Teams like Udinese and Basel are hardly world class teams, filled to the brim with superstars. They are certainly not the teams who compete for the Champions League every season, despite occassional stunts in the tournament. Yet despite all of this, these are teams who excel in a very particular area of the game: the transfer market. While some teams have acquired fame for their overwhelming spending summer after summer —more often than not thanks to the monetary backing of Eastern European or Middle Eastern investors— Udinese and Basel have mastered an investment approach that any Wall Street stockbroker would envy. Their keen eye for scouting young and affordable talents, combined with the common sense to actually field these youngsters instead of letting them rot away in the reserves, allows for these clubs to dramatically increase the market value of their players over relatively short periods of time. In short, these clubs have demonstrated the enviable knack of buying players relatively cheaply, benefiting from their prowess for a couple of seasons, then selling them for a very good price to richer European teams.
Sir Alex Ferguson was a manager renowned for his squad building skills. “Fergie’s never really looking at this moment, he’s always looking into the future,” Ryan Giggs once told newspapers. “Knowing what needs strengthening and what needs refreshing–he’s got that knack.” I want to look at my approach when building a squad, what is important and what isn’t, what are the do’s and don’ts. If you want your chance to build a dynasty á la Fergie’s, you might find this useful information.
When building a squad, there are a couple of key aspects I focus on to put myself and the team on the road to success. I focus on the demographic structure of the squad, I look at a form of performance-based analysis and finally I worry about the transfer policy. The demographic structure defines the capacity of managers to make up a balanced squad from the point of view of age, experience and contract length so as to guarantee sufficient long term stability. Secondly, performance-based analysis refers to the managers’ ability to objectively identify the strengths and weaknesses of their teams in order to find collective and individual solutions to improve results or anticipate eventual problems. Lastly, transfer policy defines the managers’ capacity to renew the pool of players available to optimise, or maintain over the long term, group unity, demographic balance and performance levels. Ultimately, the aim is to have a talented squad with sufficient depth to it, without having to deal with too many unhappy players complaining about being left on the bench.
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?
Much like in real life, FM15 sees the top clubs in Europe hoarding talent in a way similar to Scrooge McDuck acquiring money. These clubs often have a sugar daddy investing copious amounts of money, which allows them to make a play for pretty much any emerging starlet, whether they actually need these players or not. Whilst it can be hugely frustrating to lose your starlets to the money-bags from London, Paris, Madrid or Barcelona, you could also try to benefit from their behavior. In my eyes, there are two ways you can take this excessive hoarding from the top clubs and turn it against the top sides.
In an earlier post, I mentioned the patented sign-to-sell idea, which roughly means you sign players you have no intention of ever fielding purely for the intention of selling them for profit. Simply identifying and signing said players really isn’t enough though. Just having them sit in your reserves is not going to make it easy for you to sell them, let alone turn a profit. Allow me to show you what I mean with a simple case study.
One of my scouts informed me that I could sign Qatari international Sadiq Al-Shammari on a Bosman deal. Let’s have a look at this strapping fellow, shall we?
At first glance, we see a decent enough player, a well rounded player in the prime of his life. The 41.5k value does not do his actual quality justice, but playing in the Qatari Stars League is not helping his value improve much. Despite all of this, his reputation is fairly high and playing for a better side like mine should see his value rise quite rapidly. In this case, Sadiq checks the first box, he’s an established player, available for way less than what he’s actually worth.
Looking at his history, we see Sadiq checks a second box as well.
Due to PSG’s Qatari owners, the French giants tend to spawn the occassional Qatari newgen. Whilst Sadiq was not good enough to feature in the PSG first team, he has trained with some fine players and under a talented coaching staff. With PSG routinely producing classy newgens, there’s a fairly decent chance Sadiq has some untapped potential in him.
An added benefit of this French pedigree is his double nationality. Having an actual EU passport makes him more attractive for most European clubs, especially those located in countries where Work Permits are a necessary evil. All of this makes him well worth signing and his value is expected to rise quite a bit.
First thing I do after signing a player like Sadiq is place him in the reserve squad. He was signed as a backup for first team, so he won’t be too concerned about being placed in the reserves. We need him to get some matches under his belt anyway and allow him a chance to work with the excellent coaching staff I have assembled over the years.
So what can six months of training do for Sadiq?
A mere 6 months in the warm bossom of my club and its amazing coaches has done wonders for Sadiq’s stats. As was to be expected, his value was re-evaluated to match the stature of the club he is playing for, setting his value at 6.25 million right now. Not bad, but we can always milk it further. It’s always easier to sell a player after a decent season for a club and well, Sadiq hasn’t played in first team in the past six months.
So what we need is to offer Sadiq to other clubs, to try and get him some games.
I feel that just listing a player for loan is often not enough to generate interest for said player, so I actively offer them to other clubs. I always go for 100% wages, so I don’t lose money on the deal. Never ever let a player compete against you, so make sure you un-tick the “can play against own team option.” The option to recall is useful when a player is not getting enough first team action or when-ever you feel you need the player yourself.
When the player is good enough, there are always clubs who respond with an offer. Don’t fuck it up at this stage by trying to negotiate a monthly fee. Remember, we’re trying to polish this player to sell for a profit later on, so we don’t need to get greedy right now. In this example, Sadiq got loan offers from several clubs, all with decent training facilities.
When a player makes a move on loan like that, just make sure to keep an eye on your loanee. I always ask for scout reports on such a player. If a player is not getting enough first team football, recall him and loan him away to another club. In an ideal situation though, a player will see his value rise. Just have a look at our buddy Sadiq.
His value has risen from just over 6 million to 10 million. Apparently, playing in a stronger league raises a players reputation and thus his value. Selling a player like this, with an inflated value, should be quite easy.
If you’re able to negotiate a deal properly, you can get upto 50% on top of a players market value. If you want to read more about negotiating a good deal, give one of my older blog posts a read. Either way, it’s a quick and simple way to raise the profile and value of a player and make some extra money on the side.
Another important part of wheeling and dealing is the pure and simple negotiating a deal. Several factors come into play here. First of all, you have to know what a player is actually worth. I’m not talking about the value displayed in-game, I’m talking about actual value in terms of the market. Is this is one-of-a-kind type of player, unique to this generation, is this a wonderkid with the potential to be the next Messi or is this a run-of-the-mill type of player?
I’m going to use a prime example of the last category here, seeing as you won’t be likely to sell the first two types of players. Say hello to Japanese wing-back Shinpei Mizunaga.
Mizunaga is an average wing-back. Decent and solid, but nothing spectacular. There are probably dozens of players like him out there, but Mizunaga is one of the few who is now for sale. Whilst he is not transfer listed, he has been placed in the reserve squad, signaling to AI clubs my willingness to sell. I hardly ever transfer list players, as that tends to attract ludicrously low offers.
In terms of value, I’d like to get between 6 and 7.5 million for the lad. That is more than what FM says he is actually worth, but I see a player almost in his prime, with good enough attributes for most top division sides in Europe, low wages, a senior international for his country and the added bonus of extra merchandising revenue from Japan.
With a 15k a week wage, Mizunaga has costed me at least 780k so far, not taking bonuses into account. If I add that sum on top of his market value of 5.25 million, I’m at the 6 million minimum I want for Mizunaga. The lad came in for free, so I don’t have to throw a transfer sum into the equation.
We know what we want, now it’s time to see who wants Mizunaga. When negotiating, it’s also important to see who is offering. Bigger sides are more likely to overpay, clubs from specific nations are more likely to spend big as well. For example, when teams from the Ukraine, Cyprus, Turkey or Greece come knocking, feel free to overcharge a lot more.
This time, it’s Vitesse offering us a deal. Despite being a top Dutch side, they don’t have millions to spend and they want to make a good deal, for them anyway. Quite frankly, I am insulted they are even trying this shit with me. At 2.7 million with no installments or clauses, they are having a piss…
Naturally, I am not going to accept such a low-ball offer. I’m going to show them how much I want. I’m going to counter with a high-end bid of 7.5 million. Vitesse are not likely to accept this, but when negotiating, it’s always a give-and-take approach that pays off. Vitesse raise their bid, I lower my demands until we meet somewhere in the middle.
Vitesse immediately decided to raise their bid. We’re still a long way off what I want for him, but we’re also in the initial stages of the negotiations. Things aren’t looking very bright at the moment, but should the negotiations cave, it does send a signal to other clubs we’re not selling for pea-nuts.
As I mentioned earlier, I am working towards reaching a sort of middle ground. They raised their bid, I lower mine. When asking 7 million, I’m still comfortably in the high end of what I actually want. I can slash half a million to make them more committed to these negotiations.
Vitesse have again raised their bid. We are now at almost a million more than their initial bid. Still a long way off what we actually want, but we’re getting there, slow and steady.
I decided to negotiate again. I kept in the installments for fun.
Vitesse are getting desperate with their next counter-offer, as they are slapping more and more clauses onto their bid. The negotiations are reaching their final stages and I have a bad feeling about the outcome.
I lower my asking price some more.
The next offer is probably the best Vitesse can do, considering all the clauses they have slapped on. They are still a million shy of what I want for this guy, so either I take the million “loss” or I wait for another buyer.
At this point, I decided to check my options. If Vitesse had been the only interested party, I would have probably sold him. It’s still a very decent profit, but as it stands, Lille are also interested and French sides have some more spending money.
I once again go for a high-end counter-bid.
Vitesse are most likely to reject it, which is what happens.
Even when these negotiations broke down in the end, it does show you how to raise the offers on your average players considerably. I could have taken their final offer and not been far off the value FM gives him.
The same concept also applies to big name players, or as I mentioned earlier, the arrived stars, the crème de la crème, the players you don’t actually have to sell. In terms of Pozzo’s Udinese, the Alexis Sanchez’ of the world. They are likely to attract big name clubs and you can make a killing here.
The guy in my example above is an Egyptian international, 23 years old, almost on top of his game and definitely a top player for his position. When a player attracts the attention of clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid, he has game.
Again, I assessed his value. I don’t have to sell Shokry, so there’s no way I am going to go for his market value or a figure anywhere near there. Also, these clubs are loaded and can afford to splash the cash, so I might as well bleed them as dry as I can. I also have to take into consideration that I will face off against them in the Champions League and replacing Shokry would cost me a pretty penny, unless I relied on bleeding in a youth academy graduate. Barcelona’s initial offer of 17 million felt like an insult. They have a lot more to offer .
Using the same method as I mentioned earlier, I started negotiating. The outset was different though. For Mizunaga, I was happy with a value just over his market value. Mizunaga was a run-of-the-mill left-back, Shokry is, at this point in my save-game, one of the best players in his position.
Shokry, in my eyes, was worth nearly twice his actual market value. This took into consideration his relatively young age, low wages, sublime skill-set and the fact that a replacement of similar quality would cost me around 25 million or more. Barcelona, having more than enough money anyway, agreed to my terms quite quickly.
Fortunately for me, I did not have to invest in new players, since I always come prepared for deals like these. I invest in a shadow squad, which means I have young players sitting in the reserves, either waiting for a shot in first team or away on loan to a feeder club. In this case, one of my talents returned from a loan-spell and looked about ready for first team action.
In the end, I gained 35 million for a player who could easily be replaced by a youngster already at the club. When dealing with bigger clubs, don’t be afraid to ask for prices you initially thought would be insane. The big sides will pay crazy money when you ask them to.
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 three kinds of players suitable for such deals.
1. The emerging young starlet
Take for instance my good friend Shûji Ike.
As you can see, Ike joined on a free transfer as a promising youngster, having completed three successful seasons in the J-League and having broken into the national side. He came in January, on a free transfer and on relatively low wages. He stayed at my own club for 6 months to hone his skills, was loaned away to Udinese for the next season and had a decent season in the Serie A, considering this is a young foreigner, making his debut in Italy. He impressed Napoli sufficiently to earn a lucrative transfer to Italy.
Considering the fact that Udinese paid his wages for that second season, I did not pay a transfer sum for him and his wages were relatively low (under 10k a week), you can see I have made a massive profit on this player.
Is Shûji Ike any good? You be the judge of that…
Personally, I feel that Ike is a solid defender. Good enough to play in the Serie A, yes. Perhaps even good enough to compete in the Champions League. Is he worth 14 million? No way. He’s just a prime example of a player who was signed just before he made a name for himself on the international stage and was sold on when his loan ended and his value rose a bit further, with his parent club being a Champions League winning side and all…
2. The established international, available for a limited fee or a free transfer
A second example would be Triantafyllos Siamantas, a dynamic Greek wing-back. Is this guy any good? Again, you can be the judge of that…
This is an example of a prime player, who for some reason was released by Olympiacos, probably a dispute over money. Siamantas was not cheap to acquire, commanding wages of 50k a week, totaling roughly 2.6 million a year, not including other fees. Siamantas was good enough to reach first team however and he’d be good enough to play for almost any side in the world.
He was a more expensive investment, but still relatively cheap. As you can see, his value was at around 10 million upon signing. Since the player had 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.
A deal like this would not have been lucrative, had I paid an actual transfer sum for Siamantas. In that case my profit margin would have been very low. We did not really need another left wing-back 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.
3. Rejects from a top academy
The last 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.
Incidentally, this seems to work best with real players. Most of them have been given a decent potential ability by virtue of being part of a top club’s academy, so the raw potential is present. A combination of good coaching, regular action in either the youth or reserve squad or a possible loan and perhaps a bit of luck will see a before average player turn into a decent talent, which means he can be turned into a profit. Let’s look at a prime example, Augustine Loof.
A former Dutch youth international, seen as a decent talent by PSV but ultimately released because he was not good enough. I took a chance with him. My coaching staff went to work with the lad and he came a long way. He wasn’t quite good enough for my team, as evidenced by the few moments he saw action on the pitch.
He did however develop into a player good enough for the Sierra Leone national team, which made Udinese offer us a deal. After some fierce negotiations, I managed to turn Loof into a healthy profit of 8 million.
This last method is a tricky one, as not every player is a guaranteed hit. In fact, it’s a bit hit and miss, with a success-rate of around 50%, which is far lower in terms of results than the net yields of the other categories of players. Because of the low costs of such players, it’s worth a punt though. And be honest, my financial results don’t lie…