Money, money, money: playing the transfer market

The transfer market is closed until the New Year window, but Andrew Curry* draws on his knowledge of finance and football to mull over the process that saw Kenwyne Jones and Martyn Waghorn leave Sunderland and Asamoah Gyan arrive …

I like Kenwyne Jones.

I like his languor, his goal celebration, the way he could – on his good days – really worry opposing centre halves.

And I’ll forever remember his decisive goal at Craven Cottage three seasons ago which we all knew, as supporters, would keep us up that year.

But when I heard that Sunderland were selling him for £8 million to Stoke. I thought of one of Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s 14 rules of the transfer market: “Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth” (Rule 9). Waghorn’s move to Leicester arguably comes under the same heading.

And I don’t need to bother mentioning Darryl Murphy here. £1.5m, allegedly? Hand. Off. Bite.

The “rules” are in their book, Why England Lose and are based on economic analysis of transfer deals. Lyon have made an art of it – arguably their rise to the top of the French leagues has been built on their hard-headed approach to the tranfer market. I wondered how some of Sunderland’s summer business stacked up.

Well, fans were certainly worried to see Jones – caricature courtesy of A Love Supreme – go without a replacement on board (“Replace your best players even before you sell them”, rule 10). And buying Asamoah Gyan after his successful World Cup is clearly a “fail” against Rule 3, that ‘Stars of recent World Cups or European Championships are over-valued. Ignore them”.

Jonathan Wilson pointed out on Twitter that Manchester United got a better deal on Hernandez by signing him in May.

It’s also the case that strikers are overvalued and goalkeepers are undervalued (Rule 6), which is why Simon Mignolet only cost about one-tenth of Gyan’s club record fee. (And Roy Keane, of course, was the famous exception to that rule when he bought Craig Gordon.)

It’s best to buy young (Rule 8), because older players also tend to be over-valued (Rule 5), although to be fair this isn’t a mistake you can lay at the door of Bruce and Quinn.

But the real problem is that, unlike with wages. there’s not a clear link between transfer fees and league success.

Generally, it’s better to get those most from what you’ve got, bring young players through, have scouts in the less fashionable leagues looking at less fashionable nationalities. Steve Bruce has a pretty good track record at this, both at Wigan and Sunderland, when you think of Rodallega, Figueroa, Mensah, Riveros and da Silva, the best non-playing defender in the top flight since Thomas Helmer.

And to keep an eye open for rough diamonds who others don’t fancy.

Brian Clough was a master of this at Forest. Rule 11 is “Buy players with personal problems, then help them deal with their problems”.

Gyan looks to be an exciting player, and certainly Kenwyne wouldn’t have finished off Henderson’s cross against Wigan in such style. But 10-goal a season strikers like Jones aren’t that common in the Premiership, especially when you already know their strengths and weaknesses.

And you also can’t help thinking that as football’s economics get tighter, managers will be encouraged to spend less time playing the transfer market and more on helping players who they think are under-performing: a bit less cash and a bit more psychology.

Managers who seem to turn round and say, as Bruce seemed to do with Kenwyne, that he was frustrated by the gap between a player’s talent and their performances, will be told that they’re not trying hard enough.


“Andrew Curry was born a Sunderland supporter – his father came from Silksworth, his grandparents lived all their lives in Ryhope. He was brought up to scan the paper anxiously for the latest news of the team’s disappointments. But he’s never lived close enough to see the team play regularly, so live matches are a treat, whatever the score. His favourite Sunderland memory is of blagging a last-minute ticket for the quarter-final game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in which John Byrne scored an implausible late equaliser.”

8 thoughts on “Money, money, money: playing the transfer market”

  1. Davey;

    I think that’s some kind of physical therapy that you are referring to there! 🙂

    The current problems are in the head and not the bed.

  2. I’m sure Keane tried a sports psychologist – I’ve seen the video she was lying on the bed and Liam Lawrence was standing ……………………. sorry wrong clip !!!!

  3. I was interested in your closing comment about using psychology. Given the terrible away record that Sunderland have had for several seasons, (going way back before Steve Bruce), I am surprised that the club have not invested in a sports psychologist to prepare them for away trips. Bruce changed the routine around at the weekend with the team arriving a bit earlier, and was quoted as saying that they will try anything. Professional help is available. Other clubs have done this, so I’m surprised that our lot haven’t.

  4. A very readable article. Bruce has trawled the backwaters looking for bargains and has come up trumps.

    The fear of doing this always is that you find a bloke who looks like a potential star who can’t do it in the PL. Bruce is a very good judge of a player and seems to go on what he sees, and less on reputation (which is a good thing).

    I haven’t seen Jones against Villa. I am of the same opinion as our manager on Jones (see comment above). Lazy and ludicrously overated. He started off well for us and looked unplayable for three games. After that he was just a waste of a shirt. He was never going to pull up any trees for us. Gyan looks a much better prospect.

  5. Question what was the last season the English top Division was played without a team wearing Red & White Stipes?

  6. Yes Jones looked a bargin at 8 million last night, but lets be honest he often flattered to deceive at Sunderland, he was our best player when Keane bought him but he wasn’t when he left. Gyan might be against the golden rule of transfers but at 24 and his obvious eye for goal he looks value for money if not a bargin. It doesn’t really matter what they cost as long as they adapt to the English game give 100% and do the business on a Saturday. Gordon struggled to shake off the tag of Britains most expensive keeper, but his ability and determination kept us last up last year and that I am told is worth 20 million. The transfer deadline has had the result of causing last minute negotiations to put the pressure on the buyer and to inflate prices if the buyer is desperate, Wigan tried the Lyon approach with N’zogbia but no team bit, Ashley Young the same senario, but where would we be without Gyan and an injury to one of the strikers we were desperate and that inflated the price. I for one would like to see an end the inflationary system of transfer windows and return to sanity

  7. Witnessed a new improved Kenwyn Jones last night . Full of running , closing down defenders , andactually holding up the ball quite well . Scored an excellent goal , the type of header he performs to perfection . Still can’t beat the goalie running through on a one to one , though .
    Let’s hope Gyan proves as effective for us , he’s had a good start

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