As silly season descends upon the Premier League again and the transfer rumours start heating up, it becomes quite easy as fans to forget about things like budgets and stability and start dreaming of shiny new player acquisitions to help your club avoid relegation or reach Europe. Truth be told, precious few transfers ever reach the heights of success originally dreamt, but that never stops supporters believing that spending is the best way out of a jam.
The January window is especially interesting, tantalizingly placed just after a grueling festive period has left certain teams in no doubt as to how much help they supposedly need and in what areas. Sometimes that help arrives; Demba Ba nearly kept West Ham up and Luis Suarez helped Liverpool forget all about Roy Hodgson. But sometimes panic buying in winter leaves you with £50m worth of disappointment.
It is in this writer’s observation that most transfers don’t work out as well as hoped for due to a club paying for short-term performances over long-term data.
For example, after almost every World Cup or European Championship, a player that starred will be the subject of a big money move. Think about the now-derided Andrey Arshavin’s £15m move to Arsenal which came after he helped Russia reach the semifinals of Euro 2008 and Zenit St. Petersburg win the UEFA Cup. It wasn’t just the Gunners either, Tottenham and Barcelona also fell for the sensationalism surrounding a player who had starred in notoriously fluky Cup Competitions and was coming off his first truly consistent season in the Russian league after becoming a regular in 2001.
The same short term outlook is putting media pressure on Arsene Wenger to sign Theo Walcott to a reported £100,000 a week because he’s finally on pace to top 10 goals and assists over a league campaign. Something he’s never looked on course to do since becoming a regular for Arsenal in 2006. Two or three good performances at striker that come with the motivation of being in the shop window should not be allowed to cloud the mind of executives that have the evidence of Walcott’s 164 league matches for Arsenal in front of them.
Similarly, public pressure on Arsene Wenger to spend money on anybody has seen Olivier Giroud castigated for not hitting the heights of last season after his move to the Emirates. However Giroud is scoring at about the same rate for Arsenal as he’s done for most of his entire career. It’s just that his entire £12m move was based off of one season with Montpellier where he scored 21 goals in league football.
For what makes a good transfer, one must look at probably Arsene Wenger’s best signing this summer, (not counting Santi Cazorla who was the product of extraordinary circumstances and went for far below market value), Lukas Podolski. Signed for around £10.5m, the German international is poised to give Arsenal what he’s given the Bundesliga for over five seasons, 12-15 goals from a wide forward position (currently on pace for 13 in the league alone).
Another, perhaps more obvious example of the importance of continuity is David Villa. El Guaje seemed expensive for €40m but from the new millennium to his broken leg in 2011/12, he’d never finished with less than 20 goals a season, often adding double digit assists as well, no matter what team he was on.
In the end, no player can outrun statistics for very long, and these days when formal training starts so young, player’s ceilings are usually developed quite early. Very often a player’s traits are fully defined by his mid-twenties and one excellent season often can’t be replicated. Especially not if after that season an immediate big money move and bigger expectations are thrust on the player’s shoulders.