For the truly passionate soccer fan (you know, those of us who feel we actually have a stake in our favorite squad), the transfer market can bring about anxiety, anger, frustration and confusion at one extreme, pure delight bordering on ecstasy at the other. For the neutrals, it’s a time to fulfill the guilty pleasure by indulging in often crude, unfounded gossip. And of course, the big moves are always exciting.
Personally, I just can’t help but get sucked into every clickbait tagline about some big name player, only to find that there’s absolutely nothing in it. I’m a young guy, but I’m a traditionalist in many ways, and I tend to agree a lot with Gary Neville’s recent comments about the soccer world’s obsession with the market. It’s really the twisted, obsessive philosophy of the whole thing that I disagree with. While it’s definitely a necessary element of the sport, there are obvious and sometimes damaging negative effects, even if there are also a fair share of positives.
Neville takes his viewpoint, undoubtedly, from Alex Ferguson. He was part of that group of young players, nicknamed Fergie’s Fledglings, along with brother Phil, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, and Paul Scholes. In the interview with Sky Sports, the Valencia coach admitted that he doesn’t like this obsession “with who we’re going to sign, who we would like to sign, who we do not have,” and admits that “this is not just something in the past week.”
Indeed, it’s not a new fad, but it wasn’t as prevalent during his earlier playing days.
Like his former gaffer, Neville firmly believes that “the biggest focus should be on the players we have got. We should be proud of what we’ve got, the talent that is in the squad, and make those players the best that they possibly can be. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I believe you can improve what you have, work with what you have.”
To give some examples of what he’s talking about, he highlights the current situation at the club, in terms of youth players, saying “we have three young boys training with us today, travelling with us, what about them? They’ve come up from the academy, shall I just forget them? Just sign some new players? That’s not the way I want football to be. I don’t believe Valencia should be that way. It’s important that message comes across.”
Youth teams are important for clubs because they generate local stars, loyal and passionate senior players, and have the potential to bring financial rewards, whether that be through sales or trophies won. There are clubs like Atalanta in Serie A who have renowned youth academies who are never really close to challenging for the Scudetto, or even a spot in Europe. The club is able to consistently stay in the top flight because of the quality of the players they bring up through the youth system, much to the delight of the incredibly passionate fans up there in Bergamo. Then, you have clubs like Barcelona who have renowned youth academies and win everything (just like Fergie’s United).
The market, however, does not only revolve around youth players.
Two reasons for spending money are because you need reinforcements to challenge for trophies, or because you’ve suffered some injuries early on in the campaign. Sometimes spending money is a necessity, and Neville admits that, too, saying “you always have to be ready for anything. We get injuries, situations that develop.” And if the timing is bad, certain situations require a replacement be found. However, if the squad is constructed well from the outset, these setbacks won’t be too negative, given that you have worthy replacements.
A good example from this season is Arsenal, who’ve suffered more injuries to big players than any other team, yet they’re still top of the table. For all the criticism that gets heaped on Wenger for not spending money, it’s good to see that his philosophy has succeeded (so far, that is).
Another instance of timing with injuries and the market is Juventus this season. The rumors that the Bianconeri are in desperate need of a “playmaker” in the midfield have alive since Andrea Pirlo departed in the summer. They made a rush buy, in what many fans deem a mistake, and brought Hernanes in. The Brazilian has been disappointing and has suffered from injury as well. Now, the market is open again, and Juventus are struggling to find someone worth buying. With Roberto Pereyra returning from injury within days, a very versatile player who Max Allegri considers well suited to play right behind the strikers in his 4-3-1-2, the timing of everything could work out in the Bianconeri’s favor.
For a hypothetical example of a negative effect, imagine if Pereyra, who lifted three trophies in his first season with Juventus and played the most Serie A matches on the team (35, along with Claudio Marchisio — another excellent example of youth systems at work), came back healthy but lost his spot because a bigger name was brought in for a huge sum. That would surely be heartbreaking stuff. You have to think about the mentalities of the players and how their psychology can be greatly affected by transfer rumors.
To give an example of the madness behind the market, we can look at another Juventus player, Simone Zaza. Because of his situation, the speculation of a move away from Turin has been brewing for months, but his agent, the player himself and Allegri have all insisted time and time again that he’ll not be going anywhere, even if he wanted to, and that there was really no comprehensible reason he should even want to leave. The striker confirmed he’s intent on staying, and admitted that he keeps his mind off the rumors because in the past he’s been affected by it mentally. That’s all the proof I need.
I worship the legends of the game and tend to be biased sometimes in terms of agreeing with more “traditionalist” views. However, the reality of the game is that with more and more money being pumped in from abroad, this obsession will only grow. It would be nice, though, if more agents and club directors felt the way Neville does.
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