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Finding Value: Did the Eredivisie give us false expectations of Bryan Ruiz?

There are clichés abound as to January being the hardest time for a football club to get value for money in the transfer market. Fulham are in particular need of a trip to the transfer supermarket this January and we are all well aware of the constraints on budget a team in our position face when entering such a market.

The question with transfer targets then becomes which players can Fulham sign within budget at a price that can be considered worth the value that has to be paid.

With the enigmatic talent that is the Bryan Ruiz experience set to complete his loan move away from Fulham to Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, I asked myself this question; why is it that players, attackers in particular, from the Eredivisie seem so hit and miss in England’s top flight?

bryan-ruiz

There are many factors as to why a player succeeds, not least their physical attributes, but is it possible that the league a player comes to the Premier League from can play a role in their success once they get there?

Perhaps strikers who score goals in a league where it is statistically easier to score goals should come with a warning label. The Eredivisie averages nearly a goal a game more than France’s top division for example. So should the price paid for 20 goals in Holland equal the price paid for 20 goals in France?

Should it be then that clubs like Fulham look to sign players who excel in the opposite trait to the league they play in. Surely a striker who scores goals in a league where goals are hard to come by must have more about him than a striker scoring goals for fun in a league where defending is at a premium.

Simultaneously, would a defender who excels above and beyond his peers in a division such as the Eredivisie be worth more than a defender in a league where attacking is at a premium?

Take 7 major European leagues; Barclays Premier League (England), Eredivisie (Netherlands), Serie A (Italy), La Liga (Spain), Bundesliga (Germany), Ligue 1 (France), The Championship (England)

Here are there stats for goals scored in the 2013/14 season up to last weekend:

  Goals Scored Number of Matches Average Goals Per Game
Premier League

533

200

2.67

Eredivisie

557

162

3.44

Serie A

495

180

2.75

La Liga

524

180

2.91

Bundesliga

486

153

3.18

Ligue 1

461

190

2.43

Championship

724

28

2.51

 

On the basis of these statistics, Ligue 1, France’s top division, and The Championship, the second tier of English football, are the hardest to score in. Holland’s Eredivisie and the German Bundesliga are the easiest. What the stats cannot explain, at least at this level, is whether the results are as a result of good defending or profligate striking or vice versa.

If, however, for the sake of argument, we assume the hypothesis is correct, and strikers who excel in a league in which it is traditionally hard to score are more likely to have success in England, should Fulham be looking to France for a new goalscorer?

If we exclude all players from mega-rich sides Paris St Germain and AS Monaco from discussion as there is as much chance of a player leaving those for Fulham as there is Darren Bent being World Cup Golden Boot, here is a comparison of two players Fulham could consider if trawling the French transfermarche:

Age Height Weight Goals Shots per goal Dispossessed per game
Player A 28 1.86m 84kg 9 5 0.7
Player B 22 1.75m 73kg 9 5 1.7

 

Andre-PierreGignac-celebrates120902R300

Player A is Andre-Pierre Gignac. The Marseille forward will be well known to Fulham fans after a move to South West London fell through for the Frenchman at the eleventh hour in 2011. Having scored 9 times in the league this season Gignac has shown a propensity to score for an underperforming team. His statistic that shines out is his strength in possession, as shown by an impressively low 0.7 dispossessions per game. This ability to hold up the ball would suit Fulham’s 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formations, which at present lack any semblance of a target man to lead the line.

Player B is Alexandre Lacazette. At 22 the Olympique Lyonnais forward is 6 years younger than Gignac. Statistically, these two forwards have identical success rates of one goal every five shots. In comparison, incumbent Fulham striker Dimitar Berbatov averages a goal every 8.25 shots this season. Lacazette’s age would likely render him more expensive than Gignac as would Lyon’s infamous stance on selling young stars.

However, which of the two would be more suited to the Premier League, and Fulham in particular?

Gignac, at 6 foot plus and 10 kilos heavier may be more attuned to the immediate physical demands of being a lone target man in English football. Being dispossessed 1 time less per game also indicates Gignac has an ability to hold up the ball, a characteristic long missed by Fulham following the departures of Bobby Zamora and Pavel Pogrebnyak some time ago.

Age Height Weight Goals Shots per goal Dispossessed per game
Player C 21 1.84m 82kg 11 4.5 3.3

 

Now consider the case of Player C, Vincent Aboubakar of Lorient. At 1.84m and 82kg, Aboubakar is a similar physical specimen to Gignac, and at only 21 he also has the opportunity to improve his physical stature. His goal stats are impressive in what has been a breakout season following his move from Valenciennes in the summer. However, the Cameroon international also shows signs of rawness, his dispossessed statistics indicate a man who’s yet to fully learn his craft.

Vincent-Aboubakar-2-472x340

 

So which then of the three players would you want Fulham to look at? Name recognition would suggest it be Gignac. The statistics back that up, but would a 21 year old with near identical, if not better, numbers from a lesser fancied club not be the better value signing?

Simultaneously if we look at The Championship where it also proves difficult to score relative to the Premier League.  Compare the following two strikers:

Age Height Weight Goals Shots per goal Dispossessed per game
Jordan Rhodes 23 1.85m 71kg 16 4.3 0.8
Danny Ings 21 1.78m 73kg 16 4.9 2.6

 

The two hottest striking prospects in the Championship, Rhodes and Ings will both surely end up in the Premier League one day, should that be with Fulham?

On the basis of the above statistics, Rhodes might just be the answer. The Blackburn striker has age on his side and has the physical attributes required to succeed in the physically demanding Premier League. His ability to hold up the ball is impressive, but what is remarkable is his conversion rate. At 4.3 shots per goal it is nearly twice as good as that of the aforementioned Berbatov.

Jordan Rhodes

Unfortunately when it comes to finding value, The Championship is not a good marketplace. English, or Scottish as would be the case with Rhodes, young talent is vastly overvalued when compared to its continental rivals. It is the so-called British tax.

There is also the difference in quality of leagues that needs to be taken into account. Both Ligue 1 and The Championship are of a lesser quality than the Premier League. However, Fulham’s relative stature and size of transfer war chest (or transfer piggy bank if you will) means targeting players from the other major European leagues in Germany, Spain or Italy becomes more difficult.

With there needing to be a focus on recruiting players in form and in their prime, there has to be a new found focus on value for Fulham’s transfer activity. There should be no more scatter-gunning of aging former names with no sell on value from the substitutes bench of other clubs from the major leagues. Scouting must get clever.

Alfred-Finnbogason-Heerenveen-300x186

There is of course another reality, that there are still strikers in Holland worth paying for, where the increased price still results in value for the purchaser. Alfred Finnbogason’s 17 goals in 15 league games at a goal every 4.05 shots will make him a much sought after commodity. Are his chances easier though? What would Gignac, Rhodes or Berbatov do if they were playing for Heerenveen?

We’ll probably never know, but it is time Fulham did something to shake up the system. From start to back the team isn’t working. Defence is the major problem.

For all I’ve written about strikers above, it is a new defence that will keep us in the Premier League. Having the worst goals against record is something to be ashamed of and is a far cry from the halcyon days of Hughes and Hangeland under Roy Hodgson.

Watching some of Jermaine Defoe’s introductory press conference at Toronto FC, CEO Tim Leiweke quoted Bobby Kennedy when he said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Well, why not Fulham fans. We can survive if our club dreams to make it so. The next three weeks will be crucial. After several seasons of doing the minimum, it is time for Fulham to dare to dream. By standing and waiting for the miracle solution to present itself, we might just let it pass us by.

COYW

Search For a Striker – Summer Transfer Targets

A consistent Premier League goalscorer is just like one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets. There are only a few of them out there and you have to buy a lot of ordinary chocolate bars until you find one. Fulham are testament to that (see Steve Marlet, Collins John, Andy Johnson, David Elm etc).

As a club, we are hardly in possession of chocolate bars, let alone golden tickets. We only have three senior team strikers currently under contract, only one of whose obligations extends beyond the summer. With the January transfer window now firmly in our rear view mirror, it is time to look forward.

Here’s my guide to several names who could be playing alongside, or indeed replacing, our current crop of Johnson, Sa and Pogrebnyak up-front at the Cottage next season:

The one’s you’ve heard already

Lucas Barrios – Borussia Dortmund, Age: 27, Potential Cost: £7m

Paraguayan international Barrios came close to joining us from reigning German champions Dortmund in the January window just gone. How close he was to signing depends on whom you believe, but the prospect of Barrios was an exciting one nonetheless. Barrios has undoubted goalscoring ability as shown by his 16 league goals in Dortmund’s Bundesliga winning campaign last season. Likely to still be available come the summer with Robert Lewandowski the number one choice in a lone striker system and wunderkind Marco Reus joining from Gladbach for €17m in July.

Jordan Rhodes – Huddersfield, Age: 21, Potential Cost: £6m

One cap Scotland international Rhodes has been the out-and-out star of the Football League this season. His goal tally in all competitions stands at 29 in 28 games this term. At any level, this is highly impressive. The unexpected departure of former Fulham midfielder Lee Clark from the dugout at the Galpharm Stadium will do nothing to strengthen Rhodes’ loyalty at the League One club. Definitely available in the summer, the fee required may top the £6m I have estimated. but Rhodes’ decision to represent Scotland might just hurt his value.

Jordan Rhodes - best domestic target?

We should be so lucky

Luuk De Jong – FC Twente, Age: 21, Potential Cost £8-10m

The Dutch Eredivisie has been fertile hunting grounds for our scouting department in recent years with our top signings from both previous summers’ joining from Holland (Bryan Ruiz from Twente and Moussa Dembele from AZ Alkmaar). De Jong was the star man when Twente held us to a 1-1 draw at the Cottage earlier this season. A big man with an eye for goal (17 so far this season in the league), De Jong could be an ideal long term replacement for Bobby Zamora. With our Dutch management team there has got to be half a chance we will go back to Holland this summer and if we do there is no doubt De Jong will be on the shortlist.

Luuk De Jong has already scored at Craven Cottage

Kevin Gamerio – Paris St Germain, Age: 24, Potential Cost: £10m

France international Gamerio is unlikely to be available but with Qatari investors now controlling the circus that is Paris’ leading club who knows? Carlo Ancelotti and his sporting director, Leonardo, are likely to want to put their own stamp on proceedings during their first full summer window. With Jeremy Menez and Nene shining, Gamiero may become available as rumours persist about PSG’s desire to bring in world names such as Alexander Pato.

John Guidetti – Manchester City, Age: 20, Potential Cost: £8m

20 year old Guidetti is currently on loan at Feyenoord from Manchester City. Our chances of signing the fast goal poacher must be slim with rumours of bigger clubs than us trailing the Swedish international and Roberto Mancini himself talking up Guidetti’s chances of making the First Team at Eastlands. However, something won’t add up come season’s end; Guidetti will unlikely want another loan and City currently possess a plethora of attacking might.

Out of leftfield

Bas Dost – Heerenveen, Age: 22, Potential Cost: £6m

The current top scorer in the Eredivisie in Holland, with 19 league goals so far this season, Dost is a Holland Under 21 international with a tremendous eye for goal. Players coming to England from the Eredivisie are a bit hit and miss to say the least. For every Robin Van Persie and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, there is a Mateja Kezman or Afonso Alves, and Dost would likely be the cheapest of the top end prospects from Holland this year. Ola Toivonen of PSV and even the aging Mounir El Hamdaoui of Ajax are other possibilities.

Sascha Mölders – Augsburg, Age: 26, Potential Cost: £2-4m

Journeyman Mölders, spent the majority of his career up to now in the German second division, that was until newly promoted FC Augsburg gave him a shot in the Bundesliga. While he does not possess the goalscoring prowess of others on this list, Mölders has shone in an otherwise poor team who look like getting Das Boot from the top division this year. Other Bundesliga candidates: Eren Derdiyok and Stefan Kiessling from Leverkusen may prove too expensive while Patrick Helmes would be an excellent addition who will likely be available from Felix Magath’s revolving transfer door at Wolfsburg.

Molders - A cheaper continental option?

Closer to home

Steven Fletcher – Wolverhampton Wanderers, Age: 24, Potential Cost: £5m

If Wolves go down, we should get ourselves into the long queue of clubs who’ll be knocking on the Molineaux boardroom door with cheques for Fletcher. If Wolves don’t go down, Fletcher’s goals will be a large reason why. The Scotland international has scored 20 goals in 49 appearances for a dour Wolves side that struggled to provide service to their beleaguered strikerforce under Mick McCarthy. McCarthy’s now gone, and with any luck, Fletcher will too, come the summer.

And finally…

Marcello Trotta – Fulham Development Squad, Age: 19

Young Italian Marcello Trotta signed for the club in 2009 and has shone in the academy and reserves. Described as a “big and powerful striker with an eye for goal” by the club, Marcello recently made his first team debut in the away cup defeat at Everton. This followed a remarkable loan spell at League One Wycombe where he scored an astonishing 8 goals in 8 games. Perhaps, just maybe, our golden ticket has been here all along.

I’ve only listed a few names who have caught my attention this year through the following of various leagues across Europe thanks to the likes of ESPN. Indeed I would be fascinated to know who you’d like to see lining up front alongside Clint, Bryan and Moussa next season.

COYW