Are we more likely to lose Gervinho than Jack? & more transfer analysis
G’day Goonerissimos. Howdy and all that jazz funk.
I am here today to talk about transfers. Not the pretend tattoo, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle, scratch them off your arm an hour later style transfers, I mean football transfers. Quite obviously.
This is a topic which I have been mulling over recently due to a debate I had on Twitter regarding the potential signings of Hazard and Goetze, who were both linked with us again in recent weeks. Most of those I talked with though they would be fantastic signings (talent-wise there’s no argument there, really) but I adopted a more cautious approach, wary after several summers’ worth of key departures and related anxiety.
Ignoring the minimal likelihood of us signing either, I found it hard to believe that a Hazard or a Goetze would for more than a few short years should our trophyless spell continue as it has. This belief is compounded by the inevitable links between our top talents and European giants such as Barca or Real, who effectively take their pick of the finest players each year. (In fact, after completing this study Hazard narrowed his preferred destinations to just Real Madrid, effectively justifying my belief in his case.)
This belief did not extend, however, to Ramsey and Wilshere, who I consider to be two of our most talented prospects. It seemed to me (some may say obviously) that their British-ness would make them less likely to transfer to a rival; that sharing nationhood with their club would help to foster a sense of loyalty that would keep them here (interestingly, Wilshere has since declared his intention to remain at Arsenal forever). This also added to the cautiousness I felt over signing Hazard or Goetze as it made little sense to me to marginalise committed Arsenal players in order to build a team around those more likely to leave.
The problem was that without any evidence it was just gut feeling, and you don’t win debates with gut feeling alone. I’m a winner (like Denilson) so I felt compelled to do some research, and began comparing the transfers of British and foreign players between the biggest clubs domestically and between those same clubs and their overseas rivals, to see if my feelings were in any way justified.
That was the premise anyway, but the study eventually went on to cover a little more than just Britishness, and difficulties in obtaining definite results arguably make the other findings more interesting. I’ll let you judge for yourself.
Before I share my results I must first explain that due to the amount of variables involved – including many I did not have time to incorporate – this study is far from conclusive, and I release it only tentatively as a result.
(Truth be told, I’ve been over this piece so much now that I’ve developed a complete lack of certainty over its relevance and/or usefulness. But this may just be because I’ve over-analysed it to the point of meaninglessness – like when you stare at the word ‘cucumber’ for an hour and convince yourself it’s not a real word – and since I did so much work on it I thought I may as well release it. Ah well.)
This study covers the years since Arsenal qualified for the Champion’s League – summer before 98/99 season to now. Since my original fear lay in losing a key player to a competitor (generally, key players do not transfer to a lower club) I focus only on transfers between ‘big’ clubs domestically and abroad.
The biggest clubs in the Premier League each season are those which qualify for the Champion’s League so I took the CL qualifiers from each given year as the teams to analyse in that period. So, in terms of my investigation, the transfer of Nasri to Man City was included but the transfer of Kolo Toure was not, as City had not qualified for the CL at the time.
The ‘big’ European teams were much more difficult to define in a consistent way, based as they are partly on perception (often linked to historical success), financial resources and domestic achievement as well as European success. Inter Milan, for example, did not come close to Champion’s League success for a number of years, but domestic success, perception and financial resources ensured their status in Europe during that period, and they certainly attracted some of the world’s biggest talents. Conversely, Monaco reached the final in 2003-04 but yet even at that time were not perceived to be a ‘big’ club.
As a result I made the following list of European clubs – cross referencing the above criteria – which I chose to use in my analysis:
These are all clubs that I felt were pretty consistently considered ‘big’ clubs, and potential European rivals, throughout the period I examined.
This is the list of transfers from ‘big’ PL clubs to their competitors during the period I studied:
|British / Foreign||Domestic / Abroad||From||To|
|Hargreaves||British||Domestic||Man U||Man City|
|Phil Neville||British||Domestic||Man U||Everton|
|Beckham||British||Abroad||Man U||Real Madrid|
|Ronaldo||Foreign||Abroad||Man U||Real Madrid|
|Heinze||Foreign||Abroad||Man U||Real Madrid|
|van Nistelrooy||Foreign||Abroad||Man U||Real Madrid|
|Boateng||Foreign||Abroad||Man City||Bayern Munich|
*After some deliberation I included loans in my analysis as I felt you could still, in theory, lose a valued player on loan to a competitor.
If we analyse the number of transfers of foreign and British players domestically and abroad we get the following table:
|Transfers from Premier League CL Qualifiers to Competitors|
The first thing you notice is just how few British players have transferred from the ‘big’ Premier League teams to their main competitors – just 6 in 14 years (less than 0.5 a year). Compare that with the sale of foreign players – 33 in 14 years (or nearly 2.5 a year) – and you have to conclude that there must be some reason for this.
Domestically the number of foreign transfers becomes a lot smaller (8 in 14 years), but that is still double the number of British transfers (4 in 14 years) and this, and the above, suggest to me one or all of a number of things:
- British players are less coveted by other ‘big’ clubs than foreign players
- There are less British players coveted by other ‘big’ clubs than foreign players
- British players are more committed to their (British) club than foreign players
- British players are perceived to be more committed to their (British) club than foreign players and hence other ‘big’ clubs do not attempt to buy them as often
- The ‘big’ Premier League teams are more likely to allow foreign players to transfer to a competitor than British players
Unfortunately, due to psychological factors and the sheer number of variables involved it is difficult to draw many definite conclusions – at least not without further research – but even so the discrepancy between British and foreign transfers is large enough to be noteworthy.
We can also display the above table like this:
Here we can see that nearly 85% of all transfers from ‘big’ PL clubs to their competitors involved foreign players, 75.8% of which were to rivals abroad (64.1% of total transfers). The table tells us, therefore, that foreign players are more likely to transfer from a ‘big’ PL club to a competitor than a British player, and also that the competitor is much more likely to come from abroad then from the Premier League.
But it doesn’t really tell us why, unfortunately – any of the five factors listed above could be at play here. It does at least appear to suggest, however, that we would be more likely to lose Hazard or Goetze than Ramsey or Wilshere, and, given that only 5.13% of transfers involved British players moving abroad, that losing either Ramsey or Wilshere to a foreign club would be incredibly unlikely.
This theory also depends on the quality of the player being transferred – if all the foreign transfers were bit-part players and the British transfers were key players then one could reasonably assume that you were more likely to lose a top British talent than a foreign one. The difficulty here lies in determining the worth of the player transferred to their original club as you are the more valued the player is the more like it is that it would be considered a loss to let them go.
A good indicator of value to a club is the number of games played. If a player plays every game in a season then he is probably considered a more important member of the squad than a player who only plays once. Of course these numbers might be skewed by injuries – both to the players themselves and to other players in their position who they might temporarily replace – but it is still a decent way of assessing relative worth.
With this in mind we can look at the average appearances of the players in the last season before they were transferred:
|Average Apps – Season Before Transfer|
As the sample of British players is so small it is probably best to treat these figures with some caution, but the fact that foreign players’ average final season appearances are a fair amount higher than their British counterparts seems to suggest that those players were of more value to the club from which they transferred, at the time the transfer occurred. This suggests that ‘big’ PL clubs are more likely to let a valued foreign player go than a valued British player.
A clear argument in favour of one aspect of my theory arises when we assess which clubs players transferred to abroad:
As you can see, by far the majority of players transferring to rivals abroad went to Real and Barcelona – 71.43% of total transfers abroad – including the only two British transfers to a foreign club, Owen and Beckham. In fact, there were more transfers from ‘big’ PL clubs to Real and Barcelona (20) than there were between any of the PL clubs themselves (12) which just shows that pull that the two Spanish giants have when it comes to signing players.
It may not come as a surprise but 40% of the transfers to Real/Barcelona have come from Arsenal (8 of 20), and once you analyse these results it becomes easier to understand why I fear losing our top talents to either of these clubs. And when both Goetze and Hazard have already been linked with them the chances of Arsenal either signing or keeping hold of these players during a difficult period looks increasingly minimal.
(Interestingly, Barcelona have tended to target our players (6 transfers) while Real have tended to sign players from Liverpool and Man U (both 4) – perhaps an indication of perceived playing style similarities?)
But does success really impact on a club’s ability to keep hold of players? The answer for Arsenal appears to be yes. Since our last trophy in 04/05 the number of players we have lost to competitors has exactly doubled – 0.75 players per year before and 1.5 after. But there is another, quite specific, example that seems to suggest this is the case on one level.
If we count each CL qualifier from the Premier League each year as one instance of qualification then in the period I cover we have had 52:
MUFC 14, AFC 14, CFC 10, LFC 8, NUFC 2, LUFC 1, EFC 1, THFC 1, MCFC 1
Out of these 52 instances of qualification, 10 of them have been either first time qualification or re-qualification after a period out of the Champion’s League:
AFC 1, CFC 2, LFC 2, NUFC 1, LUFC 1, EFC 1, THFC 1, MCFC 1
This equates to nearly 20% of the total instances of qualification, but what’s interesting is that only 2 transfers occurred during these instances, or 5.1% of the total transfers. The discrepancy between the two figures may mean that first time qualification or re-qualification is considered a success big enough to (by and large) prevent players from transferring to a competitor in that year.
Something else that fuelled my fear was the belief that we seem to lose more valued players than our PL competitors. The table below seems to add some weight this:
|Number of Transfers||Transfers p/Instance of CL Qualification||Average Apps|
While Chelsea and City have both lost more players per instance of qualification than Arsenal, we have lost the most overall, and us and Liverpool have lost what appear to be more valued players.
But if we concentrate only on domestic transfers (transfers to other ‘big’ PL clubs) this figure becomes much more dramatic:
|No. Of Domestic Transfers||Transfers p/Instance of CL Qualification||Average Apps in Final Season|
As you can see, the number of transfers differs very little between the three clubs but the average final season appearances for players leaving Chelsea and Man U are far, far lower than those leaving Arsenal. This strongly suggests that Arsenal are losing key players to their immediate PL rivals whereas Chelsea and Man U are transferring more bit-part players that they can afford to let go of.
If we also compare Arsenal’s domestic transfers- both in and out – the results are quite revealing:
|Transfers In||Apps – Season Before Transfer|
From the average appearances it seems fair to say that, domestically, the players we transferred out were generally of greater value to us than the players we brought in were to the club we acquired them from. Just by looking at the names of those we signed, three of those were probably not first choice at their previous club (even Gallas wasn’t being played in his favoured position), whereas I think it’s fair to say that every one of our losses were considered an automatic pick at Arsenal at the time they were transferred.
In terms of my initial investigation, as I mention above the number of variables involved mean that have to be careful what conclusions you draw from the analysis. A more comprehensive study than mine would have probably, for example, examined the ratio of British players to foreign players in the ‘big’ PL teams during the period covered to assess whether or not the number of transfers was in accordance with that ratio or not. My guess is that a general lack of British players in the first teams of ‘big’ PL clubs has had a decent sized impact on results, especially in recent years.
But if it truly is the case that you are less likely to lose a British player to a rival (which is debatable) then it makes sense on some levels to build around a core of British talent, provided you have it, in order to maximise the chance of maintaining stability – something you feel Arsenal, who have felt the impact of departures more than most, would benefit from.
One key aspect of stability is length of time at a club (another factor which would likely require analysis to make the above study more complete), and if we look at some of the most prominent British players in the PL during the years I covered – Rooney, Gerrard, Terry, Lampard, Ferdinand, Neville, Scholes, Giggs, Carragher – these are players that formed the backbone of their clubs for a sustained, and often successful, period.
And what do all of the above have in common? All bar Rooney and Ferdinand appear on the top ten list of appearances for their respective clubs, lists which contain few foreigners from the same era until much further down. The list for Man United, for example, contains none until Schmeichel (24th), after which come Beckham, Butt, Neville and Ferdinand (and O’Shea) before Solskjaer (36th), who Rooney needs only 31 more caps to beat, and should do so comfortably.
It is interesting that after effectively avoiding British players for a period of time – often due to inflated price – Wenger has begun to bring more of them into the first team picture again in recent years – Walcott, Wilshere, Ramsey, Gibbs, Chamberlain, Frimpong, Jenkinson. It’s possible that this is due to a conscious effort on his part to increase the long-term stability of playing staff at Arsenal, although this is impossible to know for sure.
But with RvP’s contract situation lurking in the background Arsenal could yet be faced with another transfer saga this coming summer, and having been through what we have these past few years I can only hope it doesn’t come to that. So though it may be unclear whether British players are more likely to stay, I still hope you’ll understand why it is that when it comes to signing foreign superstars like Hazard and Goetze I just can’t help but be wary.