With the World Cup over and attention snapping quickly back to the 2018/19 season, there’s an additional sense of urgency in the transfer market.
The English transfer window will shut on the eve of the new season – weeks earlier than the rest of Europe – creating an even greater sense of urgency than usual among managers to plug the gaps in their squad. Such haste will surely lead to more poorly-researched deals that see clubs short-changed, but there will also be some whose nous allows them to thrive in such a high-stakes market.
We’ve cast our eye back to the deals done in the Premier League and EFL last summer, comparing what each signing achieved on the pitch with their total cost to the club – based on reported fees and wages – to see which players represented the best and worst value for money in a range of categories.
Wage data in particular is tricky to come by, so we’ve made use of the figures quoted in Football Manager 2018 to help us estimate what each player earns. We’ve decided to ignore loan deals and also any payments besides the transfer fee due to how little information is available on how much was paid by each party.
In terms of raw minutes, the best value for money in terms of top-flight signings last season was Kiko Femenia’s free transfer to Watford, which cost the Hornets just £562 for every minute he played in the Premier League. The worst value signing by comparison was Benjamin Mendy of Manchester City who, thanks to a long-term injury, cost Pep Guardiola’s side a whopping £142,000 for each minute he spent on the pitch.
The numbers are much smaller in the EFL but there’s still plenty of variation, with Jake Cooper costing Millwall under £46 per minute in the Championship, Walsall spending under £10 for each minute racked up by Luke Leahy in League One and League Two’s leading bargain Jamie Grimes’ time costing Cheltenham just over £7 per minute.
There’s more to playing football than just turning up, so we’ve also measured the players in each position by the most relevant metric available. Starting with forwards we have the obvious measure of goals scored, where veterans provided the best value in the Premier League.
With both Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe not commanding a transfer fee, their goals cost the equivalent of just over £800,000 each, with Huddersfield’s Laurent Depoitre the only other striker whose Premier League tally worked out at under a million pounds per goal.
Sean Maguire’s move to Preston was the canniest deal in the Championship, with each of his goals costing the equivalent of just £26,000. In League One there was finally some joy for Gillingham’s towering striker Tom Eaves, who spent a frustrating 2016/17 at Yeovil but was reinvigorated for the Gills with each league goal costing under £4,000.
In League Two there are rumours of seven-figure bids being made for Cheltenham’s Mo Eisa, which would be an astonishing return for a signing who found the net once for every £1,500 spent on him last season.
For midfielders we’ve rolled assists and goals together to reflect the different roles fulfilled by players behind the strikers, and two players stand out in the Premier League as having provided excellent value for money.
Pascal Gross notched a goal or an assist for every £284,000 that Brighton spent on him and Eric Choupo-Moting’s output was only marginally more expensive for Stoke. Despite his sizeable transfer fee, Mohamed Salah offered the third best value – at just over £1 million per goal or assist – thanks to his prodigious output for Liverpool last term.
Cardiff’s elevation to the Premier League was powered by some smart signings and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing stands head and shoulders above the rest. Despite arriving in unglamorous fashion on a free from Rochdale in the division below, each goal or assist he provided set the Welsh side back just over £14,000.
For defenders we’ve used clean sheets as our metric, only including those where the player was on the pitch for at least some of the match. Again we find Femenia of Watford leading the way, with each of the shut-outs they managed with him present costing just shy of £150,000.
By far the worst value was Kevin Wimmer’s move to Stoke, which cost the Potters over £20m in total and delivered a solitary clean sheet for which the luckless Austrian can claim to have played any part in.
For goalkeepers we’ve looked at the saves they’ve made as the determinant of value, which highlights Mathew Ryan’s move to Brighton as the best value for money by far. If you divide the combined transfer fee and wages thought to have been paid by the Seagulls, each save made by their Australian custodian sets them back less than £60,000.
Bizarrely the worst value signing by this measure is Ederson’s move to Manchester City, simply because he had so few saves to make last season: each one cost the champions over £700,000!
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