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Friday, 18 January, 2019

Why teams who buy hot players often get their fingers burned

Wise words from the Soccer Boffin

Brian Clough (right) and Peter Taylor rarely bought players at their peak
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A sought-after Premier League striker might score 20 per cent less often in the first season for a new club than he did in the last season for his old club. If you buy a hot player you will probably get your fingers burned. In all likelihood you will pay more than you wanted to and get less than you hoped for.

The risk is as high in this transfer window as it was in previous ones.

A mistake football clubs make in the transfer market is to define what they need, then buy a player who has produced it recently. The mistake in many instances is to assume he will carry on producing it.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. The idea came from something I read.

I looked at lists of goalscorers for the first 24 Premier League seasons – 1992-93 to 2015-16. For each season I made a note of every player who scored 15 goals or more – the sort of players in which other clubs potentially would be most interested. Then I looked at how many goals those players scored in the next season.

The total number of goals scored in the second season was one third lower. Four players out of every five – 131 out of 164, to give you the exact figures – scored fewer goals in the second season.

But something else leapt out at me. Not only did most players score fewer goals – they also featured in fewer games. So I realised that a fairer comparison would be goals per appearance.

There are at least two possible reasons why scorers might have played less often in the second season. They might have suffered fewer injuries in the first season, which would help to explain why they played more often and scored more goals. Or they might have played less well in the second season and been dropped now and again. Or some combination.

The average goals per appearance in the first season was 0.56. In the second season it was 0.45 – 20 per cent lower.

The way to get value for money in the transfer market is to buy players who have not performed well recently – if you have a sound reason to think they could perform better in future. A good buy in that respect is like a good bet. A good bet is one that most people will not consider but still offers more than the price suggests.

Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were manager and assistant at Derby and Nottingham Forest. With Derby they won the league in 1972. With Forest they won the league in 1978 then the European Cup in 1979 and 1980.

They excelled at getting value for money on transfers. Often they signed players with bad reputations, players that other clubs thought would not be worth the trouble. Clough and Taylor realised that the transfer fees would seem cheap afterwards if they could help the players to solve their problems. So that is what they tried to do.

Taylor said: “If we couldn’t find an answer, we would turn to experts: we have sought advice for our players from clergymen, doctors and local councillors.” There were some failures but more successes.

Paul Tisdale manages Exeter. He is the second longest-serving manager in the Premier and Football Leagues. Exeter appointed him in 2006 when they were in the National League. Since then they have won two promotions and played in League One. Now they are fifth in League Two.

How does Tisdale recruit players? It is not always easy to persuade players to move to Devon, even though Devon is a beautiful part of England. So Tisdale combs through lists of released players for those who have a connection to the south-west, who are the age he wants and who in the past were sold for a big fee.

Somebody else once thought that player was worth a lot of money. If Exeter can get him without paying a fee he might justify his wages even if he never returns to his absolute best. Because he probably will not be that good again. Only a quarter of players who have scored 15 goals or more in a Premier League season have ever reached their total again in another Premier League season.

Messi and messier

I saw Lionel Messi play at Camp Nou soon after he broke into the Barcelona first team. I thought he was something special. So did a lot of other people. You did not have to know much about football to think Messi could achieve great things. And we were all right.

I have seen other young players break through at Camp Nou and thought they could do good things, though not as good as Messi. Bojan Krkic, for example, and Giovani dos Santos. But none of them fulfilled their promise. I was wrong, and I am not the only one who was.

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If we couldn’t find an answer, we would turn to experts: we have sought advice for our players from clergymen, doctors and local councillors
E.W. Terms
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