Wednesday, 19 January 2011

What price Andy Carroll?

If you’d had to put money on which North East club would sell their leading scorer this transfer window it probably wouldn’t have been Sunderland.

Andy Carroll’s departure from Newcastle always seemed more likely with several clubs eyeing up the striker like a wannabe WAG in the Bigg Market.  Yet, Newcastle are adamant they won’t sell.

But every player has their price and no one knows this better than Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn, who has learnt from the club’s bitter experience. He tells the tale of how former chairman Bob Murray knocked back a then-record breaking £16m bid for Quinn’s Sunderland strike partner of the time Kevin Phillips (ironically from Aston Villa) for fear of upsetting the fans. The Black Cats thus didn’t have the cash to improve the squad and were relegated a couple of seasons later and Phillips was moved on – for just £3m.

Quinn said: "Bob Murray thought he was doing the right thing by the football club and the fans but I know the right thing to do is as soon as there is a whiff of £16m, get another one in for £8m. Then you have the best of both worlds."

What he stumbled across was a formula that had been discovered by the best managers along time before.  Brian Clough's late friend and assistant Peter Taylor wrote a virtual how to manual on the transfer market. Among the rules outlined in With Clough by Taylor Taylor says "It's as important in football as in the stock market to sell at the right time." The dynamic duo were always trying to identify the point at which a player's value had peaked and then moving them on before any deterioration was noticed by potential buyers.

Batman and Robin

Quinn's sell high, buy low philosophy has also formed the basis for the success for several clubs on the continent, most notably Lyon and Porto. They also view the transfer market more like the stock exchange, keenly tracking the value of players and selling them the moment someone offers more than they themselves consider the player to be worth.

The approach has served both clubs well. Lyon won Le Championnat seven seasons straight between 2002 and 2008, despite never having won it prior to that, and last season reached the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time.

Porto also dominate at home while punching above their weight in Europe (winning the Uefa Cup and Champions League in 2003 and 2004 respectively).  Those triumphs might also have had something to do with their exceptional coach, one José Mourinho, but even now the Special One is long departed the club consistently reaches the latter stages of Europe's premier club competition while generating profits year-on-year despite not having the kind of TV revenue available to those teams on even the lowest rung of the England's Premier League ladder.

Back in the chilly North East of England, Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has made his position on Carroll very clear: “Spurs can bid whatever they like.  He’s not for sale.  I am going to say it one last time, Andy’s not for sale.”

Really? Not at any price?

Harry Redknapp (who isn’t a fucking wheeler dealer- right?) reckons you'd be 'talking £30m to £40m' to sign Newcastle’s number nine. That's quite a hefty sum, especially when you bear in mind Darren Bent has just cost Villa £18m (rising to £24m with add-ons). 

Honestly, Mr Capello, they paid £18 million...

Bent may not be a fashionable player, but he's a consistent Premier League goal scorer.  In fact, as Opta Joe pointed out only Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney have scored more top-flight goals than Bent since August 2005 (82 a piece to Bent's 81) and only Drogba and Carlos Tevez have scored more than Bent since August 2009 (37 each to Bent's 32). Conversely, Carroll has 14 Premier League goals in 41 appearances.

It’s not surprising that in England two of the best traders on the transfer market stock exchange are the two most successful and longest serving bosses currently in the Premier League.  Both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have a keen eye for knowing when to sell – identifying the point at which they can extract maximum value before a player’s price falls.

Often those players are in their late 20s – that is to say arguably still at their peak – but most have gone on to be pale imitations of the players they were at Old Trafford or the Emirates.

Wenger has pursued a ruthlessly pragmatic policy when dealing with even the most iconic Arsenal players.  Both Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry (the club's all-time leading scorer) were sold before they passed 30, both turned a profit for the club and both had injury-marred post-Arsenal careers.  The same is true of Marc Overmars (£18m profit) who retired from the game just four years after leaving Arsenal as well as Emmanuel Petit, Robert Pires and Edu.

Ferguson is the same.  He was quick to dispatch David Beckham to the Bernabau when Real Madrid came calling with a cheque for £25m.  Goldenballs was aged just 28 and was England captain at the time.  It's not hard to imagine the reaction of the Toon Army if Newcastle sold a player in similar circumstances.  They'd be queuing up to throw their shirts into the Tyne and there'd probably be a run on pitchforks.

However, United (that’s Manchester) haven’t done badly without Becks, managing to win three League titles and something called the Champions League since he left. In a perfect example of selling high and buying low, the sixth Spice Girl was immediately replaced in Manchester United's number seven shirt by Ronaldho who was bought for just half the fee received for the England skipper.

The Portuguese was aged just 18 and went on to become World player of the year before moving to Real Madrid six seasons later for a world record fee of £80m. A tidy piece of business.

And so back to Andy Carroll. While he's not in his late 20s yet, the flip side is that his perceived value is based on his potential.  But the problem with potential is it doesn't always come to fruition, just ask Francis Jeffers (a rare Wenger error), Stan Collymore or a host of others.

What’s Carroll really worth to the club and when's the right time to sell him?  That's the £40million question for Pardew and co but if they're going to find the right answer they have see the light like Quinn - not only does every player have a price, every player should have a price.

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