Getting it right in the player business

Examples of Dzeko and Torres show that money doesn’t necessarily buy success in football’s transfer market lottery.

Mauro Boselli has gone on loan to Genoa despite a big fee taking him to Wigan from Estudiantes [GALLO/GETTY]

The relief was palpable when Fernando Torres and Edin Dzeko scored their first goals for their new English Premier League clubs this week. But the star strikers know that they have a long way to go before convincing the fans of Chelsea and Manchester City that they are anything more than expensive mistakes.

It was appropriate that Torres ended the drought on a rain-sodden night at Stamford Bridge. With his speed and sharpness noticeably reduced since his Liverpool heyday two years ago, the wet pitch seemed his best friend, along with the porous West Ham defence.

Of course, it is too early to say if January arrivals Torres ($80.61 million) and Dzeko ($46 million) will be remembered as shrewd or silly signings. These two seasoned internationals are certainly good enough to eventually find a way to fit into the systems of their respective clubs.

But with the end of the season in sight, many of last summer’s recruits can now be judged. For every bargain buy like Javier Hernandez or Rafael Van Der Vaart, there is also a Bebe and a Balotelli. In fact, the players with poor to moderate form clearly outnumber those who have become an instant success.

The failure of the Liverpool trio of Joe Cole, Paul Konchesky and Milan Jovanovic hastened the departure of former manager Roy Hodgson. But for every so-called big club spectacularly striking out in the recruitment area, there are many smaller teams having an equally frustrating time.

Just ask Wigan manager Roberto Martinez.

He thought he had the answer for his goal-shy side when he signed Argentina forward Mauro Boselli on a four-year deal last June for a reported $10.8 million. He scored in a League Cup tie against second-tier Swansea in October but found Premier League defenders tougher to break down.

Shipped off

Without a league goal in eight games, he was shipped off to Italian Serie A club Genoa on loan.

Overseas players are often seduced by the glamorous image of the English game, generated by former favourite sons like David Beckham, David Ginola and Gianfranco Zola. But the reality may be different when the new arrival finds himself stuck in a small, Rugby League town like Wigan.

Van der Vaart’s talents are worthy of a place in the European Champions League [EPA]

“The most important man in any football club has become the head of recruitment because they are worth every penny you pay them and more,” said ex-West Ham United midfielder Peter Butler, who is head coach of Thai club BEC Tero Sasana.

“So much money is going to recruitment officers and scouts because if they do their job right, they can make the manager’s life a whole lot easier. It pays big dividends for sure.”

Butler is proud to be remembered as one of the good value signings of the early 1990s before wages spiralled out of control.

Joining West Ham from Southend United for a mere £175,000 in 1992, the feisty midfielder helped the Hammers earn promotion to the Premier League under Harry Redknapp. Three years later, Butler was sold for £400,000.

Then, like now, Redknapp had an eye for a bargain. So when he saw that Real Madrid were willing to let Van Der Vaart go for just $13 million, the lovable Londoner pounced on August 31st, the last day of the first transfer window.

The Dutchman had produced 12 league goals ahead of Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

“Van Der Vaart is a very good player but let’s not hope he’s a one-season wonder,” Butler said.

“Harry almost always makes money in the transfer market.

“Gareth Bale is worth more than double his original price tag and Harry also picked up Aaron Lennon cheaply, who’s turned out to be another great bargain.”


The fact that Tottenham may not finish in the top four this season will somewhat take the edge off Redknapp’s shrewd purchases.

Not allowing Bale and Van Der Vaart to strut their stuff in the European Champions League is a bit like driving the Ferrari to the shopping mall instead of taking it along the coastal highway.

Sir Alex Ferguson will be licking his lips at the prospect of seeing an older and more seasoned Javier Hernandez perform on the European stage for years to come.

With 19 goals in all competitions including the match-winner in half a dozen crucial games, the 22-year-old is unquestionably the buy of the season and proved a handful midweek in Manchester United’s Champions League semifinal against Schalke.

He was picked up from Guadalajara for a mere snip of $11.7 million before he scored twice in last year’s World Cup. Had Sir Alex signed him post South Africa 2010, the price tag would have probably been double.

England’s longest serving manager is another canny customer in the transfer market as the acquisitions of Hernandez, Nemanja Vidic and Nani testify. But his recent failures do include the abysmal Bebe.

The Portuguese striker, who was signed this season from Vitoria Guimaraes for $11.8 million, even looked out of his depth facing up to non-league Crawley Town in the FA Cup.

But a Manchester United fans’ website this week nominated Serbian winger Zoran Tosic and Angolan striker Manucho as Fergie’s worst recent signings.

Manucho’s Old Trafford highlight was heading home an equaliser in a reserve team match against Everton in 2008. Now with Turkey’s Manisaspor, he famously vowed to score 40 goals in a season for another of his former clubs, Real Valladolid, yet managed just four.

“Sir Alex has a great knack of knowing when a player is at peak value or past his sell-by date before moving them on,” Butler said. “He does not always get it right as shown on numerous occasions, but is a clever dealer in the transfer market.”

Again, it comes back to the old motor vehicle analogy.

Just like buying and selling used cars, it is only the wise and lucky ones who end up ahead when it comes to the unpredictable commodity that is professional players.

Jason Dasey ( is an Asia-based international broadcaster of the English Premier League, a corporate emcee and media trainer.

Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Source: Al Jazeera



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Published On 9 Apr 2011
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