Why do football clubs buy players? I would like to say: to make the team better. So what is the importance of the price tag? Does it bring the team more success to spend more, can you only get good players for lots of money, or is it all just for marketing?
All the marketing in the world doesn’t help you make a great product, a great team. And I think we also know that a great team is not made by pumping it full of money. Ask Paris Saint-Germain, ask Manchester City (and the rest of the Premier League) – they have yet to make it to the Champions League Final with all their money. Of course, there is Liverpool this year, but they made it to the final as a team that did not spend exorbitant amounts like the rest of the Premier League (I’m going to ignore the mid-season Van Djik signing for a second). They got there with a clear philosophy that everyone bought into.
But what about Real Madrid, I hear you ask? They bought Ronaldo for €94 million and he has been by all accounts phenomenal. He was the most expensive signing at the time and he has become one of the best two players of our time. No matter whether you like him or not as a character, you have to appreciate what he has done consistently over a long period of time. So yes, there you can say that it was an investment that made sense.
The prototypical big signing by the numbers
In his 438 games for Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 450 goals and provided 132 assists. In 9 Champions League seasons he has scored 105 goals, including 10 or more in 7 straight seasons. As little as I am a fan of his — and I think that especially this year he was on the decline in terms of performance — you can’t look past those numbers.
To break the numbers down even more and give you a comparison to Robert Lewandowski (who likes to think he is the best striker in the world), I will give you a quick overview of Ronaldo’s time at Real compared to Lewy at Bayern Munich. I am choosing Lewy because both are strikers and if all Bayern players were to be sold today, you would probably expect him to go for the highest price. As a third comparison I will throw in Mario Gomez’s time at Bayern. He was signed the same year Ronaldo went to Real:
|average goals per game||1.03||0.77||0.65|
|average goal participations per game||1.33||0.95||0.8|
|minutes per goal||84.07||106.28||64.77|
So with that last number, am I saying that Gomez is in fact better than both Lewandowski and even Ronaldo? Not really, but he was highly efficient while not as flashy. Having a player like Gomez on the team, who scores a lot of goals but did not cost the world to acquire, allows you to spend more on the rest of the team. Factor in his lack of a big striker ego, and you are winning. In a team sport you are more likely to be successful if you have 11 great or at least highly effective players and a great system, than if you blow all your money on one guy.
Success = Champions League
So when was the last time Bayern was really successful? I don’t mean successful like they are most seasons in the League and Cup because the other Bundesliga sides can’t get it together. Bayern have the ambition to be the best in Europe. That means that real success is 2012/2013: the treble.
As a quick side note: after the Ronaldo signing in 2009 the first time he led them to a Champions League Title was 2014...one year AFTER Bayern won it without making any record breaking signings. Food for thought?
Anyway, let’s have a look at how a successful squad is put together:
|GK||Neuer||30||Schalke||2011||Joined as a rising star|
|GK||Starke||0 (FA)||Hoffenheim||2012||Signed as backup|
|GK||Raeder||0 (FA)||Schalke U19||2012||Signed as young talent, left after 1yr|
|CB||Boateng||13.5||Man City||2011||Joined after only one disappointing/ injury prone year in Prem. League|
|CB||Dante||4.7||Gladbach||2012||Starter from a mid table Bundesliga side|
|CB||Van Buyten||8||Hamburg||2006||Starter from a side that had been competing in the Europa League|
|RB||Rafinha||5.5||Genoa||2010||Signed as backup|
|RB||Weiser||0.8||Cologn U19||2012||Signed as young 18 yr old talent|
|DM||Martinez||40||Bilbao||2012||Record transfer for a fairly unknown, 23 yr old, 6yr starter|
|DM||Gustavo||17||Hoffenheim||2010||Joined as a starter from a mid tier club|
|DM||Tymoshchuk||11||Zenit||2009||Joined as an aging starter|
|CM||Hojbjerg||0 (FA)||Brondby U17||2012||Signed as young 16 yr old talent|
|LM||Ribery||30||Marseille||2007||Joined as a 2 season starter (18 goals / 19 assists) after leaving Galatasaray as a FA|
|RM||Robben||24||Real Madrid||2009||After constant injury and never really succeeding at Chelsea (3 seasons 19 goals/ 24 assists) or Real (2 seasons 13 goals/ 14 assists) he was moved on and Ronaldo was bought in|
|RM||Shaqiri||11.8||Basel||2012||Signed as a top 18 yr old talent|
|ST||Mandzukic||13||Wolfsburg||2012||1 yr starter 10 goals / 12 assists|
|ST||Gomez||30||Stuttgart||2009||4 yr starter with a record of 87 goals / 24 assists in 156 games|
|ST||Pizzaro||0 (FA)||Bremen||2012||Signed as backup|
|total||29 players||239.3||11 youth players / 4 Free Agents / 14 bought|
This is how winners look
To summarize how this squad – that beat Barcelona 7-0 over two Champions League games – was put together:
- 11 x Players from Bayern’s youth system
- 4 x U20 talents for a combined amount of €12.6 mil
- 2 x Free Agent signings
- 10 x Core team players bought for €188.7 mil over a 3 year span – an average of €62.9 mil per year and €18.87 mil per player
- 2 x Van Buyten and Ribery who were at the club even longer but brought in for an average of almost the same €19 mil – €38 mil
What I want to emphasize is that this squad was put together over time and in a very balanced fashion. Not glitz and glam and massive signings. The players that started in the Champions League Final of 2013 can be categorized as follows at the time they were bought: 4 Bayern youth players (Lahm, Alaba, Schweinsteiger, Müller), 3 Bundesliga players from upper mid-tier clubs (Neuer, Dante, Mandzukic), 2 players whose clubs were happy to move them on (Boateng, Robben) and two players who people didn’t know too much about (Ribery, Martinez).
What I see when I look at that group is a group of underdogs rather than entitled “star signings”; a side hungry out to prove something and with a lot of room for growth. Players who only reached the height of their game once they came to Bayern. At least 4 of those guys (Ribery, Robben, Boateng and Mandzukic) always played, and to some extent still do, with a big chip on their shoulder. Schweinsteiger is a warrior too, and we know Neuer can be vocal. All that creates a certain atmosphere: a group of guys who want to prove something.
The opposite to the Bayern model of success
However, when you sign someone for a ridiculous amount, not only is the whole world and their dog watching, but the emphasis also shifts from a player saying, “I want to prove something,” to everyone else saying that “he has to prove something.” Ask Renato Sanches. While I don’t think that his problem is a lack of wanting to prove something, I actually think it is the opposite: that he sometimes feels like he needs to do too much.
Sanches’s coach at Swansea, Paul Clement said this of him:
In training, when that pressure is not there, he was the best player. But then in games, I looked at the choices he was making, shooting from 45 yards on the angle, and he kept making those mistakes.
Let’s give the kid a break, he is just not that mature yet, and a coach like Kovac may be the perfect thing for him right now.
Also, to put Sanches in the same category as expensive superstars is silly: his price was relatively “low” at €35 mil as an 18 year old and should be compared to other player of that age: lets say Mbappé who had a good first season at Paris but in my eyes not one that is worth €145 mil.
To be honest, even Neymar who had 45 goal participations (28 goals / 17 assists) in 30 games (2697 minutes) was not worth €222 mil (!). Let me tell you what you could have bought for that money in the last transfer window if you really wanted to boost your offence and invested smart instead of big: Mo Salah (€42 mil / 44 goals / 16 assists / 4119 minutes), Romelu Lukaku (€84.7 mil / 27 / 9 / 4071), Benardo Silva (€50 mil / 9 / 11 / 2795) and you could even throw in Kingsley Coman (€28 mil – loan fee included – 7 / 8 / 1839).
Now none of those 4 guys have as impressive numbers as Neymar, but he also played in the French Ligue 1, arguably the weakest of the big European leagues. And while €222 mil can buy you 28/17 it can also buy you 87/44 and create a deep and talented rotation. You could literally sign Mo Salah, the best striker in Europe last season 5 times and still have change for the same price as a Neymar, when even one compares favourably. And what do you do when your one guy gets injured? (Answer: you lose.)
One vs many
The point is simple: gamble all your money on one player or invest in several positions smartly for less money each. The likelihood of success is greater with the second option. I’m not even go into the psychological aspects of what it does to have one player earning far more than the rest. Just look at all the trouble Paris had with Neymar and Cavani.
The chance that spending a ridiculously high amount on one player – in my eyes anything north of €50 mil – and that amount directly translating into a performance equal to that amount is slim. It’s like playing roulette and putting all your money on one number. The odds of success are not high. Therefore the chance of spending less and spreading it across several options increases your chances for a win immediately.
Nowadays if you want to spend the most on a player, you would be spending the kind of money that put together a full Champions-League winning team. Is it worth it? No. If you define value as what one player can do for a team, as opposed to two to three players you could sign for the same amount, then perhaps no player bought as “the most expensive” of his time was really worth it in terms of production. Buying smart beats buying big every time, and I think that we saw the perfect example of that with Salah vs Neymar.
So what does Bayern need?
To simply say we don’t need a mega-transfer and leave it at that would be a bit unconstructive. So let’s look at the difference between the Bayern today (and what we would be developing into) compared to the 2012/2013 season:
2012/2013: a hungry group of guys with a chip on their shoulder play some great football together and want to PROVE that they are the best. More a group of blue collar workers who knew they had to grind to get the job done — even Ribery and Robben put in the work and made regular runs back to win balls on the edge of our own box.
2017/2018: too many ageing stars who FEEL entitled and that they are the best, rather than proving it every day. Lots of egos and private agendas from players who don’t consistently perform at the highest level: Lewy, Thiago, Robben and even sometimes Boateng, to mention a few. Then there are aging players like Martinez and Vidal who didn’t specifically show any disrespect or ego, but are also not playing at the highest level anymore. That is more than half of a starting line-up. The “team” is disjointed at the moment and not a unit as it was back then. There is little edge.
The best example is if you compare players like Kimmich and Lewandowski on the current squad. Kimmich has it; he goes out, plays hard and makes a difference. Lewandowski already thinks that no one is better than him. The only problem? The self proclaimed “best striker in the world” didn’t score against Madrid over 2 games... while Kimmich scores two goals as a right-back in those games. I don’t think anyone would have noticed had Lewy not played. Give me a hungry, potentially less gifted but hard working player like Wagner instead of those lame performances by the Polish guy any day.
Is Lewandowski as good as Ronaldo or Messi? Not even close. But he has the same ego. The ego of a €100 mil+ player — the fee he would surely bring if he were to be sold now. Is that what Bayern needs, or should we be looking back at those low to mid price players with an edge, efficiency and determination to prove something?
Let me ask all of those out there who want the expensive players: Why does Bayern need a €100 mil signing?