I'm not for a minute suggesting our squad couldn't do with some strengthening (though the return of injured players will help matters), but I found this an interesting piece in The Athletic on January spending....sobering reading...
Headline: Why your club shouldn’t spend any money in the January transfer window
In boardrooms around the country this month, the same question will be asked: “Can he keep us up?” Nothing else matters to half the teams in the Premier League, given the money at stake in the top flight. They are desperate for ‘proven winners’, players who have won trophies, or who have never been relegated before. They are desperate for a saviour and will take a punt on the flimsiest evidence, wanting to believe that they are investing in a solution to their problems, trying to convince themselves that they are doing the right thing. Anyone, for any price, to get them out of the mire.
And it almost never works.
That is proven by the research of 21st Club, the football data analysis firm. They have studied the value of spending big in January and have found that the costs of shelling out money to save your season outweigh the benefits.
“We have looked at net spend in January relative to the rest of the league and how that correlates to points-per-game change over the rest of the season,” explains Omar Chaudhuri, head of football intelligence for 21st Club. “Essentially, there is no correlation, or a very slight positive correlation. If you look at the average for teams historically, a team that spends £30 million historically generates just 0.1 points-per-game on average more after January. So over 19 games, you’re looking at one or two points.”
A classic example of misguided January spending came with Queens Park Rangers in 2013. On New Year’s Day, they were adrift at the bottom of the Premier League with just 10 points from their first 20 games. But Harry Redknapp and Tony Fernandes decided that they could spend their way out of trouble. They bought Christopher Samba from Anzhi Makhachkala for £12.5m on a four-and-a-half year deal worth more than £20m. They bought Loic Remy from Marseille for £8m, on a deal of similar length but slightly less wages. The investment in those two alone was more than £60m but they also signed Tal Ben Haim, Jermaine Jenas and South Korean left-back Yun Suk-young.
QPR did win three games in the second half of the season but they still finished comfortably bottom and had stored up financial problems that they have spent years trying to solve. At best, they had only reduced their likelihood of relegation from almost-certain to merely very likely. Now, seven years on, they have to be one of the most frugal teams in the Championship.
In January 2018, trying to save themselves, Stoke City spent £14m on Badou Ndiaye and Swansea City £18m on Andre Ayew, buying him back from West Ham United, but both teams still went down. Ayew did not score a single goal in his 12 games that half-season. Last January, Fulham brought in Ryan Babel, Lazar Markovic and Havard Nordtveit, three expensive ex-Premier League players to stave off relegation. It did not make any difference.
When teams are trying to spend their way to safety, they generally look up front. It is easier to buy in goals than buy in clean sheets, and when the margins are that fine, it makes sense to gamble on one man who can score just enough to make a difference. And there are enough historical precedents to suggest that it sometimes works. No one can forget Fredi Bobic keeping Bolton Wanderers up in 2002, Emile Mpenza at Manchester City in 2007 (he in fact arrived as a free agent in February), Ilan at West Ham United in 2010, or Dame N’Doye at Hull City in 2015.
But these stories stand out because they worked out, and the majority of strikers in January do not.
“The biggest spike in demand is for strikers in January window,” says Chaudhuri. “But about half of all the strikers that are bought in January don’t even score a goal between then and the end of the season. So this idea that you can just get a guy in who will score you 10 goals is a complete fallacy.”
Strikers make up 20 per cent of January signings in the big five leagues, according to 21st Club. But only 14 per cent of those strikers scored five or more league goals during their first half-season, and 55 per cent of them fail to score a single league goal.
The only January arrival in recent years who has made it to 10 goals in the second half of the season was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. But he was an established 28-year-old star, and Arsenal paid Borussia Dortmund £56m for him in January 2018.
“Aubameyang is the only one who’s done it, which goes to show,” Chaudhuri says, “you need to go for the complete no-brainer, otherwise you’re not going to get a result.” Even strikers who turned out to be successful at their clubs — Luis Suarez at Liverpool, Edin Dzeko at Manchester City, each arriving in January 2011 — managed four and six goals respectively in their first half-season with their new club.
“We try and assign a point per season or points per half-season value to players,” Chaudhuri says. “The reality is that the impact is a lot smaller than what you anticipate. Take a team who’s on 15 points in January. So if you double their total, they’re on 30 and they’re going to try to get another 10 points to 40. They might think they can get that through a striker but in reality, that doesn’t stack up. Look at the correlation between goals and points in the Premier League. A goal is typically worth around half a point per season, maybe slightly more, so even someone who is scoring you 10 goals over half a season could only really be expected to add five points.”
But remember that a replacement level player might be expected to score, say, five goals over that half-season too. So a player who could score 10 goals in a half-season is only adding five goals, which in turn would only be worth 2.5 points. “And a lot of clubs, if you told them they were spending £35m on two points, might rethink that decision,” Chaudhuri says. “But a lot of clubs overestimate the impact that players can have and they end up having too high expectations of the signings they bring in.”
There was a time not very long ago when even the richest sides would spend big in January, desperately trying to sign players to transform their seasons. In 2011, Chelsea signed Fernando Torres for £50m from Liverpool, who spent the money on Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. In 2014, Manchester United bought Juan Mata from Chelsea for £37m. The following year, Manchester City bought Wilfried Bony from Swansea for £25m. With the exception of Suarez, most of those signings were failures and if anything has changed in recent years, it has been big clubs buying less often but smarter during the January window.
The biggest signing in January history in England — Liverpool buying Virgil van Dijk for £75m two years ago — was one of the best but that is because it was so different from most normal winter buys. It was not a case of taking a punt on an available player, unsettled at another club, in the hope that he would improve the team. Instead, it boiled down to Liverpool, having long identified Van Dijk as the best in the world in his position, being happy to pay the top rate for a top player. There was no element of risk about it. Similarly, Manchester City paying £57m for Aymeric Laporte that same window was the conclusion of an 18-month pursuit of a player Pep Guardiola knew was perfect for his style, rather than a risk.
But Van Dijk is the exception, not the rule, and unless you can buy guaranteed success this month, then anything else is a big risk. Speak to agents about the value of the January market and they warn that there is little point spending too much this month. The players you can buy in January, almost by definition, have question marks over them. If they were on top of their games, they would not be sold mid-season. “The best players don’t move mid-season,” one leading agent says. “This window seems increasingly like a waste of time.”
I like Matheson: he’s got great potential, has great attitude and works hard. I hope it’s not sacrilegious to say this about our golden boy, but he does seem to be a weakness defending at the back post. For the first two goals today he lost his man and it was the same against Sunderland and another game (can’t remember which it was, possibly Wimbledon?). I have no desire to pile on anyone - he’s a kid learning his trade against much more experienced, bigger men - but if it’s a weakness in our team evident to me then it will be evident to much more football-educated people than me.
With a couple of the teams below us due to play each other still, I have a feeling that it may be already impossible for seven teams to pass us and that we are actually already mathematically safe. Can anyone work it out?!
I haven’t looked at relative costs, but just to make people aware that you can also catch the train to Gerrards Cross, which is on the Birmingham to Marylebone line. Gerrards Cross station is about a 10 minute cab ride from the ground. I would book a taxi ahead of time if you’re doing this - the number for the GX station taxi company is 01753 885645.
Setting aside the issue of whether it should be there at all, if the World Cup is held in the winter, this presents a big opportunity for clubs in the football league.
The major leagues will apparently need to be suspended for seven weeks, to allow for not only the tournament but to allow squads to meet up and prepare beforehand. So for the 3-ish weeks where there is no premier league or World Cup and during the tournament when there is no premier league, there will be a lot of floating football fans looking for their live-football fix. A good chance to work to get a few extra through the door.