Scouting the transfer window: Which important moves will pan out?
- See 10 of the transfer window's most influential and lucrative moves through the eyes of the scout and through the lens of analytics.
This has been another spectacular transfer window, with the speculation surrounding the ins and outs often overshadowing teams’ performances on the pitch. Fans associate new signings with ambition, and often forget that it’s the job of the coach to improve the players he already has.
Nevertheless, this market has seen Paul Pogba move for a world-record £89 million to Manchester United, while lucrative deals involving John Stones and Yannick Bolasie have also raised eyebrows as part of a staggering $1.53 billion spent by Premier League teams alone. So which signings were worth the massive outlays, and which players are going to find it difficult to justify the amount spent on them? There's a tangible way to find out.
In the interest of full disclosure: Soccernomics, the football consultancy I work for, advises several clubs in England and Europe on recruitment. Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis, it identifies players that fit the skill-set profile that a sporting director has presented, and evaluates existing targets for the executive side, as part of independent due diligence on a signing. Clubs use Soccernomics because its identification success rate is high, and it allows teams to find under-valued talent while improving the quality in their squads.
While the term ‘value’ remains a nebulous one–see this article for an assessment of what value means to a club–we used a small part of Soccernomics' analytical tools to look at 10 of the window’s biggest deals:
Michy Batshuayi, striker
Transfer: Marseille to Chelsea
Fee: £33 million
The Belgian striker was linked to West Ham, Crystal Palace and Spurs–it was reported that recruitment chief Paul Mitchell is leaving Spurs as a result of them missing out on Batshuayi before he signed for Chelsea one day after scoring as a substitute at Euro 2016. His impact for the Blues has also been from the bench: an assist and a goal in two substitute appearances, which then earned him his first start against Burnley. He can expect many more to come.
Playing profile: He didn’t come cheap, but in terms of skill set and physical tools, Batshuayi has the potential to become an elite forward. He has the physical strength and pace to play as a lone striker, the one-on-one ability and creativity to play out wide or dovetail with a striking partner. Unlike some of his peers, he also has the mindset and mentality to make an impact from the bench: he scored with frequency as a substitute for Marseille, and has shown the same quality for Chelsea so far. He could become the best striker in the Premier League not named Sergio Aguero.
Eric Bailly, defender
Transfer: Villarreal to Manchester United
Fee: £30 million
Bailly was a player whom Soccernomics recommended to a mid-table Premier League side ahead of last January’s transfer window when his value was half the fee that United reportedly signed him for in the summer. Early performances suggest that United has a talent on its hands. If the deal is structured as a lower basic fee with bonuses built-in, then this transfer could be one of the best defensive moves of the summer.
Playing profile: Bailly has had a rapid rise in the past few seasons, from Espanyol to Villarreal to Manchester United. He has immense physical tools and most of his weaknesses are correctable flaws. He has already displayed power, pace and the strength to dispossess any attacker in the league. He is an upgrade to any back line, and his price tag seems increasingly cheap when compared to prices being paid for players like Stones, or prices discussed for those like Kalidou Koulibaly.
Borja Baston, striker
Transfer: Atletico Madrid to Swansea
Fee: £15 million
Atletico signed Kevin Gameiro from Sevilla in the summer, and while the French striker is one of the most underrated in the game (he surely deserves more than his eight France caps), it’s also a surprise that Atletico did not keep Baston on its books. Last season he scored 18 goals in La Liga for Eibar–with 22 in the second division the season before–and though injury has prevented a debut in England so far, when he does play, the goals will surely follow.
Playing profile: Baston was loaned out the past two seasons and scored with regularity at both the second division and La Liga level. An astute purchase by the Swans for a player that can operate as a loan striker or in tandem with their other new acquisition, Fernando Llorente. Baston has innate goalscoring instincts and is a natural finisher who will score goals in the Premier League. He’s even more of a bargain when you consider the prices some Championship teams have paid for strikers.
Wissam Ben Yedder, striker
Transfer: Toulouse to Sevilla
Fee: £9 million
Ben Yedder has been on the radar of Premier League clubs for years but no one has taken the plunge on him. West Ham, Leicester and Arsenal were linked with him this summer. It’s likely that he will succeed at Sevilla, which knows a few things about signing talent, before a Premier League club buys him for £40 million in two years.
Playing profile: A very instinctive striker with excellent instincts, good finishing ability and clever movement, Ben Yedder will make Sevilla fans forget all about Gameiro. Considered by some Premier League teams to be incapable of playing as a lone frontman (despite playing in that role for Toulouse) and by others to lack sufficient defensive contribution, Ben Yedder will prove prolific in La Liga once he makes a full adjustment to Spain. His goal production will compensate for whatever lack of defensive effort he puts out.
Sofiane Boufal, winger
Transfer: Lille to Southampton
Fee: £21 million
Boufal scored 12 goals for Lille last season and has been brought in to cover for the sale of Sadio Mane to Liverpool. Cynics will say Boufal could well follow the same path to Anfield in two years for double the money. Boufal, a Moroccan international, will link up with French boss Claude Puel at Southampton. This deal looks a bargain compared to Moussa Sissoko and Yannick Bolasie (more on them below).
Playing profile: An electric offensive talent with a variety of offensive creativity and end product in the final third. Boufal made Lille fans forget about Eden Hazard and will make Southampton fans forget about Mane. He is still a little inconsistent with his defensive contribution, but his attacking skills more than compensate.
Yannick Bolasie, winger
Transfer: Crystal Palace to Everton
Fee: £25 million
When Palace coach Alan Pardew last season compared Bolaise to Lionel Messi and said he was worth £30 million, most people laughed. Pardew has had the last chuckle though: Everton has paid top-dollar for a player whose 95 games for Palace yielded 10 goals and 12 assists. He caused havoc against West Brom in a brief appearance but fans hoping that Ronald Koeman can develop his scoring ability may be disappointed.
Playing profile: At his best, Bolasie is a blend of power and pace down the flank. The problem is that he’s inconsistent and his end product in general is mixed. He is a winger that relies more on pure physical traits to beat defenders and is perhaps best suited for a counter-attacking setup. He lacks top-caliber dribbling ability to break down defenders and his finishing and delivery remain inconsistent. Therefore, it’s unlikely he will live up to the expectations his price tag brings.
Simone Zaza, striker
Transfer: Juventus to West Ham
Fee: £5 million loan plus £20 million buying option in a year
Unlikely to take penalties after his horrific miss for Italy at Euro 2016, the Juventus forward scored five goals in Serie A last season and is not a prolific scorer in general. One season of 18 goals at Ascoli (2012-13) is the outlier for a plaer whose average is closer to 10 goals a season . Whether that is worth £25 million remains to be seen: chances are that the Hammers won't be getting a bargain in 12 months time.
Playing profile: Possibly destined to be a cult hero with his energy and work rate, Zaza has impressive physical tools and presence. What he lacks however is top-drawer end product. Zaza is an average finisher, and while he may excel in a bruiser type role, his goal production will make it difficult for him to justify the price tag.
John Stones, defender
Transfer: Everton to Manchester City
Fee: £47.5 million
After months of drama, daily reports and a music video, Paul Pogba joined Manchester United. Within 12 hours, the news that City had signed Stones came out because UEFA had confirmed him on Man City’s Champions League squad. Talk about low key. Stones’s development at Everton had stalled in the final season under Roberto Martinez and this move should benefit the player and England’s national team. Stones was unlucky not to have been picked to play at Euro 2016 (though given the results, he may disagree).
Playing profile: There’s no question Stones has all the physical tools and technical ability to be elite at his position. Where he seems to be a bit lacking is the defensive instincts and decision making. He is heavily over-priced due to English nationality, as Stones’s price tag is not reflected in his current level of play. But if there’s one coach that can fine tune his understanding of defensive concepts, decision making and proper positional sense, it is Pep Guardiola.
Joao Mario, winger
Transfer: Sporting Lisbon to Inter Milan
Fee: £38 million
Joao Mario played in every game for Portugal in its winning run in Euro 2016. He began his career at FC Porto, moving to Sporting at 11 when his mother moved to Lisbon. His rise has been astonishing given that in 2014, he was on loan at Vitoria Setubal. He ended that season reaching the Under-21 European Championship final, played last season under Jorge Jesus at Sporting and now is at one of Italy’s most storied clubs.
Playing profile: Inter looks to have vastly overpaid in this case. His work rate is commendable, and he shows flashes of flair and finishing ability at times, but overall he doesn’t really scare defenses the way a £38 million winger should. He lacks top-end one-on-one ability and can’t beat defenders consistently. His end product is inconsistent. Given the prices of some other wingers that have moved in this transfer window (like Boufal and Mohamed Salah), Inter’s accountants could be left scratching their heads.
Moussa Sissoko, midfielder
Transfer: Newcastle to Tottenham
Fee: £30 million
This was a deal that went to the wire, with deadline day spent with Everton and Spurs tussling it out for the Frenchman’s services. It was a slight comedown for the 27-year-old, who was outstanding in the Euro 2016 and began the summer being linked with Real Madrid, Juventus and Chelsea.
Playing profile: At times, Sissoko seems to have all the qualities you want in an ideal box-to-box midfielder: technical ability, pure power, pace and physical presence. All these qualities were evident in abundance during Newcastle’s relegation run-in last season and for France during Euro 2016. The problem is that Sissoko’s engine has historically run hot and cold, even during his time at Toulouse, and he’s another player that has had consistency issues and has difficulty imposing himself in every game. He also needs to work on his finishing, as it’s not refined enough if he is to be given free reign in the final third. He is another player that will find it hard to justify his price tag.