Friday, August 6, 2010

Transfer Market Secrets... as of Right Now

I'll have more to say about Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski's Soccernomics later on but I wanted to take a moment to address their list of transfer market secrets:

  1. A new manager wastes money on transfers; don't let him.
  2. Use the wisdom of crowds.
  3. Stars of recent World Cups or European championships are overvalued; ignore them.
  4. Certain nationalities are overvalued.
  5. Older players are overvauled.
  6. Center forwards are overrvalued; goalkeepers are undervalued.
  7. Gentlemen prefer blonds; identify and abandon "sight-based prejudices".
  8. The best time to buy a player is when he is in his early twenties.
  9. Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth.
  10. Replace your best players even before you sell them.
  11. Buy players with personal problems, and then help them deal with their problems.
  12. Help your players relocate.
These are simple ideas if you think about them.  Kuper and Szymanski provide anecdotes and data to back up their list too.  Every shrewd soccer manager in the book is compared to Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics who is credited with cracking the secrets of baseball's free agency and trade market.  Indeed Beane put together an incredible team record of 825-632 between 1998-2006 (.566 winning percentage) while spending much less than the competition.   

The entire time that I was reading their comparisons of Billy Beane, I was waiting for the hammer to drop but it never came.  They pumped success but failed to mention that Beane's A's went 226-259 between 2007-2009.  Even if the book was all wrapped up in 2009, they still could have at least addressed Beane's 151-172 record between 2007-2008.  What happened was once his secrets were published in Moneyball in 2003 and other teams saw how successful you could be with his tips, smart teams immediately copied his basic principles and Beane was no longer able to take advantage of the market inefficiencies he exploited in the early 2000's.  It took all of four years for baseball to quite likely overvalue young players while undervaluing older players. 

35+ year old guys like Johnny Damon and Vladimir Guerrero could only get one year of guaranteed money while the Indians have to be kicking themselves for signing current DL darlings Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore to long-term contracts when both players were entering their primes.  The overall philosophy of sign young guys to low contracts and avoid signing older players to big money works out in many cases (young guys/low money: Evan Longoria, old guy/lots of money: Jeff Suppan) but there is no guarantee.  And sign guys with personal problems and help them deal with them?  Paging any team that has tried to work with Milton Bradley.

Overall Soccernomics does have a good list of what to avoid and what not to avoid but I would have labeled the list "Current Trends to Avoid" instead of "Secrets of the Transfer Market".  The real list?
  1. Exploit market inefficiencies and leave your competition in the dust.

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