Friday, May 20, 2011

Less Is More: The Opportunity Cost Of Daft Signings

The ABUs keep shouting from rooftops how we're gonna crumble under the debt. Since they can't taunt us over lack of silverware, the debt issue is the new weapon that they try to use to get back at us. The sods must feel helpless and frustrated 'cause trying to banter over the fiscal management of a club rather than the on-field exploits is a wanker's task really. 

Having said that, during the last decade or so, we have definitely made some goof-ups as far as assembling a group of youthful aspirants is concerned. Sometimes I do wonder if rather than buying multiple wannabes we should opt to sign a solitary established star name. 

Surely we've made many transfer deals during the Fergie era that are absolutely a joke: Peter Schmeichel for GBP 0.6 Million, Steve Bruce and Denis Irwin for GBP 0.8 Million, Eric Cantona for GBP 1.2 Million, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for GBP 1.5 Million and in recent years Partice Evra for GBP 5.5 Million, Nemanja Vidic for GBP 7 Million and Javier Hernandez for GBP 6.5 Million are all amazing bargains.

Interestingly, the flip-side of these brilliant deals is also the same: a joke. We've also made some daft signings, which in retrospect today, expose flaws in the scouting and negotiation abilities of the professionals at the club who are entrusted with those responsibilities.

Let's take a look at some follies and decide.

Eric Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson & David Bellion (2003)
Alrite, so they were all highly rated youngsters, but is that alone good enough to become a United player? With Kleberson at GBP 6.5 Million, Djemba-Djemba at GBP 3.5 Million and Bellion at GBP 3 Million - the three United debacles cost the club GBP 13 Million. 

Now this is actually the year when this recent practice of assembling Me-Too Footballers started at the club. The point is that at a club like United which is famous for its Youth System, what's really the need to keep buying a plethora of youngsters from other clubs? It's understandable if a youngster is absolutely outstanding as in the case of Chicharito, but there's an age-old principle of economics called Opportunity Cost. If there's that one brilliant player available in the market at the same cost, what's the wisdom in buying three Maybe Ones instead?

In the end, Djemba-Djemba and Kleberson made 20 appearances each for the club, while Bellion appeared 24 times. Those 13 Million accounted for a combined total of 64 appearances, the significant majority of those off the bench.

What if United had spent the same 13 Million on that one truly world-class player who could've gone on to serve the club for years and perhaps won even more silverware during that period.

Players who moved clubs in 2003: Juan Roman Riquelme (Barcelona to Villareal for GBP 7.9 Million), Kaka (Sao Paulo to Milan for GBP 7.4 Million), Michael Essien (Bastia to Lyon for GBP 6.8 Million), Joe Cole (West Ham To Chelsea for GBP 6.6 Million), Luca Toni (Brescia to Palermo for GBP 5.2 Million), Didier Drogba (Guingamp to Marseille for GBP 3.3 Million) and David Villa (Sporting Gijon to Real Zaragoza for GBP 2.6 Million).

If we had searched more effectively, these were deals that our boys criminally missed out on. Imagine if Manchester United had the attacking quadrant of Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and David Villa? Or if Essien and Drogba could've filled the void later left by Keano and Ruud? Or if Ruud and Toni could've annihilated oppositions together?  Or if Joe Cole or Riquelme could've brought playmaking artistry to the team?

Whatever it may have turned out to be, I'm sure it would've been better, in any life, than the infamous trio that we eventually ended up investing in that year.

Interesting 2003 Trivia: The versatile Brazilian Wing Back/Right Back/Winger, Mancini signed for AS Roma from Venezia in 2003. The transfer fee was GBP 880 - yeah, you read it right, 'cause there are surely no zeroes missing. It is Eight Hundred and Eighty Pounds. Wonder what he could've done as a back-up for Gary Neville or second-choice right winger after Becks' departure? Keep wondering! 

Alan Smith & Louis Saha (2004)
A lot of fans would wanna murder me for putting those two in this list - it's understandable. 

Smithy was amazingly hardworking, loved the club and even left his international duties with England to focus on his United career. Not even for a moment, I'm doubting his passion and commitment for Manchester United. He really gave it his all and I was damn sorry myself to see him leaving the club.

Likewise, Saha was absolutely talented with loads of flair but was unlucky with injuries. He made a great contribution in the '06-07 season when we brought the title back to OT after a drought of three years. 

That said - an analysis of effectiveness is not done on sentiment alone. It's the rule of Opportunity Cost coming into play again. Okay, so let's first see what our situation was at the time. At the start of the season, we had Ruud, Forlan, Bellion and Ole. Personally I love him, but I know that Diego Forlan divides opinion among United fans. There are two points here - firstly, instead of signing two new strikers, we could've instead persisted with Forlan and secondly by the end of that transfer window we had bought Wayne Rooney.

Louis Saha joined us from Fulham at GBP 12.8 Million and Alan Smith cost us GBP 7 Million from the relegated Leeds United, so we're looking at a Transfer Spend of around GBP 20 Million.

The point is, we really needed just one great signing here, instead of two. With Wazza at OT, it was understandable that he and Ruud would be the main men. So yeah, we did use Smithy in the midfield later but that wasn't his job. Hats off to him for doing the it with aplomb, but at the end he made a total of 61 appearances for the club scoring 7 goals. Saha played 86 times during which he scored 28 goals.

So were there other options that year? Like hell YES.

Strikers who moved clubs in 2004: Jermaine Defoe (West Ham to Tottenham for GBP 6 Million), Miroslav Klose (Kaiserslautern to Werder Bremen for GBP 4.4 Million), Luis Fabiano (Sao Paulo to FC Porto for GBP 1.6 Million), Henrik Larsson (Celtic to Barcelona on a Free Transfer) and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (PSV to Heerenveen on a Free Transfer).

Defoe is one of the best talents to have come out of England in the last decade. Although prone to injury, his dazzling displays have often earned him the adulation of fans, which is what Tottenham supporters learnt when he rejoined them at White Hart Lane.

Klose was Germany's hero at the 2002 World Cup, then again at the 2006 World Cup and yet again at the 2010 World Cup. His scoring prowess can be assessed from the fact that at the World Cups his record is at parity with the German legend, Gerd Muller and falling just short of Brazilian legend, Ronaldo due to misfortune of injury. 

Likewise, Luis Fabiano grew on to become the main man for Sevilla and Brazil and has consistently been one of the most prolific scorers in La Liga these last few years. 

The less said the better about the Larsson scenario - while we got him for a short loan spell in the '06-07 season, missing out on him in 2004, that too on a Free Transfer was criminal negligence. He showed later in 2006 what he could do by single-handedly changing the game against Arsenal to win the Champions League for Barcelona. 

Let's not even get into the Huntelaar debate. A 20 year old striker with predator instincts, who had already scored 52 goals in 68 games in the Dutch Eredivisie was available on a Free Transfer and we didn't sign him: it's just daft.

Any of these five could've been a great back-up option for Ruud and Wazza. Come to think of it - these five at the same time cost a combined figure of GBP 12 Million, whereas we spent 8 Million more than that on our two choices.

Could we've bought either one of Defoe, Klose or Luis Fabiano and still looked at great options in the market with, in the most expensive scenario (Defoe), our remaining 14 Million? Most definitely.

Other players who moved clubs in 2004: Deco (Porto to Barcelona for GBP 13.2 Million), Petr Cech (Rennes to Chelsea for GBP 12 Million), Xabi Alonso (Real Sociedad to Liverpool for GBP 10.7 Million), James Milner (Leeds United to Newcastle for GBP 3.6 Million), Tim Cahill (Millwall to Everton for GBP 2 Million) and  Morten Gamst Pedersen (Tromso to Blackburn Rovers for GBP 1.5 Million).

Phew! That's some list, so I'm not gonna mull over it. Let's get everyone to pick and choose.

Interesting 2004 Trivia: They say 'What happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam.' Just this once, we could've made it an exception to the rule by keeping tabs on the goings-on at Ajax. 

In an international match between Sweden and Netherlands, Ajax team-mates, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Rafael Van Der Vaart collided and the Dutchman got injured only to return to the club leveling accusations at his Swede compatriot that he had done it deliberately. This was the time when Van Der Vaart was a god at Ajax: in no time, a deal was arranged and Ibrahimovic moved to Juventus in a deal worth GBP 14 Million. Maybe that's the one signing we should've made in 2004. Imagine Wazza and Ibra coming to OT in the same transfer window. Stuff of legend!

Mame Biram Diouf, Gabriel Obertan & Bebe (2009-2010)
Seriously, what are we doing? 

In the recent past, we spent negligible amounts on players we didn't wanna play in the first team but merely wanted to send to other clubs on loan. It's just our humanitarian facet for the world to see that we invested in Dong Fangzhou, Manucho and Zoran Tosic.  

This time however, we should be in serious contention for some prestigious Service To Humanity Award, if not the Nobel. You see, when you pay up GBP 3.2 Million for Obertan, GBP 4 Million for Diouf and GBP 7 Million for Bebe - that's something like in excess of GBP 14 Million. This is hardcore charity stuff, since Diouf has been helping Blackburn avoid relegation, while Obertan and Bebe aren't exactly the new Ronnie and Wazza

For some odd rationale, we don't have room to accommodate Rossi and Pique, but we can offer paydays to Bordeaux and Molde? Am I seriously to believe that Obertan and Bebe are more talented than Tom Cleverley and Ravel Morrison? Or that Mame Biram could be ahead than Welbeck or Kiko Macheda in the pecking order? When Ole has done such a remarkable job of developing a great crop of reserves, why aren't we seeing Pogba and Tunnicliffe getting that odd appearance in the first team instead of daftly wasting 14 Million?

Couldn't this 14 Million have been invested in bringing an established name to Old Trafford? Lack of available options or rather value for money in the market? No way!

Players who moved clubs in 2009-2010: Wesley Sneijder (Real Madrid to Inter Milan for GBP 13.2 Million), Mesut Ozil (Werder Bremen to Real Madrid for GBP 13.2 Million), Sami Khedira 
(Stuttgart to Real Madrid for GBP 12.3 Million), Yoann Gourcuff (AC Milan to Bordeaux for GBP 11.4 Million) and Aiden McGeady (Celtic to Spartak Moscow for GBP 9.5 Million). 

Isn't having any of those names at OT better than the options that we chose? 

Don't we wanna see someone like Sneijder or Gourcuff or ideally both filling the massive voids that will be left by the departures of Giggsy and Scholesy? (Although as a side note, no one would ever be able to replace those two). 

Isn't McGeady an amazingly versatile player who would be able to give us attack options from the bench in midfield as well as the strike-force? 

Not every player is gonna turn out to be a Chicharito, so we ought to be careful when buying players and if we can't find anyone at a good value, it would be better to put the faith in our reserves - make no mistake about it; we definitely have another Class of '92 in the making. 

Interesting 2009-2010 Trivia: Nothing really. Since Oil Money invaded the beautiful sport of Football, off-field activity isn't that interesting anymore. Other than the Neville Brothers bantering on Twitter.

All of this isn't meant to undermine the majestic accomplishment of the gaffer and the lads this season. It's just meant to give a positive perspective to the way we've been acting in the transfer market in recent years.

We live in complex times really, but some adages are true.

Less is More!

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