20 January 2011

What Makes a Bad Transfer?

In the previous post on Babel and the worst transfers of the last decade, I should have better differentiated between a "bad player" and a "bad signing." Buying Alberto Aquilani was an awful, awful deal, but Alberto Aquilani's an outstanding player. Philipp Degen is a terrible full-back but was a free signing that didn't cost Liverpool much more than wages and overtime for the medical staff.

I guess therein lies the rub in Tuesday's poll. Is it a poor signing because of the player's lack of talent? Is it a poor signing because of the fee? Did the bad transfer hold a better player back? Did the deal hinder the club's future chances of success? The last question seems the most important, and arguably what led to the downfall of both the Houllier and Benitez regimes.

First, the results. Poll's still open, but the order's stayed the same for awhile now, and votes have barely trickled in since the morning. Some of you did not vote for five transfers.

Total Votes: 116
1) El Hadji Diouf: 69.8% = 81 votes
2) Christian Poulsen: 65.5% = 76 votes
3) Robbie Keane: 50.9% = 59 votes
4) Jermaine Pennant: 39.7% = 46 votes
5) Salif Diao: 33.6% = 39 votes
6) Ryan Babel: 31.9% = 37 votes
7) Alberto Aquilani: 28.4% = 33 votes
8) Djibril Cisse: 24.1% = 28 votes
9) Philipp Degen: 20.7% = 24 votes
10) Christian Ziege: 6.9% = 8 votes

My choices:

1) Diouf – The pinnacle of bad players and bad deals, and to make matters worse, an absolutely terrible human being. Should have gotten 100% in the poll. Never worth £10m, which if spent on a better player could have pushed Liverpool over the top after finishing second the previous campaign and having won the treble two seasons before. But Liverpool spent £10m on Diouf, £4.7m on Diao, and £3.7m on Cheyrou, and dropped to fifth. All three were gone within three years, as was Houllier.

2) Keane – Decent player, easy target, costly deal. Yes, Liverpool went on to their highest points total under Benitez after buying Keane, but it wasn't because of the transfer. Benitez ended up getting rid in record time, selling Keane for at least a £3m loss after less than six months. Like Diouf, it's a question of what could have been. Imagine if Liverpool had bought Andrei Arshavin – who went to Arsenal in January for approximately £16m (and scored 4 goals in a 4-4 draw at Anfield that season) – instead? At least Liverpool recouped what they could; Tottenham's still struggling to sell Keane.

3) Aquilani – The real beginning of the end. With Liverpool strapped for every last penny because of Hicks and Gillett, Benitez spent what little he was given out of the £35m Alonso deal on a player that couldn't get fit. By the time Aquilani was available, Liverpool's season was long off the rails, in no small part because of the Alonso-sized hole in midfield. And he was rarely available. But this season, this was going to be when we saw the real Aquilani... until Football Manager extraordinaire Christian Purslow loaned the finally healthy player to Juventus, where he's unsurprisingly flourished. And now Juventus can buy him for £13m, a £4m loss and far less than what he should cost after the season he's had. Not to mention the lingering belief that Liverpool would have been much this season with Aquilani in the lineup. As a player, he doesn't deserve to be on this list, but as business goes, it's hard to be worse than this.

4) Diao – The difference between Diao and Diouf is that Diao was cheaper and didn't spit on anyone during his tenure. Less offensive personality, similarly offensive waste of money at a crucial time. He held on longer than his cohorts from the summer of 2002, actually making 14 appearances under Benitez before being shipped out on various loans until his expensive contract expired.

5) Poulsen – Here's where it gets tricky. The previous four are head and shoulders above the rest. I went for Poulsen here because of his complete lack of footballing ability, but can see arguments for almost any other candidate. Poulsen's utter inability to replace Mascherano and continuing reminder of the Roy Hodgson era "wins out" for me. Might as well have set £4.5m on fire during a summer where Liverpool actually made around £10m in transfer profit.

If you're picking based solely on talent, there's a valid argument for including Degen. If unfulfilled potential and losing money are a larger motivation, Babel's an excellent choice. Cisse was arguably the biggest waste of money on this list, although he never got to play for the manager who bought him. And two players I should have included – Konchesky and Dossena – are also debatable: both were the football equivalent of flushing money down the toilet when Liverpool had none, and at the same position no less.

The true cost of a terrible transfer is only evident in the long-term. Diouf and Diao were bought after Liverpool finished second to Arsenal in the league. Keane and Aquilani were bought in successive summers before Liverpool started this 18-month free-fall. The first two epitomize Houllier's downfall. The latter two Benitez's. It's not wholly fair in either case – Benitez especially thanks to Hicks, Gillett, and Purslow – but that's the peril of bad transfers. Liverpool are still paying for the above four deals; each marked a clear regression when potentially on the cusp of greatness.

I don't think Ryan Babel deserves to be on that list. His unfulfilled potential heavily disappoints. Losing money on the deal certainly doesn't help. That £11.5m definitely could have been better spent, and the position he was supposed to fill has been a problem area for the entire decade. We truly thought Babel could be the answer.

But he still contributed more than he cost. There are similarities with the Pennant deal, although Babel hasn't frittered away Liverpool fans' goodwill or lazily run his contract out. Babel cost more and was a "better prospect," while Pennant was a cheaper second-choice option that got more chances, but we expected both to improve Liverpool's flanks. Neither could. Each had moments of excellence – most notably, Babel against Arsenal, Pennant in the CL final – but all too often failed to improve or live up to that potential. Yet neither caused the long-term damage that Diouf, Diao, Keane, Aquilani, and arguably Dossena did (and Poulsen and Konchesky potentially could).

Caveat emptor.

And good luck wherever you go, Ryan.


Pandagoal said...

I voted for only 4, and they are 4 of y our 5 with the exception of Keane. (I just felt we got out from under that so fast, and it didn't kill our season or anything.) I feel strongly, though, that Poulsen belongs on that list above the line of "all the rest." It's standout suckitude b/c no one has ever gone from being worth £4.5m to 0 so quickly. Seriously, 5 minutes into his tenure it was clear we bought a blonde corpse. That is so epically stupid, I can't even deal with it. On top of that, does anyone really doubt we could've gotten him for half of that or less? That Roy overpaid to get him is even more insane. But to avoid loss of clarity, nobody has EVER stepped on a field and lost 100% of their value that quickly. Horrible deal.

The wing situation is just so depressing. Riera, Pennant, Babel, etc. -- nothing works. Someday, we'll have proper width, I just hope I live that long.


Anonymous said...

I can't help but disagree on Aquilani. Yes, we spent a bomb on him, and yes it ruined our season atleast as far as the strain on the wallet is concerned, but its a long shot to say he was a terrible signing. Reason being, the fact that he was loaned off when he was fit to play and perform to the best of his ability. The problem with aquilani isnt that he was bought so expensive or he was injured so long, the problem is simply that he was sent away when he should have stayed. Since he wasnt really given a channce at lfc its hard to say whether or not he was a bad signing, he never got a chance to prove himself. And i have a sneaky feeling that if he'd been given that chance, there would be no question about his value for money.

nate said...


As I tried to explain, just because he was a bad signing doesn't make him a bad player. And that Liverpool didn't give him a chance this season is what makes it an even worse signing... not to mention that they hamstrung themselves on the fee by agreeing to a set £13m before Aquilani played for Juve. Sending him away makes it a worse deal and gets him on this list.

That he is a good player and arguably could have helped Liverpool this season is why I have Keane above him, even though Liverpool recouped more than they should have been able to on the Irishman.

TimC said...

I agree with anonymous, signing Aquilani was not a particularly brilliant move last season but certainly not worthy of making the poll given his form when healthy and his performance at Juve thus far. I think it comes down to whether the manner in which he was sent away factors into the concept of 'Bad Transfer'- seems like some feel it does while others choose to focus only on the purchase side of the move.