Transfer fees and player value

Jordan Henderson joined Liverpool on 9th June for £20 million after making seventy-one domestic appearances for Sunderland. Four days later, Phil Jones signed for Premier League champions Manchester United for around £16.5 million after an impressive season for Blackburn Rovers.

Ashley Young soon followed Jones to Old Trafford (£17 million) while Ricardo Alvarez (to Arsenal for £12 million), Neymar(to Real Madrid for 45 million) and Alexis Sanchez (to just about every top club in the world for £45 million) are just some of the other players who have been touted for transfers this summer. All of these names have at least one thing in common: they have all prompted football fans around the world to state, “he’s not worth that amount of money”.
So-called ‘big clubs’ have been paying inflated fees for many years. The problem is that, once one team pays over-the-odds for a player, that becomes the benchmark. Cristiano Ronaldo clearly isn’t ‘worth’ £80 million but, as Real Madrid were happy to pay Manchester United this fee in 2009, other clubs took note; in football economics, if Ronaldo left Manchester for that much then surely someone, for example, who is half as good as he is should go for half the fee.
It obviously doesn’t work like that, because it is all about supply and demand in football (and the player’s contract has to be taken into consideration), but when Arsenal see Andy Carroll move to Liverpool for £35 million and Fernando Torres goes to Chelsea for £50 million after a torrid half-season at Anfield (and a poor World Cup before that by his admittedly high standards), it is hardly surprising that the Gunners scoffed at Barcelona’s £35 million valuation of their influential leader Cesc Fabregas.
The Spaniard isn’t ‘worth’ that – no human being is worth that amount of money – but this is the current state of the market. Fabregas is clearly a better footballer than Carroll, Robinho and Dimitar Berbatov, and they’ve each been bought for £30 million-plus in recent years, so common sense (or rather, footballing sense) dictates that Fabregas should be sold for more than this. Kaka went to Real Madrid for £56 million and I would imagine that Arsenal’s valuation of Fabregas would be pretty close to that.
Transfer fees have escalated because the big clubs are desperate to get their man but are not overly bothered about losing very little money, relatively speaking.
In the modern game we have the common issue of a player leaving a club at a young age and, because a side doesn’t want to miss out on millions of pounds which the player is predicted to be worth in the future, the buyer is forced to pay tens of millions of pounds extra. Henderson, Jones and to a certain extent Leeds United’s Robert Snodgrass – valued at £8 million by manager Simon Grayson last week – are all examples of this.
But do the clubs care? Of course they don’t. Ronaldo has scored sixty-six goals in sixty-three games at Madrid and the club are still doing well financially despite the obscene fee paid two years ago. They’re not going to care about the money if Ronaldo keeps producing the stunning performances that he is doing for the Bernabéu club.
Did Los Blancos worry about the £47 million fee they paid to Juventus in 2001 for three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane? What about Juve themselves when they bought their replacement for Zizou, Pavel Nedved, for £38 million? No, they were happy to pay it. No skin of their collective noses. They can afford it; it’s fine.
Except it’s not fine, because now, every time the transfer of a player is mentioned, the fee is one of the main discussion points. Dimitar Berbatov is rumoured to be leaving Manchester United for French side PSG for £11 million; it is not unreasonable to argue that last season’s Premier League top goalscorer is ‘worth’ more than this. But United are happy to accept it (allegedly) so why even bother debating it?
If football clubs are just going to treat transfer fees as digits on a screen, then that’s how transfer fees should be viewed. They certainly shouldn’t be used to rate a player or be mentioned every time a player hits a shot wide or misses the ball altogether (this is particularly prominent in the case of Fernando Torres); clubs don’t pay what a player is worth, they comply with the supply and demand-orientated market. Transfer fees, at the highest level of the game, have lost all meaning.
The fees are only going to get higher and higher, inflate further and further and so, with it, we should pay even less attention to them.
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