So, the summer football transfer window is very much upon us once more. It is an event that has grown in immense scale and coverage over the past few years.
The sums of money involved are incredible, even when you look at one of the major leagues (English Premier League) in isolation;
- The 2016 summer transfer window smashed 2015’s total of £870million as Premier League clubs forked out a staggering £1.1billion on strengthening their squads
- Thirteen of the 20 Premier League clubs at the time broke their transfer records, with Manchester United making Paul Pogba the most expensive footballer in world football
- 2017 looks like it’s going the same way with Manchester United completing the signing of striker Romelu Lukakufrom Everton. The Belgium international has signed a five-contract at Old Trafford after United had agreed a fee, believed to be an initial £75 million
The ‘industry’ of football
When dealing with these sums of money, any industry would need to employ sound business principals to the decisions being made to ensure they are being made for the right reasons.
Football though is interesting when looked at as an ‘industry’. A sport that has always been treated as a sport, that thanks to global appeal and vast sums of money coming in over the past few years from television deals has suddenly had to grow up and become an industry.
This has presented football with many challenges that have required a real mindset change for those in charge of the sport (or industry). One of these has been around the buying and selling of players which now presents a set of very new challenges thanks to the huge sums of money involved;
- How can I ‘guarantee’ return on investment (ROI) to our shareholders?
- How certain can I be that the player will be a success at our club?
- What commercial value does the player represent?
- What about the player’s past will give us reassurance about their future and what should we be concerned about?
- We can see how their playing style will suit us, but what about them as a person?
Stats only tell part of the story
Like many sports and indeed many industries, football is blessed with statistics, and of course the advent of video and technology have only served to enhance these. Football clubs can now be increasingly reassured that the player they want to buy will meet their ‘on the pitch’ needs.
However, there are no statistics to effectively tell the ‘off the pitch’ story, and to meet challenges like those mentioned above. This ‘gap’ in the picture has caused many transfers that looked great on paper (the stats) to go badly wrong;
Eric Djemba Djemba
“So bad they named him twice”, so the joke goes. At Manchester United, Djemba-Djemba was billed as the new Roy Keane. It took just 20 appearances after his £3.5 million move from Nantes for supporters to realise that wasn’t going to be the case and he has been called Sir Alex Ferguson’s worst-ever signing. United made a loss of £2m when they sold him to Villa for £1.5m, but the move did little to help the midfielder’s reputation in England.
In 2000, £11 million was a lot of money! As such former Dynamo Kiev forward Rebrov is, undoubtedly, one of the biggest transfer disasters in the Premier League era. The Ukrainian never adjusted to life in London and his poor form helped contribute to the sacking of George Graham in 2001. Then Glenn Hoddle took a dislike to him. Spurs in total lost around £20 million on the player in fees and wages.
He was one of the most sought-after players in the world after helping Senegal reach the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup, and Liverpool splashed out £10 million. However, he proved a big disappointment and was prolific in just one area: ill-discipline. Despised by almost all his team-mates at Anfield, especially Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. The latter wrote in his autobiography: “I arrived for pre-season training anticipating my first view of the players who’d turn us into title winner. I returned home the same evening in a state of depression. Do you remember being at school and picking sides for a game of football? We do this at Liverpool for the five-a-sides. Diouf was ‘last pick’ within a few weeks.
Grabbi became Blackburn Rovers’ record signing in 2001 when he signed for £6.75 million from Italian club Ternana. The moody striker could not adapt to England and was singled out and ignored by the rest of the team both on and off the pitch. He scored just two goals in 30 games for Blackburn over a three-year spell.
Source: The Telegraph
So how do clubs and those representing their interests go about meeting this gap?
Off the pitch due diligence
Whether its speaking to a few people who ‘know’ the player (family, friends, ex colleagues, ex managers), doing a quick google search, checking social media or hiring a private investigator to dig up every piece of background information available, such diligence comes in many forms.
The level of diligence employed across football varies greatly, and is not necessarily relational to the size of the club(s) involved or the value of the transfer.
So, as we have with ‘on the pitch’ statistics, is there a place for a more consistent approach to ‘off the pitch’ due diligence?
Art or science?
Outside of the statistics in football that we’ve already talked about, new ground has been broken when it comes to transfer rumours. Thanks to the teams at MMRI Research and the University of Sheffield’s Department of Computer Science, Klood Radar, an online social and digital intelligence platform enables Football Whispers to apply a degree of science to all the noise out there, using a unique algorithm to calculate the likelihood of a transfer taking place. There are 3 elements that carry the most weight in this algorithm;
Has this scientific approach to art proved successful? Well, over 2 million website user sessions a month and growing fast, partners such as Sky Sports, The Sun and ESPN sharing the content with their audiences, and a raft of transfers predicted early and correctly, the evidence so far would suggest so.
Here at MMRI Research, we are now applying the same principals to the ‘off the pitch’ due diligence needs of football. Working with organisations across the industry, we are looking at the wealth of noise being generated by players off the field activity and applying the science (algorithms) to it, enabling us to get to the truth and key insights quicker.
The behaviour of people can never be predicted as an exact science of course, but what we are seeing is that when robust research methodology and scientific algorithms are applied using the right technology, a lot of the guess work and inconsistencies that have affected the football industry in the past when it comes to player transfers can be addressed in the future.
If you would like to discuss anything in this article or explore some of the topics raised further, do please contact me directly or reach the team here.