Most media commentators are awash with superlatives after the transfer window shut last night after over £200m was spent by English Premiership teams alone; for them, clearly football has again gone crazy. After UK GDP fell by 0.5% in 2010Q4 and consumer confidence recorded its sharpest falls since 1992, clearly it is argued football is out of touch with reality. That, of course, argues that at some point football has been in touch with reality, or that perhaps it should be…
Moreover, Liverpool have been at the centre of much of this transfer activity: star Fernando Torres has left for Chelsea for £50m, and has been replaced by Newcastle’s youngster Andy Carroll for £35m (that’s about £1m per goal he’s scored thus far in his career), and Uruguayan World Cup star Luis Suarez for around £23m. Liverpool are rarely out of the news, and this is their first real transfer activity since being taken over by New England Sport Ventures (NESV). The strong advocacy by NESV of what is generally dubbed Sabernomics (the use of statistics to inform transfer and other activity within a football club) has led to increased scrutiny of their activities. Brian Phillips picks up on this here, questioning this sudden splashing out of vast sums of money on unproven players (Carroll has barely got going, Suarez never played in England). The article is laced with cutting remarks about the use of statistical methods (well, anything other than a scout’s intuition I imagine) to influence transfer activity.
But of course, it’s a typically superficial and short-term analysis of the situation. The article looks at the sums paid, and the track record in simplistic terms (whether they have played in England, and how many goals they have scored). Yet Sabernomics is much deeper than that, and additionally market forces operate in the game forcing astronomical prices on players. I strongly suspect that the laptops at Liverpool will have analysed Carroll’s game at a much deeper level than just goals-per-game, looking at frequency and type of passes, of shots, of ability to link-up play, energy levels, general quality levels as revealed on the field. Carroll will be expected to score goals, but also to link up well with another striker and create a potent partnership, and to do his bit defensively also.
It may happen that £35m seems a lot, and it may have happened just after Torres left for £50m and hence smack of panic, but it’s fairly well known that English players attract a premium, and there must be sound reasons for that. There is a less of a risk that English players won’t settle in the country, there is less of a risk they won’t fit into the English game. If Carroll’s partnership with Suarez provides the kind of goals that it could well do (Alan Shearer has gone on record saying that the combo looks a lot like the Sutton-Shearer partnership at Blackburn back in early 1990s when Blackburn scored goals for fun and became the only team other than Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea to win the Premiership), then it will propel Liverpool back into the Champions League places, and more than repay NESV for this rather huge looking initial outlay in cash.
And do we really think Liverpool’s owners were that unaware that Torres might leave? Do we credit them with that little intelligence…?