Monday 21 April 2014

Which Summer Premiership Buys Bloomed in the Spring?

The summer and winter transfer windows afford Premiership teams their only chance to substantially strengthen their squads with quality players. Considered judgement is made and opinions are backed with hard cash to acquire players who will hopefully form a nucleus for a successful squad for the foreseeable future.

In a sport with notoriously short term agendas, it is perhaps unfair to attempt to assess the winners and losers from last summers transfer spending spree, but in the spirit of the current awards season, we'll give it  go.

Transfers, of course involve defensive players, mid fielders and attackers and in view of the lack of really objective measures at the moment for the defensive side of the ball, a rating system based on player statistics would prove problematical. Therefore, we perhaps should fall back onto a much more valuable resource in evaluating a successful transfer, namely the experienced opinion the man at the top, the manager.

Playing time can be used as a good proxy for talent in assessing such things as ageing characteristics. Premiership teams have reasonably deep squads and a player who is appearing regularly is likely to be one of the top performers within his team.

However, playing time alone, requires context as well if we are looking at the success or otherwise of a transfer. The playing time achieved by a player is likely to be correlated to his transfer fee. Better players cost more and overall should perform to a higher level than those who cost less.

Age will also be a factor. Most players who attract a fee are generally aged in their twenties, but a player just out of his teens may be bought as much as a future investment than as a potential ever present in the current season of his purchase. By contrast, a player in his mid twenties would be more likely to be purchased as an immediate and useful full time starting player, before age related injury and depreciation sets in.

The third major consideration revolves around the talent levels of the side making the transfer. A £5,000,000 purchase for a promoted side would be a considerable investment and the expectation would be that the player would command a regular starting spot and considerable projected playing time. Whereas, a similarly priced player would be much less likely to make a similar impact at a top side, where talent levels would be higher. He may even initially be purchased as loan fodder with which to inconvenience the ambitions of his parent club's rivals.

These parameters can be used to create a baseline for playing time for particular transfer profiles.

For example, if a struggling Premiership side, had paid around £8 million for 24 year old in the summer transfer window, the average expected playing time, based on historical precedent, for your purchase would be around 60% of the time available in his first season. A more experienced player, nearing 30 would be expected to be on the field for the same side nearly 70% of the time.

Compare that to under 40% of playing time if a similar transfer had been to a top four side instead.

 The Ten Best Transfers Made in the Summer Window, 2013/14.

Player. Club. Cost.
(£ millions)
Age. Proportion Of  Playing Time.%
A Elmohamady. Hull. 2 26 97
S Caulker. Cardiff. 8 22 100
E Pieters. Stoke. 3 25 88
C Davies. Hull. 2.25 29 97
J McCarthy. Everton. 13 23 81
L Bacuna. Aston Villa. 3 22 79
M Olsson. Norwich. 2.5 25 85
T Huddlestone. Hull. 5.25 27 93
D Lovren. Southampton. 10 24 80
N Redmond. Norwich. 3.2 20 62

Above, I've listed the summer purchases whom have bettered their projected playing time by the greatest amount and thus may be considered to have exceeded the hopes and expectations placed in them by their new club.

Hull's Amhed Elmohamady tops the list, although he and Hull had the advantage of a season long loan to bed in at the KC Stadium during their Championship season of 2012/13. Therefore, England prospect, Steven Caulker should probably take the accolade. His transfer fee was four times that of Elmohamady, but he is considerably less experienced at 22 and under this simple metric, his ever present status at an inferior team, Cardiff, only just failed to overhaul the Hull player for outright leader.

A couple of modestly priced, relatively mature (in age anyway) players follow closely, Erik Pieters at Stoke and Curtis Davis, again continuing the apparently impressive team building done by Hull in the summer window.

Steven Caulker prepares to say "Pob Hwyl" to Spurs and "Helo" to Cardiff.
Of the higher priced purchases in the top 10, McCarthy at Everton and Lovren at Southampton stand out and mega pound, but relatively successful purchases bubbling just below, include Fernandinho at Manchester City, Eriksen and Paulinho at Spurs and Bony at Swansea.

I've omitted keepers, purely because they tend to have few pretenders to their place in the starting lineup, but Mignolet, Mannone and McGregor (at Hull) top the list of newly acquired stoppers.

Inevitably there is a bottom ten, but a metric based partly on appearance minutes is obviously susceptible to injuries.

Everton's Kone prove the least successful summer purchase, a £6 million pound, 30 year old player should be expected to play nearly half of the available minutes at a top 6 side in his first season. Although injuries are partly out of the control of a team or player, his history and age perhaps suggested the price paid was too high for the potential risk. He has been absent through injury since mid October.

Cardiff's John Brayford was a non injured failure from Derby. The fee was relatively modest, £1.5 million, but as a 26 year old he would  have expected to feature in around 45% of playing minutes. Instead he failed to play a single minute and is now out on loan. Cardiff suffered a similar disappointment with the transfer of Peter Odemwingie, a more costly and older investment who failed to impress enough to command a regular starting place and his swap move to Stoke was bi-laterally agreed in the winter window.

Palace, Sunderland, and Villa spent moderately, but with a fair few underperforming individual returns at this end of the ledger and big priced summer disappointments, some partly injury mitigated, include Fellaini at United, Osvaldo at Southampton, Jovetic at Manchester City and Lamela at Spurs.

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