Friday, May 23, 2014

"Silence is the ultimate weapon of power."

“It's not me who can't keep a secret. It's the people I tell that can't.” 

Between Charles De Gaulle and Abraham Lincoln, everyone can learn something from these great leaders, and Ed Woodward can stand to learn a lot from them about getting things done.

The new man needs to learn a few tricks
In years gone by, United have done deals to bring top quality players, top young talent and players with potential who are effectively a long shot. More often than not, when United have done deals for top players, they've done so under a veil of secrecy.
I don't think many people can claim to have known through the media that we were going to sign Rafael, Fabio, Buttner, Tevez, Anderson or Nani, and if it weren't for the counter-parties in the transactions, we wouldn't have heard about the deals for Carrick, Berbatov, Hargreaves, Rooney and Ronaldo.

The United of old liked to do their business in private, to keep negotiations out of the media and to announce deals once they were confirmed. In the Gill era, whenever possible, deals only became public when they were done and when contracts were signed. Deals for talented kids, like Macheda, Petrucci & Pogba only became public when their former clubs kicked up a fuss and complained to UEFA about unfair practices. 
There were never sourced leaks about future bids, who the manager was interested in and no running commentary given to the papers about how an acquisition was progressing.
The combination of great journalism, Ogden, Taylor, Jackson, Payne, Mitten and so many others at ESPN and a sieve like set of staff at Manchester United have led to so many stories linking players to the club. Whether it was the influence of Sir Alex, David Gill or that United was more of a united club, international and domestic fans alike had no idea about who the club were planning on signing before said player went into Manchester Hospital for their medical test or were seen getting picked up from the airport by the club car, or in Dimitar Berbatov’s case, Sir Alex’s car.
Given the current situation, I’m not surprised that we are unable to attract the world top talents, but having the club’s name linked to so many failure’s will become a self perpetuating downward spiral and we are going to struggle to get mid-level talents to play for the club.

Yes, it’s very important that we sign a few players to strengthen our midfield, defence and add to the creativity on the wings, but more importantly, we need the club to stop leaking stories, whether it be that Moyes was showing Vidic and Ferdinand videos of Jagielka, that we wanted to sign Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara, Ander Herrera and that Fellaini was our back-up plan. Woodward needs to copy his Mata-formula and complete deals silently, and until he can ensure no one leaks to the papers, he should trust no one.

The new team need to learn, quickly.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


The worst thing about this window has been timing and indecisiveness. More than the fact that we paid 4mil extra for Fellaini than we could have had we acted earlier, the timing and indecisiveness of our moves in the market have not been to United usual standards. Whenever United have moved for a player, it’s usually been too late strategically or we have not been decisive enough about the offer for the selling club to take us seriously. We've either screwed up the initial approach by offending the selling club with a low ball offer(Everton/Baines), not sounded out the player's agent to see if the player wanted a move to United (Thiago/Fabregas), moved too late to get the deal done (Atletico Bilbao/Herrera & RM/Coentrao) or not kept communication lines open to understand what was being done to get the deal done (Herrera).    

Having sounded out Thiago, and knowing that he wanted to join Pep in Munich, why did we wait till they had completed that deal before bidding for Fabregas, Barca were never going to allow two midfielders to leave in 1 window, so we should have moved first. This obviously means Fellaini wasn't our first choice, but it doesn't explain the lack of negotiations during July and August, most business students know that you should almost always be looking to buy from two sellers, before independently deciding which deal is better (or in this case who will sell and at what price etc) so that you retain the power. Given Moyes' experience in transfer business and Woodward's in conducting high level negotiations with corporate entities, I expected United to have had the Fellaini deal 90% done, with the price agreed upon before his escape clause expired, while we were making our bids for Fabregas. Another factor to consider is the morale consequences for Fellaini- knowing that the club tried to sign so many players before him, with Khedira and De Rossi's names being mentioned post deadline as deals that failed. Such public transfer failure will no doubt make it harder for United to convince other clubs to sell players, who will sense desperation, but I find it hard to believe that it took till the last 4/5 days of the window for United to start making a play for Ander Herrera.
Truthfully, I had not identified him as someone who might improve our squad, rather i looked at Ganso at Sao Paulo and at McCarthy at Wigan as those who could improve our central midfield strength and creativity; though having a look at his stats on transfermarkt, I can see why United should be interested, given his favourable stats in comparison to Isco and Illarramendi.  That said, no club is going to want to sell arguably their best midfielder and leave themselves without a recognized, low risk replacement, so it’s not surprising that the deal to bring the Atletic Bilbao player failed, though their actions are far from honorable and certainly made United's late pursuit of Herrera almost impossible. I question whether we were ever really serious about signing any of the following players, who could have strengthened our midfield/squad Wanyama, Strootman, Paulinho, Erikson; given the ease and speed with which their deals to Southhampton, Roma and Spurs were completed.

I also question the timing of the loans out of the club, if Powell and Bebe weren't going to feature, why not give them more time to acclimatize to their new clubs, instead of dropping them in after the season has started? Why hasn't Macheda found a new club, it’s obvious he's not going to progress at United unless we sustain multiple injuries to our strikers, given he is behind RVP, Rooney, Welbeck and Hernandez, and is probably fighting for a carling cup squad position with Angelo Henriquez and Will Keane.  

Obviously a new manager needs time to assess his new club; the coaches, the players and the scouting system, but I fear that in bringing so many new faces to the club in coaching and scouting roles, as yet none of them are confident enough, or have seen enough of the players to make definitive judgments about their quality, or the appropriateness of them staying on the books. The amount of change that occurred at the club did not make it easy for the manager to assess his squad, or for the club to conduct transfer businesses. Given he's really only ever needed to think about United twice a season, we must afford him some time and space to make his own decisions in regards to which players to sell and which to keep, but surrounding himself with coaches who are in a similar position, to me, makes no sense.

 Preserving institutional memory  is vital to any large organization undergoing a transition between leaders, and the retirement of Sir Alex and David Gill and the subsequent retirement of the chief scout Martin Ferguson and the termination of Phelan and Muelensteen's contracts, a lot of management and transfer know-how has been lost, with Woodward not having the experience of doing high value transfer business, while Moyes has never really had to deal with the pressure of identifying and acquiring targets under the spotlight of the global football media, nor dealing with now-fellow giant football clubs and their egotistical leaders.
If Muelensteen, Phelan or Martin Ferguson had stayed on for a short while into Moyes' tenure, it may have prevented a summer of dithering over sales and missed opportunities to improve the squad. I am sure that any one of the old guard would have told Moyes that Young needs to move on, Nani can't be relied upon on and really only performs for 2/3 months a season and that a left winger and a couple of central midfielders are of higher priority than another left back.

It would have made Woodward's life easier if he walked into the room at a selling club if Gill had made the introductions- even over the phone, or if he had either of the Ferguson brothers, Sir Bobby Charlton or some other notary making the introductions, given his lack of footballing social presence. Given his experience is in tying up deals to generate cash via sponsorships and commerical deals, and prior to that in M&A, I would have thought a "footballing man" would have been trusted to lead negotiations with selling clubs, with Woodward taking a back seat until he's gotten the hang of haggling for players. 

Hopefully, Sir Alex's return to the club as a director will help Woodward and Moyes sign Herrera and other targets in the January window, and until then, we must hope that Moyes can make the most of Fellaini as his only summer acquisition to ensure we successfully reach the knock-out stages of the Champions League and stay in reach of the Premier League summit.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Strengthening from a Position of Strength:

Trimming and refurbishing the squad for Fergie's final push for a 4th European Cup.  

Strengthening the squad after winning the league has become something of a regular occurrence at Manchester United under Sir Alex, with last years clear out and additions enabling United to reclaim the Premier League title this season, this summer will no doubt be spent making hard decisions in regards to sales and contract renewals while acquisitions will be made with the long term success of the club in mind.

With what should be a relatively straight forward canter to the title reclamation in May, United have one last opportunity to use the negotiating skills of David Gill to secure some much needed reinforcements to the squad, which will hopefully propel the side past the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and Paris Saint Germain to secure at least 1 more Champions League trophy before Sir Alex calls time on his managerial career.

Unlike their London rivals Chelsea, United have only ever won the European Cup under Sir Alex as Champions of England , with Sir Matt's side finishing 2nd in the league in 67/68, and Sir Alex will not want to sacrifice domestic dominance for European silverware. Without doubt, the squad needs strengthening if they are to challenge for a domestic and European multi-trophy season. Although the showing against Real Madrid was promising, the red-card harsh and Mourinho hailing United as the better side, they still went out in the Round of 16, and even if they had progressed, I don't think many United supporters would be claiming United as favorites against Barcelona, Bayern or Juventus.    

To that end, ineffectual and unproductive members of the squad need to be replaced with players who will consistently perform to the level required to win the Premier League and at a minimum make the semi finals of the Champions League. Inconsistent United players with Premier League winners medals, like Luis Nani & Antonio Valencia, unhealthy or unfit players like Anderson and Fletcher as well as fringe players like Macheda should really be sold or released to fund the acquisition of players that will improve the 1st team, the bench and the squad so that quality is not lost when players are rotated. I'd like to see some of the following come to the club.

Attacking Forward, speed, power, shooting, finishing, good header. Plays well in red. 
Gareth Bale; 
  or James Rodriguez
James Rodriguez- Winger- speed, crossing, shooting

Having signed Kagawa last summer, I'd like to see United spend to sign one of Hummels or Subotic  to replace Ferdinand

One of the following to give the midfield a bit of steel.

Kevin Strootman- Central Midfield-tackling, passing, long shooting, leadership experience
Victor Wanyama: Playing really well  for Celtic in Scotland and was tremendous against Barcelona! 

Friday, July 1, 2011


Should Sir Alex look to derail Dalglish's deal for Ex-Roma keeper Doni?  

Now that ex-roma keeper Doni is free from his FC Roma contract, should United sign him as competition and cover for De gea and Lindegaard? Having just completed the signing of 18mil David De Gea last week, would signing a competitor for the No.1 shirt have a positive or negative influence on the young Spaniard?

Doni in action for Roma in the Champions League
From our trusty friends at Wikipedia:
Total Appearances:
1-Tomasz Kuszczak 93
2- David De Gea 84
3- Anders Lindegaard83
4- Ben Amos 29
Total : 289 Appearances

Tomasz Kuszczak is expected to leave in search of regular first team football, to a club in the middle to bottom tier of the Premier League, which would reduce the total experience of the club's goalkeepers to a worrying low 196 games. If United were to sign Doni, the club will be acquiring a keeper with 305 games worth of experience and a keeper who has won trophies in two continents and for the Brazilian national side. At 31, we hope he'd have at least 5 good years left in him, and can compete with both De Gea and Lindegaard for the starting goalkeeper's position. He'd also bring Champions League experience to the club, who in losing Van der Sar and Kuszczak will lose 149 games of experience in European experience. For a fee of under 5mil, I believe he represents the much sought after "value", and given we are have already reduced the wage bill by shedding Neville, Scholes, van der Sar, TK, Gibson, and possibly O'Shea, we should be able to give him an incentivized pay rise on his Roma contract.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Player Valuation: Illogical, Irrational and Inflated.

For a few transfer windows, Sir Alex Ferguson has been watching Man City splash their cash from the south of France, while telling the media that there has been "no value in the market". While City have been living large, (for which I don't begrudge them) Sir Alex has been scouring the world for bargains, and in the last few years brought some high quality players to the club for relatively small transfer fees.

 Patrice Evra (£5.5mil), Nemanja Vidic (£7mil), Fabio and Rafael Da Silva ( £5.2mil combined-not sourced),  Ji-Sung Park (£4mil) and Javier Hernandez (£6mil) have all come to the club for under £10mil and have flourished at United. That said, when required, Sir Alex is not afraid to back player evaluations with the club cheque book, sanctioning the purchases of Dimitar Berbatov ( £30.75mil), Rio Ferdinand (£30mil), Anderson (E30mil ~as per Porto's books), Juan Sebastian Veron (£28.1mil), Wayne Rooney (£25.6mil), Luis Nani (E25.5mil), Micheal Carrick (£18.6mil), Owen Hargreaves(£17mil) and Chris Smalling (£10mil) as of season 2010/11.

Before we look at this summer's acquisitions, lets explore the factors clubs; directors of football and managers might take into account before opening the war-chest ( i love that cliche). Obviously talent/potential is one of, if not the most important factor in deciding on the transfer of young players, but other factors, like age, experience, footballing education, as well as back ground factors, like temperament, education,  ambition/drive/perseverance are all considered. Financial factors like transfer costs(including the length of contract at current club), wage and contract length expectations, as well as the club position in regards to their cash balance, access to loans, 'can they promote from their academy instead' and most importantly, space in their squad, play a part in determining if, when and how much to spend on a players' transfer.

Another element we should factor in, though hard to quantify, is the relative bargaining positions of the clubs involved. Essentially, we must work out how desperate the club is to do the deal. Clubs who are under financial/footballing pressure to sell almost always sell under value, while clubs who are able to "walk" from negotiations if they don't get what they "want" can usually extract more from buyers. Similarly, clubs who plan long term can afford to have a player in the last year of a contract simply play out their contract at their current club and move for him in January as he becomes a free agent, although they run the risk of him agreeing to extend his contract or demanding exorbitant wages when the time comes for negotiations.Sometimes this backfires on a club, but its rare that a "under the table deal" isn't done via agents to sort that kind of thing out in advance. That said, its not unheard of for players to do a 180 and leave a potential employer in the lurch.

Now acquiring talent is not a scientific process. Talent recognition is tough as it is,but getting highly talented players to your club for a reasonable fee is another matter entirely. How do you distinguish between levels of talent when the talent is non consistent? Consider Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, the former is older than the later, the later has more premier league experience than the former, although the former has played more professional senior games, and they are both playing together for the England Under 21s. Another anomaly would be found when comparing Jordan Henderson and Jack Rodwell to players like Henri Lansbury and Tom Cleverley. Henderson has been bought by Liverpool for a mammoth 20mil, with a similar figure likely to be needed to acquire Rodwell, while if they are to be sold by their clubs Lansbury and Cleverley are most likely to go for around 10mil. What makes this hard to fathom, is that all four are of similar age, experience and skill. So its not just talent that decides the fee for a player, what the buyer is willing to pay, which plays a significant part in the final fee. There are however, other factors that have an impact on transfer fees.

Other than talent, which factors should add the most to the transfer fee of a player? Experience? Potential resale price? Age? Should a talented youngster who's only played  half a seasons-worth of senior games but shown much promise  cost more than an experienced player, who still has room to develop and improve? Contrast "Kaka"29, who is rumoured to be available for around £30mil from Real Madrid, with the 19 year old mercurial talent Neymar, whos club Santos is demanding a minimum of E40mil. Everyone knows how good Kaka is, and even though he's had a few injuries, he presents less risk than Neymar, who is still honing his game, growing, and may/may not immediately cope with the demands of top level European football. So why does Neymar cost more?

If we take up the cases of Luka Modric and Javier Pastore, we see a similar thing. Although both clubs are looking to keep hold of their talismanic midfielders, there is no doubt that both clubs will sell for the right price. So why are Palermo expecting bids in the high 30millions, while Chelsea's opening bid for Modric was a "measly" £22mil?  Given Modric's experience in both the Premier League and Champions' League, isn't he less of a risk than Javier Pastore? One might argue that in accordance with financial risk/return modelling, lower risk should cost less and that more riskier investments should cost more, but intuitively, shouldn't a player that is more likely to succeed cost more, ( because success is closer to be guaranteed) when compared to a player who will most likely fail? So risk plays a major part in transfer fees, but its not just age related. Risk of Injury, Risk that a player is not suited to a league, and risk that potential is not realized all factor heavily.
How then, shall we contextualize the purchases of Veron, Berbatov, Ferdinand, and Rooney to United and the deals that brought Shevchenko and Torres to Chelsea? With hindsight, we can clearly see that some of these deals failed spectacularly while others were successes, although Torres and Berbatov still have to justify their price-tags to sections of their home support. Both Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand had showed signs that they possessed enough talent to compete against the world's best at a young age and had put in consistent performances at a high standard to attract record breaking transfer fees to secure their playing services. They were still quite risky purchases, and it would have been disastrous if either one of them had proven not to be a success. Andriy Shevchenko, Veron and Dimitar Berbatov moved to Chelsea and United at 29, 26 and 26 years of age respectively, their natural talent was no longer under question and were considered to be in the peak of their careers. The fees paid for them were considered to be a fairly accurate reflection of their standing in the game and their footballing pedigree. At the time of signing, most Chelsea and United fans were united in proclaiming that they had bought a top quality superstar, who would drive their team into a trophy laden era of success, and that baring some disaster or injury, the individual would be a successful signing for their club. Neither Shevchenko nor Veron really settled into the league but even with hindsight, most people would take that risk, given the potential benefit. So it makes sense to pay top dollar to acquire top quality players whatever their age, even if their value is not going to appreciate. 

Other players are bought with appreciation firmly in mind. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of, if not the greatest example of this. Brought to United at the age of 18 for a not insignificant sum of £12.5mil, Ronaldo was bought with hopes, not expectations that he'd play out the remainder of his career at United. Initially introduced late on in games, with  a mandate to operate on the wing and cross the ball in for the strikers, there were many facets of his game that need refinement. Six years, 196 appearances 31 assists and 84 goals later, United sanctioned the sale of their prized asset, cashing in a world-record £80mil transfer fee, representing a  540% return on initial investment, excluding wages. Real Madrid had gotten a proven, goal scoring, creative talent, while incurring little or no risk, other than that of injury, given Cristiano wanted to move to Spain. If they wanted, they could sell him a couple years down the line and be sure that his value will not have decreased by much, if at all, if he remained fit and in form.This shows that clubs are willing to pay a decent transfer fee for a player they think they can make a profit on in the future. For many small to medium sized clubs, this is a heavily weighted factor in the decision making process.

Let's use the aforementioned criteria to compare a few attacking central midfielders being targeted by England's top clubs.
                           L. Modric      J.Pastore     A.Young     A. Sanchez  W.Sneijder  
Talent*                 7-8/10            8-9/10          7-8/10            8/10                8-9/10
Age                          25                   21                 25               22                     27
Seasons Played        6                     3                   6                 3                     8       
---in PL/CL          High/Decent    None x2     Good/None    None x2       None/Winner
Football Ed.         D.Zagreb     Argentina       England   Chile/Italy           Ajax 
Potential Resale-       2/3 yrs            5/6yrs           2/3yrs         5/6yrs                1/2yrs
@ Profit-Window       
* Talent has no objective test from a distance, but judging on how early we've "heard about them/performing well at a young age",what size/stature of club they play at, how quickly they moved to a "big club" or trained with a big academy, i think, is a pretty fair judge of talent.

So how much should these players cost? If we assume that they are all on long term contracts (even though Ashley Young isn't), they all have similar personal characteristics( ambitions, perseverance, emotional stability, ability to fit in with team-mates)  and that they all command similar wages (even though I assume Sneijder earns considerably more than the others), the only real determining factors should be how well the manager/buying club thinks the player will fit into their team and how well they'll adjust to the unique demands of the league.They are young enough to have a few good seasons and be sold for a decent fee, but are also talented enough to justify holding onto them until they retire. They aren't complete "rough diamonds" that can be rationalized as gambles, like Tosic, Bebe, Manucho or Diouf, but still pose a certain amount of risk to the club, as they may fail to "settle" in Manchester, ( i seriously don't understand the problem of persistent rain) or be unable to cope with the speed/strength of the league.

This leaves us to the final question; "How much is too much?". Sir Alex is notoriously wary of getting caught in auctions for players, having narrowly avoided one in 08 thanks to Dimitar not wanting to go to City, but he has not been afraid to pull out of a bid because of it.  Given the inflationary nature of transfer fees,  the "english player premium" and  the "big club premium", its important to set a ceiling for each player, and try not to overspend by more than 4/5mil. Whether this means 35mil for Sanchez, 30mil for Modric and 20mil for Young, only the manger knows.

In Alex we Trust.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Goalkeeping Conundrum

Van der Sar, David Gill, Sir Alex and various other sources have been asked their opinions on who United will be looking to bring to the club for season 2011/12 and beyond. Spanish sources say David De Gea, German scouts recommend Manuel Neuer, journos with Dutch contacts favour Stekelenburg. All three of them have been assessed by Martin Ferguson and Eric Steele, and de Gea and Neuer have been watched by Sir Alex.

With Tomaz Kuszcsak also almost certain to leave, United will be left with Anders Lindegaard and Ben Amos as first team goalkeepers. Unfortunately, we have yet to see Anders in back to back games, though he has shown promise in his two outings in the FA Cup. He has, unfairly I might add, been overlooked in the running for the Number 1 shirt for next season, and although he was acquired for a relatively low fee, Sir Alex doesn't bring players in outside of the transfer window if he doesn't think they will add to the first team squad.

That said, I think it would be foolish for Sir Alex to not bring in at least one goalkeeper in the summer, at least one experienced keeper and possibly a young keeper who could be top class if given the time to mature on the biggest stage.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Douglas Costa again,....really??

Someone who resembled Douglas Costa was seen by almost all the English football media in the directors box at Old Trafford yesterday, and subsequently, rumours of a summer transfer were printed in all the papers without a moments hesitation or thought. The fact that he was going to play in  Shakhtar's game vs Volyn in the Ukranian Premier League the next day seemed to slip the minds of these "Observant" people.

Given that he's sitting alongside the kids from the youth team, a row beneath Bebe and Lindegaard, I'd say he's a kid on trial from some other club, certainly not a professional footballer about to start a game the next day on the other side of Europe.

The likelihood of United signing Costa ahead of any of the big spenders in their current frugal financial state seems unlikely, given that Shakhtar would demand a hefty sum and Costa sizeable wages. True, United  do need to strengthen their central midfield, especially with Hargreaves and Scholes both expected to be leaving at the end of this season, but having committed themselves to contracts for Anderson,  Fletcher and Carrick, I doubt United will be willing to pay high wages on what would be a massive gamble. Given that United signed the other "next Ronaldinho" in Anderson, its unlikely Sir Alex has lost faith in him in a matter of months after agreeing to extend his deal. The technicalities of actually getting Costa to the Premier League is also problematic, as he will not have played  in the majority of Brazil's senior internationals, and would unlikely be granted exemption for exceptional talent.

United need a combative, defensive midfielder as soon as possible, to allow Carrick, Anderson and Gibson to play further up the pitch, and return to their natural attacking mindset. Douglas Costa ( if it really was him), isn't the answer.