A Quick Disambiguation of Value

Antoine Antoniol

Authors note: I want to make explicit that I'm just making a distinction I find important, not calling anyone to the carpet. The distinction didn't fit on twitter (I'm not economical or eloquent enough by half), so it's here as a FanPost. (Editors note - now bumped up to the main front page as I think this post to be a great topic for discussion).

I suspect that most of you reading this blog have at least a passing familiarity with Moneyball, the story of how the Oakland As identified undervalued talent and used their comparatively tiny budget to punch well above their spending weight. The As found the players that gave them the most bang for their buck, plucking players from the minors, the waiver-wire, or players that were underutilized and underappreciated for their actual contribution to winning baseball games.

Bitter and Blue has a Moneyball sort of bent—identifying which players are the best value for the transfer-money and advocating for those players to come to the team. This makes complete sense; transfer funds, even for Sheikh Mansour, aren’t infinite. Even if they were, Financial Fair Play is in place, and it’s still in question whether or not it’s going to have any fangs (we’re getting a test right now with Turkish football, and we’ll have another test with PSG and Monaco, sooner rather than later). Further, finding bargains simply feels good; there’s an actual neural-behavioral attraction to purchasing something for less than you believe that thing is worth. Waste not, want not, after all.

Value for money is a very important part of football, even with annual transfer budgets in the range of a hundred million pounds, and wages of double or treble that. There isn’t any one team that towers above the rest in the EPL, or the Champions League, in terms of financial resources. The team that gets the most power for its pound, all other things held equal, is going to win more football matches.

This brings us to our side’s transfer offer for Cavani (reportedly in the 40MM pound range), which was rejected, and the 53MM pound offer that PSG had accepted. Cavani is undoubtedly poor value for the money. His marginal benefit to that team per pound expended, both in transfer and in wage, isn’t going to be terribly high. Especially not in comparison with a team like Dortmund, who are masters of buying low and selling high, and of developing younger players into star-caliber performers (Sahin, Gotze, Gundogan, Lewandowski, Hummels, Subotic, et cetera).

I was part of a Twitter exchange (@HalfAgain) in which it was put forward that Negredo + Jovetic offered more value than Cavani does, and that’s almost certainly true in terms of contribution per pound spent. I want to note that I’m not calling out anyone in that conversation thread—everyone in it knows more about football than I do, and by some distance!

However, there’s another measure of value in football, one that’s ultimately more important: value per minute of available playing time. While their respective contracts and transfer purchase prices (Jovetic + Negredo < Cavani in total), will likely prove better value per dollar, and perhaps higher in absolute production, it requires minutes from two putative starter-ish players, rather than the minutes from one position. The more relevant question in terms of wining football matches is how much total value per minute available (11x38x90 give or take some minutes) does Cavani + x (probably Lucas) yield by comparison to Jovetic + Negredo? If the answer is more, then PSG have the superior combination for that given football game.

Ultimately, both factors are important—maximizing the production from your financial resources will result in the best possible team on the pitch. But the ultimate goal is to maximize production per minute, not production per pound. The entire point of getting value per pound (underspending for production) is to allow the team to maximize the production it can get in other positions.

In conclusion, while marginal value per pound is a means to the end of winning football matches, it’s not an end in itself. It’s a set of trees in the larger forest, and the forest is the goal.