Sign-To-Sell Revisited; The Way Forward For Smaller Clubs

Modern football is changing. With money becoming more and more important, the club landscape has changed. That applies to FM just as well as real life by the way. There is now a top tier of untouchable clubs who, like big businesses, get constantly richer and keep football alive with a trickle down of capital (Man City, PSG, Chelsea, Bayern) and then there is a secondary tier of clubs who provide a safe shop window for investors.

It seems rather unlikely we will ever see another ‘Ajax ’95’, a team which (arguably pre-Bosman ruling) bypassed economic restrains to achieve romantic glory. However, the most organised and forward thinking boards can overachieve and rise up the tiers. Take real-life examples such as FC Basel, Ajax, Porto and Sevilla. They understand that, in capitalist football, all staff are up for sale and will only remain at the club until they have reached their peak. The best businessmen know who to sign cheap and even more importantly; when to cash in before hitting a glass ceiling.

In this blogpost, I want to focus on the business side of things. If you’re a smaller club trying to break the strangle-hold of the traditional top clubs, be it nationally or internationally, how could you sign the right players for the right price? Which strategies can you employ to scout and sign players, how can you get the most value for players you intend to sell, basically, how can you be a smart wheeler-dealer?

The basic setup

Realistically, any club of smaller stature can grow the fastest and safest by investing in talented players under the age of 24, preferably from a league with a lower standard than their own, because it keeps the price low. Take for example Ajax signing the Danish talents Viktor Fischer, Niklas Boilesen and Lucas Andersen at a relatively young age from various Danish clubs.

Now you could label such clubs as “selling clubs”, since they are unable to hold on to their best players year after year. That wouldn’t be too far off the truth, as these clubs have to sell or risk losing their players for free and thus losing their investment in players.

For such a system to work, it is necessary for clubs to recruit suitable players at their lowest possible cost. A fantastic network of scouts would is a prerequisite for this approach to work.

The scouting setup

It really is as simple as acquiring the maximum amount of scouts you can get initially. If you can hire 12 scouts, well damn it… Hire 12 scouts! Volume helps, so you should hire as many scouts as the board allows you to. Also, keep badgering the board to get more scouts. The maximum amount of scouts generally lies around 20 for the absolute top clubs.

The scouts you do hire generally need 15+ attributes for Judging Ability and Judging Potential, as you want those scout reports to be as accurate as possible. An aspect people seem to forget when hiring new staff is the scouting knowledge a staff member has. Scouting knowledge is always on a staff members profile page, it shows the country or countries this staff members knows intimately.

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The more knowledge a scout has in a specific country, the more players he can find. Not a bad trait if you want to uncover some hidden gems. In that case, it also makes sense to spread the scouts around the world, not just in terms of their assignments, but also in terms of their origins. Sending an English scout to South America can work, as he will slowly increase his scouting knowledge for the region. This takes time though, which means he won’t be operating at maximum efficiency. Hiring a South American scout would speed up the process tremendously.

Once you have a decent amount of scouts, you can sort out the assignments, spreading them around the world. You generally start off with one region at a time, starting close to home and moving further away from home as you gain more scouts. You can generally ignore some regions due to the low yield in players and maybe focuss on specific nations once you have the most important regions covered.

Value for money – the theory

In order to navigate and exploit the transfer market, you need to know the products available to said market. This is where your scouting network comes in, constantly scouring various leagues and nations for talent that you can bring into your side. An ideal scenario would consist of talent that you can bring in for a good price with potential re-sale profit.

My own scouting network is geared towards spotting the best talent as it emerges, scouts with knowledge in a particular country will be my eyes in that country. I will scout the major leagues for knowledge of the best players and scouts in the youth competitions to pick to grab the young players early, for cheaper and potential re-sale values are massive.

Investing the time and effort in to doing this correctly can help compensate for what is at the moment a terrible system of bringing youth in from academies in which you have little control of. Completing your own recruitment from around the world will bring a lot of benefits and start to build up your sides moneyball success.

Ideally, you want value for money when scouting players. Value for Money (VfM) is an economic term used to assess whether or not an organisation has obtained the maximum benefit from the goods and services it acquires and/or provides, within the resources available to it. Roughly translated to football terms, have you obtained the best players available to you for the least money?

Value for money applied to FM

When applying the idea to FM, there is a plethora of variables we need to take into account when determining value for money.

Ability of the players available within a region

For starters, there is the actual quality of the players involved. Are the players good enough to compete and are there enough quality players to make it worthwhile scouting a region? If the players are not good enough for your level or there are only a few players around who can compete, a certain region is not worth scouting.

Potential ability of the newgens available within a region

We also need to look at the possibility of quality newgens in a specific region. If a region contains nations with high ratings for youth players, it’s a good idea to send your scouts there to unearth new diamonds in the rough before anyone else does. When you find them before the competition does, it increases your chances of actually signing them.

This basically means we need to check out the Youth Rating FM15 gives specific nations. This Youth Rating influences how likely specific nations are to produce an amount of quality regens; the average number of regens who can become world class players or higher reputated players in the future. A nation with better Youth Rating will over time produce regens with higher standard than a nation with lower level. But it is not a definite matter that the nation will constantely produce the best regens, as this is also tied to club reputations, their youth facilities and chance.

The number of quality regens coming through from one nation with superb youth rating will therefore increase the possibility to find better regens quicker than in a nation with low youth rating. What that means is that the chances of youth in Brazil becoming worldwide names are much higher than in South Africa for example.

Transfer-sums for the players within a region

Whilst on the subject of signing players, value for money also means getting good players at low prices. Value is partially determined by the reputation of a nation and its leagues and partially by the club’s reputation. Signing players from smaller leagues generally means you can get them cheaper than players from higher profile leagues. The same applies to the newgens, usually the players from higher profile leagues are more expensive than players from low profile leagues.

Wages for the players within a region

Similarly, we have to take the reputation factors into account when trying to determine the wages players will command upon transfering to our club. If these youngsters are incredibly expensive in terms of wages, perhaps they form a risky and valuable investment, whereas lower wages would make a transfer less risky and more profitable.

Availability of players within a region

Another factor to take into account is the availability of players. This does not mean if a club is willing to sell a specific player, but if there are conditions to the actual transfer such as Work Permits or age limitations. For instance, South American rules dictate that players cannot move to Europe unless they are 18 years of age, which is a serious hinderance when scouting for youths. Similarly, many of these South Americans require Work Permits to move to the UK leagues.

Commercial value of players within a region

The final factor we need to consider is the commercial value of a specific player. It’s not a deal-breaking factor in my eyes, but one that could and should be considered regardless. Some players are, metaphorically, worth their weight in gold (otherwise you’d just sign Anderson from Man Utd, the fat bastard would make you filthy rich) because of commercial reasons. Japanese players tend to bring in extra merchandising revenue, the same applies to a big name signing.

Interesting transfer targets

If you have the system in place, you can start to make a profit by using what I call “sign-to-sell”. This basically means that certain players you sign should be players with either high potential or a high reputation, who are undervalued at the moment you sign them. If your team is successful, this rubs off on every player, even unused substitutes, meaning their value will increase. If needed, you can loan these players away for a season or so to inflate their value.

Naturally, you need to find the right kind of players to make deals like that. In my eyes, there are four kinds of players suitable for such deals.

The emerging young starlet (from a smaller club/league)

In an ideal situation, you want to look for players from smaller leagues or smaller clubs with the raw potential to become absolute stars. Let’s look at a few examples.

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Both players are definitely talented youngsters. Not quite senior internationals for their respective countries, but definitely players capable of breaking into the national team sooner or later. Since I am currently managing a major club in a strong league, these are players from smaller clubs and lesser leagues I am looking at.

Both players will cost me a bit, they won’t be cheap, but if I wait until they hit their prime, they are either signed by someone else, who might not be willing to sell or they will cost me a whole lot more. These players are good enough to take up rotational duties over the course of a season and still perform well. The risk involved is not a big one. Even if they aren’t good enough, you can still sell them on to some other club.

The established international, available for a limited fee or a free transfer

Say hello to Karl Saavedra, a Chilean international, approaching the prime of his career.

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Not a bad player, is he? This is an example of a prime player, who for some reason was released by his previous club Pro Vercelli, probably a dispute over money. We snapped him up and whilst he wasn’t cheap in terms of wages, he offered a valuable service in the games he played. He is a talented player, good enough to play for just about any team in the world.

Since the player had probably already peaked before signing, his value was relatively stable. I generally don’t sell a player like that, unless I get an offer that is considerably over the market value he represents. If a player is part of a winning team, the AI seems to hype said player and this was the result.

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A deal like this would not have been lucrative, had I paid an actual transfer sum for Saavedra. In that case my profit margin would have been very low. We did not really need another midfielder at the time, but he offered a decent investment with a very real chance to make a profit. An internationally renowned player, available for a limited fee and in the prime of his professional career.

Rejects from a top academy

The next group I take a punt on when wheeling and dealing are rejects from a top academy. If players are released by top sides, either domestic or international, I tend to have my scouts check them out if they haven’t already. If they come up as 3 stars or more in terms of potential, they are worth a punt. If my prized coaching staff are able to get the best out of such a player, his value will sky-rocket and I can turn a profit.

My latest signing in this regard was John Houghton, from Everton. Everton have a reputation for producing decent enough players for the Premier League and this lad looks like he can play in the Premiership.

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He refused to re-new his contract at Everton, so they wanted to get rid of him. I was happy to oblige and snapped him up for free. The kid hasn’t been called up to any of the English youth sides, but he looks like he has the skill-set to develop into a decent player. Probably not good enough for Manchester United, but if he keeps developing the way he has, I can easily sell him on for a nice profit.

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With no money spent to acquire his services, I can afford to pay him a decent enough wage for a youngster. Even with the expenses made, there’s a good chance I can turn a profit on him, especially if he continues to perform well during his loan spells.

Cradle-robbing

Morally speaking, it’s not the most sound of tactics. Financially speaking, it’s actually quite a risky strategy. Still, it’s always a good idea to gather up excellent young players if you can get them. If you have the means to sign young talents (and by young, I mean U18), you could stand to win quite a bit. Let’s take this guy for example.

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Markus Hahn was signed at age 17 as a promising talent from the German leagues. Any player who can score the amount of goals he has at age 17 is a talent, even if it is at the third tier of German football. Signing him seemed like a good idea, even though the deal is a risky one.

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We overpaid. A lot. His actual value is nearly a million lower than what we paid for him. Hahn has to develop if I ever want to re-coup what I paid for him. Still, if you sign five or six players like this every season and even one of them develops into a top player, you will have re-couped your investment on the entire batch.

Sometimes though, I have to wonder whether some of these guys would see their progress stunted by sitting on the bench.  Players only develop by getting regular game minutes – not necessarily starting, but at least having a defined role that they can prepare for. I try to remedy this by loaning them to other clubs, but still…

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8 thoughts on “Sign-To-Sell Revisited; The Way Forward For Smaller Clubs

  1. Great post fella. Really liked this, compliments what I am trying to do at Wolves perfectly. We are on the verge of becoming a £1bn club, and that would not have been possible without tight financial management and winning things. Recruitment has been based initially off my “Searching the Stats” method that continues to find amazing VfM and has more recently evolved into two more areas. The first of these is the good old transfer list – big clubs love to hoard, half the “form” players they sign don’t cut it and they can be picked up for amazing value. Examples being, Vietto (signed from Chelsea for just £6m when they listed him, he scored 42 goals for me and I sold him on to City for £60m), Mode (signed from Valencia on a free after they listed him and sold him to Everton a year later for £15m), Essomba (a regen right back signed from PSG for £750k to replace Mode, then sold a year later to PSG for £22m), M’Vila (signed from Barca for £2.1m after he asked to leave then sold on for £28m a year later) and, finally, Jovic (sold by me to City for £52m, he failed, re-signed for just £16m). I’m also following the big clubs youth teams, scouting up to two years in advance and hoping they release anyone I like. In six seasons I think I have spent about £150m and made back at least £280m. Got to love working the market!

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  2. I love this part of the game, most be because I’m a salesman at daytime 🙂
    Its a great article and its sums up the way I work. Buying youngsters to develop and sign free and transferlisted high profile players.

    One thing I also do, and this is something I started with in this version, asking for a monthly fee for players I loan out. I allways try to get 5-10% of the transferfee per month. When a player grows older and his value increases this can turn into a very interesting and prifitable business.
    Last example of that was a player I made 8m in 4 years and then sold him for 12m. I bought him for 1.8m and paid one year of loan when he played in my first team (not good enough)
    I’m currently making per year a roughly 20-30 mil by loaning out players. Ka-ching 😉

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    • I haven’t had a club where I have had more than 35 coaches in total, but I think that depends on the club and its reputation. Not sure if it’s capped.

      Liked the article, it’s basically my sign-to-sell theory applied. Sign them, develop them, sell them. It really can be that simple.

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  3. […] Now you could label such clubs as “selling clubs”, since they are unable to hold on to their best players year after year. That wouldn’t be too far off the truth, as these clubs have to sell or risk losing their players for free and thus losing their investment in players. For such a system to work, it is necessary for clubs to recruit suitable players at their lowest possible cost. A fantastic network of scouts would is a prerequisite for this approach to work. For more information on this policy, I would like to refer you to an earlier post of mine. […]

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