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The Valuation of James Milner: A Transfer Market Comparison

Yesterday I had a short conversation on Twitter with EPL Talk’s very own Laurence McKenna that went something like this:

lozcast: Mascherano = £25m? Milner = £25m+? Discuss

JesseChula: @lozcast Milner=versatile, can play either wing or in the middle, young. Masch=solid, likes to kick people. Ya know, get stuck in.Seems fair

lozcast: @JesseChula Still don’t get the valuation difference. Masch is…! Milner is good, best in his ‘position’ in the world? Not sure…

JesseChula: @lozcast is Masch best in world in his position? De Jong, Cambiasso, Busquets??

The debate really could have gone on and on, but McKenna’s points got me thinking about the valuation of James Milner compared to that of the captain of Argentina and then further, his value compared to that of other big names that have completed a transfer this summer. The open transfer window always brings stories of over-priced players, but how close is the £25m price tag placed on Milner to being a fair assessment of what he’s actually worth?

Milner looks set to finally leave Aston Villa after suitors Manchester City seem willing to up their bid for the 24 year old England international. But is Milner’s English-ness a large contributor to his potentially over-inflated transfer fee City look set to pay? Let’s face it, good to above average English players will always go for around the same price that good to great foreign players will go for simply because they aren’t a dime a dozen and every Premier League club wants at least a few.

Originally, City bid some £18m plus an extra payment of £2m later on only to be rejected by Aston Villa as too low a bid for their prized midfielder – a classic case of the club who owns the player holding out for more dough because they know they can get it.

Equally, Inter Milan are bidding for the services of Javier Mascherano from Liverpool who set the bar high at £30m with Inter looking closer to the £20m mark to secure Mascherano’s services. All variables point to the two clubs meeting somewhere in the middle. As McKenna stated on Twitter, the two midfielders could end up going for close to the same amount.

Of course we know the two midfield players are largely different in what they bring to their respective teams. Mascherano is a deep lying, defensive midfielder who’s good in the tackle and an effective protector of the back four. Milner is most comfortable as an attacking winger dribbling down the flanks and crossing the ball into the box. Yet he can also play in the center of the pitch in a more attacking role and can score goals. The two are separated by only 2 years in age and are both experienced Premier League and International players. So which one is really worth more? Or, is it even possible to tell?

A like for like comparison of the two players just doesn’t work, and which player could benefit his new side more than the other depends on more than just that one player – it depends on the supporting cast, the system, tactics, etc. In order for McKenna and I to settle our conversation, we must look at some recent activity in the transfer market this summer to make a realistic comparison and find middle ground.

As of press time, the most expensive Premier League transfer of the summer has been the signing of YaYa Toure by Manchester City from Barcelona for £28m, second is David Silva from Valencia also to City for £24m, which means Milner could go to the Citizens for almost the exact same fee as World Cup winner David Silva, or if  Aston Villa up their asking price, Milner could go for close to what City payed Barcelona for their Champions League winning defensive midfielder, Toure.

When put in that kind of perspective, McKenna’s original point on Milner’s value seems closer to the truth than I originally thought. However, wouldn’t worth simply be defined as how much a certain club is willing to pay for a player?

This, however, can be dissected in two ways. First off, as previously stated, McKenna could be correct in his theory that he thought the £25m was simply too much for Milner. This would be a likely outcome if the issue was simply black and white with no gray area to contend with.

The second and more likely outcome to the debate would be that due to City’s willingness to throw what cash they need to in order to get their man, they’ve unknowingly tainted and inflated the transfer market during the summer. This is simply transfer market 101 and has been repeated time and time again since the Premier League’s inception. Clubs realize City’s intentions to punch high above their weight in buying up numerous players, they’ll therefore hold out for more cash because they know City have it to spend.

Regardless of your opinion, the next few days and weeks will likely tell us exactly what Milner is worth – which again, I believe to be exactly whatever the club buying him value him at, regardless of if we think it’s over-inflated.

Am I prepared to place Milner’s name in with Toure and Silva? Well, maybe not just yet, but with his Premier League experience, attacking flair and ever growing potential, he could just be up there with Mascherano.

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  1. Mac

    July 27, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    I thought the new Barcelona president said they got 21M Euros for Yaya Toure

  2. Thomas-William

    July 24, 2010 at 8:37 am

    I liked your article, I appreciate the time and effort put in to share your views, I think its good people give feedback and comment. Although I can’t contemplate why there is sometimes a a fair bit of blunt negative feed back on people articles, but we do still live in a free-ish country so hey-ho!

  3. jleau

    July 24, 2010 at 12:01 am

    Maybe because the article is started with copying some sort twitter conversation between Jesse and his buddy, but the whole thing is all over the place. Call me old school but just because it’s a blog doesn’t mean this should read like an e-mail.

    It’s simple Jesse start with a point. Tell the reader what you’re going to say. Say it. Then tell the reader what you said. It’s freshman writing class stuff.

    It’s obvious you watch a lot of the game, and you probably have something interesting to say, but you hide that with posts that seem like they’re written in 10 minutes.

  4. jleau

    July 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Very poor article. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make but you’re talking about two different concepts; price and value. The correct price for anything is whatever a buyer will pay. Value is obviously deeper and requires a comparison of the prices of similar objects. Outside of both being footballers, why would anyone compare Milner and Mascherano is beyond me.

    Milner’s price may be 25M, but his value sure isn’t. These types of transfers are the reason why City’s money isn’t nearly the advantage it should be. You might be able to get 3 players of equal quality for that money if you had the right scouts and looked in the right places.

    You need to read more than you write. Read Money Ball. If you’ve alreay read it, do it again because you didn’t get it.

    • Jesse Chula

      July 23, 2010 at 6:26 pm


      with respect, you might want to read the article again. Your point about comparing the 2 midfielders is pretty much answered in the first paragraph. It all stemmed from a conversation I had with someone on Twitter. Nothing more, nothing less.

      As for some of your other points, I just get the feeling that you read the piece and wanted it to be something other than what it was. Read it again and take it for what it is, a simple comparison of a few players who are on the transfer market. You even seem to restate some of the points I made in the article. Odd.

      in fact, very poor comments.

      • This One Guy in Detroit

        July 23, 2010 at 8:55 pm

        Well, he was just kind of getting you on semantics, I think. You’re right — the full post ultimately made its point clear. But this early line threw me too, I have to admit: “how close is the £25m price tag placed on Milner to being a fair assessment of what he’s actually worth?”

        You’ve got several concepts there — “price,” “assessment,” “fair,” “worth” — that are not necessarily integrated the way the sentence implies they are. Again, it’s just a semantics point, but I think it was the basis of jleau’s reaction.

  5. Mark

    July 23, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Jesse, I have to take exception to “they’ve (Man City’s decision makers) unknowingly tainted and inflated the transfer market during the summer.”

    I think they are quite aware that along with Barca and Madrid they have massively inflated the transfer market. From their perspective its a good strategy because it limits how much other teams can improve their own squads. Why should AV sell Milner to Liverpool for 20m when they can sell to Man City for 30m? This is why the spirit if not the details of UEFA’s financial fairplay rules are necessary. The only value in the transfer market is in players that City, Barca and Madrid aren’t after and in the players these teams will be selling off.

    What makes less sense to me is why Milner would want to go to Man City. Is he going to get consistent starts in that squad?

    btw Mascherano is a better midfielder than the Karate Kid (De Jong) Cambiasso (who was terrible for Argentina before DM dropped him), or Busquets (Barca want to replace Busquets with Mascherano). For example Mascherano had the highest number of completed passes in the EPL

  6. Tony

    July 23, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Milner is a very good player and will develop to be a very important for England in front of Rodwell and Delph in a 3 man CM IMO.

    Villa are competing with Citeh and have no need to sell so why would let them take Milner for a cheap price?

    In terms of valuation, he is also a fairly rare commodity – an attacking CM in the Stevie G mould that can also play out wide if necessary (not that Citeh really need that given the size of their squad) and he is English. UEFA’s rule on home grown players make this last point fairly significant.

    So if Citeh want the best young English talent from a competing club then they will have to pay for it. I would argue that he is surely more valuable than Lescott?????

  7. Ocka

    July 23, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Villa paid Newcastle too much for him , he is a good player he tries hard, and gives his best, but by no means great. If Man City want him then they will have to pay a lot more money than he is really worth the same as Villa did. it’s really that simple.
    Real value i would put at 10 million.

  8. Div

    July 23, 2010 at 9:50 am

    It’s simple. Mascherano is a DM. This means no-one cares, you can buy a good one for 10-15m. Mascherano, as arguably the best in this role in the world is considerably more expensive than a decent DM. Nigel Reo-Coker was just a few tackles behind Mashcerano as most effective DM two seasons ago, yet he is worth 4m. You pay over the odds for attacker-minded players, over the odds for English. Given Man City have paid 28m for sloggers like Joleon Lescott and Yaya Toure, I’d say 30m is cheap for Gerrard’s heir.

    • hank

      July 23, 2010 at 10:19 am

      Someone is going to spend 30m on Steven Gerrard’s hair?!

  9. Dan

    July 23, 2010 at 9:17 am

    keep in mind as well that they are buying Milner from a team who hope to be in competition with City and not a foreign team. If I’m Villa I’m not head over heels trying to make my competition better. I would expect that when buying a player from a team in the same half of the table of the same league that you would have to pay a bit of a premium.

  10. tom t

    July 23, 2010 at 8:55 am

    the above comment makes more sense that the whole article it is response to. what kind of name is jesse anyway? not one that should have anything to do with football!!!

    • Jesse Chula

      July 23, 2010 at 9:20 am

      tom t,

      Bait taken. Hook, line and sinker.

      What an intelligent, well thought out descriptive analysis of my article. Your humor and wit is as bright and sharp as the sun on a hot summer day.

      Your grammar and sentence structure is reminiscent of the best writers of our generation. No, it’s better!

      It is YOU my friend that should be filling this very site with your poignant and intellectual thoughts and opinions.

      I myself, coupled with the millions across the globe would surely line your pockets with enough gold and riches in order to view, no, experience and breath in your daily ideals that you could simply write God himself a check for infinity billion dollars so he could then remove the name ‘jesse’ from the memories of the masses. I would then stand a broken and defeated man.

      Well said my friend, I enter into this weekend an inspired man filled with tears of joy upon my eyes meeting your words. I continue to weep at their beauty.

  11. Tom

    July 23, 2010 at 8:30 am

    I believe there is a lot more too it than this.

    Milner’s worth to Aston Villa IMO is greater than Silva’s worth to Valencia (Who needed to sell to balance the books) and Toure’s Worth to Barcelona (Who can easily attract players of similar stature to the club).

    Aston Villa, if they sell Milner, could not attract somebody of a similar or better quality without offering ludicrous amounts of money, which we are not about to do. We are also in a position where we do not need to sell Milner to balance the books.

    Selling Milner to Manchester City for anything less than a massively inflated fee would also show a lack of ambition to potential transfer targets. If you were an ambitious player looking to move to the premier league, would you pick a club that just rolls over and lets the ‘bigger’ clubs cherry pick their players without any resistance? I certainly wouldn’t.

    James Milner’s market value is effected by all these factors and his actual ability is only really a minor part.

    • Greg

      July 23, 2010 at 9:35 am

      This is a good post.

      As a City fan I pray we don’t sign Milner, Well for anything more than 15-20 million, which has already been rejected.

      While I do rate Milner I want to see City start walking away from deals if they prove to be rob us blind.

      This all started, really, with Hughes signing Lescott from Everton. We ended up paying probably 7-10 million more than he was worth and some of the asking prices City have received since then have been outrageous.

      Walk away and let Milner sulk at Villa. In the long run we might not get all the players we want, but it’ll eventually save us money.

    • Jesse Chula

      July 23, 2010 at 10:07 am


      Thanks for the feedback. Those are in fact really good points and I agree with you on some level.

      However, you have to realize that the player in question’s ability is what got him to this point in the first place. Without ability, you langish on the bench and aren’t even mentioned when it comes to big transfers. Does this make sense to you?

      His ability can’t be viewed as a minor part. It’s actually the main point and all the business and financial stuff comes in on top of his ability.

      • Tom

        July 23, 2010 at 10:45 am

        Ok maybe the word ‘minor’ was a bit over the top but it isn’t the be all and end all of determining a player’s value.

        Take Robbie Keane for example, he was worth a lot more to Spurs than Liverpool hence the inflated fee involved in his move to Anfield. 12 Months down the line and he is deemed surplus to requirements and offered back to Spurs for a drastically reduced cost. He still has the same abilities he had when Liverpool wanted him, the only difference being his worth to the selling club.

        If Manchester City were buying Milner from Portsmouth they would be paying considerably less for the player than they are paying now.

        • Jesse Chula

          July 23, 2010 at 1:58 pm


          Again, points taken. But we may have to agree to disagree on this one.

          In my opinion, if Portsmouth were selling Milner, wouldn’t they do the exact same thing Aston Villa are doing in holding out for more money? I don’t see Portsmouth valuing Milner any less than Aston Villa are.

          Because of the fact that Milner has reached a certain ability level, he’ll be widely regarded by almost all clubs as a top quality player.

          Plus or minus a million pounds here or there, I believe he’d go for about the same to any club because of his Premier League and International experience.

          In Keane’s circumstances, there’s somewhat of a point there. But I believe in that instance, it had more to do with how Keane was handled while at Liverpool. Benitez really didn’t give him much of a chance to succeed so he went back to Spurs. The whole debacle was just bad business and bad coaching from the get go.

          Regardless, I definitely see both sides of the debate. Thanks for the intelligent feedback.

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