Friday, June 22, 2007

Football transfers are meant to inflate - Margin

Every summer fans and pundits complain about rising transfer fees. This year the evidence is the £17million West Ham bid for Darren Bent, and the £18million Manchester United spent on Owen Hargreaves.

The blight of rising player fees makes fans exclaim disbelief, and pundits fret about the future. But here at Pseud’s Corner we think for ourselves, so lets celebrate the history of rising prices with a look at the past.

Alf Common - £1,000 – 1905

As one of the best young players in English football, Alf Common left Sunderland shortly after they finished football league runners-up in 1901. He moved to Sheffield United for £350 and went on to win the 1902 FA Cup, scoring in the final against Southampton. Two years later he claimed his first of three England caps, scoring twice.

Common then returned to Roker Park, and quickly left again in a transfer that rocked football.

Sunderland were considered among the big clubs of the English league in 1905. Middlesbrough were trying hard to stave off relegation. They succeeded in doing so partly thanks to an outlay of an incredible £1000 for a player who cost Sunderland a record £520 just a few months earlier.

Boro built on that survival and recorded their best ever league season in 1914, finishing third. But by then Common had moved on to Arsenal where he failed to score as they were relegated in the 1912-13 season. He then finished his career with Preston North End where he claimed a division two winners medal.

David Jack - £10,890 – 1928

David Jack has two notable firsts to his name. One is that while winning the 1923 FA Cup final with Bolton Wanderers, he became the first player to score at Wembley Stadium. The other was that he was English football’s first £10,000 player.

Jack started his career with Plymouth Argyle and moved to Bolton Wanderers shortly after. While there he won the FA Cup twice, scoring the winner in his second triumph, this time against Manchester city in 1925.

Bolton were later forced to sell their most prized asset and top goal scorer because of financial difficulties. Arsenal stepped forward and paid the amazing £10,890 in 1928, 23 years after Alf Common’s landmark move. And just like 1905, this transfer nearly doubled the previous record.

The move proved a success for Jack who joined Arsenal in a golden age under Herbert Chapman. He won the FA Cup again, and went on to win three division one titles in the early 1930s before retiring as younger players pushed him out of the team.

Jimmy Greaves - £99,999 – 1961
Denis Law - £115,000 – 1962

Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law were both the first £100,000 player in English football. And to understand this anomaly you will have to read on to Trevor Francis. In the mean time these two strikers signed for what were at the time England’s two most glamorous clubs.

Greaves had left Chelsea aged just 21 having already scored over 100 league goals. He went to Italy and AC Milan where the lack of a wage cap meant he could earn more money. Law signed for Torino that same year for the same reason, leaving Manchester City who had themselves spent a British record £55,000 on him.

The outcry at Britain’s best players leaving for Italy led to the end of the wage cap. And with that Greaves left AC Milan as their top scorer after just a few months, while Law followed Greaves shortly after.

Bill Nicholson did not want to burden his record signing’s reputation with the status of first £100,000 player. As such he agreed with AC Milan that one pound short of six figures was enough. When Law signed for Manchester United, Matt Busby dispensed with such concerns by paying a whopping £115,000.

These players became legends in what fans consider to be the golden age of both clubs. In 1963 Greaves inspired Spurs to win Britain’s first European trophy. Law then inspired the Red Devils to become the first English European Cup winners in 1968. They both went on to score more than a goal every other game for their countries making Law the current joint top goal scorer for Scotland, and Greaves third for England.

Trevor Francis - £999,999 – 1979

Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough and Spurs manager Bill Nicholson had more in common than their legendary love of passing football. Hence, like Greaves before him, Trevor Francis did not quite earn Birmingham City the landmark seven figures that he effectively cost. Clough wanted to save his player from that pressure.

Oddly though, while Clough set the price £1 below the landmark figure Steve Daley did not become the equivalent to Denis Law 18 years earlier. His transfer from Wolves to Manchester City for £1.438million was a record, but every history book makes Francis the first £1million man.

Trevor Francis was a stunning player at a mediocre Birmingham City, and like Law and Greaves before him he won nothing until he moved. Three months after the February transfer he not only won the European Cup, but scored the winning goal in the final when he headed home John Robertson’s cross.

Sadly from that point on his Forest career went down hill. Clough tended to play him on the right instead of as centre forward; he lost the 1980 League Cup Final, and he missed the European Cup Final that year through injury. He was sold a year later.

Despite his Forest woes Francis continued to be a key figure in the England squad making more than 50 appearances, and in 1981 he moved to Manchester City and then on to Sampdoria with whom he won the Coppa Italia in 1985. He then moved to Atalanta and then Glasgow Rangers where he won his last trophy, the Scottish Cup in 1987.

Alan Shearer - £15million – 1996

Aged just seventeen, Alan Shearer broke his first record on his Southampton debut. He became the youngest scorer of a hat trick in league football, a record previously set by Jimmy Greaves in the 1950s. He also scored thirteen goals in eleven games for England U21s, and in 1992 made his debut for England, scoring alongside Gary Lineker.

That same year Shearer became English football’s most expensive player when that same year he was bought by Blackburn Rovers. The £3.6million was seemingly well spent. Having turned down Manchester United he scored 130 goals for Blackburn Rovers in just four years, 112 of which were in the league.

During his time at Blackburn Shearer won the PFA Player of the year, scored 30 league goals in three seasons, and won the Premier League. He also cemented his place as an England international, winning the Golden Boot at the European Championships in 1996.

That summer he moved to the club he supported as a boy, Newcastle United. The transfer cost Newcastle £15million, nearly twice the previous record, and although it was intended to end their long trophy drought it failed. Shearer earned runners up medals for the Premier League and FA Cup, and was voted PFA Player of the year again, but never won another trophy.

He earned 63 caps and scored 30 goals over his career, and scored a club record 206 goals for Newcastle, the last of which came in his final game for the club against local rivals Sunderland. The fact that more than 100 of those goals were league goals meant another note in history, Shearer joined Jimmy Greaves as only the second player ever to score 100 league goals for two clubs.

£100million – 2012?

Sixteen to eighteen years seems to be a fairly constant period for a 10 fold rise in English football’s record transfer. With that in mind we should plan for the next landmark to be reached in around 2013.

We can also assume a number of things about the player involved before then. He will probably be young, will almost certainly be an international if not before then after the move, and he may not actually cost as much as £100million. He will win trophies before or after the move, and would probably already hold the transfer record before the big one happens.


mimi said...

The denizons of Pseuds know well that I nothing of nought about the football but this piece makes me think about payment in other sports also. Interesting stuff Margin. However, marginally interestingly, a woman who I am trying to engage for cricket writing, today told me of her family history with sport, and her brother was the first highly-priced footballer to be thereby dealt. I will seek more details and post info as I can find it. It's absolutely fascinating when you tell people of your interest, how stories just come flooding in.

andrewm said...

Call me an ignorant prat who knows nothing about football or economics - go on, do it - but I don't see transfer fees continuing to rise at anything like the rate they have, particularly due to the changing nature of player contracts. We'll never see the £100 million player.

Whatever happened to the name Alf?

andrewm said...

Also, I may be revealing my youthful ignorance here - he came to prominence at just the right time for me to be amazed by him, as a young football fan - but how f'ing good was Alan Shearer in the early '90s?

Also, remember when Andy Cole scored a wonder goal for Newcastle every single week without fail?

It's all been downhill since John Barnes retired, I'm telling you.

mimi said...

Alan Shearer cruising South London in a powder puff blue open top Roller. Or was it a Merc - I don't fucking know. Was just astonished that a girl-friend at the time would pin-point him at the traffic lights. Some time later we had a Teddy Sherringham moment at the same set of lights. Ach and away! Hey!

andrewm said...

Language, mimi - language.

You're a real pottymouth these days, aren't you just?

Did I ever tell you about the time I met Garth Crooks?

mimi said...

andrewm: if the language falls apart a bit, it's the fact that a small cat lunges with claws out into the exposed arm as I write. Gives room for a yell, as the blood flows.

bluedaddy said...

Nice piece Margin.

Andrewm, when, and I would say it's more a when than an if, all of the biggest English clubs are negotiating their own TV deals, as Barca and Real Madrid do now, there will be enough money around to 'justify' a £100 million player. If you combined Beckham's marketing clout with the footballing prowess of Zidane, you would be pretty close already.

Indeed if the Beckham experiment in the US works (though I dont think it will), the sum may even be reached close to Margin's timetable.

I would say the only thing to prevent a £100m man somewhere in Europe would be a catastrophic collapse in football's structures.

andrewm said...

mimi, I sympathise. Mine was sick on me today, which was fun.

BD, point taken but doesn't the evidence actually suggest that transfer fees at the top end are dropping? For some reason I'm thinking about Gianluigi Lentini and Rio Ferdinand, though how that advances my argument I don't know.

marcela said...

margin, you're thoughtful and historically rigorous. nice piece. however i'm with andrewm here - i don't think the 100 million payer will happen. at least, not from a transfer. beckham in the us is mostly 'other' incomes, right?

the bubble-will-burst prediction started circulating in the early naughties, and i think it's largely held true; except perhaps in the premiership where mysterious things happen and money is still to be found.

mimi, please find us the story of the brother of the cricket woman... it could be your first football post? as a pseuds piece??

margin, perhaps you are still unaware of what the taproom is, but may we drink here over the weekend?

we could smoke cigars and broker some deals :)

Margin said...

Hi Guys
by all means drink here (I now know what the taproom is.)

I understand why people think the £100million player mark may not be reached, especially in regards to changing player contracts. But it would take quite a drastic change to stop it happening at some stage.

I also tend to think the bubble won't burst. Football is a very marketable product. The huge tv sums going in reflect the very real marketing value available with football coverage. And gates continue to be high as people pay to see their team in their thousands. (and grounds are growing throughout the league).

having said that - I don't suppose many people in the 60s predicted a player would cost £15million before the turn of the new century, so my predictions are only made as a point of interest. Not as data on which to bet ones house.

DoctorShoot said...

very interesting piece margin...

all the hallmarks of most sports but perhaps soccor is at the top end...

there was talk once of a golfing league to try and build the same sort of teams and transfers process but the top golfers were already way over the mark and it never took off...

I'm in the camp who believes that 100mill is almost a definite as long as (for example) thai money can keep flowing in and sven gets 3mill just to sign...

I'll have one of those havanas in the drawer and a scotch on ice thanks...

bluedaddy said...

I can see that it may not be that club B hands a cheque/suitcase/brown paper bag with £100m in it to club A, but unless the players secure total freedom of contract from clubs (freelance footballers?), it is likely that a deal will come about where club A will allow a player to move to club B on the condition that no less than £100m will end up in club A's coffers within a specified time frame.

So this could mean that Club B would have to hand over some of the merchandising income, or, as happens now, on field success for club B triggers payments to club A.

On this last point, you dont think, in dear old Blighty, that Club A would play poorly against club B, to help club B achieve a victory that triggers a payment to club A because of a previous transfer of a player to club B.

It's a bit confusing so maybe if I put some random names in: surely say Everton wouldnt throw away a lead against say Man Utd, because Man Utd would owe Everton money if they won the league, because of a player transfer between Everton and Man Utd.

Nah, it just wouldnt happen.

file said...

hmm, thoughtful work Margin, very interesting, really need to plot it on a graph and extend the curve (sure there's an economists way to say that but I don't what it might be)

I wonder what the footprint of this curve would look like compared to a minimum wage curve over the same period

not much to argue with this time, doh, but I'll get plotting and if that line doesn't do what you say it does...

Margin said...


I think your worst case scenario is unlikely to be a problem with performance payments in transfers.

Three points cost Everton a fifth placed finish which with performance bonuses in their sponsor contracts, and the huge price money for each position, almost certainly cost them more than they'd have got for ManU winning the league.

having said that - the loan player system raises real concerns.



I don't know the term for doing that - but the minium wage would be a poor comparison in England as it was only created several years after Alan Shearer's transfer.

byebyebadman said...

I can't see the day when we'll see a 100 million pound transfer. The astronomic transfers of Crespo, Figo, Ferdinand and Zidane were all five or six years ago, I think a plateau was reached then. It's conceivable that someone may eventually break the 50 barrier, perhaps one of Barca's front line now they must accomodate Henry?

Anyway by 2012 Britain might have taken the plunge with the Euro, so sterling could be obsolete.

file said...


ah, ok not minimum wage then, bicycles used to be an indicator didn't they? but production costs have changed so much since 8 year old Bangladeshi's entered the labour market, Guardian hack salaries?

Zeph said...

Naive but serious question: are free-lance football players an impossible development? Because all this stuff, including transfer deals, used to go on between Hollywood studios in the old days until the actors wised up. And I guess at one time record labels had a similar contractual power over musicians.

After all, many top players get a sizeable chunk of their income from individual sponsorships which they take with them, so it's not 'play for us or starve' exactly...

guitougoal said...

economically it's almost impossible to project numbers of this magnitude-
2007,Thierry Henry:25 millions euros-
most of the premiership clubs are in the red-chelsea, manchester, arsenal etc...and they have a hard time to budget 40millions a year for their players acquisition. In this regard the barre at 100 millions in the next five years it's not realistic.
Pros first concern is job security- Most of them like long term contract because their career is subject to their physical condition- Without a contract a free lance player is out of job.

guitougoal said...

-please read:"an injured free lance player"

Zeph said...

Yes, also I guess because their career is so short, they're not inclined to start fighting the system.

Obviously free-lances couldn't work on a match-by-match basis, they would have to have a contract for a season, but the concept of a club 'owning' a player seems very odd in this day and age.

mimi said...

I apologise to all for my language. But andrewm - isn't it awful when they're sick? One of mine was this morning, and I empathise!
Marcela - I have no intention of letting this woman walk away without full details of her story. If I can get enough details I'll write it up for you all. She also has a brother who was a pro-cricketer back in the 60s. It could be a rich seam.

andrewm said...

mimi, you know I was only kidding don't you?

I just happened to notice you'd been swearing a little more than usual lately, and I was fucking surprised.

PS. He's better today, and even made a brief attempt to run away but thought better of it.

mimi said...

andrewm: I try hard not to let my natural profanity shine through on the Corner, so yes, I did take your comment on my lapse seriously. But honestly, if you'd had those claws in a limb, you'd have sworn too!

marcela said...

i always seem to arrive 'after hours'. hope this joint is still serving something...

there is a sense in which footballers are freelancers. particularly once they're contract runs out. hence, the rush to 'sell' them by clubs before such time.

it's all actually rather interesting and complex, and the parallels with old time hollywood studios and recording labels are not wildly off the mark. but the time span is much shorter in terms of marketability, and the duration of the contracts is set. so those deals stars had 'for life' with warner bors or whatever are not viable with clubs.

but much in the same way bosman inadvertently changed so much for so many, i guess things will continue to change along with emplyment laws, immigration laws, and so on.

still - 100 million can buy you a club. who would spend it on a player? i don't see it myself.

anyone think we can place tevez at arsenal?

anyone got a light for my cubano??

mimi said...

couldn't tell Marcela - I'm just here lurking a bit. So sad, nowehere else to go but Glastonbury!

byebyebadman said...

I'm in for the long hall waiting for Castillo vs Hatton to start, hope others are too.

just been in the pub with an Arsenal fan conviced they're going to sign Kaka for some ludicrous fee. Bless!

byebyebadman said...

Long hall? Dear me...

Haul obviously!

file said...

sounds like it was a good fight bbb, body shot KO's are always impressive

and Wayne Rooney carried in the belt?

Ebren said...

The law in Spain (I think this was post-Bosman) states all players have a "surrender value" put into their contracts, a buy-out clause.

When Figo went to Barca (or signed his contract, or sommit) it was set at the astronomically high £40m.

Real, famously, met this figure. Around Spain these clauses started rocketing (I think R Calros had his at £120m).

But the £100m player is a real possibility.

Beckam brings in £20m a year to his club. In fact, he brings in more (Man U, richest club in the world in income, sell Becks, Real Madrid become the richest club, let Becks go, forced to cancel a £15m tour of the States).

A 5-year £100m deal for him is worth it on marketing alone - all the player needs to be able to do is not make the first team worse.

Cynical, but with the global reach of the top European leagues and the international fame of some players, I can envisage a £100m player without too much trouble.

I mean, if I wanted to buy C Ronaldo how much would he cost? Or Essien? Or Rooney?

guitougoal said...

Milan would pay up to 60mil. for Ronaldhino and Real offered 50 for C.Ronaldo, there is still a long way to go.

Ebren said...

Chelsea offered £70m for Henry and Raul. Throw in the sort of money Becks makes for you (via merchandising) and the ectry £30m comes without too much trouble.

andrewm said...

If Ronaldinho is worth 70 then Kaka is worth 100.

marcela said...

ebren your question
"I mean, if I wanted to buy C Ronaldo how much would he cost? Or Essien? Or Rooney?"

people can't actually buy people. officially.

say you wanted C Ronaldo to play football in your own team, one afternoon, to impress your business partners and potential clients. you could probably arrange that, and for a sum which may seem ridiculous to most but doable to a very very few.

however, if you wanted to contract C Ronaldo to play exclusively for your team, for a certain number of years, then that would cost as much as you were willing to pay compared to how much any rival bidders were also offering.

if chelski say they would cough up 70 mill for thierry AND raul, then you're actually quite a long way away from 100 for just one player.

throwing in the merch etc. is not allowed. we're talking about whether or not the transfer will inflate to 100. i don't think it will. i may be wrong of course...

beckham's increased revenue in marketing for clubs doesn't count either. how much is galaxy paying real madrid for him? club to club - that's the transfer. (officially, obviously there are other hands grabbing the pie...)

celebrities may well sell tees and so on and their market vakue could be percieved as enormous on that basis.

but guitou's right - most clubs are in the red and just for the contract of the player from a previous club margin's predicted estimate is way too high and doesn't reflect the fact that we've past the peak and are seeing big names move for less than they were a couple of seasons ago.


MotM said...

Joining this late, but fascinating piece and postings.

I feel the need for Miro who would write something about money laundering etc, and I suspect that he would have a point.

£100M for a player seems inevitable to me so long as you count it as a package of contract release and salary / compensation for loss of merchandising rights. This kind of figure seems to be de rigeur in the world of Goldman Sachs etc.

What would five years of Pele, Maradona, Zidane, even Dalglish be worth in today's money? When you roll in the fact that not only is he playing for you, he's not playing against you, £100M seems a tad low.

byebyebadman said...

To put the 100 million pound player in to some kind of context, Liverpool , the entire club, were recently taken over for just under 200 million. 100 million on one player would be insane.

I know there's a lot of stupid money in football but to my mind only Abrahomovich's Chelsea could fund/sanction such a move, and their current policy seems to veer away from big spending. I appreciate some clubs slap ridiculous buy-out clauses on players but these are a deterrent, if it came down to transferring the player the figures invloved would never be discussed in my opinion.

TV money has made the difference in the last ten yers, and I think we've gone beyond saturation point with that.

bluedaddy said...

BBB: TV money has made the difference in the last ten yers, and I think we've gone beyond saturation point with that.

No we havent. Not by a long way. Collectively it may be that there wont be the significant bumps in football's TV deal in England that we have seen in the past. The stakes have been so high because Sky was desperate for new subscribers. Live football was its direct route to a significant part of its target market. It has got most of them now.

The battle now seems to have switched to supplying multiple services to the same punter - TV, mobile, landline, broadband, gaming. Football will be useful in terms of cross selling, but it would be a surprise to see the Premiership's income from TV rocket.

But I dont think there will be two more Premiership TV deals, maybe not even one. The biggest English clubs' TV income is only now approaching parity with Real's Barca's, Milan's because English clubs currently negotiate TV rights collectively. It is hardly inconceivable that the top 12 clubs in the Prem, now largely owned by men or organisations with their eye on a profit, as opposed to a trophy or kudos, would rather negotiate individually, knowing that there probably is a worldwide market big enough to generate more income than they currently receive through collective bargaining. This market is likely to get bigger and be full of consumers who will see paying for football as normal, rather than an outrage. If the free internet pipeline is sealed this will only add to the queue for Pay-by-the-game or pay-by-the-club football.

The obvious consequences of the biggest clubs securing an ever larger slice of the pie is that when a player comes along who marries the skills of a Maradona with the good looks and marketing savvy of a Beckham (and especially if said player is Chinese), then the top ten clubs in Europe will fall over themselves to get him. The £100 million player would most likely be one who then moved from one big club to another. You could do the maths and make the signing pay.

Margin said...

on freelance players

Football is a competition for which rules are set to govern teams and players, and one is that every player must be registered with the association in which they play). Players are therefore not owned by their club as such, it is just that the club has their player registration. The player therefore can’t play for another club.

So freelance players are unlikely to come about.

TV Deals

If TV deals move to club level – so ManU can arrange their own TV deal rather than a Premierlague deal, then the first £100million will follow shortly afterwards.

Because while such a deal would be a blow to Fulham, who draw little TV attention and thus could ask only a relatively low price for TV rights, Man Utd and the other top clubs could demand vast fortunes far in excess of their share of the collective rights.

And it may well be that prospect that has drawn the Glazers to ManU.

munni said...

I know nothing about economics, or the legalities of the transfer market, and am probably just showing my ignorance, but 100 million is quite simply a ridiculous amount, under any circumstances. I could get five £20 million players for that, and the £100 million player probably comes with far too much baggage anyway.

Also, contracts are very flexible things. What is the point of having one, if either party can choose to renegotiate at any time?

Marcela: Tevez to Arsenal? I love that idea, but I can't really see him and van Persie combining well. Tevez and Adebayor maybe a bit better, but still odd.

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