Archive for the ‘Transfers’ Category

Tottenham Hotspur visit North Middlesex Hospital

Toronto FC, backed by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, is now a major player in Major League Soccer’s all important (and never-ending) image stakes, and Don Garber’s Quixotic quest to make America’s soccer league compete with the best Europe has to offer by 2022. Under the leadership (we presume, because as of writing we have no clue who or what pulled this heist off) of Tim Leiweke as president and CEO, the club will add 31 year old striker Jermain Defoe and almost certainly Michael Bradley, the 26 year old American midfielder who last played for AS Roma and who will be a key figure in Brazil for the World Cup. All for a reported cost of $100 million dollars, which I cannot write without hearing Mike Myers do his Dr. Evil shtick.

If this was Sunderland, there might be a bit of chatter in the English papers. But this is TFC, a team with an all-time league win percentage of 23% whose fan base still sings the name of a journeyman striker who last played for PNE before becoming their first major signing in 2007.

In other words, this is really weird, you guys.

Despite the world ending craziness involved here, the story should be as obvious as it is stunning: crappy club in financially conservative league signs great players, change gonna come. All you need to know is right there in the push alert (all anyone needs to know about anything is in push alerts). But if you want to be pedantic about it, basically there are more teams in the world than there are consistently good players in the prime of their careers. And so the more money a team spends to buy some of those players, the better players they’ll get, and the better those teams will play. So the richer the team (and league), the better it will be. Repeat ad infinitum and trophies!

So, logically, it should follow that for MLS to compete to be the best in the world—or, rather, its club front offices in tandem with MLS HQ—it needs to make more of these kinds of deals to get the best players. And that means it would need to figure out a fiscally responsible way to allow teams to spend more to compete over and above the limits of MLS’ single entity structure, in which the league co-owns its member clubs and instills a max budget and max salary per player (for an explanation of single entity, read this). Whether that means a $10 million team budget or added DP slots, I don’t know.

This is kind of true, but it doesn’t quite jibe with the clumsy reality of football. All winning teams need to spend to compete, but unless you’re Man City or PSG, you can’t just spend to compete. In MLS, you can’t just spend to compete at all, because the league won’t let you. And anyway, you won’t win many MLS Cups. And before you say, “LA Galaxy!”, a quick tour of their roster reveals a mostly-American team including Landon Donovan who has been there since 2005, Omar Gonzalez since 2009, Todd Dunivant since 2009, etc. etc. As for this year’s winners SKC, there are more home grown players than DPs.

But these teams can’t compete with the best of La Liga and the Premier League, right? Well we don’t actually know that until we set up an intercontinental club competition, but the answer is certainly no, they can;t. But then La Liga and the EPL are what they are because one has become quite adept at producing talented young players, and the other loves football more than life itself and has learned a way to turn that love into money to buy really good Spanish players. This is of course a caricature, but you see my point.

If I’m America and I want a really good soccer league, I know the one way to go about it isn’t to buy the world’s best players and hope for the best. It would be awesome for a year or so until one by one each team went bankrupt. So I can only do the one thing with a hope in hell of working: producing good or even elite players and then spending the money to keep them here, and, if necessary, sell the very good ones at a lucrative premium to the best clubs in Europe.

This is a slightly more cost-effective strategy than the Westervelt wet dream of scrapping single entity completely and letting MLS clubs compete in the financially idiotic European transfer market. The idea this will somehow make MLS a contender is ludicrous. The market can’t bear that kind of market malfeasance, for one. What you’ll get a mediocre soup of charlatan agents hocking off kids with German and Spanish pedigrees who are no good than what the league already employs. I don’t want to drink that soup.

I write “player development” like it’s a thing that you can just kind of do. Even so, despite the wide spread belief that elite players absolutely NEED to be developed along very specific lines with all the right coaches and the right techniques (usually involving something Dutch and something Spanish) and the moon being in the 7th house, producing good players often comes to down to giving them playing time alongside other good players, letting them do their thing, and then watching as they suddenly score 25 goals in a single season. And we know from America’s dominance in the summer Olympic games that, when this nation needs to, it can produce the best athletes in the world. Football should be no different.

So while Bradley’s arrival, an American player in his prime, is huge news both for the perennially awful Toronto FC, it’s perhaps in a way as important as news that the same club today signed their 17 year old academy player Jordan Hamilton to the first team. Bradely is one more American midfielder in his prime playing at home, in America (well, Canada, but it all works).

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The 2013 European Summer Transfer Window has closed. The game of musical chairs is over. Fans and journalists have argued over the relative merits and drawbacks of their club’s signings, often referring to various statistics to make their point, from chances created to goals scored.

While proprietary concerns prevent us from looking with detail at how and in which ways analytics may have aided various teams in their search for the best players they can afford, there are still some lessons for us in the wake of the annual summer-long spree.

1. We have no idea what’s going on

By ‘we’ I mean the vast majority of us fans and journalists who are outside the confines of the club front offices. While we know a lot about the process of player transfers–protracted negotiations, helicopters landing in fields, agents fees, phantom third party bids meant to drive up the asking price–we don’t really know what clubs are looking for in the market, or whether scouts are armed with reliable predictive metrics that amateur analysts can only dream of, and if they are, whether they even have any real power in deciding who the club will sign.

This knowledge gap means we should be very careful when praising or criticizing clubs for various signings. We should also avoid making the lazy assumption that if a club buys players that aren’t already household names in England (like City did, for example), it means they based their decisions on in-house analytics. We probably shouldn’t even assume that failed bids are evidence of incompetence; despite the sums involved, it’s possible some clubs are more committed to strengthening the squad than others. Those who are not might prefer to chance less aggressive bids even at the risk of failure.

Finally, we shouldn’t assume that some or even most clubs are using analytics at all. Predictive individual player metrics may be a lost cause in football analytics, even when used in conjunction with traditional scouting methods; it might be far better to just chance it and rely on team analytics to aid the first team coach in doing their job.

2. The analytics-based transfers wouldn’t, in theory, generate headlines

Surprise! Clubs spend a lot of money on already good players because they tend to stay good, despite some very well-known exceptions (like Fernando Torres and Andy Carrol, as if you needed me to tell you that). That’s why the 34 league goal-scoring Gareth Bale went to Real Madrid for a record fee, and why Arsenal fans are pretty happy today that one of the best play-makers in world football, Mesut Ozil, is a Gunner. What clubs see might be what clubs get, without the need for elaborate metrics.

Presumably if a club has predictive player data that’s worth keeping secret, they wouldn’t be using it to make big name signings but instead to bet on younger unknown prospects at a reasonable price who they believe will develop into major assets down the road. Transfermarkt is a great resource for this…might be worth keeping an eye on the lesser lights to see how they fare in the long term, and to see if certain clubs have a better track record in graduating these players to the first team than others…

3. Transfer analytics should go beyond players

The big theme of this year’s market has been the perceived importance of the role of director of football to help guide the transfer process. Some journalists for example asserted that Man United and Arsenal’s several failed bids came down to the lack of a strong personality experienced in difficult transfer negotiations, while praising the work of Tottenham’s technical director Franco Baldini and Txiki Begiristain at Manchester City in getting things done.

It’s not really good policy however to hire a director of football based on anecdotal evidence from a single summer, and we have no idea how both Spurs and City’s acquisitions will fare over the coming season. But this summer revealed an opportunity to use data not just to evaluate players, but also to establish best practices in transfer dealings in general. As in: when is the most opportune time in the window to lodge bids? Is it better to low-ball in the hopes of a smaller fee, or ward off competition by offering above asking price? Are there clubs with a historically good record of buying good players on the cheap, only to sell them for a profit later on? If so, is there approach reproducible elsewhere? And, finally, is it better to delegate transfer negotiations to someone other than the manager or the chief executive?

Counter Attack has already looked at the possibility of front office analytics in the past…perhaps the next step would be for analysts to look at the transfer market as a separate entity altogether with its own attendant problems.

4. Sometimes not making a dumb transfer is more valuable than making a smart transfer

If you haven’t already, I recommend reading Phil Birnbaum’s post on Slate from July. He argues for the importance of analytics in not just making smart decisions, but avoiding dumb ones:

If the 1980 Expos had had a sabermetrics department, they could have spent hours trying to squeeze out a couple of extra runs by lineup management … but they would have been much, much better off figuring out that Rodney Scott’s offense was so bad, he shouldn’t have been a starter.

It works that way in your personal life, too. You can spend a lot of time and money picking out the perfect floral bouquet for your date, but you’re probably better off checking if you have bad breath and taking the porn out of the glove compartment.

If it’s true that sabermetrics helps teams win, I’d bet that most of the benefit comes from the “negative” side: having a framework that flags bad decisions before they get made.

Transfer deals often come down to luck of the draw, but in the end it might not matter much. Elite talent is spread thinly at the top, and most of the differences in valuation seem almost arbitrary. And all the probability tables in the world can’t prevent a broken leg, or a sudden dip in form, or the incompetence of a first team coach.

For that reason, it might be far better for clubs to invest in analytics as a safeguard against dumb transfer decisions, rather than as a means to make the ‘perfect’ transfer. After all, the window is open for a limited time. Stuff has to get done. Rather than waste time on a specific bid that will go nowhere, a club director should just be able to ask their analyst “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I get this guy instead of this guy?”, or even “Who should we sell right now?”

5. The most useful metrics are sometimes the ones within plain sight

A lot of ‘amateur’ analysts and journalists think they’re just spinning their wheels publishing their work online while the clubs rely on their own internal information in order to decide who to buy. But it’s equally possible that the best information comes in the simplest packages, and that club analysts read the Internet like the rest of us. I think here of Ted Knutson’s simple and attractive use of assists among U22 players as a good metric for judging attacking midfielders.

As more and more analytical work goes mainstream (thanks as ever to Adam Bate, who is leading the charge over at Sky Sports), more club scouts and analysts might use simple, publicly available analyses in addition to their own work in helping to make transfer recommendations. Big data isn’t always better, and with all the luck and unforeseeable circumstances involved in spending big money on players, it might be better to just go with something as simple as, does a striker shoot the ball to the sides of the net more often than the centre. Perhaps the best club analysts are just trolling Squakwa and James Grayson’s blog like the rest of us. Scary stuff, I know!

6. General data on athletic ability and decay could be far more powerful than assists/goals

One of the more powerful presentations I saw at the Sloan MIT Sports Analytics conference in Boston last March was a paper from a baseball analyst who used an extraordinarily simple yet brilliant method to develop a top prospects list. The list he presented was in many ways identical with the scouts list in publications like Baseball Prospectus, but his came entirely from a forecast model. All he did was to take a huge pile of historical data on prospects, and isolate which key performance indicators extrapolate well from youth (under 18) into an adult career. They weren’t always the ones you might think (ie home runs aren’t the be all and end all at a certain age).

I think this approach has huge potential in a football setting. Are there key performance indicators that demonstrate underlying ability, longevity of skill, and, perhaps more important, susceptibility to repeated injury? This entire approach could be a chimera, but it’s a road worth travelling at least.

7. Big transfers are not always bad transfers

Perhaps it’s the lingering effect of Moneyball, but fans of analytics in sport shouldn’t always assume that big money transfers for single star players are always worse than a small collection of less expensive but promising stars who have yet to reach their maximum potential. In other words, it’s still possible that in Spurs’ case, Soldado, Eriksen, Lamela, and Chriches might not equal Gareth Bale, and that Mesut Ozil could be of more potential value to Arsenal than City’s four signings in Navas, Fernandinho, Jovetic and Negredo (although that would be a stretch).

Each transfer should be taken on its own merits in the context of the team’s pre-existing, empirically demonstrable strengths and weaknesses. Which means Bale still might be the signing of the summer.

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It’s been an exhausting summer of numbers and Financial Fair Play and nuance and all the rest of it when it comes to finance, and because at some point somebody should read about money matters and actually enjoy themselves (possibly), I thought I might take a simpler approach this week.

This transfer window, it seems that some Premier League clubs—Arsenal and Man United in particular—have performed woefully during the summer transfer window, while others (Manchester City and Spurs) have done well. While in previous years, success or failure in the transfer market was measured mostly in terms of what clubs were willing to spend, this year there is a sense that more is needed to succeed in the post FFP market than a pile of cash—you need a ‘strategy.’

Only this morning for example, Musa Okwonga called Manchester United’s transfer approach “muddled“, and yesterday Daily Mail writer Neil Ashton described Arsene Wenger’s scouting strategy as outdated, not fit for the times.

So why have Arsenal and Man United “failed” exactly? Mostly, it seems, because they made high profile bids for star players only to be publicly rebuked by the target club, thereby sullying the water for future negotiations a bit.

Arsenal bid £40 million plus £1 for Luis Suarez in an attempt to trigger his release clause, and then found themselves accused of using drugs by Liverpool’s American owner John Henry. More recently Arsenal made a £12 million bid for Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye, only to receive hell-fire and damnation from Toon manager Alan Pardew for breaking Cabaye’s fragile brain ahead of an important match against City.

Manchester United meanwhile most recently threw in on a two-fer for David Moyes’ former charges Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines for £28 million, which Everton manager Roberto Martinez called “a waste of time.” They’ve since tried to amend their offer, but this follows a summer-long pursuit of Cesc Fabregas which may still yet come to fruition, and the failed attempt to pick up Thiago Alcantara, who went to Bayern Munich for £21.6m. Moyes has been seeking a creative midfielder, and so names as far flung as Mesut Oezil and Luka Modric have cropped up with no subsequent bids.

While Moyes and Wenger spun their wheels, Manchester City wrapped up business early with successful bids for Fernandinho (£35.2 million to Shakhtar), Jesus Navas (£17.6 million to Sevilla), Alvaro Negredo (£22 million to Sevilla) and Stevan Jovetic (£22.9 million to Fiorentina). Meanwhile Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is enjoying the summer of a lifetime having leveraged Gareth Bale’s asking price to Real Madrid to a reported £93 million plus Coentrao, picked up Paulinho (Corinthians £17.4 million) and Roberto Soldado (£26.4 million to Valencia) with Roma’s Erik Lamela and Anzhi Makhachkala’s Willian (the latter priced at £30 million on last check) likely on their way.

We have, of course, no idea how any of these clubs go about their business in the transfer market, nor do we know their specific goals. We have reasonable grounds to assume in Arsenal’s case that the club intended to acquire ‘top-level talent’—Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis said as much in early June. And it seems that there is consensus around Moyes’ desire to add a creative attacking mid.

This lack of inside info hasn’t prevented many people from speculating about the supposed importance of technical directors or former players in front office roles working connections with influential agents in helping to complete transfer deals. After all, what other explanation could there possibly be for why clubs with roughly the same financial resources performed so differently in the open market?

But what about the information we do have (sort of), like the bids that came off, and the bids that didn’t? Is there anything we can glean from that?

For the failed transfer attempts, we can make several observations. In many cases these bids were aimed at rival clubs in the same league (Suarez at Liverpool, Rooney at United, Cabaye at Newcastle, Fellaini and Baines at Everton). One would imagine offers for these players, who play for domestic competitors, would require more delicacy than two-for-one deals and clause-triggering tacked on pounds. But one might also ponder why, in a market in which many talent-laden teams on the continent are willing to sell, would top flight clubs bother buying domestic at all?

On the surface, getting proven players within the same league would seem to offer better odds they will make a smooth transition to a new team, but it’s not as if this strategy hasn’t failed before (see Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, Fernando Torres etc.). Yet why shop at home when there is a diverse market abroad?

In fact, Arsenal have tried to work the overseas market this summer. You’ll remember the Gunners reportedly sought out Higuain before his £32.5 million move to Napoli from Real Madrid. Apparently Arsenal and RM couldn’t agree on the fee. Arsenal were also in line to buy Stevan Jovetic from Fiorentina, but balked at the £26 million asking price. They more recently lost the race for ex-Bayern midfielder Luiz Gustavo to Wolfsburg, and while the reason for the change isn’t known, there are rumours Wolfsburg offered a considerable sum.

As for Manchester United, their bid for Cesc Fabregas may still come to fruition in time for the closing of the transfer window, so it’s difficult to pass judgment on that front just yet. And the Thiago deal seemed simply one of personal choice on the part of the player (he had experience playing for Guardiola) rather than price.

Indeed, a lot of this comes down to bad timing and just plain old bad luck for both clubs. Yet part of it could also be that some clubs are misreading the field. It may be a buyer’s market in terms of the willingness of clubs in difficult financial straits to sell, but not in terms of the actual asking price for the players. Which makes sense. Clubs willing to sell want to move wages off the books and earn more revenue in transfer payments, but they also know it’s not worth losing a key competitive piece unless it’s for a generous valuation.

So does one need a “better transfer market strategy” to deal with these issues? Or do they simply need to use common sense when approaching football clubs, players and player agents with an eye to purchasing elite-level talent? I don’t have the answers, but the results in the transfer market so far speaks for itself.

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The Lead

Now I’m going to link to a Daily Mail article to kick things off this morning, so I will warn you in advance, it contains a pair of sentences that may be among the more cringe-worthy you’ll read either today, tomorrow, or the day after that. So I will post it here first to get it out of the way. Ready? Good. Here goes:

His scouting team, headed by Steve Rowley, are asked to identify players with three distinctive characteristics: pace, power and football Intelligence.

If only they had added a fourth — the mentality of champions — they really would be in business.

That out of the way, here’s the link. For all its sudden lurches into talk radio pablum, it does paint a very different picture of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger than we’ve been used to from the critical British press.

In the old days (last year and perhaps the couple of years before that), the going perception of Wenger was that of an old school European economist, a powerful technocrat who performed a little summertime Punch and Judy show to ward off anxious fans but who in reality was loath to spend big money in the transfer market to compete.

This view has been augmented somewhat, and it’s easy to see why. For one, according to many pundits Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis practically fired a pistol in the air at the start of the transfer window when he relayed that “Arsene is not scared to spend money, but he has to believe they are top-class players who will add to the squad. Can I guarantee he will spend all of the money available to him? That depends on the talent.” Obviously Gazidis would not say this without the approval of Wenger, so it raises the obvious question: why, therefore, since June 11th has Arsenal failed to pick up any ‘top-class players’?

That had led to a growing understanding that Wenger does, in fact, want to spend money, but has been failed by an outdated transfer market strategy that ruined several potentially valuable deals for the club. And while this is all based on very limited information, and while this particular Mail article plays fast and loose with some of the facts (particularly over Oxlade-Chamberlain’s playing time), the lack of a coherent transfer strategy seems the most plausible explanation for the club’s failure to match its public ambition in the transfer market. If you don’t buy that, I suggest you cozy up and read Swiss Ramble’s economic assessment on Arsenal from the other day:

If there is a modern, coherent transfer structure in place at Arsenal, then it seems remarkably well hidden. There may well be a great deal of activity behind the scenes, but the results speak for themselves.

So the next time you want to print out an angry sign to bring to the Emirates, you might consider printing “Hire a technical director to assist you in acquiring your transfer targets!” on a piece of paper three times in bright, bold red letters.

Links

Arseblog’s great response to Ashton’s Daily Mail piece linked above [Arseblog].

John Brewin twists the knife a bit [ESPNFC].

The Premier League opening weekend featured the fewest number of England-eligible players in league history, writes Louise Taylor [the Guardian].

Alan Pardew calls Arsenal bid for Yohan Cayabe ‘derisory’ [the Telegraph].

Michael Cox on Pellegrini’s love of touchline huggers at City [the Guardian].

Scott Parker is Fulham. [Twitter].

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Reading the transcript of one of Arsene Wenger’s press conferences in Japan last week, you could be forgiven for thinking at least for a brief moment that maybe this was a missing chapter from Haruki Murakami’s What I talk about when I talk about running.

Exploring the theme of motivation and what it means to him, he told an anecdote about jogging in Saitama earlier that day and how he had got lost. “I was motivated to come back to the hotel,” Wenger said, “but I couldn’t find my way. So, I was highly motivated and slowly I found my way back.”

The image of the Arsenal manager stood on a street corner somewhere, a puzzled look on his face as he tries to get his bearings is a mildly amusing one. There’s a temptation, however, to see it as a metaphor for something else. Like Arsenal’s transfer strategy perhaps.

At various points over the summer they have seemed to be on the right path. The Gunners were supposedly in the running for a number of players of the calibre that they require. Along the way, however, they appear to have become a little disorientated and frustrated by things.

Just when Arsenal thought they were home and dry with a signing, they have discovered that they’ve either been misguided or that the lay of the land has suddenly changed and an obstacle is blocking their way.

Whether Arsenal, like Wenger on his actual jog around Saitama, are motivated highly enough to overcome the issues that they’re encountering while navigating the transfer market this summer remains to be seen.

This isn’t to say that they haven’t tried to break from what became the norm after Arsenal built the Emirates. They have been prepared to go beyond the £17.6m they paid for Jose Antonio Reyes a decade ago, which is still a club record transfer.

However, while Arsenal appear willing and able to spend more, they don’t seem prepared to go much beyond their valuation of a player. So, for instance, when Real Madrid raised Gonzalo Higuain’s price from £24m to £32m, you get the impression that they felt it just wasn’t on.

Sometimes, however, if you believe that a player is the “right man” for your team, the piece that might complete the puzzle, then compromising on your principles – which doesn’t mean abandoning them – can be justifiable.

Take Bayern Munich, for instance, a club to whom Arsenal are often compared for their shared values predicated on a responsible financial model. A year ago they were well aware that they were paying over the odds for the Athletic Bilbao player Javi Martinez.

They were prepared to do so, however, because, heck, they could afford to and their team was missing a player with Martinez’s attributes. Bayern reasoned that paying more might cost less in the end if it meant completing or contributing to the completion of the puzzle.

“Martinez is of course not worth [€40m],” Uli Hoeness fronted up, “but that’s the sum we had to pay due to his contractual release clause. His normal worth is perhaps €20m, €25m. We decided we will take part in this insanity, for once.”

Arsenal supporters wish that their coach and board would do the same every now and again. CEO Ivan Gazidis has said: “We should be able to compete at a level of a club such as Bayern Munich, I’m not saying we are there by any means, we have a way to go before we can put ourselves on that level.”

But we do know from what the club bid for Liverpool striker Luis Suarez that, had they wanted to, they could have comfortably matched what Napoli spent on Higuain. It would have meant spending more than anticipated, considerably more, but at least they’d have a top class striker.

He was in their grasp. “We didn’t think there was a chance of getting Higuain,” Napoli coach Rafa Benitez admitted, “because he’d spoken a lot with Arsenal.” But get him they did, acknowledging, like Bayern, that to do so they had to go an extra mile or two, or three.

Arsenal instead gave up the chase when the finishing line was in sight, which is a questionable decision, perhaps, when you consider that the probability of getting a deal done for Higuain was higher than it is now for Suarez.

“What are they smoking over at the Emirates?” asked Liverpool owner John W Henry. It’s a valid question. Another one might be: was this Arsenal’s attempt at a ‘Martinez transfer’? In short, no.

Because if, hypothetically speaking, a bid worth £40m plus £1 was actually enough to active a sale clause, which is a misinterpretation according to Liverpool, then that figure, particularly, for a player like Suarez in this market, even taking into account all his personal baggage, probably represents decent value. By paying it, Arsenal would break their transfer record and by some distance, but few would argue that they’d paid over the odds.

Instead, it seems, offering £40m plus £1 only compels Liverpool to inform the player that they have received a bid for him, which leaves Arsenal in a difficult spot.

For all the posturing towards the end of last season by Gazidis who insisted Wenger “is not scared to spend money,” little has been done to change that perception. With just over a fortnight to go until the beginning of the Premier League season and less than a month until the transfer window closes, their only new recruit is Yaya Sanogo, the France Under-21 striker, who arrived on a free from Ligue 2 side Auxerre.

Understandably Arsenal supporters are growing anxious. By this time last year, they’d signed Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud and weren’t far away from announcing a deal for Santi Cazorla. Wenger’s latest comments have offered little reassurance that the situation is about to change either.

In Saitama he expressed his pride at how “Arsenal have fought against the policy of only buying stars.” Then in a Google Hangout on Thursday he suggested that, while “we are still working on improving our squad.” Arsenal have a basis of young players who “have a special bond and are on the way up,” indicating that he’s confident with what he’s got, which, is perhaps reasonable on the evidence of how the team performed in the final third of last season.

But after all the indications that this summer would be different, so far it has been most underwhelming. At the Emirates Cup this weekend, Arsenal supporters will get to see Higuain, a timely reminder for them and the club of what could have been.

Manchester United Training and Press Conference - Osaka

Dutch fitness coach Raymond Verheijen may have a point about exhaustive, old school training methods taking their toll on players at certain clubs, but he did not offer any concrete information for us to make that kind of judgment as to Robin van Persie’s thigh tightness under David Moyes pre-season regimen at Man United. Still, he opened his Twitter gob anyway:

“The only way to solve this problem in Jurassic Park is to improve education of these dinosaur coaches, fitness clowns & scientific cowboys. All over the world in preseason you see the pattern overtraining-fatigue-injuries’. Always avoid accumulation of fatigue in pre-season.”

“As long as most dinosaurs are still in denial and ignore how things develop in other countries, nothing will ever change. Obviously, players like RVP should learn to protect themselves better against ‘overtraining’.”

The reason I’m not embedding these Tweets as they appeared to have disappeared. Perhaps this is because Verheijen came to his senses and may not have all the information required to make that kind of assessment.

We’ve all done that kind of thing before. A supposed ‘Arsenal scout’ may have done it last night, making a recommendation to Arsene Wenger over the purchase of Atletico Mineiro’s Bernard for £20 million based on a single second leg match, at least according to the Daily Mail:

Manager Arsene Wenger demanded a form guide on the £20million-plus rated attacker and may now follow up his interest with a bid after hearing how he helped Atletico Mineiro overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Paraguay’s Olimpia to lift South America’s version of the Champions’ League.

Oh to be able to read one of these form guides and get taken in by its colourful assortment of adjectives all gleaned from a single performance!

Of course you might have read that article with a dash of skepticism. After all, Arsene Wenger splashing twenty million pounds on the word of his scouts who watched a single performance? The only concrete source cited is Bernard’s agent? Tottenham and Liverpool just had fairly reasonable offers rejected?

There was also word that the rumours may have come from the club itself, eager to stoke the flames behind Bernard’s hefty asking price as they have a replacement lined up. So either Arsenal have gone mad, or a club leaked false information to drive up a transfer fee. Both possible, one more plausible than the other. I don’t have enough information to make a final call, of course.

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The following figures are all taken from probably the best financial data site in football – transfermarkt.co.uk.

It’s July 24th, so we’re quite early in the transfer market. Still, it’s worth having a peak at the Premier League expenditures thus far to get the lay of the land a bit.

We all know there are two transfer markets—the imaginary one in the papers which involve ever-increasing transfer figures for deals that might not ever materialize, and the one in which transfers actually happen. The former appears to be a hub of activity specifically centered on a very small, elite group of players which includes Cesc Fabregas, Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez. The latter by comparison is fairly tame, at least so far.

There are a host of problems when using the transfer market from a single season to make any sort of judgment on how a club is running their business. For one, transfer fees tell you nothing about player wages, nor do they tell you about the total bill of amortized transfer fees still on the club books from previous deals.

So to help even things out, I will use the 2011-12 club wage bills as a kind of ballast, although there are a number of things to take into account, most importantly the prospect that the wage bills may have significantly changed in a season’s time.

So, what’s going on?

Well, total transfer expenditures are about two thirds of what they were by the end of last summer. Right now expenditures for all clubs is £322,269,200 compared to last year’s final total of £554,078,800. So, with a month to go, we’re still at 60% of last season. It’s certainly possible the big deals will come late and drive up that figure, but on the whole things appear to be slightly more calm.

For anyone interested in whether there is a pattern in all this spending, there sure doesn’t appear to be. Here is the trend in total expenditures since the 2000/01 season, adjusted for inflation:

EPLtransferexpenditures

As for expected behaviour from revenue rich clubs in a post-Financial Fair Play environment, that isn’t there either. Manchester City, the supposed target of FFP provisions and the club with the highest wage bill in 2011/12, leads the way in transfer deal spending so far this summer with a total transfer bill of £97,680,000 for players like Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Jovetic and

Chelsea, the other moneybags club who had the second highest wage bill in 2011/12, are next with £29,304,000.

As for the supposedly revenue rich clubs who should theoretically be spending like lords this off-season in the rigged paradise that is Financial Fair Play, Arsenal (fourth highest wage bill in 11/12) haven’t yet spent a penny despite their pre-season bluster, and Manchester United (third in 11/12) is fourth from the bottom on the spending front with a mere £1,540,000 spent. Only Liverpool (fifth highest 11/12 wage bill) have managed to spend heartily, with £23,584,000 spent so far for the likes of Luis Alberto, Simon Mignolet and Iago Aspas. Either some of these teams are in negotiations for something, or this is a blip. But for now, FFP hasn’t really done much to take away the precious spending power of the wealthy benefactor clubs.

And where is the big, source of the Premier League’s transfer spending?

La Liga and the Championship, with 17 players arriving from each. League One comes in next, followed by internal transfers, then the Eredivisie.

This kind of mirrors where the Premier League players are being sold to as well. Thirty-five Premier League players were sent off to the Championship with Grant Holt leading the way from Norwich, followed by League One (27 players) and League Two (9). Not much international exporting going on, which may have something to do with English wage expectations.

Anyway, we’re very early on and there is much to be settled. But it’s not clear that the market is operating any differently than in previous seasons.