The drawbridge is about to rise and another transfer window set to close. With that in mind, a quote in Felix Magath’s latest letter where he claims Fulham were quoted £12m for a Championship goalkeeper has left me wondering why Fulham seem to have so much trouble when it comes to selling players? We either seem to give them away on the cheap or can’t sell them at all?
This might actually be a false assumption. When it comes to transfers, appearances can be deceiving and reports in the press can be highly deceiving. Comparing one deal to another is a fool’s errand at the best of times, let alone without the full facts to play with. Seeing one well respected journalist tweet a comparison between the transfers of Ross McCormack and Xabi Alonso today shows the ease at which transfer stories can be manipulated and misinterpreted.
However, one undeniable fact is that, on the face of it, Fulham have for a while now, appeared to under-value our players when it comes time to show them the exit. Felix Magath’s £12m goalkeeper claim comes in stark contrast to the sale of David Stockdale to Brighton for a paltry £1m. Bryan Ruiz reportedly has a £3m price tag around his neck despite costing £11m and starring at the World Cup, while Kostas Mitroglou seems to have been linked to every team in Europe with nobody yet willing to pay us what we paid for him seven months ago.
So why then, do Fulham appear to come off on the bad end of these deals?
Communication (or-lack thereof)
Under the club’s current communications regime it is safe to say there has been a reluctance to share information. We may have actually profited on some deals, but Fulham could have sold Ashkan Dejagah to Qatari side Al Arabi for half of Doha and 50,000 barrels of crude oil and we’d still be told it was an undisclosed fee. The need-to-know basis on which information has been shared with fans and journalists over the past few years has restricted the flow of facts to the very minimum. This has led to rampant speculation amongst fans and a need to get information from other sources for journalists. Hence the talk of Ross McCormack’s fee being £11m coming from the Massimo Cellino spin machine at Leeds. With no retort from Fulham is it any wonder we’ve been the butt of so many ill-fated comparisons so far this summer.
*Of course there must be reason to Fulham’s methods, indeed one can’t help but think this week’s tub-thumping bout of verbal mud-slinging between Felix Magath, Shahid Khan and former owner Mohamad Al-Fayed has come about thanks to an apparent bypass of the club communication team. Although, while the public blame game has now turned somewhat unsavoury, it is at least nice to see Fulham actually make the papers. With perpetual undisclosed fees and player quotes normally coming straight from watered-down club website PR puff pieces this change of tact is at least a tiny bit refreshing.
Selling at the wrong time
Part of the blame for Fulham having to sell low is that we’re currently obvious sellers. Having been relegated and left with disillusioned players, Fulham’s negotiation poker face has been turned into a blank stare. When buyers know you want to sell, there is no incentive to pay fair value, let alone over-pay. The transfer window system has made the entire business of negotiating player movement one giant game of chicken. Unfortunately for us it is usually the party in the more eager position that blinks first. Fulham have been panic buyers in previous windows and are facing the prospect of being panic sellers on Monday.
An example is Bryan Ruiz in whom Fulham have a player they do not wish to keep, and one who himself does not wish to stay. With a year left on his contract, Bryan currently resembles a used car, if he stays at the club a minute past the transfer deadline, his value will plummet below its already deflated asking price.
Selling the wrong stock
Of course you can’t sell what you don’t have. Unless Alistair Mackintosh is sat at Motspur Park practicing his best Jordan Belfort impression, there is little chance of him conjuring up any miracle transfer fees. Of the playing staff from last season there was barely a player of decent value amongst them. Most were old and suffering from a decline in performance even Mohamed Al-Fayed’s ‘peppermints’ would have struggled to fix. The younger ones were nearly all played sparingly or out-of-position by Fulham’s cavalcade of different managers, diminishing any prospect of generating future hope value.
Those that did command fees on departure mostly left under the aforementioned iron curtain of undisclosed ambiguity, such as Kasami and Dejagah. Others, like Stockdale, were reportedly sold disaffected and un-wanted. It’s the exact method Roy Hodgson used so brilliantly to acquire the likes of Etuhu and Murphy for us in exchange for little more than a few grains of sand.
The outward transfer of Kerim Frei in 2012 was a prime example on the face of it. Our brightest academy prospect at the time, he left for Besiktas under-valued and over-weight. Players must be nurtured in order to yield magic beans come transfer windows and up till now the pressures of Premier League football have prevented that from truly taking place.
One look at Southampton this summer though and we can see where Fulham might be in a few years in terms of transfer fees received. There is little to suggest that the likes of Roberts, Woodrow, Dembele, Hyndman, Bettinelli and Burgess don’t have the talent to emulate the Lallana, Shaw, Forster, Chambers and Schneiderlin’s of the world in years to come. Given the right environment and regular game time these players could command significant fees in the future. Of course not every young player has the potential to be bought for £20m but it’s amazing the value that big clubs will place of young players who have actually played.
Alistair Mackintosh has always had a good reputation when it comes to negotiating. There often seemed a “take it or leave it” hard-line stance to our negotiations. We rarely usurped other teams when buying, and when we wanted rid of players we sold them with little fuss and fanfare. The Jol years slowly seemed to change that though and the now infamous Dembele & Dempsey summer was particular disastrous. The Belgian’s release clause was set at the frustratingly realistic sum of £15m, while we were surreptitiously held to ransom by a wantaway Dempsey. Of course, none of us know whether Mousa’s release clause was a condition of his transfer from AZ Alkmaar in the first place, but it was hard not to feel as if a part of Fulham’s soul got burned that fateful August week in 2012.
Whether you bear in mind the fact he largely dealt himself the hand in front of him, considering what he had to work with our CEO did actually do quite well to get any return on some transfers. Getting Monaco and Valencia to absorb the contracts of Dimitar Berbatov and Philippe Senderos felt a bit like giving a piece of rubbish to someone else to put in the bin. That both players are actually now playing at a higher level above and beyond their performances for Fulham is more a testament to our lack of decent coaching and management than anyone’s negotiation skill.
Ashkan Dejagah was sold almost immediately following a stellar World Cup and you rather feel we missed a trick not selling Bryan from a beachside cabana in Brazil while his stock was at its highest in July.
There is one other factor making sales difficult, foreign exchange. The British Pound is incredibly strong at present. The value of £1 Sterling has risen 10 cents from €1.16 to €1.26 in last year.
If you consider Bryan Ruiz’s reported asking price of £3m, currency fluctuations over the past 12 months would mean an increases cost of £300,000 (or €380,000) for a continental European buyer. If we also consider that Ruiz is likely to command anywhere up to £40,000 a week, currency movement alone has increased his wage by £208,000 a year (€262,000). Over the course of a four year contract that’s an additional £1,150,000 in total cost for a European team looking to buy Bryan. If you consider then that the majority of our more expensive players would be targets for clubs in the Eurozone (as opposed to domestic £GBP sales) and combine that with players’ ages, contract length and desire to leave along with our position as known sellers, the only realistic outcome is that asking prices become reduced.
Similarly, why would a club like Werder Bremen who are struggling financially mess around structuring a transfer deal in multiple currencies when they have the option not to?
It is cheaper for European countries to sign players from areas where the Euro is the stronger currency. It is perhaps then no surprise that we discover Werder Bremen’s biggest transfer outlay this summer has been €1m on Argentinean defender Santiago Garcia from Chilean club Rangers Talca. The Euro has risen almost 20% against the Chilean Peso in the past year. As Garcia was signed at a pre-agreed price following a loan spell, were the fee agreed in Pesos at the start of the deal, he would have been €200,000 cheaper at the end of his loan deal than at the start. Though that transfer was likely hedged against currency movement, the point still stands that it will always be easier to import to a strong currency than export to places with a weaker currency.
The final point is that relative value is generated in each particular market. This is not necessarily a currency point and more a multi-layered question as to a player’s style, experience and perceived compatibility to a particular league. Does a £1,000,000 fee in England for one player equate to a €1,000,000 fee or a €1,260,000 fee for an identical player in Europe? Is it a question of currency or relativity? With the in-built wealth present in the English game, it is inherently a question of relativity.
The highest transfer fee paid domestically in England this summer was the £30m paid by Manchester United for teenage left back Luke Shaw from Southampton. The biggest domestic fee in Germany on the other hand was the €14m paid by Bayer Leverkusen for Hamburg attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu. The highest fee in Italy was €22m, paid by Roma for Argentinean winger Juan Iturrbe from Hellas Verona, however, Hellas themselves had simultaneously exorcised a €15m purchase option in Iturrbe’s loan from Porto in order to cash in on a player who had taken immediately to Serie A. The Iturrbe deal aside, the next highest domestic fees in Italy were the equal €5.5m deals Lazio completed for Dusan Basta and Marco Parolo respectively, while the highest in Spain was the €20m Barcelona paid Valencia for experienced French centre half Jeremy Mathieu.
Would any of those transfer fees have been as high if there were only foreign clubs in for the players? Maybe as each players value comes as a result of supply and demand, but as long as there’s a player who’s a proven commodity in any particular league, demand for signature will always be higher. This explains the Ross McCormack price as he is worth more to a team in the Championship, where he is proven, than a team in the Premiership where he’d present a risk.
The magnitude of those domestic European deals serves to reinforce the assertion that the intrinsic value held within the English game places it at a premium above its European rivals. For a smaller club like Fulham looking to the European markets to sell, this premium can make it incredibly difficult to sell unless our expectations of fees received come down.
When you put all these together, perhaps it’s little wonder that Fulham haven’t been able to cash in this summer.