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.”