Big names vs. Great players

Us football fans tend to like to read the stories about well-known players switching sides and hope that one of them will join our club. Whether you support Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus or Borussia, of course you’re happy when your team is strengthening but it’s the big names that get us really excited. But maybe somewhere along the line we’ve lost sight of what’s important — the team.

Not always bringing in “a star” player helps making the team stronger. Introducing the Galactico policy at Real Madrid has strengthened their position on the market, on the inside however the team was destabilized, with homegrown talents questioning their position, wages and future at the Bernabeu. Manchester United’s squad, that was so successful during the late 1990s and early 2000s, consisted mainly of homegrown players. After Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, the Red Devils have somewhat declined, not being able to qualify for the Champions League in recent years and their morale has gone down. By acquiring the services of big names such as Ibrahimovic and Pogba, they wanted to show everyone — inside and outide of the club — that they are still great. And we didn’t have to wait long to see the effect it had on the team. Juventus, who lost Pogba this summer, have replaced one big name with another, by signing Higuain, even though they didn’t necessary need him and who cost a lot more than he is worth.

Player’s value depends of course on many factors: age, quality, potential, nationality, position, contract expiration date… Sometimes we have to ask ourselves whether a footballer is valued at a certain price because he is actually good or whether he is popular — and these don’t always come hand in hand. Let’s compare for example the transfers of Ousmane Dembele and Leroy Sane. They are almost the same age and both play on the same position. But can we actually say that one is 35 million euros worth better than the other? There are two major reasons why Sane was more expensive: he is more well-known than the Frenchman and he was chased by an English club — and everyone knows that all the Premier League sides have a lot of money these days, especially Manchester City. So it is Borussia who got the better deal, while the Citizens made more of a statement of intent.

Statement signing is a concept foreign to some managers. Going back to my article about Arsenal, Arsene Wenger is always WAITING for great players to become available and never FORCES clubs into selling them by offering huge amounts of money. He only managed to sign Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez because Real Madrid and Barcelona have bought better players and they had to sell someone — so the French manager took advantage of that. Now, the Gunners have a problem on their hands. These footballers’ contracts are going to run out soon and they are reluctant to extend them, because they see that the Londoners don’t match their ambitions. And while Wenger refuses to overspend, it looks like those exceptional players he is waiting for are not going anywhere.

There is a saying: “a player is worth as much as someone is prepared to pay for him”. While there is some truth in it, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that in case of those most expensive transfers, the teams are not only buying a player — they are buying a CELEBRITY. Because, let’s be honest with ourselves, would Paul Pogba cost as much if it wasn’t for his haircuts, celebrations or his outspoken personality (in general, things that have nothing to do with football)? I think not.

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