Over the years, with the increased financial power of football, we have seen several high-profile transfers with some even ranging over £100m in fees. Whereas on the one side there is no disputing the talent and ability of such expensive players, however, the other side of the coin makes us wonder if there are any harmful consequences of the same. Most importantly, does such an expensive price tag disrupt the game and playing style of such gifted footballers? In my opinion, it certainly does.
This is due to several factors. Football is not the same as it used to be a decade ago. With a hefty increase in the fanbase, social media presence and access to information through media, facts and figures spread like wildfire.
Today we have super journalists like Fabrizio Romano who break huge stories and transfer news even before they are officially announced by clubs. Fans almost have as much information as internal executives in the clubs. We also have easily accessible information in the form of data and statistics with dedicated platforms working on the same using AI models.
Another aspect that players suffer from is esteemed jersey numbers like 7, 9 and 10. The hype surrounding such signings adds an insurmountable amount of pressure on the new player who is merely aiming to settle in the new team. For example, Manchester United’s coveted number 7 jersey which has been graced by legends like David Beckham, George Best, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo certainly piled enormous pressure on new boys like Angel Di Maria, Memphis Depay and Alexis Sanchez.
It pressurizes the managers too, of always starting the expensive signing. In case the new player fails to register any assists or goals in the first few games, memes and jokes of “money down the drain” spread all over the world.
To back this opinion up, we have examples of players who have suffered from huge price tags. Most notably, Neymar Jr’s transfer from FC Barcelona to Paris Saint Germain in 2017 for a world record fee of £198m has constantly been met with huge criticism due to PSG’s failure to win the Champions League. It somehow becomes irrelevant how well he performs in the league simply because of the price tag he holds.
We have also seen high profile signings unable to deliver simply because of the injuries they sustained. Philip Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Eden Hazard are prime examples of this. But the question that we need to ask ourselves is why have such injuries occurred? Is it because of the media and fan pressure to quickly settle these players into a different set-up?
Another factor into play is the role that we expect the new singing to take up in the new team. For instance, when Manchester United broke their club transfer record to sign Paul Pogba in 2016 for £89m, there was a huge buzz about a new midfielder who would yield attacking returns at The Theatre of Dreams. The idea behind signing him was quickly different, however. Jose Mourinho wanted Pogba to contribute to the defensive chores of the team and be a box-to-box midfielder. This certainly didn’t go down well with fans and the media.
Moreover, we also tend to forget that managerial changes come up with philosophical alterations which can make it all the more difficult for players to adapt to a new structure. Gareth Bale is a prime example of a player who flourished under Carlo Ancelotti but simply could not bring out his best under Zinedine Zidane.
The extra emphasis on statistics also often pressurises teams to put new signings behind the dead ball to add more goals and assists from set pieces. On the other hand, a key pass in a counter-attacking goal or an instrumental tackle to break up the play are evidence of quality that go unnoticed in the books of statistics.
The general opinion is that expensive is better. Think of your material purchases. Do you not expect an expensive car, watch or electronic gadget to provide you extra utility? Perhaps it is fair to think so. However, it is not as easy in the case of human involvement and personnel development. All those working in the corporate world will understand that hiring a new employee is based on several factors such as growth potential, age, learning capacity, adaptability and most importantly organisation/culture fit. The Same is the case with football transfers. It is not wrong to conclude that sometimes a player’s innate desire to play for a certain club, the high purchasing power of the signing club and bad recruitment strategies of the new club might all contribute to unnecessary pressure on the player which may ultimately hamper his performance levels.
We also need to understand what constitutes these insanely high transfer fee figures. Agents play a key part in brokering and negotiating deals and have even been seen to pocket agent fees as high as 15 to 20 per cent. This is also an important factor behind the high transfer figures and the associated consequences.
It would not be surprising to see clubs move away from signing such expensive players due to the reasons discussed above. Manchester United’s refusal to pay £120m for Jadon Sancho last year is believed to be one such attempt to avoid the limelight and excessive attention.
Unfortunately, what many of us fail to understand is that football is a team sport. A player’s success and performance in one team depend on several factors which may or may not be duplicated in the new team. For example, a center forward may not have the same quality of passing and crosses in the new team which may reduce his number of goals. A center back may not be able to keep the same number of clean sheets due to embryonic level of understanding with his partner center back. This is also irrefutable as most great center back partnerships are built after years of understanding and playing together. A goalkeeper may face issues in adapting to a different style like playing out from the back. Moreover, the biggest challenge that players face is transitioning into a different league altogether wherein diet, climate, game speed, use of strength, stamina and language may all be extremely different. It becomes imperative for fans to be patient before jumping to conclusions and labelling signings as “success” or “failure”.
An expensive price tag makes it extremely difficult if not impossible, to meet expectations, let alone exceed them