Several stories surfaced in the press last week about the future of Moussa Dembele. The reports priced our Belgian midfielder at £15m. Although the report first turned up on goal.com, a website that gets stories right about as often as I score Premier League hat tricks, it did get me thinking.
What is the legitimate open market value of our key players? Valuing a footballer is a bit of a pie in the sky, finger in the air sort of art-form. Unlike in the financial world, where assets provide income streams, dividends, or even have a tradable price, footballers have no universal denominator that can aid a valuation.
Goals, tackles, passes, potential replica shirts sold…nothing has a firm quantifiable economic value attached when it comes to transfer fees. Players are often bought and sold at the discretion of owners and sporting directors, at prices that are set simply on a whim.
When Fernando Torres joined Chelsea for £50m, that was not his fair market value. Would anyone else have paid that fee? No, he had done little in the previous year to justify such an outlay and even if they could afford to, I’d hazard a guess that no other team would have paid that.
Let’s look at the other side of the coin; Cristiano Ronaldo joined Real Madrid for £80m, the single largest transfer in the history of world football. Yet, could this be considered a market value transaction? Maybe so. If you asked the managers of other top clubs at the time if they had £80m available to spend on one player, would they have done it, I bet the answer from some would have been yes.
Now these are two polarised deals that are easy to judge in hindsight, and it would be wrong to judge the price paid in such a way. Whether a player is worth the price paid is a different question as to whether a price was fair given the information available at the time.
The complex financial triangle that is price, value and worth has vexed people for centuries. Price is what you actually pay, value is your opinion of what you should pay, while worth is a concept that judges value.
Football transfer prices are clearly also product of comparables. There is almost an old fashioned stubbornness that says if someone else has sold a player for £10m who is worse than my player, then I won’t sell my player for less than £10m.
This is a dangerous game to play though, each player is different, and despite all the readily available statistics, football is a subjective game. Sit round a pub table with 6 fans of 6 different clubs and compare player values and in all likelihood you would get six different answers, especially if you have to value your own club’s players.
Contract length, nationality, home grown eligibility and age all play a role in determining a price along with countless other factors both footballing and economic. Park Ji-Sung might just be one of the best signings Alex Ferguson has ever made; his success on the field has helped grow the United brand in Asia. Success on the field is key though, Seol Ki-Hyeon was hardly the best signing we’ve ever had at Fulham.
To be a fair price, the seller has to be willing to sell and buyers ready to buy. It is no use suggesting a player’s open market value, if his club wouldn’t be willing to sell him.
So, taking the rose tinted blinkers off, here is my take on the five most valuable players at Craven Cottage:
5. David Stockdale
Our Number Two goalkeeper, Stockdale is in the strange position of being worth more than the incumbent. While 39-year-old first choice Mark Schwarzer is approaching the end of his career, at 26, Stockdale is not yet at his peak. His value hinges on two main factors, potential ability and his nationality. David has been included in several England squads and his ability, given sufficient game time, should eventually enable him to be a legitimate rival, or at least, back up, to Joe Hart, another goalkeeper like Stockdale, plucked from the lower leagues.
Estimated Value: £6m-9m
4. Brede Hangeland
There is an argument that says Brede is no longer worth the same as he was two summers ago following our European run. That said, there are few better centre halves who can boast the Norwegian Captain’s experience. Arsenal signed beanpole German Per Mertesacker last summer for over £10m who, albeit three years Hangeland’s junior, at 27, is not in the same class bracket. It would still take a sizeable offer to persuade Fulham to let Hangeland go.
Estimated Value: £8m
3. Bryan Ruiz
Ah Bryan, how you split us supporters. Since his £10.6m arrival from FC Twente last summer, the Costa Rican Captain has yet to really set the Premier League alight. What is clear though, is Bryan’s undeniable class that lies somewhere buried beneath his current lack of confidence. His mesmeric goals against Everton and Bolton have been stand out moments this season. Once his slow adjustment period hopefully comes to an end, we should see the £10m player we bought.
Estimated Value: £7.5m-£10m
2. Clint Dempsey
The order in which you put our top two assets might differ on opinion, but who they are should not. Clint Dempsey might have been the best investment Fulham ever made when Chris Coleman brought him over from the MLS for a little over £2m. The American has scored enough goals to become our leading ever Premier League goalscorer whilst amassing most of the 25 for his country over this period. Not only is his value driven by his copious on-field ability but also his marketability off it. The best selling Fulham replica shirt, Clint is, along with the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Landon Donovan, one half of the US Men’s National Team’s public persona. If our kit was still made by Nike and not Kappa, I’d hazard that it would be in every Dicks, Sports Authority and Modells across the States.
Estimated Value: £15m
1. Moussa Dembélé
Our crown jewel comes in the form of a 24 year old Belgian with magic in his boots. Moussa would already not look out of place at a Champions League side. His skill with a football, especially when dribbling, is second to almost nobody in England. Martin Jol’s shifting of him to central midfield might be well be a masterstroke as well. If it were not for his lack of an end product (all too often Moussa wants to take on every defender before passing or shooting) I fear we would struggle to hold onto Dembele beyond the summer. With any luck, we can convince him to sign a new contract, so that we can enjoy his talents for a while yet, whilst pushing his price up in the process.
Estimated Value: £20m
The point I’m making is that valuing players is a subjective art, not an objective science. While I was writing this blog, I asked a good friend of mine who supports Birmingham City who he thought were our five most valuable players. His answers included Pogrebnyak and Frei whilst suggesting I leave out Stockdale because goalkeepers are preposterously undervalued.
I’ve tried to be impartial (although all the values are probably a little high for the neutral), so please let me know, who are your top five valued players at the Cottage?