In 2017, FC Barcelona’s revenue was almost 800 million. In 2018, FC Barcelona’s revenue was more than 900 million. By 2020, the club is projected to be over a billion in annual revenue.
Let’s say you make 40,000 per annum, and you decide to buy a suit. A decent one, that is about 400 bucks. You take some friends to shop with you, and one says, “Don’t do it. 400 for that suit is a disaster.” Is it?
Willian. We hear the rumors, we hear the rumored price, and people lose their minds. One Twitter commentator called that deal at that a price a “disaster,” which means we probably will need a new word for things that cause loss of life and widespread damage. Let’s assume the rumors are true, that FC Barcelona is going to pay 80m for a 30-year-old player. Where does that sit in the club’s fiscal context, and do big clubs require that we reconsider notions of numbers and what they mean, even aside from the accounting boondoggles that club managers engage in.
Context matters. If you are buying that suit on the day you have lost your job, that isn’t a prudent decision, short-term. But let’s say that suit lets you make a nice enough presentation where you land a 60,000 per annum job? Money well spent, right? Big picture.
It isn’t that long ago that Sandro Rosell took over the presidency of FC Barcelona, and took Joan Laporta to task. Revenue then was almost 400m. Yikes. So how do we think about money, players and sums spent for them? Can we even wrap our minds around the sums required? It’s difficult, so we apply parameters to them. “He’s 30, it’s bad value,” or “What will his salary be, how will that affect ratios,” because we need context that we can get our heads around.
The basic reality is that for a club that makes what FC Barcelona does, 80m isn’t a lot for a player. If that player helps the club win Champions League as a theoretical, what is his value then? When Paulinho was signed for 40m, people lost their minds. Again, it was context. 29 years old. Tottenham failure. China league. The worst paramaters are always applied. Nobody said, “In context, 40m isn’t that much, particularly in the current price structure,” or “He’s a starter for Brazil,” then considered the best NT in the world.
Fools like me said that 40m is the new 15m in the current transfer market structure, but monies spent on players depends on ambition and how supporters feel about a transfer. 140m for Dembele could be considered sillier than 80m for Willian. Dembele had a good season at Rennes, went to Dortmund, had another good season, et voila. Willian has been kicking ass since Shakhtar, was an integral part of the Chelsea championship team. He tore Barça a new one in Champions League play, stood out for Chelsea this Premiership season past and sparkled for Brazil at the World Cup.
Yet of necessity, we must consider the worst. He’s 30, erratic and expensive. The rumored transfer is stupid. Reality is that it doesn’t matter. FC Barcelona isn’t going to have to declare bankruptcy any time soon. We don’t like it? Okay. That and a couple of bucks will get a cup of coffee. Are we going to stop supporting the club because it was silly enough in our eyes to spend 80m for a mercurial 30-year-old? Naaaah. We’re going to take to social media and spend a few cents’ worth of bandwitch grousing and pissing about it, which will change reality not an iota. And when Willian scores goals, we won’t not cheer them because it was a stupid transfer that cost more than we believed that it should.
As a construct, price is in many ways a function of perception. Paulinho is a great footballing example. For 40m, what did Barça get? A player integral in helping the club win a domestic double. Value? More than fair. And then he flitted back to China in a deal that will make the club 10m. So he helped win trophies AND turned a profit. Not bad for a 29-year-old never was.
Coutinho cost 160m. Worth it? Is he twice as good as Willian? Will he be twice as effective in helping the team achieve its goals as Willian? No. But we like Coutinho, like the transfer, like his age and what he represents. So good on yer, FC Barcelona. You got the player you needed, and a little expensive? Okay. But nobody is calling that deal stupid business, or a disaster, which demands (not begs … stop that) the question of price as related to perception.
The rumored price for Willian is stupid because of his age, his current club (don’t lie) and perception. Now for 30m? Now we’re talking, right? But he’s still 30, so what changes? His skills are still a constant, but the idea of a bargain is now in play. That 400 suit is on sale for 200, and you don’t even think twice about snapping it up. It’s a quite good thing for a number that makes more sense in your mind. That is transfers.
None of the prices in the transfer market make sense, and player value is an arbitrary construct. Clubs apply numbers based on a player’s accomplishment and what a potential buying team will need. A player such as Willian, judiciously used, can play for another two seasons at his current level. Then what? Who cares? Because big clubs aren’t selling clubs.
Sevilla snapped up Clement Lenglet for a fraction of what they sold him for. If his talent is as true as we think, 35m will prove to be a bargain. The Ter Stegen fee was a steal. So was the Umtiti fee. The club took a risk, and was rewarded. Usually selling clubs take that risk, then charge a premium for the risk, based on player profile. Big clubs buy a player, use him up or see him tank, then get him out of the door when no longer needed or effective. Up sides or bottom lines don’t matter.
“Real Madrid sold Ronaldo for 100m,” many will say, citing good business. It was great business for RM. They get the salary off the table, lose a player who was holding back the starting XI and move on to the next phase. Could they have gotten more for Ronaldo? Of course. Some will say that 100m was bad business, but not from any rational context. Almost every transfer that a big club does won’t be beneficial to the big club. There are rare exceptions, such as when Barça sold Toure Yaya, Pedro Rodriguez or Alexis Sanchez.
We scream when the Villas or Alveses leave on a free, but what is their real value? We apply arbitrary numbers, based on our affection for a player. Market reality is the biggest value of those players for the big club is getting the salary off the books so that they can spend it on someone else. Whatever fee is paid for Willian, assuming any truth at all to rumor, will be sent down the drain as regards resale value. He and most transfers for big clubs are that new car that is worth 40 percent less as soon as you drive it off the lot, then depreciates from there. Get used to it. Or not.
People say 50m for Frenkie De Jong is a bargain. Why? He hasn’t been proven at the top level yet, hasn’t seen the crucible of a big club, of World Cup play or European knockouts. A bargain why? Perception. Talent, youth, pedigree carry the day there, and supporters like that transfer, therefore it isn’t a risk, even as it is a huge one. Arthur, however much the social media campaigns tell us to enjoy him, we have no idea about. Almost 40m for a player unproven in the biggest stage? No risk, because Arthur is cool, a profile needed, controller, blablabla. Perception.
What kind of value might a player such as Willian have brought, coming off the bench against Roma? Hell, Dembele almost turned the table and he isn’t near Willian’s level yet. Ah. Short-term thinking? Of course it is. Supporters, sponsors, players, eveyone wants the club to win now. We talk about wasting the dwindling time that Messi has left, then crap on the idea of a very useful player who should help maximize that time. What do we want, really?
We don’t know what will happen with Willian, or any other rumnored Barça transfer this summer. But it’s worth reconsidering our ideas about price, value and how we assign those to players. Willian for 80m would make me scream and say things like “Silly,” or “WTF?!” But why, and what is the justification?