The Robin van Persie transfer: Is there any value in it?

by Mark Houston

While pursuing the young Brazilian Lucas Moura, Sir Alex Ferguson recently stated that “when a team is paying 45 million Euros (approximately £35m) for a 19-year-old boy you have to say the game’s gone mad”.

It is hard to argue with him, but for those of us who remember back a few years the irony is not lost. Perhaps Ferguson has led to his own demise here and contributed to the maddening of the transfer market himself.

By using the Transfer Price Index, created by Paul Tomkins for his excellent book (co-written by Graeme Riley and Gary Fulcher) “Pay As You Play: The true price of success in the Premier League era”, a football transfer inflation calculator which adjusts and adapts figures relative to the market today, we get an idea of the “true” amount spent on a player in previous years, in relative terms.

Interestingly, there are three British transfers that continue to be at the top that surpass even the recent big money moves of Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll:

Alan Shearer to Newcastle in 1995/96 which was worth £50.5m in today’s money.

Rio Ferdinand to Manchester United in 2002/03 which was worth £61.6m in today’s money.

And out in front, Wayne Rooney to Manchester United in 2004/05 which was worth £62.6m in today’s money.

If we then look at it in the context of Fergie’s quote, £62.6m for an 18 year old, the game went mad a while ago.

Seemingly though, his frustration is rather down to Ferguson having to tighten the purse-strings in recent seasons as the Glazers continue to accumulate debt at the Manchester club with fewer big money moves coming into the red half of Manchester than their cross-city rivals or Londoners Chelsea. The Cristiano Ronaldo money hasn’t really been re-invested and a hole in midfield last season wasn’t fixed by an exciting new signing; rather by calling Paul Scholes out of retirement suggesting there isn’t much money to play with for the wily old Scot.

So, when he does sink his teeth into the transfer market it is expected that he has done his homework and the deal does represent value for money – except when bringing in Portuguese players from the third division, but that is another matter altogether, and a very suspicious one at that.

The deal for Japanese international Shinji Kagawa does look a good piece of business. A young superstar on the rise who wanted the move to Manchester, Dortmund couldn’t refuse their advances and, as often is the case in Germany, the deal went through at a fair price for all concerned.

However, the most high-profile move of the summer was that of Robin van Persie, moving from arch-rivals Arsenal for a fee believed to be in the region of £24m.

When you are buying from rivals there is often a premium, and with only one year left on his contract the fee does seem somewhat inflated; even more so when you consider that last season was the exception to van Persie’s EPL career, rather than adhering to the rule in terms of both appearances and goals scored.

Ultimately, does this transfer represent value for money?

In order to establish what United can expect from their expensive new investment a comparison is going to be drawn with another former Gunner who recently made a move, albeit a less-publicised and outrageous one, Emmanuel Adebayor.

(All fees and figures are taken from media reports and official statistics).

So, Manchester United signed van Persie for £24m plus between £40m and £50m in wages over a 4 year contract.

Spurs signed Adebayor for £5m and are paying him in the region of £80,000 a week – or £12,480,000 over 3 years – plus a £4m signing on fee.

Looking at both of their time in England (Adebayor has two less seasons than RVP, he was signed by Arsenal in a January window and spent a further six months on loan at Madrid):

Adebayor has scored 78 league goals in 171 appearances at a rate of a goal every 2.19 games (he also played 14 times for Madrid and scored 5 goals, if we include that his games per goal ratio increases by 0.06, but for the sake of consistency we will just compare their time in the English Premier League).

Van Persie has scored 96 league goals in 194 appearances at a rate of a goal every 2.02 games.

Van Persie, due to his injury history, averages 24.25 league appearances per season meaning you can expect (by averages) about 12 goals.

Adebayor, in six seasons, averages 28.50 appearances per season meaning you can expect (by averages) about 14 goals.

The Adebayor statistics are misleading though, it includes his first six months at Arsenal where he was just a squad player and only scored 4 goals in 13 appearances, and the time he was at City where he was frozen out of the first team due to their abundance of attacking options – he only played 8 matches and scored 1 goal. By comparison, van Persie has a first teamer from his first season at Arsenal.

If you eliminate this equivalent of a full season from Adebayor’s career (to compare only time when they were both first choice for their respective teams) his stats change to:

73 goals in 150 appearances, 1 goal every 2.05 matches which puts him only 0.03 behind van Persie in terms of strike rate. But here’s the kicker, he now averages 30 appearances a season meaning, on the basis of averages, you will get about 15 goals – 3 more than Van Persie averages.

So, who got the better deal?

Manchester United, spending £64m-£74m for an injury-prone 29 year old and paying him until he is 33?

Or Tottenham, paying £21m for a 28 year old, who has no serious injury record, and scores about an identical rate but averages more games per season, and only having him on the books until he is 31?

And Fergie says there is no value in the transfer market… Perhaps he just needs to have a better look.

3 Responses

  1. Gary D says:

    To be fair this is good analysis which does make a good point and makes asks a reasonable question. However it does miss a point that RVPs goal return has increased and injury time decreased in recent seasons. In comparison in recent seasons Adebayor’s goal return and games played have decreased. Adebayor’s transfers to city, real Madrid and now permanent deal to spurs has more to do with his potential to recapture his arsenal form than recent form. There is a reason city and Madrid decided to move him on. while RVP was the best striker in England last year. statistics can lie….

  2. Florian says:

    You do make a good analysis, but there is one gaping flaw in it.:

    – Adebayor has had a prolific start to his season in England. I think his second with Arsenal is when he scored the most goals (20-odd?) after which he petered out.

    – RvP had the opposite trajectory, he started out ‘all right’ and started to his serious form in January 2011 (6 1/2 years after coming to England) which is about the time he stopped getting injured (fingers crossed).

    Let’s face it if we buy players on career form then it would not be ridiculous to pay 50 million for Shearer today, but what really matters – what attracts scouts is current form and RvP is on it and Adebayor off it.

    And there`s no doubt that Tottenham got a good deal . They paid City 5 million (much less than he`s worth) which will come back to them in the shape Adebayor`s wages over the next 50 weeks. And yes, United overpaid for RvP, but the two transfers are not exactly comparable.

    @florianpowell

  3. Jarrad says:

    Just @Florian, Adebayor scored 17 in 33 for Tottenham last season. I’d say that is in form???

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