Last week was a lively one both at Carrow Road and on MyFootballWriter. The sale of Alex Pritchard prompted articles and debate. Some views expressed I supported wholeheartedly; others I took great exception to.
As always, it was nice to see the MFW family go at it with a level of cordiality and respect.
The club’s decision to cash in on a player who was a valuable asset but also, more importantly, a joy to watch has left it open to criticism from disillusioned fans.
I have a degree of sympathy, except when the debate ventures onto the subject of transfer fees.
As fans, we often disagree on the merits of individual players. One fan’s ‘decent target man’ is another fan’s ‘useless cart-horse’.
Hardly any wonder then that transfer fees and player valuations cause such heated debate.
You’d like to think there it was an exact science; a robust formula behind the valuations that get set.
Perhaps there is? Could it be that deep in the basement of FIFA’s headquarters, a giant computer server is whirring away, processing all the data needed to conjure up the transfer value of each and every player?
We all understand the broad principles and factors that determine a player’s perceived value. Ability, age, experience, salary demands, playing position and even nationality all have a bearing.
Throw in buy-out clauses, sell-on clauses, current contract length, performance related add-ons, image rights and sponsorship, the phasing and duration of the fee, the time of year and of course the players’ willingness to engineer a move, and the waters muddy pretty fast.
“He’s a 22 year-old English striker who scored 15 goals in League One last year and is entering the final 18 months of his contract. He’s gotta be worth X”
But what the hell is X?
In Coutinho’s case, it was reported to be £143 million.
A fee that highlights all number of issues.
Firstly, the game has gone mad – the emergence of owners to whom money really is no object has widened the gulf between the haves and the have-nots to the extent where even the have somes can’t expect to compete.
And the money spent by the super-rich clubs – those bank-rolled by Middle-Eastern Sheikh’s, Russian Oligarchs or Oriental businessmen – filters through and radically distorts the market.
It’s why Southampton pushed the fee for the sale of Van Dijk to Liverpool. After all, what’s £75 million to a club that’s about to land roughly twice that?
Of course, the likes of PSG, Madrid, Barca or even Man City don’t have to worry about the knock-on impacts of their free-spending ways. When money is no problem, there is no problem.
The rest of us are left trying to make sense of it all, and in the absence of FIFA’s super-computer, the best we can do is make comparisons;
If player A went for £20 million, then surely player B is worth £25 million?.
But that assumes we know the fees involved and the terms of each deal.
The wording that accompanies the headline figures often hints at the complexity – ‘A fee that could eventually rise to’, ‘a total package believed to be in the region of’.
The figures we see bandied about may only represent the first instalment of a multi-tiered transaction. Or they may represent the total outlay including agent’s fees, signing on bonuses, add-ons and inclusive of the annualised salary.
Not simply a case of ‘How much for Coutinho? £143 million? Cool – send him over and we’ll pop a cheque in the post’.
It all depends on how the respective clubs want to frame the deal and therefore what snippets (if any) they choose to feed to the media.
The buying club will tend to downplay the fee – suggest they got a bargain – in order to try and avoid creating pressure on their new signing to justify the sums involved.
Conversely, the selling club will seek to assure that they got ‘top dollar’ whilst not alerting other clubs to the exact amounts that they have burning holes in pockets.
Little wonder that most transfer fees are undisclosed.
We will never know the finer details of Pritchard’s transfer to Huddersfield, just as we don’t know the terms that brought him to Norwich in the first place.
Depending on what you read, we bought him for between £5-9 million and sold him for £11-14 million.
Plenty of scope for the disenchanted to pluck the numbers that suit their narrative.
To engineer huge sums from player sales that have ‘gone missing’ or to suggest that those negotiating and sanctioning deals are hapless fools who are giving away our top talent on the cheap or wasting millions on expensive flops.
Whatever complaints we may have about the strategic direction and long-term ambitions of the club, Stuart Webber is a man who understands the market he operates in.
Far better than any one of us and I’d suggest far better than some of his predecessors.
Whilst we can mourn the sale of individual players, we should trust that the ‘undisclosed’ figures involved in our transfer activity represent a reasonable and accurate valuation.
Right, off the soap-box and over to you for a game of ‘pin the value on the player’.
What price would you put on the following players? (feel free to add your justification)
- James Maddison
- Timm Klose
- Ivo Pinto
- Nelson Oliveira
- Cameron Jerome