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I think my favourite January transfer window cliché is…

It’s silly season

…It is said because clubs will only sell players for crazy amounts of money, but it never actually happens, as Sky Sports News have repeatedly said, last year’s total for the entire window was just over £29m.

However, there must have been something in the water at this year’s LMA Xmas do because it has gone….well…silly.

This is what was so silly…

January 7th – Manchester City sign Edin Dzeko for £27m, this wasn’t a crazy price considering he was one of the most sought after strikers in Europe but his transfer fee almost covered the entire expenditure of last years window.

 

January 19th – Aston Villa pay massively over the odds for Darren Bent completing the transfer for an astonishing £24m.

Not a lot happened until January 30th, when Spurs put in a number of bids for a series of unobtainable Spain based players, making offers for Aguero, Negredo, Rossi and Llorente, none of these bids were accepted and Spurs finished up with nobody. But the rumour mill involving Fernando Torres started up and media reports suggested Chelsea had put a bid of around £35m in which was rejected out of hand by Liverpool. However some journalists suggested that Torres was keen for this transfer to happen.

So we move onto January 31st, transfer deadline day, It started with Newcastle claiming they had rejected a £30m bid from an unnamed club, although ‘Sky Sources’ suggested it was Liverpool, seemingly getting ready for life without Torres. Liverpool also were just awaiting the formalities to seal the deal to sign Luis Suarez.

A lot of faffing around was followed by this amazing series of events…

…Liverpool confirmed the signing of Suarez for £23m, breaking their transfer record (Torres’ transfer was £20m)…

 

…Then also confirmed the new British record transfer of Andy Carroll for £35m, a staggering amount of money for a player who has only scored 34 goals in his professional career, this also meant that Liverpool had broken their own transfer record for the second time in 2 hours, oh and it is the 7th largest transfer in the history of football…

 

…Carroll’s transfer would have been the 6th highest transfer in world football but just 3 minutes later, Chelsea confirmed the signing of Fernando Torres for £50m, the highest fee ever paid in British football and the 4th highest fee in the world behind Ronaldo (£80m), Ibrahimovic (£60m) and Kaka (£56m)…

 

…the total spent is just over £215m, that is nearly ten times what was spent 12 months ago.

Now there are a lot of “experts” saying that the money spent is simply ludicrous, I have a different opinion on this, if a club offers a certain amount of money for a player and the other club accept this offer then the player can move between the clubs, why should the value be any issue of yours or mine, I won’t be poorer because Liverpool have spent £35m on Carroll, I think Carroll is an excellent player and I am truly excited by the prospect of him and Suarez linking up, so the cost is irrelevant, they needed players to replace Torres and Babel and have bought them.

Let me say this, as a Liverpool fan I have never been so excited watching transfer deadline day unfold, I’m devastated Torres has left but that chapter is over and a new one is about to begin.

But it has been a bit silly though.

Marcus J Mitchell.

P.s. I feel like an idiot for forgetting to mention Apostolos Vellios, Evertons ‘nominal fee’ signing, so here he is (thanks to KevCeeJay for the reminder)…

…This is also the only time Everton fans will see him for the next three years before he is farmed out on loan to Swindon before being released.

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As we approach the end of the transfer window, the stakes start to rise. Who will break first? Players handing in transfer requests; agents releasing statements to the rumour-mongering ever-knowledgable gossip columnists and managers singing club anthems.

In past seasons, we’ve even had players refusing to play

The Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, has revealed the moody Bulgarian refused to play in games against Sunderland and Chelsea, in which the team dropped five points during their worst-ever start to a season, culminating in Juande Ramos being sacked last weekend. Talking about Berbatov agitating for a move to United over the course of more than a year, Levy said: “We had a player that had refused to play two Premier League games for us, was having a detrimental impact on the dressing room and we’d known for a year that this player wanted out of this club.” Levy added: “I don’t think he treated the club with the respect we deserved. We put him on the map. He signed a long-term contract with this club and I think he should have stayed.”

Is it simply a case of expressing your interest in a player by making a formal bid to the club or do clubs contact the player’s agent – declare an interest – and hope this will unsettle the player? Or is it even more complicated? Damian Commoli has recently been appointed to oversee the transfers at Liverpool, and according to Kevin McCarra is a keen advocate of

Moneyball, the renowned book by Michael Lewis that was published in 2003. Its subject was the Oakland Athletics and, specifically, the general manager Billy Beane.Every manager hopes to crow over an outstanding player he secured for next to nothing. Beane was different because he was not following a hunch so much as questioning traditional attitudes about what it was that truly made the difference in a game. He also has a passion for football and, specifically, an allegiance to Tottenham Hotspur. Comolli, of course, worked at White Hart Lane as director of football for three years and during that period he came to know Beane. “We have been talking at length since 2006 about data application in both football and baseball,” said Comolli. “Everything I’ve been doing has come from what the A’s have been doing in terms of collecting and using data.”

One of the reasons for the Oakland ‘A’s’ success was that they were the first club to start questioning the traditional methods and assumptions of the Major League Baseball Draft System. They ignored the group of scouts at the club who tended to focus on physical athletes (who had the ‘look’ of a potential baseball star), select high school players instead of college players and continue with the same old tried and tested scouting philosophy. Billy Beane and his Oakland backroom team developed a computer programme that analysed specific skills, based on a large range of statistical data.

Instead, they drafted for unconventional statistical prowess: on-base percentage for hitters (rather than batting average) and strikeout/walk ratios for pitchers (rather than velocity). These undervalued stats came cheaply. With the sixth-lowest payroll in baseball in 2002, the Oakland Athletics won an American League best 103 games. They spent $41M that season, while the Yankees, who also won 103 games, spent $126M.

Beane then applied techniques in the transfer market he had learnt studying game theory, a fascinating area of applied mathematics now used in economics, political science and, I suspect, football transfers. Here is a brief explanation from Avinash Dixit, University Professor of Economics at Princeton University,

Game theory studies interactive decision-making, where the outcome for each participant or “player” depends on the actions of all. If you are a player in such a game, when choosing your course of action or “strategy” you must take into account the choices of others. But in thinking about their choices, you must recognize that they are thinking about yours, and in turn trying to take into account your thinking about their thinking, and so on.

These are exactly the kind of interactions that exist within the football transfer market. Prof. Dixit goes on to say,

…some aspects such as figuring out the true motives of rivals and recognizing complex patterns do often resist logical analysis. But many aspects of strategy can be studied and systematized into a science — game theory.

If this isn’t hurting your head yet, then you haven’t got a real head…

Similar ‘mind games’ or game theories exist in advanced poker strategy and other games or markets based on incomplete mis/information.

The football transfer market, especially in a restricted time period during the January window, is complicated by so many external forces. What other clubs perceive your budget is? What other clubs think you think they think the value of the player is? What other clubs watching the negotiation or bid think you will bid so they can ‘bluff’ bid to drive your purchase price higher. Billy Beane was an expert at playing other clubs off against each other, increasing the market by talking to newspapers about ‘the next big thing’ he had no intention of signing.

The current January transfer saga (other than Bent and Adam) has been the attempts to sign Luis Suarez. Here are a few examples of the rumours and factors relating to the potential sale of Suarez.

The level of truth in any of the reports needs to be questioned because the source is rarely, if ever, named. The other problem is the loose valuation of the player. The range is £15-£35 million. Liverpool were ‘reported’ to have offered £12.5 million and Ryan Babel (who has just moved to another club for £6 million) taking the total cash value to £18.5 million. This seems to be a fair initial offer, on the lower end of the price range, adding a player who had previously played for Ajax, would not need to acclimatize, whilst remembering that Ajax have got major financial problems and need to cash in on some of their assets. As with any negotiation, the first offer is usually rejected. Both Ajax and Liverpool will be aware that Liverpool expect the first offer to be rejected, but it does offer a slight insight into the maximum bid Liverpool are likely to make.

A mind game of imperfect information, negotiations carried out in public as well as private, under the glare of expectant fans desperate for a ‘major’ signing. The complex nature of transfer negotiations are often ignored in the football press with tiny soundbites and flashing yellow tickers reporting an estimated figure, the contract length and press conference clichés stating the player ‘wants to be at the club for a very long time’ and confirming ‘it had always been his dream to play for the club’. Liverpool might have someone attempting to apply complex theories to select a pool of players the manager can choose from, but they won’t have the success Billy Beane had, he was the first to try it, and we must remember

The main focus of a “Moneyball” approach is about maximizing use of whatever resources you have, and while the methods can be of great help to clubs with limited resources, they can be champions-winners for affluent ones. Chelsea and Arsenal, two of the top four spenders in the Premier League, already use them. It seems unlikely that Manchester United has thrived without them.

Not quite the simple game described here by the right-wing libertarian enlightened-one Old Holborn. We were discussing Andy Gray and Richard Keys,  two popular cavemen who once drove the Premiership brand forward.
Clearly he’s too intelligent to waste his time ‘pointing at pretty colours’. He’s evolved. Just (don’t) check his blog, you wouldn’t know it.
George Allwell

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The New Year is under way, the drinks have been flowing and Andy Gray, Jamie Redknapp, Gabriel Marcotti, Alan Shearer and Ron Atkinson got together for a little chat. This is an edited* version of the pearls of wisdom flowing from the mouths of our most revered football pundits.

The night started with this gem from Mr Gray

“Would Barcelona be able to cope with the physicality of the Premier League? With the long throws and long balls that teams like Stoke and Blackburn would play against them? I don’t think so.”

Marcotti: Didn’t Barcelona beat Chelsea and Man United on the way to winning the Champions League recently?

Gray: Yeah but…

Atkinson: Bloody Spanish teams, keeping the ball on floor, knocking it about, they’d be done over in the Premier League.

Redknapp: Literally my Dad, he’d know what to do.

Gray: If only I had my electronic master Sky curly lines and red circles, I’d prove Stoke are a better side than Barcelona.

Marcotti: Didn’t Barcelona recently win every competition they entered in a season? The sextuple?

Gray: They didn’t win the Premiership though did they?

Atkinson: No they didn’t.

Marcotti: No, erm, they didn’t…

Redknapp: Literally, no they didn’t.

Shearer: I can confirm he’s right Gabby. Although my knowledge of Barcelona is limited.

Gray: So we agree I’m right? Majority rule and all that?

Redknapp, Atkinson, Shearer: Yes Andy.

Marcotti: Hmmm…

The conversation moved on, the pundits discussed the finer points of Zonal Marking, foreign players diving, too many foreign players, foreigners, immigration, the BNP**, and Marcus Desailly.

**that was mainly Big Ron

As things settled down, the conversation moved onto the World Cup 2010 – and more specifically the England failure.

Shearer: Too many foreign players.

Atkinson: Yeah, couldn’t agree more.

Gray: You’ve gotta blame the manager for me.

Redknapp: My Dad, literally, would’ve won it.

Marcotti: Don’t you think England achieved what was expected and lost to a better organised side in Germany?

Atkinson: No, we beat them in the war.

Redknapp: Literally, my Dad would’ve beat them in the war.

Shearer: I’d have scored. Although my knowledge of their team is severely limited.

Marcotti: But I was reading the other day, in this excellent book by Kuper and Szymanski , that England have done as well as can be expected over the past 30 years. Using a statistical analysis of every game, the players available, they found and I’ll quote

The record over the past 30 years has been remarkably consistent, with England usually hovering somewhere towards the back of the top 10 teams in the world. Which is about where we should be, given the size of our population and the percentage of that population that plays the game.

Atkinson: Nonsense.

Gray: Rubbish.

Redknapp: Literally.

Shearer: Limited.

Marcotti: Thanks for that. Good comeback. I’m off. Bye lads.

Atkinson: Bloody foreigner.

*By edited I mean mostly made up. However, here’s a few real quotes.

Andy Gray:

For my money, Duff servicing people from the left with his balls in there is the best option.I don’t like to see players tossed off needlessly

There are a lot of tired legs wearing Tottenham shirts.

Ron Atkinson:

Goalkeepers aren’t born today until they’re in their late 20s or 30s and sometimes not even then. Or so it would appear. To me anyway. Don’t you think the same?

It’s like a toaster, the ref’s shirt pocket. Every time there’s a tackle, up pops a yellow card. I’m talking metaphysically now of course.

Chile have three options – they could win or they could lose. It’s up to them, the tide is in their court now

Anyway, to finish off, this is a video that is just classic and features my favourite football commentator, who, despite his many gaffes, knows what he’s talking about. Chris Kamara, teek a bow son.

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The Ashes Diary: 1st Test

Day 1: So I thought it might be fun to do an Ashes diary, but from my perspective (bearing in mind I am a pub landlord, so staying up watching cricket all night is definitely not helping with my 200 hour working week!) as there are numerous diaries being kept by players and journalist alike who are […]

Day 2: I had a good response to day 1 from friends, randoms and even some journalists which is encouraging so I shall continue, as I write this (09.03am) I am watching highlights from last night, it is 7pm in Brisbane and still a balmy 20 degrees, in Llandudno it is…..snowing, a lot!! Trust me though, I […]

Day 3: It’s 8.27am as I start writing this, I am very tired but need to be up ready for 9.00to get some beer in (to sell, not to drink!) the reason as to why I have no beer in my pub is also the reason I didn’t start watching until late, we had Catfish and the […]

Day 4:   I never thought I would start any writing from anywhere with the lyrics to a song by Dinah Washington, but the lyrics really do work..come on, sing along.. “ What a difference a day makes – 24 little hours” ..what a difference indeed! 23.44pm: For those keeping up with the diary you will know I […]

Day 5: Still got a cracking headache from Saturday’s exploits so once again I am sat here ready for the start of play, I don’t really see any other outcome than a draw but would love to see England pile on the runs just to piss off Ponting, hammer home another 400 during the day would be […]

Gary Lineker Shits his pants:

The cleanest of clean cut footballers, the handsome anchor of BBC’s Match of the Day, a role model for the modern professional and now, someone who shits his pants while playing football, I remember seeing footage of David Beckham vomiting after scoring a goal in the 2006 world cup, I have even seen Paul Scholes […]

Barcelona FC: The Super System and ‘The Super Manita’.

By George Allwell… It was the fifth El Clasico victory in a row. One more victory against Real Madrid and Barcelona would equal the record for successive victories in the biggest football match of them all. Two victories and they would be the greatest. The classic team. Sid Lowe writes in his summing up of […

Two Days of Certain Gossip in the Premier League

By George Allwell… Reading through the famous daily gossip column on the BBC Sport website can be a time for hope, for optimism and the potential future. Your club is linked with the next Messi at a knockdown price. The next Zindane (Bruno Cheyrou). The legitimacy emanating from the formal words of a fully sourced […]

Doug Bollinger: Stupid Name for a Stupid Looking Man

Doug Bollinger (whose name sounds like a wino from a Fast Show sketch!) will be playing in the 2nd test for Australia after Mitchell Johnson was unceremoniously dumped after being…well, shit! So instead of highlighting the danger that his left arm seam will pose, I thought instead we would make a big deal of the […]

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The cleanest of clean cut footballers, the handsome anchor of BBC’s Match of the Day, a role model for the modern professional and now, someone who shits his pants while playing football, I remember seeing footage of David Beckham vomiting after scoring a goal in the 2006 world cup, I have even seen Paul Scholes ginger cock and balls after a warbrobe malfunction (I think thats the correct term) but I have no knowledge of somebody actually taking a shit during a match.

Lineker was giving an interview to mark his 50th birthday (50? really?) and was asked to confirm or deny the rumours, now here was an opportunity to kill it dead..

It didn’t happen, sorry to take 20 years to say that but I can catergorically deny that it ever happened!

Instead what he actually said was…

I’ve never admitted to it, but it’s true. It was a World Cup game. It’s filmed, I’ve seen it but unless you know (what was happening) you wouldn’t know.

So what were the circumstances that led to the aforementioned, pant-shitting?

I was not very well, I was poorly at half time but I carried on, the ball went down the left hand side, I did try to tackle someone, I stretched and then I relaxed myself. I was very fortunate it rained that night and I could do something about it. It was messy, it just came out, it happened. How much detail do you want?

To be honest Gary I would say I have had far too much detail already, so it really is true?

It’s true; it was the opening game of the 1990 World Cup against the Republic of Ireland. You can see me rubbing the ground like a dog; it was the most horrendous experience of my life, but I tell you I never found so much space in a game than I did that night after that happened!

I know that I would happily have gone the rest of my life watching Match of the Day safe in the knowledge that it doesn’t matter which cheating bastard is diving around like ballet dancer, no matter what psychopath is attempting to maim his opposition and it’s irrelavant which national captain is sleeping with his team-mates girlfriend, we could always look at the clean cut (albeit orange) Gary and think “why can’t all footballers be like him?”

Problem is, if they were all like him…well, it doesn’t bear thinking about!

If you want to watch Gary taking a shit then press play…don’t worry you don’t actually see any poo, but it is bloody funny!

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By George Allwell…

Reading through the famous daily gossip column on the BBC Sport website can be a time for hope, for optimism and the potential future. Your club is linked with the next Messi at a knockdown price. The next Zindane (Bruno Cheyrou). The legitimacy emanating from the formal words of a fully sourced and referenced BBC site. The link to the paper, the credibility, the prediction of hope. Things may be going shit for your club; but we, the BBC can just about scroll through the morning papers and daily football websites and give you the chance to dream, or curse. All at the tax payers expense. Not forgetting that the vast majority of it never ever comes true. The BBC gossip column – in the spirit of making things up just to fill up a space and take the piss and maybe even hit the nail on the head just once – is about 5% true.

If we just take a sample from Thursday and Friday last week, you can see Liverpool, a club with new but limited investment and a manger renowned for spending money on OAP’s and 35 year old’s, things look rather promising.

Liverpool are ready to challenge rivals Manchester United for Rosenborg’s Ghanaian midfielder Anthony Annan. (1005 GMT)
Full story: goal.com

Or

CSKA Moscow’s Japanese international Keisuke Honda is attracting interest ahead of the January transfer window with Arsenal, Liverpool, and AC Milan the interested parties. (0950 GMT)
Full story: sport.co.uk

Or

Liverpool and Tottenham target Ola Toivonen expects to stay at PSV Eindhoven this winter – but the Sweden striker has opened the door to a summer move.
Full story: Daily Mail

Or

Lille admit they face a battle to keep hold of Liverpool target Eden Hazard. The 19-year-old winger is also been tracked by Arsenal and Manchester United.

Or

Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier has placed an £80m price tag on Ashley Young after Manchester United and Liverpool revealed their interest in the winger.
Full story: Daily Mail

Or these two…

Liverpool could make a shock January move for Manchester City winger Adam Johnson.
Full story: Metro

West Ham striker Carlton Cole could be on his way to Liverpool in January after publicly criticising the tactics of Hammers manager Avram Grant.
Full story: Metro

Oh yes there’s definitely more, and remember that all these rumours are spread over only two days. Here’s the others…

In-form striker Johan Elmander has stalled on signing a new contract with Bolton – and sparked a scramble for his signature. Liverpool, Newcastle and Stoke are interested.
Full story: Daily Mirror

Palermo’s defensive midfielder Armin Bacinovic is a target for Chelsea and Liverpool.
Full story: talksport

One club, one whole new team, minus probably a keeper and a defence but certainly plenty of in-form or in the case of Carlton Cole (ignoring the Mickey Mouse Cup goals) permanently out of form strikers and a holding midfielder. Just the right mix. Of nonsense.

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