have the money to be as decisive, but across football Fry’s method of engaging in enthusiastic discourse has been replaced by something more subtle, and more precise.

Published: September 10, 2019