Free Friday: Comparing Klopp to Mikhail Tal, TransferMarkt’s Values and Henderson’s Heatmap

Free Friday: Comparing Klopp to Mikhail Tal, TransferMarkt’s Values and Henderson’s Heatmap
August 2, 2018 Daniel Rhodes
In Free, Free Friday


Posts selected by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes.

The idea of this round-up is to give you all some idea of the range of debate on the site. If you’d like to be part of our troll-free community, there’s a ‘Subscribe’ tab at the very bottom of the page. 

1 – Thundyr discussing Mourinho and his view of Liverpool:

probably the first time in his history with the EPL that he could finish below us at the end of the season.

He finished below us in his first season at United. But he just say that’s nitpicking and it was Van Gaal’s fault. Regardless, you’re right that half their best XI is very good indeed and we’re foolish to underestimate how effectively he can make a team play, especially once going ahead. I’m pretty sure that he’s seen that our best XI, which probably shaded his best XI last season, may just have got a lot better, with our bench improving massively due to key first XI players now inhabiting it rather than being sold (as was the norm for Liverpool since Houllier or even before). Mourinho would be just as foolish to write us off, as would Pep.

What perhaps annoys him even more is seeing us buy players who fit the way we play rather just taking shots in the dark like we used to. Mourinho has almost certainly realised that this Liverpool is a totally different animal to the one he’s faced in the past and that should bother him. We’re not just a pushover side whose skin he can get under with his snide comments and negative football. Klopp’s Liverpool has the makings of a side that might just batter his United like Barcelona battered his Real Madrid back when he was still an excellent, rather than merely effective, manager.

Where would that leave him, I wonder?

2 – Graeme Riley, one of the creators of TPI© with Paul Tomkins, on the growing concentration of talent in the Top 6


It’s now eight years since TPI made its first appearance and although there have been debates about its accuracy, there is little that realistically challenges its overall validity. Indeed this has been recognised by national newspapers, academics and even the European Union in one of their research projects and despite scrutiny from some of the brightest minds, it still stands up as general guide to the importance of money when assessing footballing success. (If anyone has any ideas on how to improve it, I’d be more than happy to hear – I’m honestly not at all precious about any failings you might find!).

It’s long been an assumption within football that money trickles down through the divisions from the top flight to grass roots. There is of course only a limited amount of money available within the game, but as the overall value is now significantly higher than it was a generation ago, there are still only so many places the big clubs can go to spend their war chests. The difference now, is that rather than spending large sums on young players at Chester, the richer clubs are raiding from a more global pot. Whereas previously any cash would find its way around the English league when the bigger clubs came calling, the big money is now being exported.
A consequence of this is that even the middle ranking teams in the upper echelons of English football barely have the resources to compete with the big boys for even single transfers.

Back at the start of the Premier League, the wealth was still relatively evenly spread (all figures from here on are inflated using TPI to 2018 values). In that first season, Man Utd’s title came with an average match day starting eleven (£XI) of £301m, and a squad of £501m was used during the course of the season. Everton, in 13th place, Leeds in 17th and Arsenal in 10th all had similarly costed teams, roughly two-thirds that of the value of Man Utd, with Liverpool almost on a par with the champions. The average player value was £9.5m, but the top 10% of all players cost upwards of £27.3m in today’s money. Incredibly, 14 of the 22 teams could boast at least one of these players in the top 10%, even Crystal Palace and Nottm Forest had two and three respectively despite finishing in the bottom three and thus being relegated (the breakdown is given, by player, in the attached link – players highlighted in red are in the top 10%, orange is the next 20%, yellow is the next 20% and white is the bottom 50% – it is best to focus on the colours rather than drill down to the values. Observe how, over time, the red cells move left and up to the higher positions in the table and ultimately even the orange begins to move away from the bottom left).

The top six clubs, Man Utd, Villa, Norwich, Blackburn, QPR and Liverpool could field 26 of the 60 players that made up the top 10% of players in value terms.

By 2004-05 the concentration of top players had significantly changed – indeed the whole of the decade saw a relatively static picture. By now the top six were concentrating their wealth to the extent that two-thirds of the top value players, equating to about 40 players each season, were contained within the squads of just the top 6, and as a result the constitution of the top six was becoming more predictable. The occasional interloper appeared, in this case Bolton in sixth rather than Spurs, Newcastle or a fast fading Blackburn, but the pattern was set. Even so, nine separate teams were still able to call on the services of at least one player ranked in the most expensive 10% (again, the breakdown is at the following link.

The other clubs could at least console themselves that they had sufficient money to have large elements of their squads costing above average, or being homegrown otherwise.

At the time Pay As You Play was published, things had gone a step further, with Man Utd’s £XI and Sq£ costing roughly double what it had less than 20 years previously, with these figure being matched or even beaten by Chelsea and Man City in the places immediately behind. By now, nine clubs were still able to keep at least one player in the top 10% of current values, but the share had dropped with only six of 56 being with clubs outside the top 6, three of these being at Villa.

Although it would hardly seem possible, aside from the outlier of season 2015-16 with Leicester’s title win, things have become even more concentrated. The top 53 player values, representing the highest 10% of the 529 players to appear in 2017-18, covered just seven clubs, and indeed only one solitary player was not at one of the top six. If you can’t guess who it is, check the following link:

Even worse, the number of players in the second tier, the next 20% was becoming more and more concentrated in the top six, where there were hardly any players who did not make up the top 50% of transfers. Between them, the two Manchester clubs had 28 of the 53 players in the top 10%, with the other four having to share out the remainder, Spurs having a paltry three compared to the seven each of the other three members of the big 6. Indeed, such was the disparity of the finances that Man City’s average £XI was only marginally smaller than Liverpool’s entire squad and only slightly lower than those of Chelsea and Arsenal. Man Utd’s Sq£ was bigger than Liverpool and Spurs’ squads combined.

In Man City’s case, only five players were NOT in the top 30% of player valuations and between them they made a combined total of 27 starts almost all of these coming from Fabian Delph who cost more than the Premier League average player.

It will be interesting to see where this ends up in the forthcoming season as there is a distinct possibility that the balance might shift away from the Manchester clubs, particularly the way Liverpool have spent, although the London clubs seem to be acting more prudently.

3. MCheyne on transfer values across Europe:

I wasn’t sure where to put this, but Transfer Issues seemed as relevant a place as any.

I have just started spending some free time trying to collate data on transfers, and I wanted to report on something I found on the Transfermarkt site that I thought was interesting. During the 2017-18 transfer windows (2017 summer, 2018 winter) there were 160 unique players transferred In or Out by EPL teams that had a valid reported fee. Valid in this context means that players did NOT meet any of the following conditions:

Their contract expired (e.g Bosman/free transfer, or contract expired and didn’t join a new team)

  • Retired
  • Did not have a reported fee by the site
  • Were involved in a swap deal so no fee could be included (e.g. Sanchez and Mkhitaryan)

This left 110 incoming players – either transferred between EPL teams (34 players) or from other leagues (76 players) – and 50 outgoing players transferred to other leagues. Of the 110 incoming, Transfermarkt estimated the combined market value at 1.248b euro, but the combined reported fees of those players were listed at 2.033b euro, or 63% higher than the estimated market value. If we break this down into players transferred between EPL teams, we get 471m euro as estimated market value and 754m as the reported fees (60% higher). For transfers into the EPL from other leagues (76 players), it is a combined 777m market value, but 1.279b in transfer fees (64% higher). So not too much bias involved: when EPL teams brought players in last season – whether it was an intra or interleague move – they paid around the same premium over what Transfermarkt estimated those players were worth.

Now for the finding that makes this even more interesting. For the 50 players that left the EPL for other leagues, Transfermarkt estimated their combined market value at 470.9m euro and the combined reported fees at 474.1m euro, a difference of 0.7%. Yes, you read that correctly. There was a less than 1% difference between their combined market value estimate and the reported fees.

So what does this mean? First, I need to start collating data from past seasons to see if this is a consistent trend. But it suggests that EPL teams in aggregate are willing to overpay by a huge margin to acquire players. This is not at all surprising – we know this intrinsically and most people will refer to the “Premiere League premium” on a transfer fee – however, I don’t think that I’ve seen the effect quantified anywhere. I’ve also heard on this site a general discussion about how Transfermarkt’s market value underestimates the fees paid. And we know that it does in the transfers we mostly pay attention to (i.e. those into the EPL), but this does not appear to be because their market value estimate is bad, it’s just that it doesn’t attempt to account for the premium of the league(s) the player could be transferred to (nor should it).

As I said, I need to get more data to look at this over time, but I wanted to share this early finding.

4 – Jeff on the similarities between chess and football:

I see the similarities between chess and football because in both the key concepts are similar controlling space, knowing how to attack space in numbers, and how to defend space in numbers. If you go back in time to the days of say Mikhail Botvinnik or watched any of the players named by Daniel of some he did not such as Tal who I mentioned or Petrosian who I did not mention, you would quickly learn two realities – first, there are any number of ways to win at the highest levels of chess and second given time any successful grand master’s strategy will become out dated and someone will figure out how to beat it. To me what makes Klopp interesting if you have seen his teams play in Dortmund which I saw occasionally in the Bundesliga and in just about all of his matches in Liverpool is that he does not have one way or playing and either buys players he hopes fit into how he plays or tries to shoe horn players into how he wants his team to play. To me Mourinho has been found out and to me the way Klopp evolves means he will not be found out. How many grand masters can change how they play? The answer is as a rule they do not. How many successful managers can change how they play? The answer again is not many. What stands out about Klopp is as I have noted he is an exception to the rule.Why is an interesting question and one for which I have no answer and any possible ideas I put forward are mere speculation.

5 – Paul on Henderson’s Heatmap and passing stats:

Great stuff, Will. I love how Hendo’s heat-map perfectly captures his passing from deep, but also, the tactic of rolling the ball back to him in inside-right positions to whip in a cross. (I’m pretty sure these situations involve passing back to him, based on my memory, as he doesn’t tend to bomb ahead of the ball too much these days.)

I’ve convinced myself that Keita is gonna be the star of the PL this season, but his passing stats seem a little underwhelming – and I wonder how much of that is down to Leipzig being in essence a merely decent team elevated by him, with none (or few) of the amazing passing options/movement he’d get from Salah, Mané, Sturridge and Firmino? In preseason he was spotting runs with beautiful passes, with a clear eye for a killer pass.

Ditto, Shaqiri’s numbers should surely be better for the same reason, as you acknowledge – although the easy pass completion tactic of hitting the ball to Crouch’s head is no longer on the menu!

Finally, we don’t really think of Ox’s passing as being a great asset – more his direct running – but this shows that he uses the ball intelligently once in the final third. He’ll be missed, as will Coutinho (and Fekir, in a different way) but it seems we have new (and returning) passers of sufficient quality.

Articles published on The Tomkins Times this week:

Monday July 30th:

How Klopp Elevates Players While Other Managers Diminish Them,by Paul Tomkins.

Tuesday July 31st:

Putting Liverpool’s Midfield Options Under the Microscope,by Will Gürpinar-Morgan.

Wednesday August 1st:

Liverpool Defending Set Pieces: Good, Lucky or Both?,by Andrew Beasley.