The following is an article that was written many weeks ago for members of this site, but is now available to all in an updated form.
“People can say I have been here for five years but you can see the difference. Compare the value of the squad before and the value of the squad now, you can see the progression.” Rafa Benítez, 1.11.2009
For those who cannot be bothered to read in-depth pieces, I will start with a quick précis.
By my calculations, Benítez has bought 42 first team players (therefore excluding a load of teenagers brought to the Academy, most of them for negligible fees, and many of the failures sold on for similar amounts, with plenty still with a chance of breaking through).
For those 42 players he has paid £232m (or will do, if all appearance clauses on current playing staff met).
Those who have subsequently been moved on were sold for £106m, with some also having sell-on clauses in place that could see further money come Liverpool’s way.
The current value of the squad, excluding all homegrown players, is, by my calculations, £217m.
This includes what many believe to be a conservative estimate on Torres’ worth, at £60m, with Manchester City having supposedly made a £70m bid. So I am not inflating figures to make a point.
This means that for that £232m, the value of his investment now stands at a whopping £323m. (Click link to see full list)
None of this means that Liverpool have a better squad than, say, City, Chelsea or United. Chelsea’s, however, is at its peak, with its worth seriously damaged by the age of their best players. That means they are still a great team, and full of experience, but there is little sell-on value should a manager need to sell in order to buy (if Abramovich is no longer handing over £500m cheques).
It does, however, mean that Benítez has spent his money wisely – although all managers sign their fair share of duds. However, closer inspection shows that he has also signed plenty of world-class players whose values have soared.
Unfortunately, a need to redirect transfer funds back into the club’s coffers, and the relatively low wage bill – the real killer of the Reds’ title ambitions, according to various football economists – mean that the club is unable to match some of the fans’ ambitions.
By my calculations, Benítez has bought 42 first team players (therefore excluding a load of teenagers brought to the Academy, most of them for negligible fees, and many of the failures sold on for similar amounts).
Okay, let’s get down to basics. There are two main ways of judging a transfer: success on the pitch, and money received in a sale.
While the former is paramount, the latter affects what a manager does in the future; buy a crap player but sell him for a profit, and you can then stand a better chance of buying a superior one than at the time the first deal took place (unless the profit is purely down to transfer fees rising in general).
Yes, some wages will have been ‘wasted’, but in the case of squad players, this won’t be astronomically high, and ultimately, if you need back up, you need to pay them; so while Bolo Zenden wasn’t seen as a success, he ‘did a job’ for a Bosman.
We’ll start by looking at success on the pitch.
Of those 42, by my reckoning, 16 have been an outright success.
Of these, only David N’Gog might be debated, but for me, £1.5m for a teenage striker who has since scored five (now six) goals in around 500 (600) minutes of football has to be a success in anyone’s book.
Meanwhile, it’s early days for Glen Johnson, but on the evidence seen thus far he’ll be worth every penny, and more; while his form may drop off, his all-round play has been outstanding, and I can only go on what people have done up to the point of writing.
The next category is ‘Mixed’. I reckon that 15 players fit into this band. The majority are not really debatable, but obviously one or two will be.
I ummed and ahhed over Ryan Babel, but decided that although an almost washout last season, he did enough in his first season, and has shown enough desire and quality in recent games, to deserve redemption from the sin bin; but he’s obviously on borrowed time if things don’t go his way [since I wrote that, it’s not looking good].
Alberto Aquilani obviously goes into here too, as no-one has seen him yet, but he has the ability to be a success, clearly. Albert Riera is also in this category, as his superb first five months have given way to some iffy form. But he has the ability to succeed, as shown with his form for Spain, and should be capable of promotion back to the top group.
Robbie Keane was not the disaster many suggested in purely footballing terms, though he was a disappointment for the fee (although that can all be recouped with clauses). He did okay, nothing more, nothing less.
Momo Sissoko is the one name from this group that I considered labelling a success, as he was excellent for two seasons, but his stock fell sharply in his third, to the point where the credibility of this piece might be attacked if he was included. (I would point out that he was sold to Juventus, for a good profit, but the naysayers won’t be swayed.) [Edit: Rafa told me that his serious eye injury affected his confidence, and his passing grew more wayward.]
Lucas Leiva is in this group, on account of his positive contributions in the last 10 months, but obviously he’s yet to win all the fans over after a poor start to last season; for a young £5m, 4th choice central midfielder, there’s no way he can be labelled a flop (yet, at least).
Flops, in footballing terms, include Jermaine Pennant, who came close to being considered Mixed after a brief bout of fine form (not least in Athens), as did Andrea Dossena based on his midfield showings last season. But Pennant drifted away from first team action, and Dossena has yet to really feature this season.
Fernando Morientes was another who might be worth considering as Mixed, as he did okay (much worse than Berbatov has so far for United?), but he failed to live up to his reputation. Mauricio Pellegrino was a big flop on the pitch, but a success off it, in terms of his experience and quasi-coaching. But on the field of play is what I’m basing this section on, so he’s a miss rather than a hit or a maybe.
So, it’s roughly an equal three-way split between successes, mixed-successes and failures. Which is pretty much what I’d expect. You win some, you lose some, and some are neither here nor there.
My previous estimated rule of thumb is that if a manager gets 10-20% of his major signings absolutely spot-on, he’ll have some team. (After all, some players will always fail because others are in the team and succeeding.)
Of Benítez’s 42 signings (many of whom, remember, were never designed to be first-team regulars), five have been stellar successes, and a sixth, Daniel Agger, has only been denied inclusion by injuries; free from injury, I have no hesitation in calling him world-class.
I’d also argue the case that Luis Garcia, given his goals, is also worthy of this group, and if he keeps up his 2009 form, Yossi Benayoun, too. But it’s between five and eight players who have been über-deals; or roughly one a year
What’s interesting is that the undisputed super five – Reina, Torres, Mascherano, Alonso and Johnson (what a 5-a-side team!) – cost, on average, £15m. So, while you can get top-class players for circa £6m (Reina, Agger, Skrtel, Garcia, Benayoun), it costs more to get a better chance of a superstar. That will be further proven later on.
Success per £ spent
When I looked at the Liverpool manager’s spending relating to success, a clear pattern emerged.
The average price of a Benítez flop is just £2.6m.
The average price of a Benítez mixed success is £5.9m.
The average price of a Benítez success is £7.9m.
The average price of a Benítez über-success, as mentioned earlier, is £14.9m, or a little under 50% of the British transfer record.
Now, tell me that there isn’t a correlation between spending and success?
(Although, of course, wages remain the main financial factor in success.)
Cheap and cheerful: you might get an Arbeloa, but of course, the odds are that you’ll more likely get a Nunez or Josemi. Still, you have to give every cheap player the benefit of the doubt, as you don’t know which one they’ll be. You can’t not pay £2.6m for Arbeloa because Josemi was rubbish for a similar fee.
Equally, paying £15m or more doesn’t guarantee a success; but it tends to improve the odds.
However, a manager has to weigh up the need for a strong squad against the needs for a strong XI. Invest £60m in two players and serious injuries can ruin your season. Invest £60m in six players, and you may be stronger all-round, but lacking that world-class edge. Benítez certainly started off by having to build a squad, so lacking in depth and talent was the one he inherited (which was far weaker than Houllier’s very fine 2001-era set-up.)
Over half of the money Benítez has spent has been on clear successes (£119m).
£83m has been spent on mixed successes, although Aquilani could be exempted as he’s mixed purely because he’s not had a chance to be either a success or a flop.
Less than £30m has been spent on outright flops; or approximately the price of Andrei Shevchenko. (Or Juan Sebastian Veron.)
Okay, so would you trust Benítez with your money?
Well, of those 42 players, 25 have either been sold for a profit or currently have an increased value.
(Incidentally, that does not include Dirk Kuyt, whose age counts again him in resale terms, but who is easily worth the £9m Liverpool paid for his services, and his improved reputation and extra-special fitness means the Reds could get £9m if they chose to sell right now.)
But get this.
With 16 signings holding their value, only FIVE players have left for a loss, or seen their value decrease. And one of those was an outright success (Luis Garcia), who was sold as he reached the end of his shelf-life; the Reds ‘lost’ £2.5m, but won the Champions League, and some £30m in the process.
That leaves Jermaine Pennant, Fernando Morientes, and of the current squad, Andrea Dossena and Ryan Babel.
Even their biggest detractors would say that free transfers Andriy Voronin and Philipp Degen would bring at least £1m into the coffers, if not more; last summer Hertha Berlin would have been prepared to pay £4m for Voronin had they qualified for the Champions League. Now, we don’t want players on Bosmans simply to sell for small profits, but Voronin is a handy, if unspectacular player; perfect squad man, really.
Josemi? Swapped for Kromkamp. Kromkamp? Sold for the £2m he was valued at as part of the swap deal. Nunez? Left for a small profit. Bellamy? Sold for a profit. Robbie Keane? Money back (if he plays enough games for Spurs). Paletta? Money back, sell-on clause. Leto? Profit and sell-on clause.
Crouch? £4m profit. Sissoko? Massive profit in percentage terms of the fee paid. Carson? £2m loan to Villa, £3.4m sale, for a £750,000 investment. Alonso? £20m pure profit.
Now, some of these profits are in line with inflation, although the transfer record is pretty stable right now, so not much is changing in terms of prices.
So it’s not like when Liverpool bought Stan Collymore for £8.5m and sold him for £7m, at a time when the record had already rocketed to £15m; making £7m a bigger loss in real terms. After all, a top striker in 1997 was worth twice as much money as in 1995, as everyone adjusted their values accordingly.
But the five players sold for a loss by Benítez, or whose values have dropped, cost £38m. They were sold, or are now worth, a total of £18m. This makes a £20m loss on Benítez’s ‘poor’ investments, although, of course, the values of Babel and Dossena could still rise or fall, and Garcia was a footballing success.
(Of course, this doesn’t include profits Rafa made on inherited signings, such as Djimi Traore, Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Danny Murphy, et al, nor the money recouped for players whose value was shot after Houllier’s dismissal, such as Biscan, Kirkland, Cheyrou, Le Tallec and El Hadji Diouf. So this is not about anyone but Benítez’s business.)
In total, excluding the few hundred thousand spent here and there on this or that youth player, and ignoring money recouped, I make it that Benítez has spent around £230m (click to view Ins and Outs).
From his own signings who were subsequently sold, he has thus far raised £105m.
The value of the current squad, excluding inherited players (therefore not counting Carragher and Gerrard), is around the £220m mark.
In other words, the £230m Benítez has spent is now ‘worth’ around £325m.
Since 2004, the average price of a player has risen by around 10% if based on the transfer record; therefore ‘inflation’ would mean that £230m should be worth £243m.
Now, the current squad values are purely my own subjective take on the matter. A player is, after all, only worth what someone is willing to pay.
However, they could therefore just as easily be a little too low as too high. Ultimately, a player is only worth what someone else would be willing to pay. Based on that, I feel that my estimations are in the ballpark.
Would a club pay £60m for Fernando Torres, if he was on the market? I believe so, without doubt. They might even pay £70m, or up towards Ronaldo’s £80m. But £60m now seems a fair figure.
Barcelona were reportedly wanting to pay £25m for Javier Mascherano. So that’s easy enough.
For me, £12m would be a snip for Pepe Reina, but goalkeepers are classically undervalued, according to ‘Soccernomics’, so I valued him thus. Glen Johnson is still worth the £17m paid; whatever your views on his value, Chelsea and Manchester City were prepared to match Liverpool’s offer a few months ago. So he is worth £17m.
So there you have it. I fail to see how anyone can oppose the points I’ve raised, but of course, they will. Unfortunately, I have resorted to using facts, and meticulously explained arguments, to back up my ideas, rather than go on a ‘hunch’, or looking at a picture of Josemi and deducing “Rafa’s signings are therefore crap”.