Transfer fees don’t matter

We’ve all done it. When a player is transferred the debate begins. Is it worth it, was the price fair, what does/can the player add to the game to make that kinda mojo worthwhile? We discuss punts, seeming sure things, parsing Euros, Pounds and dollars.

And none of it matters a whit. When Football Leaks divulged the details of the Luis Suarez contract, it was greeted mostly with incredulity that he cost exactly what the Barça board said that he did. Isaiah dug deeper, looking at the price and the cost of the Suarez transfer. We know that Suarez cost EUR82m, give or take a few cents. And our lives are better with that knowledge, because …

Football transfers are a mysterious world in which clauses, riders, bonus payments and other shenanigans bang hither and yon. As supporters of the various teams we love, there is the breathless following of the negotiations, usually something that begins with a whisper, a rumor and then suddenly … life!

Barça has had a great number of conversation-inducing transfers, from Neymar to Mathieu to Suarez to … Douglas. Ah, Douglas, the deal that has sparked more outrage and “waste of money” talk than any other transfer in FC Barcelona history. And to what end? In a broader sense, who cares, really? It isn’t your money, even if you’re a soci. People rant and blather about the club’s sustainability and future, as if they know and worry more about that than the board elected to ensure that future and sustainability.

This transfer is a bargain, that transfer a waste of money. The simple reality is that players are, at the big club level, bought and sold for sums that we can’t begin to get out minds around. Who the hell is legitimately worth ONE million, never mind 100 million? It’s easy to understand why people think that it matters to them, however. We love our football clubs, and want to know everything about them, right down to what the dude who hands out the towels is being paid. Some of us are more or less informed than others. Some track individual board members, others just want to know what the final score was of the latest match.

But everybody cares about transfers and what they cost.

Let’s assume for an instant that a club is going to transfer fee its way into insolvency, and Barça is that club. Let’s assume that the stories about the club not having enough money to renew everyone, pay the electric bill and keep Messi in PlayStation controllers are true. The question remains: so? Most of us reacted the same way when the Suarez numbers came out: “They didn’t lie.” So now what?

Douglas came to Barça for, according to Transfermarkt, EUR4m. “Traffic scam,” “waste of money,” “criminal,” were some of the things bandied about. For a club such as FC Barcelona, one looking to take in north of EUR600m in revenues this season, 4m in that context is one of us buying a coffee to go. It’s an immaterial sum. In the broader sense, it’s a sum that doesn’t change our lives a single iota. None of us will be sleeping better or worse in the wake of a transfer (if that isn’t true, seek help). Thomas Vermaelen was a waste of a fee because he was never going to play a minute for Barça, many screamed. So what?

And the question lingers: what does it matter what a player’s transfer fee is or was? Football Leaks is putting contracts out there in an effort to debunk the great mystery of the world of football. The effort is laudable, but the sporting press is rather diligent in its job. What we usually find is that the reports are accurate. Press outlets said that Suarez cost 82m, and so did the board. Liverpool said that he cost something different, which was widely assumed to be a move to placate their supporters so that they don’t think Suarez was given away for the mere cost of 82 million Euros. And the world is a better place.

Barça has had some controversial transfers of late. Neymar’s is still keeping court reporters typing away. Before that, the Zlatan Ibrahimovic move railed and roiled. The deal was like a EUR66m transfer, but it involved sending beloved striker Samuel Eto to Inter Milan along with a few trunkloads of cash. A year later, The Zlatan was offloaded to AC Milan for 24m, payable in three easy installments. Yow.

What was interesting about this transfer was the recriminations more than the actual sums. Guardiola requested it, Laporta executed it, Sandro Rosell is blamed for it. This brings us a bit closer to speculation about some of the reasons that transfers and the attendant fees matter.

Football is something of a massive soap opera. We need to know who to love, who to hate and who to be indifferent about. The game revolves around numbers: goals, fees, revenues. A transfer fee allows us to not only place some sort of value on a player, but it’s a benchmark. We all worry about what we’re going to get for our money. On vacation, you can sleep in a hotel that costs EUR100 per nite, or EUR1000 per nite. You do the same thing in both places: sleep. Why does one cost more, and why should we worry about what anyone decides to do or pay that isn’t us?

Value. Douglas is a far worse transfer than Suarez, almost everyone agrees, because he isn’t helping the club. We paid 4m for a handsome, breakable bauble. Suarez, on the other hand, who cost 20 times as much, is fair value because look at the goals, and the championships. And we feel better about a sum that is fundamentally absurd.

Let’s round up the Neymar fee to 100m. His cost is one-sixth of Barça projected revenues for this fiscal year. We sit around and say, “Well, for what he does, it’s money well-spent.” My heavens, what a mad world we live in.

In many ways, transfer fees lie at a root of an existential question: Should we worry about things that don’t really matter to us, and of what value is that worry? Only you can answer that question but from this chair, the answer is clear. Will this keep me from opining on social media the next time Barça is linked to some CB or forward? Reflex is weird, and something might kick in, so who knows? Old habits are hard to break.

But every time your hackles raise at mention of this fee or that fee for a player, ask yourself why? Why does it matter? The answer might surprise you.

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. I have to disagree with this on a variety of levels. The main one is that it *does* matter what the fees are if you’re a soci and/or you care not just about image, but the year-to-year economics and where the money for those transfers comes from. We can afford to shell out large amounts of cash because we have large numbers of high-paying sponsors. It does matter what we’re told as well because institutional integrity, transparency, and trust are extremely important to some fans. If it’s not to you, okay, I can see that as a legitimate way to be a fan, but then why be a soci? Why bother supporting the club financially and with the option to vote for presidents, for administrations, for, in essence, a lot of the things we’re talking about here?

    I’m genuinely interested in the answer to that question.

    1. You are a soci because you love, and are interested deeply in the club. So yes, you can follow politics, vote for presidents, participate in any way that you can. But whether the club spent 70 or 80 or 100m on a player is, for me, pretty much pointless.

      Suarez cost what the club said. There’s the integrity, transparency and trust. Every obstacle that is set up in l’Affaire Neymar is hurdled by the board. This, despite people still believing things such as that the club laid on an orgy for Neymar Sr., as part of the … erm … bonus package.

      I can care about the actions of a board. I can care about the actions of a president. Aspects of the club and its politics under varied and sundry presidents can concern me, as a soci. But transfer fees? I’d have as much effect nattering about the price of gas.

    2. “But transfer fees? I’d have as much effect nattering about the price of gas.”

      You would have the same effect talking about politics and what not too, we do it anyways.

      So I think, if someone is bothered about the transfer prices the club pays – it very much is just as reasonable (for him) as being bothered about the ‘ethics’ of certain actions of the board. For me, some actions like paying money for someone like Douglas clearly is inefficiency, if not outright ‘fishy’ – so yes, transfer prices do matter. Although, I understand the authors points about subjectivity and opaqueness of it all.

      (Not that I am a soci, or intend to be one in near future)

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