As an avid Arsenal football fan, I was thrilled by the recent transfer of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid. Despite having the highest number of assists in Europe in the last few years, Madrid’s new manager Carlo Ancelotti deemed Ozil surplus to its squad with the arrival of Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur. Although Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger is known for his frugality in the transfer market and desire to develop players as opposed to spending large sums of money, the acquisition of Ozil was too enticing to pass up. Perhaps this change in attitude from Arsenal signals a larger trend in the need to spend for squad improvement. Player development can no longer make up for purchasing top quality at the club level.
It should not be surprising though that Madrid took the approach of player marketability over footballing ability. When the club purchased David Beckham during Florentino Pérez’s presidency, it sold French defensive midfielder Claude Makélelé to Chelsea. Zinedine Zidane himself lamented the loss of Makélelé stating, “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”. In fact, Zidane, the once most expensive transfer in the world from Juventus to Madrid at one point, also recently added that it is incomprehensible that football clubs are willing to pay so much for players. He even went on to say that he was not worth his own transfer fee as he stated in the past.
While Ozil arrives at Arsenal with proven quality at the club and international level with Germany, Bale joined Madrid for over double the transfer value of Ozil. Bale has shown flashes of brilliance in the English Premier League, but it would be difficult to justify that he is worth more as a footballer than Ozil. This begs the question of the recent trend of inflation in transfer values in football spurred on by clubs such as Madrid and Manchester City. What should the value of footballers be in the open market? Can footballers ever justify their expensive transfer fees? These are interesting questions to the latest series of events in the transfer market.
Overpaying for footballers has climbed from the level of an illness to an epidemic in the European game. For many of these young players moving to a new league, their performance is based on a variety of different factors (one of the key ones being luck). Nobody (except maybe Zidane himself) would say that his transfer from Juventus to Real Madrid in 2001, for a world-record 75 million euros, was a waste. Zidane solidified his legacy over the next few years as one of the most talented footballers to ever step on the pitch. Compare Zidane’s transfer to the Bernabeu to that of Kaka, which nearly all football analysts would consider utterly disappointing. Coming off several successful seasons in Italy, Kaka was sold to Real Madrid from AC Milan for 69 million euros making his the second highest transfer fee ever. Multiple seasons of injury and poor form landed Kaka a fixed position on the bench, as well as a doubtful return to the Brazilian National Team. Why didn’t Kaka end up like Zidane? The reasons for this are endless, but many would consider Kaka’s unlucky injuries (which hampered his speed on the pitch) a prime culprit.
What does Kaka’s lack of results at Real Madrid mean? The answer is absolutely nothing. His, along with other disappointing but expensive transfers (think Torres to Chelsea) should provide a wake-up call to the rich European football clubs. Real Madrid should have taken Kaka’s saga to mean that buying all the talent in Europe for ridiculous prices is simply not a sustainable business model. Talent must be grown, skills must be evaluated, and players must be sold at market value. However, the top European clubs have clearly not learned from disastrous transfers. They seem willing to pay more and more so that they might find the gem who will take them to domestic or European glory. Such is clearly the case with Real Madrid and their newest signing, Gareth Bale. No one can say what the future of the transfer market holds for sure, but it is fair to say that even if Bale doesn’t pan out for Los Blancos, they will try their hand at obtaining Europe’s future starlets.
Zinedine Zidane actually did comment on this transfer, saying it was ‘incomprehensible’. http://tinyurl.com/nkfmd3o
But back to the the actual value of players; it’s important to think of these big transfers as long term investments. Bale’s contract is 6 years, so let’s lay out the streams of revenue he will contribute to in those 6 years: replica sales, ticket sales, RM related ad sales, TV deals for La Liga, TV deals for Champions League, TV deals for the other smaller tournaments, and the general Real Madrid fervor that does capture fans around the world. True, for his skills Bale was grossly overvalued, but think of the viewers he will bring to RM games. Bale is a staple name in English football, and there is the possibility of a large number of fans migrating to watch these games. So is he worth it? Quite possibly in my opinion, but it will depend greatly on his performance and ability to bring EPL fans to watch La Liga games.
(On a side note, since Bale is now the highest paid player in the world, there is little chance that Cristiano Ronaldo sits back and doesn’t renegotiate his contract. You better believe his agent is hard at work to get him top salary – and he’ll get it)