Thursday, 4 September 2008

On Transfer Policy, 1

Following recent events at West Ham and Newcastle, this week's central question in football is:

Who ought, in a Premier League club, to control transfer policy?

This is an area where people draw a distinction between the traditional British way of doing things: managerial control (naturally simple, clear, honest, common-sensical), posited against the European way: led by a Sporting Director/Director of Football/Technical Director/whatever (complex, inefficient, bureaucratic, shadowy, open to corruption).

And as fun as it is to mock those making that distinction in such stereotypical terms (I'm looking at you, Gerry Francis), I do think it's generally true. The two best managers of my lifetime (these two) are famous for having total control of transfer policy. Would the Glazers appoint an Executive Director (Football) to recruit players behind Ferguson's back? Would Peter Hill-Wood sell Arsenal's first choice centre and left backs to Sunderland behind Wenger's back? Would they fuck.

The lack of transfer control was one of Jose Mourinho's main complaints against Roman Abramovich. Both Frank Arnesen and Avram Grant were appointed with jurisdiction over scouting and transfer policies. Mourinho asked Abramovich for Eto'o and was rewarded with Shevchenko. At Tottenham Hotspur, it is Damien Comolli's job to buy players. On deadline day they sold Berbatov and he failed to get a replacement. This from the man who brought us Adel Taarabt and Kevin-Prince Boateng.

There are clubs who do well with transfer chiefs. All the big Italian and Spanish clubs do this, and until very recently their post-Heysel superiority in European competition was unchallenged by the English. Even worse than interfering directors of football (who tend to at least know something about the game), are interfering Presidents. The Guardian's Daniel Taylor wrote a crucial article this week, about the cautionary tale of Florentio Perez: egomaniac who, in his final three years, spent €440m (£358m) on 20 players, fired six coaches and four sporting directors and won nothing - Madrid's longest run without a trophy for more than half a century.
Perez spent all his money on the most exciting attacking talent going: Michael Owen, Robinho and Julio Baptista. Out of the door went Claude Makelele, because "his technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and ninety percent of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways." Taylor draws the obvious, but important, comparison between Perez and Dr Sulaiman al-Fahim.

In City's case, Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim has already spoken about trying to sign Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, David Villa, Ronaldo (the tubby Brazilian version), Mario Gómez and Fernando Torres. Revealingly, he did not mention one defender or goalkeeper and only one midfielder, Arsenal's Cesc Fábregas.
If there is a bad way to spend £500 billion on footballers, surely this is it. I don't know how much Dr al-Fahim knows about football, but I hope knows enough to be aware of Mark Hughes' record in the transfer market. This is not Kevin '£3.5m for Vuoso' Keegan, Stuart '£6m for Samaras' Pearce or even Sven-Goran '£8.8m for Bianchi' Eriksson. At Blackburn he brought in Benni McCarthy for £2.5m, Roque Santa Cruz for £3.5m and Christopher Samba for £400k.

I'll try to wait until May to pass judgement on Vincent Kompany, Tal Ben Haim, Shaun Wright-Phillips or Pablo Zabaleta, but I'm quite confident they'll be successful. Jô and Robinho are slightly different and ought not to be judged in the same way. Trusted with our new found petro-billions, I don't think Hughes will lose any of his judgement. Not only are not all players as effective as they look on YouTube (who knows whether our new Number 10 will be or not), but there can be potential downsides to stockpiling megastars. Disharmony in the camp, imbalance in the team, lack of mutual understanding, etc.

The more thought one gives this, the more obvious the conclusion is. If Dr al-Fahim wants anything approaching the success he demands for City, all transfer policy should be left with Hughes and his team.

I'll blog about how likely this is tomorrow.


Wigan Blue said...

I think our new owners just wanted to make the new world order crystal clear. I agree with you, MH should be left to it now, and from Garry Cook's most recent interviews it would appear that this has been taken on board.

Even MH must have realised that giving the scum £120 million for the show pony wouldn't go down well with the City fans (MEN poll - 97% don't want him anywhere near COMS).

I think it's just a case of "Who should we buy?", and his mates had been watching Sky, so that's the list they came up with - don't take it to heart !

433 said...

That's a pretty well constructed argument. Looking forward to part 2. Have you planned out a whole septology. There's no club football for a couple weeks...