The transfer market isn’t hard. If you’re smart.
We have seen plenty of teams be smart in the transfer window, and be rewarded for it. Tottenham Hotspur, Monaco and Real Madrid are three recent examples of that.
However, you can also be not-so-smart. There are plenty more examples of that in football.
Spending = Success?
Flash back to July 2017.
Everton have already been proclaimed as the winners of the transfer window. One member of the national press rated their window an A+, Phil Neville said “If the transfer window closes today, Everton have done the best business.” And Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler even admitted that they made the rest of the league look “a bit stupid”.
Here in the Premier League we equate spending with success. Why shouldn’t we? Since its birth, the sides spending more money have generally won more games.
In September 2016, CIES Football Observatory released the Big Five league clubs’ gross transfer spend 2010-16 (£) and as we can see, the most successful teams are all there.
From the 2010-11 season to the 2015-16 season, four teams won the Champions League. Barcelona (twice), Real Madrid (twice), Bayern Munich and Chelsea. They are all in the top-15 for gross transfer spend, and outside of Bayern Munich the others are in the top seven.
During those six seasons, there have been 30 league winners from the five leagues. Just three of those have been from teams not in the top-20 for gross spend. They are 2010-11 Lille, 2011-12 Montpellier and 2015-16 Leicester City.
It’s fair to say that spending money and success are coupled in football. Spending money doesn’t guarantee success, but it definitely helps. However QPR and Anzhi Makhachkala will argue otherwise.
Everton in summer 2017 spent around £133 million on Jordan Pickford, Davy Klassen, Henry Onyekuru, Sandro Ramirez, Michael Keane, Wayne Rooney, Cuco Martina, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Nikola Vladic.
They recuperated around £93 million from the sales of Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley.
£40 million net spend is not a huge amount for a Premier League club. Brighton & Hove Albion, Huddersfield Town and Watford all had similar net spends.
It’s how Everton spent their money though, and whether they have ‘done a Spurs’ like a few have suggested through their tough start to the season.
Plenty of ammunition for no one to fire the gun
It seems that Ronald Koeman and Director of Football Steve Walsh had some sort of obsession for creative midfielders, and focussed a lot of their money on improving that area.
Ross Barkley, the club’s number 10, was due to leave the club and outside of him they had very few creative players.
Barkley lead the way for Everton’s players in terms of chances created last season, averaging 2.3 chances created per game. Behind him were Yannick Bolasie (1.5), Leighton Baines (1.4), Lukaku (1.3), Kevin Mirallas (1.2), Deulofeu (0.9) and Barry (0.8). With several of those moving on in the summer, and the others being Baines, Mirallas and an injured Bolasie. It is a fair place to spend your money.
Everton spend £25 million on Klassen from Ajax. In the Eredivisie last season, Klassen had nine assists and averaged 1.8 key passes per game. At Ajax, he played quite advanced as part of a midfield trio with Hakim Ziyech and Lasse Schone. Problem solved?
Perhaps not. While Klassen was a creative midfielder, he wasn’t quite a number 10 at Ajax, something Koeman may have been looking for. Evaluating talent coming out of the Eredivisie has always been tricky too.
Two players with identical stats can come out of the Dutch league, one shines in England and another flops. Vincent Janssen looked fantastic coming out of AZ, and now he’s... on loan in Turkey? Oh okay.
Koeman actually came to Klassen’s defence in his column in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, and said that he needed time to adapt to the Premier League.
He also said: “Outsiders really underestimate the situation. You only see and understand when you work or have worked as a coach or player in such a competition. In addition, Davy is also in the situation that the team is not running well and that we have more players who need some time.”
So Everton can have their doubts abut Klassen. Enter Rooney.
THE PRODIGAL SON HAS RETURNED. ALL HAIL STEVE WALSH.
He didn’t even cost a penny. Sort of. This is called the Jermaine Defoe complex, where a player is signed on a free transfer, but will cost his club a lot of money through their wage package and significantly higher signing-bonuses.
Rooney achieved 1.4 key passes and five assists in the Premier League in 2016-17. His Expected assists per 90 minutes were 0.18, close to Barkley’s 0.22. They also pick up similar positions in possession and Rooney would help Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin when Everton were playing against a team that sat deep. Right?
Everton supposedly had a ~£45 million budget for another attacking midfielder, and their first choice is Sigurdsson?
Actually. Let’s not pretend to know what goes on behind-closed-doors at Everton and say that Sigurdsson was definitely their first choice, but there was a lack of other targets being linked in the press and Everton themselves were very vocal about Sigurdsson. He was at least a very high target.
Attacking midfielders who moved for less than £45 million this summer: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andriy Yarmolenko, Federico Bernardeschi, Douglas Costa, Mohamed Salah, Bruma, Bernardo Silva and Patrick Schick.
Then you have all of the players who didn’t move this summer. Not all of the players listed above were attainable for Everton, maybe none of them were. However there are other options.
It certainly seemed like Everton prioritised a player’s name over their skillset when it came to the process that ended with deciding Sigurdsson was the player that Everton needed.
When it comes to player recruitment, the first question should be ‘What qualities in a player are we looking for?’ and when looking at Everton’s squad before the Sigurdsson signing, that question didn’t seem to be asked. Or it did and they really didn’t profile Sigurdsson correctly.
So, is Sigurdsson not the right man for Everton?
Sigurdsson was one of the top chance creators in the league last season at Swansea City. That was not unjust, but many of those came from set-pieces.
Sigurdsson averaged just 0.72 key passes from open play last season. Eight of his 13 assists came from set-pieces.
Set-pieces are extremely valuable. Chelsea scored 22 set-piece goals last season, while Sunderland had five. 17 goals is a huge difference, and is worth a lot of money. How much would you pay for a 17-goal a season striker?
However Everton already have two good set-piece takers in Baines and Rooney. They scored 12 goals from set-pieces last season and had 3.4 shots from set-pieces per game, which was about the league average in both categories. Is Sigurdsson enough of an improvement on Baines at set-pieces to justify spending £45 million on him instead of other areas?
It’s a small sample, but this season Everton have scored 0 goals from set-pieces through seven games and are averaging 2.7 shots per game from their set-pieces.
At Swansea, Sigurdsson did a tremendous job of forging a partnership with strikers. He mainly worked with Wilfried Bony, Bafetimbi Gomis and Fernando Llorente. All powerful, smart strikers who are good in the air.
This is where a lot of Sigurdsson’s created chances came from, crossing to the tall guy in the box who has a proven track record of scoring off crosses.
*Glances at Sandro, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman*
Sigurdsson is a very good player. There is every chance he can adapt. Everton just do not seem like a good stylistic fit for him.
The other guys
This brings us to the players Koeman and Walsh have surrounded Sigurdsson with in order to strive.
Sandro, at £5.2 million initially looked an astute signing. He scored 14 league goals for Malaga, and while his Expected Goals output wasn’t great (0.27 per 90 minutes), he was still young and cheap. Whether he could be a replacement for Lukaku however is a different question.
Koeman did repeatedly say up to the deadline that he was looking for another striker though, and perhaps they just weren’t able to get that over the line.
Keane for £25 million from Burnley was widely praised by pundits. Keane did have just a year left on his contract though, so the fee does seem a bit steep for a centre-back at a mid-table club.
He impressed a lot at Burnley though. Not to discredit anything he accomplished at Burnley, but when recruiting from Sean Dyche’s side you should generally err on the side of caution.
The Clarets defend very different to any other Premier League side, and especially different to a side looking to break into the top six.
Burnley’s back four is extremely well drilled. In February, Burnley’s 2016/17 opponents converted their chances at a 7.8% rate (league average around 10%). They forced their opponents into wide shots (outside width of six-yard box) an incredibly high 16.67% of the time. The next best was Middlesbrough at 8.33%.
The league average of getting one or no men in place for a potential block was 14.33% of the time. Burnley posted 1.67%. Data via Statsbomb/Stratagem.
Burnley are different, and their work on the training ground certainly makes life easier for their centre-backs, illustrated by the love that Ben Mee and James Tarkowski received after their recent 1-0 win over Everton.
This isn’t to say that Keane is bad, or not good enough for Everton. There’s every chance he may be, and could even go on to better things, but you have to scout him way more heavily than usual to make sure he can fit in your system. Maybe Everton did that though, and found he can play in two wildly contrasting systems in Dyche’s and Koeman’s.
Pickford falls into a similar category as Keane. He looked good facing a lot of shots at Sunderland, you just have to scout him heavily to see if he fits with you.
Vlasic looks promising. However he has played just 214 minutes outside of Croatia though, so we will wait and see on him.
However the lack of pace in wide areas and up front really has cost Everton. This will result in extended minutes for Calvert-Lewin and Oumar Niasse. Which is fine, just not ideal for a club trying to compete with the top six.
Everton have spent a lot of money to get Koeman his ideal squad, and if this is it, reflects poorly on the former Southampton boss.
The other side of the coin
All too similar and yet very different is the side Sigurdsson left to join Everton, Swansea.
“Plenty of ammunition for no one to fire the gun” was referenced earlier in this article, and is the complete opposite in Swansea’s case.
Sigurdsson told Swansea he wanted to leave for Everton on 13 July, just before their pre-season tour of America. Officially they had just under two months to find a replacement.
A replacement should have been eyed months ago though, as Sigurdsson leaving at the end of the season was a huge possibility since the start of the 2016/17 season.
So, who did they get?
Wilfried Bony and Renato Sanches.
Swansea’s post-Sigurdsson business consisted of the two mentioned above and Sam Clucas. Neither of those play in that number ten role, and they also had no one waiting in the wings for Sigurdsson to leave.
Swansea did need another striker to accompany Tammy Abraham, but Bony absolutely does not fit the profile, as having two lone target men without a supply line turns out to be quite ineffective in the Premier League.
Sanches was the one who many penned as Sigurdsson’s replacement. A good player with a very bright future ahead of him, but to replace Swansea’s only creative spark with a 20-year-old who had zero goals, zero assists and had 0.2 key passes per game last season in the Bundesliga is quite suspect.
It absolutely shows, too. They have three goals, only more than Crystal Palace. They are shooting just 6.6 times a game, less than any other side.
This season they have posted Expected Goals (xG) totals of: 0.42, 0.30, 0.97, 1.49, 0.15, 1.88 and 0.16.
For reference, Palace have posted xG totals of: 0.99, 0.73, 0.82, 1.74, 2.03, 0.61 and 0.23.
Data via Understat.
They currently sit 18th in the table, and unless they discover some sort of attack they will not be finishing higher than that.
Jordan Ayew was tried in the number-10 role against West Ham United, but that experiment was abandoned after 45 minutes. Luciano Narsingh is being primed for the role, and has operated there for the Under-23s, but there are a real lack of offensive options for Paul Clement, who cannot be blamed for where the side sit in the table.
Really, it’s a squad built for Sigurdsson to thrive in. Sigurdsson however is stuck in a squad that doesn’t quite suit him and it all could have been avoided by proper planning.
Perhaps the transfer market is hard.