Tag Archives: Cavani


The Transfer Market; you can’t always get what you need

In yesterday’s post, I went back and looked at the strikers that Arsenal fans wanted Arsene Wenger to buy in the summer of 2014. I didn’t look at every striker, just the ones that most fans were most vociferous about. To recap, those players were Firmino-Remy-Vela-Mandzukic-Hulk-Balotelli-Falcao-Drmic-Lacazette-Morata-Griezmann and Alexis Sanchez. Notable for their absence were Higuain and Cavani, but we will get to them in a minute. The point here today is that there was a secret message in yesterday’s post and I don’t think many of you caught it.

If you count, the odds are 50-50 that the player you wanted Arsenal to buy turned out to be a busted flush. Firmino, Vela, Mandzukic, Balotelli, Falcao, and Drmic were all busts and it’s not like I’m picking all unknown players, four of those are big names. Of the others left on the list, Remy, Hulk, and Morata aren’t success stories, more like unknowns. That leaves Lacazette, Griezmann, and Sanchez who had an unqualified successful season.

This is the problem with transfers and the transfer-itis that so many people get during the summer. Transfers are a huge gamble.

Look at Liverpool’s transfers last season: Lallana, Lovren, Lazar, Balotelli, Moreno, Origi, Can, and Lambert. The only player on that list who can be remotely called a success is Emre Can. The season before, they had just as bad a luck: Sakho, Mignolet, Aspas, Ilori, Alberto. Sakho? Maybe? So, between two seasons, 2 out of 13?

Even Arsenal and Arsene Wenger who is widely considered a master in the transfer market, his last two seasons he’s bought: Özil, Sanchez, Debuchy, Welbeck, Gabriel, Chambers, and Ospina. Now, if I apply the “Whoscored.com” metrics to these transfers Özil, Sanchez, Debuchy, Gabriel, and Ospina have all been top signings in that they all rate well over 7 on the whoscored.com metric. But I think it would be unfair to lump Debuchy and Gabriel in there when both played so few games. So, let’s be ultra conservative and just say Özil, Sanchez, and Ospina or 3/7.

That doesn’t mean those other players won’t come good. I think Welbeck, Debuchy, Gabriel, and Chambers are all good players. If they can stay healthy, we will see what they can do next season.

But there’s a hint in there as well. That players and teams, and crucially us fans, need to be in this for the long haul. And by that I don’t mean the Shane Long haul. I mean that Wenger’s strategy is long term.

You watch as Liverpool buy up players, get frustrated with them, and ship them out on loan. Meanwhile, Wenger buys players and invests time in them. This doesn’t always work (Podolski) but by investing time in these players he gives them the best chance possible to succeed. And what’s incredible is that Liverpool have ample examples of players that they invested time in who came good: Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge.

The new thing this summer is that Arsenal fans want “an upgrade on Giroud.” In theory, yes, you always want an upgrade on a player if you can find one. The trouble is finding one and finding a player who is enough of an upgrade that it makes sense to splash the cash to buy him.

Most fans wanted Arsenal to buy Cavani and Higuain, for example, stating categorically that both would be an upgrade on Giroud. In the two years that both of those players have been plying their trades at PSG and Napoli neither have proven to be an upgrade on Giroud.

cavaniCavani, in particular, is a Falcao. By that I mean he doesn’t add much to the team. He’ll score some goals, though he also frustrates with his glaring misses, but that’s all he does, really. Higuain is very consistent and contributes to many aspects of the attack. He’s not terrible at any one thing (except penalties) nor is he terribly good at any one thing. And Giroud? He’s insanely good in the air. He holds up play and gives Arsenal a different dimension to play through. He also contributes goals and assists and on a per90 basis contributes more to the team than either Cavani or Higuain.

I know that Giroud frustrates because he can’t make a simple pass and he can’t seem to finish simple chances. You give him a straight line pass or a one-v-one with the keeper and he will miss but if you let him one-touch, flick the ball between three defenders or serve him up an impossible shot on the near post from a tight angle, he’ll inevitably put the ball in exactly the right place. But neither Cavani nor Higuain is an upgrade on Giroud.

That’s the problem with the transfer market and that’s why Wenger is so cautious. That’s also why Wenger would much rather work with what he’s got than simply “buy buy buy.” I’m sure Wenger would be the first to tell you: we haven’t seen the best from Welbeck and Walcott yet.





Will Arsène “Cavani” to the transfer hawks and spend £70m this January?

Arsenal fans the world over woke up this morning to some festive cheer. According to various reports the normally parsimonious Arsène Wenger is set to splash £70m to bring in World Class center forward Edinson Cavani and a much needed defensive midfielder/center back William Carvalho. And whether you believe the rumors are true or not it’s the kind of “news” that should bring a smile to your face.

Arsenal have been linked to Edinson Cavani now for a few years. Rumors first emerged that Arsenal were interested when his camp grumbled about leaving Napoli in 2012/2013. He scored an impressive 29 goals that season, and secured a big-money deal to play for the Oil Barons at Paris Saint-Germain.

There is no question about Cavani’s talent and industry. I retweeted a stat from Optajean today that “14 – Cavani has missed the most big chances of any player in Ligue Un.” And the stat is true. But so are all the other stats that Cavani has compiled in his career: between Napoli and PSG and just counting League and Champions League appearances (the top competitions) Cavani has scored 122 goals in 181 appearances. Even at PSG where he has been dubbed a “failure” and where he has been shunted off to the wing to make room for Zlatan Ibrahimovich’s ego, he is still a goal every other game player, scoring 32 in 62 appearances.

He’s not a target man center forward. He’s not winning you a lot of headers, less than 1 per game, but he does score goals with his head — had 6 headed goals in his best season at Napoli. He also doesn’t dribble a lot (less than 1 per game) and rarely picks out a teammate for an assist (just 15 assists since 2009). Also has twice as many yellow cards (34) as assists!

He’s also on £300,000 a week salary right now and would cost Arsenal somewhere in the range of £50m in transfer fees. Arsenal have spent lavishly in the last two years and the money is available for this kind of transfer. But years of conditioning by Wenger — saying that Arsenal don’t have money, that we don’t buy players we make them, and that a transfer like this would break the salary structure — have left me skeptical of these kinds of rumors.


Still, has a jaw like Bruce Campbell and I figure if we give him a chainsaw hand he could rip apart those teams that like to sit back in two banks of four.

In other news the William Carvalho rumor won’t go away with papers reporting that Arsenal are prepared to meet Sporting’s £20m valuation. The Daily Star has Arsenal literally on the verge of signing him.

Carvalho is a player, like Yann M’Vila, who has captured the imagination of Arsenal fans. By that I mean, most Arsenal fans have never seen him play and they have to imagine that he’s a £20m player.

In today’s press conference, Wenger said that Arsenal are prepared to buy a midfielder “if the right player comes along”. I have a friend who has a similar philosophy with women. He refuses to talk to women but, he says, if the right girl comes along he won’t pass up the chance. He’s been happily single our entire friendship and I have been miserably in love and trying hard to make square women fit into round pegs. Perhaps there is something to this philosophy.

Whenever Wenger makes this statement about “if the right player comes along” I can’t help but think that Wenger has a specific target in mind. Wenger is not a panic buy kind of manager, one time in 18 years is an anomaly. He is a patient man and willing to wait a year to get the players he wants at the price he wants. Cazorla is the prime example of Arsene’s buying philosophy — the Gunners let him go to Malaga for a season before buying him the next at a cut price when Malaga ran into financial trouble.

If Wenger is after Carvalho then he has a price in mind. If that price is £20m then I guess Carvalho will be a Gunner next month, because that’s the price Sporting reportedly want. If that price is less, ad Sporting won’t budge, then I guess Arsenal will use Coquelin for the remainder of the season.

Either way, I don’t see Arsene spending £70m in this transfer window. I’ve no reason to believe that, other than the conditioning I’ve received over years of January transfer windows, and the sound logic of my single friend who is still waiting for his Princess Charming.

Wait. I guess those are good reasons.



Here is a list of all the transfers Arsene Wenger has made since the January transfer window became a thing in 2002-03.



You’ll note that he’s really only splashed the cash three times. With the exception of the Reyes purchase in 2003-2004, the other two were times when Arsenal were in a bit of a crisis and faced “relegation” from the Champions League. Another odd thing is that I wouldn’t consider any of these players an unqualified success at Arsenal. At least not since they made the move. Henry and Campbell are legends and their contributions certainly helped keep Arsenal in the Champions League but they didn’t go on to have successful careers at Arsenal after these moves.

It’s easy to argue but I would say that the best three buys were probably Walcott, Adebayor, and… Henry. Other than that this is a list of busts.

Beware the Ides of January.


Sanchez and Welbeck: buying assets at the right time

Buying Assets at the Right Time

When it comes to center forwards, players seem to reach peak performance at 24 and start to decline after their age-27 season. Back in the early 2000s, when Italian clubs spent money freely, the richest clubs tended to spend large sums on attacking players 26 years and older. Maybe it was the stereotypical lack-of-faith-in-youth of Italian clubs, a desire to win now, and/or the belief that the money would always be coming in. While some investments paid off, such a transfer strategy often results in a waste of club resources. If one purchases a center forward at 27, like Edinson Cavani, and assume that it will take a year for him to adapt to a new league and/or new teammates, then you take a hit in the value you can get out of the player in year one and pay for decline years of his age 28, 29, 30, and 31 seasons¹. For some players, particularly ones who depend on work rate and athleticism (Cavani) or an explosive burst/pace (Falcao, Fernando Torres) these decline phases can see a player fall off a cliff. This can leave a team with a hole they need to fill in their squad and an immovable asset (see Fernando Torres’ entire career at Chelsea). This type of purchasing policy requires a vast expenditure to consistently replace declining players and possibly buy-out/sweeten the pot to ship out bad assets. This constant roster turnover also hurts the quality on the pitch, as it prohibits the creation of an intimate understanding between the players on the pitch.

In more recent times, we can see that the richest clubs have focused on purchasing players age 25-and-under. The most striking example is Real Madrid. In the first Galacticos era, they purchased Luis Figo at 28, Zinedine Zidane at 29, an already past his prime Ronaldo at 26, and David Beckham at 28. In the second era of the Galacticos, Real Madrid purchased Cristiano Ronaldo at 24, Karim Benzema at 21, Mesut Ozil at 21, Angel di Maria at 22, Luka Modric at 26,  Gareth Bale at 24, Isco at 21, James Rodriguez at 23, and Toni Kroos at 24. In fact, the one time they acted like they did in the early 2000s led to an enormous waste of resources on a past-his-prime Kaka, who they purchased at the age of 27².

x axis = age y axis = goals per game

x axis = age
y axis = goals per game

This policy makes more sense for a club looking to maximize on field success over a longer period. By purchasing players at the very beginning or pre-peak, a club can extract more value out of the player. Also, the year that may be spent acclimating to the league and/or teammates happens further away from the decline phase of the player’s career. It allows the team to grow together, to develop that familiarity and cohesion, with the system and each other.

Manchester United and Arsenal: A Tale of Two Different Agendas

Given what I have just written above, why would a club look to invest in a center forward who is in the decline phase of his career? The most obvious case would be if a club has a strong preference for their team to reach a certain goal in this season. If football ended after this season, I would love Arsenal to blow all their money on a Cavani. To quote John Maynard Keynes (I understand the irony of my referencing of Keynes), “…this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run, we are all dead.”

When looking at Manchester United, they are desperate to get back into the Champions League for 2015-16. Whether it is due to clauses in commercial deals that effectively penalize them for not being the in the Champions League or the realization that the allure of Manchester United is not as powerful of a recruiting tool as they thought, especially when it comes to players outside of the British Isles, United seem willing to ignore the future costs of their accumulate-points-now strategy. With Robin Van Persie’s health always a concern and Wayne Rooney making Alex Rodriguez’s contract look good, United decided to pay a loan fee of 6M pounds, according to the BBC, and rather high wages.³ Essentially, United have decided to gamble on the idea that three supposedly world class strikers can make up for extreme deficiencies at the back, especially if they play a back three, at fullback/wingback, and in holding midfield.

One might say that this gamble is worth it. Falcao is an elite goalscorer who can help Manchester United score their way to a Top 4 place. That may be a fine argument if Falcao was an elite goalscorer. However, a deeper dig into the numbers by some in the analytics community has shown that Falcao’s production is not particularly special. Before the Summer of 2013, Benjamin Pugsley wrote a three piece breakdown of Falcao (Part 1 Part 2 Part 3) that gives you the feeling that Falcao is a very good player, who stats are inflated by a large number of penalties, but at the wrong point in his age curve to make a significant investment desirable.

Michael Caley confirms this suspicion in these two figures, showing that Falcao has produce good, but not elite goalscoring numbers.4


It is not that surprising that Atletico Madrid and Colombia looked much more dynamic without Falcao, who appears to lack the elite goalscoring ability to make up for all of his other deficiencies and the sacrifices an XI need to make when playing with him.

Maybe Manchester United did not know about how penalty fueled Falcao’s stats were. But with the resources at their disposal, it would seem unlikely that they would be unaware of this. Instead, I would posit that their desperation to make the top 4, combined with a lack of acquirable targets to strengthen defense and midfield, due to a lack of Champions League football and United being in what appears to be a three/four team fight for 3rd and 4th place, led to their higher valuation of the potential production now of a Falcao5. It also led to their lowered evaluation of Danny Welbeck.

Arsenal seemed to operate in a completely opposite manner to Manchester United during this transfer window. They upgraded at right-back (if you do not believe me, watch Manchester City-Stoke to see how much of a liability Bacary Sagna is going forward at this stage in his career), goalkeeper, 3rd center-back, and in the attacking trio/quartet, and did so without a hint of desperation on their part.

In reality, it would take quite a bit of good fortune for Arsenal to win the Premier League this season. With Chelsea making massive improvement in areas that previously represented major deficiencies in their roster, this is their title to lose, especially with the African Cup of Nations damaging City’s ability to compete.

Realistically, with all these new signings, the goal for Arsenal is to figure out how to play with one another and figure out which system works best, while finishing in the Top 4. With so many players age 25 and under in this squad, there will be quite a few players who will improve or still be in their prime for the 2015-16 season. You would also believe that, with likely fewer areas of need to address in the transfer market, Arsenal will have a better time trying to find the right holding midfielder (maybe William Carvalho in January or a move for a stop-gap like Daniel Baier) and center-back to fill out the squad. Also, with the ticking time bomb that appears to be Manchester City’s squad, the path to the title may prove easier for an improved Arsenal side next season.6

Given that viewpoint, the signing of Danny Welbeck makes plenty of sense for Arsenal. In Welbeck, Arsenal have purchased a player before he hits his prime, who can grow with the young core at the club and has many of the attributes one would want in a center forward. He is remarkably quick; he is strong; he has a work rate that would make Alexis Sanchez proud; he passes well; he can play with his back to goal; he moves into good spaces; he is English (which means he is less likely to leave the club). He seems to fit with the Alexis Sanchez signing and the idea of maximizing the production of Mesut Ozil.

With Olivier Giroud out until 2015, Welbeck will finally get the opportunity to play up top and gain that confidence. He is already a very good football player. He just needs to add goal-scoring to his game to become a very good center forward, one that I would start ahead of Olivier Giroud. In this way there is some Aaron Ramsey to him where one looks at him and thinks, “If he ever gained confidence with his finishing and delivery of the final pass he could become a very good player.”  If this development occurs, Arsenal will have their own version of Robert Lewandowski (although Welbeck probably will not be of that overall quality, but will play at a faster tempo than the Pole). Given the future market of center forwards, it may prove an immensely wise investment to buy a center forward who is more a footballer than a goal-scorer, and rely on goals from other positions.7


Arsenal did not make the investment in current period point-accumulation, in a forlorn attempt to win the title. They made the right investment for the club. They have acquired an asset with limited downside, and significant upside, especially when one considers the future of the center forward market. They bought a player who improves their team and fits with the direction in which the club appears to be going. Finally, they bought a player who is young enough to grow with the rest of the core at Arsenal. For a club who style requires continuity and cohesion, this may be the most underrated aspect of the signing. So while many fans may have desired the short-termism that Manchester United have displayed this window, in an effort to improve the center forward position, I believe that this long-term approach will allow Arsenal to do more with the limited resources they have, allowing them to better compete with their richer competition.


¹Looking at Edinson Cavani, his peak seems to fit perfectly with his three years at Napoli. Napoli then sold a player about to hit his decline to PSG. That’s about as good as one can do when it comes to extracting value out of an asset as a player and as a saleable asset.
²The richest clubs’ more intelligent spending may be the reason why we have seen the domination of football by the richest clubs, particularly in the Champions League. Also, it may mean that clubs like Arsenal have to look at the age 21 and under bracket and the age 25-and-under assets of richer clubs look to move out, in an effort to acquire elite talent.
³This becomes hard to figure out as Falcao played in Monaco, where contracts are negotiated on net wage terms and his gross wage was his net wage due to the lack of income tax.  If he was making X per week at Monaco, then United would have to pay him X/(UK income tax) to provide him the same net wage. I’ll settle on a wage around 300k-375k per week, with no idea on how much Monaco will contribute to paying his wages.
4I (Tim) have also written about Falcao in a much more in depth way than just goals scored. Falcao is a weird player in that he has almost no positive stats (shots on goal, successful dribbles, key passes, assists, etc) and a boatload of negative stats.
5If the option to buy was a wink-wink promise to an agent and/or a desire to get around FFP, United could be stuck with Wayne Rooney and Falcao into their 30s and possible Van Persie as well if they extend his contract. Therefore, if they do not make it into the Champions League, they could find themselves stuck with three declining, highly-paid front-men,  with little ability to upgrade on those toxic assets. Even if they do get into the Champions League, the future market for center forwards looks quite grim.
6Here is the list of Manchester City players under the age of 26: John Guidetti, Matija Nastasic, Dedryck Boyata, Eliaquim Mangala, Stevan Jovetic, and Scott Sinclar. Here is the list of outfield players 28 and older (so not including the problematic hamstrings of Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, and Fernando): James Milner, Vincent Kompant, Jesus Navas, Edin Dzeko, David Silva, Alexander Kolarov, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernandino, Yaya Toure, Bacary Sagna, Martin DeMichelis. With many of these older players locked up to long-term deals that could look quite ugly in the future, City will have to find a way to ship out their toxic assets to bring in new shiny ones that complies with FFP. Maybe that was the reason they started NYCFC, not to bring players in, but as a way to ship players out.
7Another reason to love formations with two wide forwards responsible for goal-scoring (along with the ability to pin a back 4 with only two players)? Look at the CF position in three years (age at the start of 2017-18 in parentheses): Messi (30), Ronaldo (32, who will probably play more as a CF as he ages), Ibrahimovic (35), Cavani (30), Falcao (31), Dzeko (31), Suarez (30), Higuain (29), Aguero (29), Benzema (29), Van Persie (34), Lewandowski (28), Sturridge (27), Destro (26), Immobile (27), Balotelli (27), Costa (28), Lasogga (25), Morata (24, at Juventus, will probably go back to Real Madrid), Lukaku (24, if his technical ability Everton could make a truckload of money selling him to one of the super-wealthy clubs)…and now the punts on talent…Timo Werner (21, but German so he’ll wind up at Bayern), Domenico Berardi (23 and Juventus property), Michy Batshuayi (23), Anthony Martial (21), Ante Rebic (23), Yaya Sanogo (24…if he just becomes 07/08 Adebayor he becomes one of the most valuable commodities in the world). That 25-and-under group looks pretty grim and with clubs like Barcelona, Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, PSG, and Manchester United with more money than Arsenal, it would appear that Arsenal need to adapt and look for profit opportunities elsewhere, rather than trying to compete dollar-for-dollar with richer clubs. Or they could start producing center-forward talent, but when was the last time they did that? Though, maybe they would produce more if idiotic labor regulations allowed Arsenal to pick kids out of South America at very young ages