Tag Archives: Luis Suarez


Arsene talks, I make pancakes, you define success in the transfer market

It’s Saturday, there will be no transfer news today regardless of whether you wish there was. That means your only options are to get duly indignant about what you wish Arsene Wenger did or didn’t say yesterday or enjoy your weekend and wait until work on Monday to get indignant. Personally, I’d rather get upset on someone else’s dime and enjoy what little free time I have to do something fun like go to the zoo with my 5 year old.

But since that’s not how some of you operate here’s some other options.

First, have a pancake


This recipe is simple.

1c. of milk
1T. lemon juice
Combine and set aside until curdled (I do this at 5am)

1c. AP Flour
1/2t. Baking Soda
1/2t. Baking Powder
1/2t. Salt
Sift into a large bowl

1 egg
2T. melted butter
2T sugar
Whip in a bowl big enough to take the curdled milk

Combine the wet ingredients in the egg bow and pour into the large bowl with the dry ingredients. Combine until still slight lumpy. Let stand for a few minutes, things should be bubbling a bit.

Pour by 1/3c. into a heated skillet, flip when dry around the edges, serve with strawberries and whip cream.

Ok, so Wenger’s statement

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating every time Wenger gives a quote: I wish that Wenger said “no comment” more often. But since he’s not going to do that then I am given to either laugh at what he says or ignore it.

But hey, let’s parse the statements.

“We are ready to do quick deals but all the transfers do not depend only on us.”

100% factually accurate. Arsenal have bid £40m+1 for Suarez and are ready to close the deal. However Liverpool have rejected that offer and Suarez has not agreed to terms with Arsenal.

I also take solace in the words “deals” and the phrase “all the transfers”. Sounds to me like he’s lining up more than one move.

My guess, based on the way things are going is that Arsenal’s main target is Suarez to fill the creative role needed at Arsenal and to play forward. But I also think Wenger has a backup to buy the Brazilian Bernard if Suarez falls through for any of the reasons you might imagine.

I also believe that Arsenal are in the market for a midfielder. Wenger is exceptionally good at not telling you what he’s actually working on. Two years ago we were trying to get Mata, when that fell through, we tried to get Cazorla, that fell through again, so he waited a year and landed Cazorla. When asked a week before the Cazorla deal was done Wenger actually said “I don’t know this guy.”

“But we are prepared to wait. It looks unlikely before the Emirates Cup.”

I know that a few buttholes got clenched when they read this but I don’t see what the big deal is, Suarez can’t play until October. Seriously, I understand that we all want deals done early and last year they were actually pretty good about that. This year, things have been different. I think the club put out a lot of feelers (Jovetic, Higuain, Suarez) and had to wait to hear back. Some players gave signs (Higuain) but then something happened (we don’t know what) and other players apparently rejected Arsenal outright probably having already been tapped up by City (Jovetic). That left us with Suarez. Now we have to be prepared to wait, because Liverpool are trying to save face here. But I feel strongly that Arsenal have interest in Bernard as the backup to Suarez.

What about other positions that we want signings in? I think they have some, especially keeper, and I think the quiet we are hearing on that front is actually a good sign.

“We still have a strong squad but we are there on the market to try to strengthen our team. With or without additions we can be title challengers next season.”

He always says this. We could have Lee Clattermole as captain at Arsenal and Barren Dent as the sole forward and he would say this. I don’t think he actually believes that this squad is a serious title challenging team — if he did, why would he bid a gajillion dollars on Suarez?

But wait, I also don’t think he’s lying. I think he has a percentage chance for Arsenal to win the League next year floating around in his head. So, he says “we can be title challengers” and what he means is “without additions Arsenal are probably 15% likely to win the League. With top quality additions, we are more like 25% chance to win the League.” Something like that, he’s an economist after all; in his mind everyone can be title challengers.

“Of course we want to do as many top players as we can. But we also have to focus on the players we have and develop them. We have plenty of candidates in midfield now and there is a big fight there. Bacary Sagna settles in well at centre-back with Thomas Vermaelen out.”

Again, this is Wenger 101: develop players, big up the ones we have, talk about cover, even while other teams are buying cover.

I haven’t heard anything about DM (dungeon master!) or CB except what you’ve heard, which is nothing. Which could be good or could be bad, depending on your point of view.

Is Ramsey ready to take over from Arteta? Is Wilshere ready to be a full-time starter in the Premier League? I don’t know the answers to those questions, though I’m sure a bunch of you do. I admit that I am in favor of Fellaini coming to Arsenal but I can also see some merit to suggesting that Arsenal’s midfield is one of the best midfields in the League. The Gunners have young players who look strong and have a lot of experience under their belts coupled with experienced players who are the best in the League (Cazorla and Arteta were, in my book, the best two midfielders in England last season).

Of course I would like a tough midfielder for those cold nights in Stoke, I would also like a wide player who can deliver an outswinging cross, and a sure-handed keeper who can keep Szczesny on his toes. Since we are shopping, I’ll also have a creative player to break down the Mourinho’s Chelsea and Moyes’ Man U when they bark the pus, and the perfect goal scorer to put away Arsenal’s many big chances in the small games.

The economist in me sees the likelyhood of signing all those players about the same as Stoke winning the League.

So, I’ll make pancakes instead.

Which leaves me with just one last thing before I go: what would it take for you to consider the transfer season a success? For me, two big named players to energize the fans and the players and for Walcott, Wilshere, Ramsey, and Jenkinson to show marked improvement.



Suarez was both the most clinical finisher in the League and the most wasteful

Welcome to your daily dose of Suarez: today we look at “big chances” and the fact that Suarez converted more “big chances” than any other forward.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you probably saw this article on SkySports titled The “Suarez Solution”. According to the author, Suarez is the perfect player for Arsenal because he converted 16/30 “big chances” for Liverpool last season in Premier League play. That’s a conversion rate of 53% and beats Michu’s 46% conversion rate and van Persie’s 43%.

This is the perfect stat for the people who say that Suarez is a “clinical finisher”: he got into a great goal-scoring position 30 times last season and scored 16 goals. Moreover, we know that Cazorla, Walcott, and Podolski all created 30+ big chances last season and I’ve no reason to believe that they wouldn’t continue which means that between Arsenal’s style of play and Suarez’ awesome finishing, Arsenal are guaranteed a 20+ goal scorer every year.

The article goes on to detail how Giroud was put into those same positions 23 times and only scored 4 goals for a paltry 17% conversion. Boo-roud!

But following up on my posts from earlier in the week where I tried to explain, statistically, how two people can watch the same player and come to two different conclusions I find this “big chances finished” stat quite illuminating: in Suarez you have a player who converted 16/30 from big chances but 7/157 from the rest of the field. That’s a 53% conversion in great positions and 4% conversion rate from everywhere else on the pitch.

You can dig further here as well. Suarez scored 2 goals from free kicks. That means he scored just 5 goals from these other chances, a 3% conversion rate!

Conversely, Robin van Persie was only 43% conversion of big chances, 17/40. But let’s remember that van Persie only took 141 shots meaning that he was 9/101 shots that weren’t “big chances”. 4 of those goals, however, were converted penalties or a free kick. That leaves van Persie with just a 5% conversion rate.

Scoring these “big chances” are the bread and butter of forwards. Guys like Suarez (last season), van Persie, and Michu are players who bury these big chances and as a result this is what we all intuitively define as a “clinical finisher”. I’d almost say that most fans don’t care how many speculative shots a player has as long as they bury these shots. Almost, some of us care: I don’t mind a few pot shots here and there but after a while it gets old.

However, problematically, in the previous season and a half for Liverpool, Suarez had more “big chances” than this season and only finished a handful. For example, in season 2011-2012 Suarez was 7/29 off big chances for a 24% conversion rate in front of goal. He scored the remainder of his 4 League goals from 99 shots, which you won’t be surprised to learn is a 4% conversion rate.

But when you consider that we are talking about a combined 59 events this is exactly why we need to be careful looking at this season and thinking that he’s become some “cool finisher”. Maybe his new-found accuracy in front of goal will continue, maybe not. But putting away those clear-cut chances are crucial.

This is why stats folks prefer to look at large numbers of events like “all shots” and “all shots on goal”. Large data-sets aren’t effected as strongly by a few events in the way that a small set like this season’s “big chances” are. Just to illustrate, in a 30 event set, every positive event is worth 0.033, so a single goal or a single miss moves a player’s conversion 3%. In a 187 event set, like Suarez’ total shots, each goal/miss is only a 0.5%

Over the scope of his career, Suarez has been a poor finisher. Excluding penalties, Robin van Persie converted 14% of all his shots for Arsenal. Now, this season at Man U, he’s a 16% finisher. Whilst at Ajax, Luis Suarez converted 63 of 681 shots (he scored 18 pens) for a conversion rate of 9%. Now at Liverpool, buoyed by this season’s great finishing in front of goal, he is 38 of 370…. 10%.

This doesn’t make either way of looking at the data better. If the player finished 70% of 20 big chances but took 200 shots, scored 6 penalties, and converted 3% of his remaining shots, he’s going to have scored 25 goals for his team. He’s also probably going to be considered a “clinical finisher” by some and others of us, namely me, are going to wonder why he took those other 180 shots and why no one can see that he’s just a 10% finisher.

I might also wonder why he was the worst dribbler in the League (with 160 wasted dribbles) and why he led the League in turnovers with 79.

I might even conclude that’s because he’s a ball hog.



Should a player like Suarez cost £55m?

Here’s a question that I’ve heard voiced but no one has answered quite yet: is Luis Suarez worth the £40m (+£1) bid that Arsenal have lodged? What about the £50m that Liverpool are demanding? Or the £55m that they demanded just last week? In other words, what is Luis Suarez worth? In fact, what is any top striker worth?

Let’s step back a bit from the brinksmanship over whether Suarez is a top striker or not. I have very plainly argued that Suarez is both a top striker and a top waster, which is exactly why he divides opinion over his playing ability. I often get painted as a Suarez-hater and I will admit that I don’t like players who demand so much of the ball, but I have never denied that he is one of the most active forwards in the top five leagues. But too often this debate is a “winner take all” in the minds of many. It is possible that there are many ways to look at the data, at the player, at his history, and come to a conclusion that you’d welcome him or shun him with being someone who “doesn’t know anything about football” as I have been accused for, oh, 5 years now.

Coincidentally, I was asked yesterday if I “see the glass half-full or half-empty?” And I replied “I see a glass, with some liquid, and I want to measure that liquid.” I want to know what type of liquid, how it got there, how much it cost, what’s the glass like, what’s it sitting on, and so on. The rather simplistic full/empty binary is only interesting to simple people who want to sound intelligent.

And the reality is that most people love simple dualisms – liberal/conservative, good/evil, half full/half empty, worth it/not worth it, clinical/profligate – but if you limit yourself to just a few binary explanations of the world you are, well, missing out on all of the other stories.

For example, the issue at the top of this article. What is Luis Suarez worth? Is a bid of £55m reasonable for a guy who scored 23 goals last season? There are myriad ways that we can answer this. Among other things, we can look at shirt sales (Rooney may not score bags of goals but he sells more shirts than anyone in England), we could subtract out a player’s negative impacts for being played over another player and thus activating some weird release clause (as happened with Cesc and Alcantara), we can look at goals scored and their impact on a team’s ability to get into the big money competitions like the Champions League (the UEFA distribution alone was worth £26.8m to Arsenal), and we can look at past player transfers relative to current player transfers and make an educated guess as to what a similar player from the past would cost in current transfer dollars, which would create an argument on this blog as to how we might define said current player’s abilities relative to those past players.

Those four are not exhaustive metrics by any stretch: I’m not trying to write the 10,000 word bible on what people should pay for a player. I’m guessing that most teams already have a metric in place for determining what they are willing to pay for any given player, Arsenal already have one and I think I can show that it is a pretty decent metric. I’m also guessing that Liverpool’s metric is broken, seeing how they paid umpteen millions for Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, and Andy Carroll. In fact, looking at their transfer deals over the last 5 years I have to wonder what are they smoking up there at Anfield?

Still that last measurement, about past transfers, interests me quite a bit because it has a number of elements for a great story. So, I reached out to Zach Slaton who writes the column A Beautiful Numbers Game for Forbes and he loaned me the data from the folks at Transfer Price Index.

What the Transfer Price Index (TPI) does is measure the rate of inflation for the average transfer year on in the Premier League from seasons 1992 to 2013. So, for example, if you look at the cost of transfers in the 1992-1993 season and compared them to the cost of transfers in the 1993-1994 season, the rate of inflation was 11.48%. By 1995-1996, the average transfer price had almost tripled from around £600,000 to a cool £1.5m.

This is not measuring “value” per say, though some people would make the argument that what you pay for something is its value, but rather simply measuring cost. A perfect example of the difference in value versus cost is that in the summer of 1999, Arsenal sold Nicolas Anelka for £22m and paid £11m for Thierry Henry — both of which happened within a matter of days of each other with Henry arriving before Anelka departed (I believe).

But what was Henry “worth” to Arsenal? Two Premier League titles, an Invincibles season, a new stadium, all at least partially built on the fact that he was the best forward Arsenal have ever had. How much is Henry worth? £100m? More? Now, what did Anelka do for any club he played for? Certainly not the same contributions as Henry. So, clearly, the number I’m about to give you doesn’t speak to their value but rather their cost.

Now, some folks will quibble over my 1999 valuations above, I’ve seen the number for Henry as high as £14m and the number for Anelka as much as £30m. But the truth of how much a transfer costs is often clouded in mystery so I have chosen the figures from Wikipedia which, I know, is unreliable but I don’t see it as any more or less unreliable than other sources. In fact, I am aware of that web site out there which purports to be accurate on these matters but I will trust the crowdsourcing of Wikipedia over some dude on the internet and his assurances (without publishing his sources) that he has the really real Truth.

So, let’s take £11m for Henry and £22m for Anelka and plug them in to the TPI formula. In 2012-2013 transfer money, Henry’s £11m signing would cost £28.3m and Anelka would cost £56.6. Overmars? His current TPI adjusted transfer would be £48.7m. Shevchenko? £58.3m. Reyes? £28m. And so on. As you can see, £53m for Falcao (who is both overrated and may have lied about his age) and £56m for Cavani are right up there in the top group of players whose transfer may have been over-valued.

I’m not saying that Cavani isn’t worth £56m. I’m saying ~£50m is what perceived top targets of the recent past cost these days.

Still, it is notable that Arsenal got Thierry Henry on such a great transfer price. Even the high end estimates of Arsenal paying £14m in 1999-2000 would mean he would only cost £36m in current transfer prices, well below the £50m mark and probably indicative of the fact that he’d had a poor season in Italy (though he did help France to win the World Cup). Similarly, Dennis Bergkamp set the Arsenal transfer record at £7.5m with his move in 1995 which is only £21.6m in the current transfer market. That is right around the price that Chelsea paid for Juan Mata (£23.5m) but above what Arsenal paid for Santi Cazorla (£12m) due to the age of the player and the financial problems of Malaga.

But for me, the king of value, cost, or however you want to phrase it, transfers was Patrick Vieira. £3.5m in 1996 is just £10.2m in 2012-2013 money. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a player of his quality at that price. Essien, for example, in current pounds would cost £48m.

Now, whether Essien was worth that much or whether Suarez is worth what Liverpool want for him is a different debate. But that is what people are, and have, paid for players of that perceived value. Which leaves me with just one question: given his history, the single positive season, the biting, the racism, the goals, and everything else, to paraphrase Liverpool’s John Henry, what would you have to smoke at the Emirates to pay £55m for Luis Suarez?