Does an expensive forward guarantee you goals?
We are at that time of the year when supporters find themselves either getting anxious or excited about new signings; identifying who could be the missing piece in the jigsaw or who that vital addition may be that could elevate their team to higher eschelons. Most excitement, anticipation or frustration centres around the impending addition of a new centre-forward; the ‘fox-in-the-box’, the ‘big target-man’, the ‘nippy little striker’, the player who will guarantee you goals, and debate is arduous as we all have our own opinions on who we see as that ideal player to lead the line.
In a time that transfer fees and player wages have surpassed astronomical descriptions, my team, Derby County, like many others, are struggling to compete for those top-end signings; those players who are thought will add much needed potency going forward, and much to the annoyance of some supporters, are left battling it out for cheaper alternatives.
This has got me thinking however; does an expensive centre forward guarantee you goals?
The issue with many Championship clubs is that invariably, strikers cost more than other positions on the pitch; however, as soon as someone starts scoring goals (at any level – see Craig Mackail-Smith), then their price elevates rapidly and therefore either limits which clubs are able to purhase the player or identifies which ones are most desperate to fill this position with someone who is credible with supporters.
Last season’s Championship top goalscorer was Watford’s Danny Graham who has signed for newly promoted Swansea City for £3.5million; what I find most interesting however is that he signed for The Hornets on a free transfer; that is an incredibly astute piece of financial business. Eight players scored 17 or more league goals last season in the Championship; only three of them cost their club a penny with the most expensive being Swansea City’s Scott Sinclair who made the move to Wales from Chelsea for £500,000.
The list is below:
Danny Graham (23 league goals, signed on a free transfer from Carlisle Utd)
Shane Long (21 league goals, signed on a free transfer from Cork City)
Grant Holt (21 league goals, signed from Shrewsbury Town for £400,000)
Luciano Becchio (19 league goals, signed from Merida on a free transfer)
Scott Sinclair (19 league goals, signed for £500,000 from Chelsea)
Adel Taarabt (19 league goals, signed on a free transfer from Tottenham Hotspur)
Max Gradel (18 league goals, signed on a free transfer from Leicester City)
Jay Bothroyd (17 league goals, signed for £300,000 from Wolverhampton Wanderers)
To buy any of the above players now (Taarabt for instance is being linked with a huge money move to France) would cost considerably more than each of the clubs paid for their services. Is the key therefore to buy cleverly and cheaply?
In the 2009/10 season, five players scored at least 17 league goals, of which only one, Bristol City’s Nicky Maynard cost a significant amount of money, (I am purposefully omitting Newcastle Utd’s Kevin Nolan from that statement as the £4million spent on him was a Premier League buy and not to fulfil the role of Championship goalscorer). There are two notable names in the top scorers list from that season, one being Andy Carroll, a homegrown talent who is now holder of the British record transfer fee and Scunthorpe Utd’s Gary Hooper who signed for £175,000 from Southend Utd and is now plying his trade at Glasgow Celtic for the cost of £2.4million and reasserts the notion that cheaper acquisitions aren’t necessarily a poorer option.
If we go back to 2008/09, Sylvain Ebanks-Blake scored 25 league goals after his £1.5million move from Plymouth Argyle; however, only 15 months previously he signed for The Pilgrims for £200,000. Jason Scotland and Kevin Doyle also scored heavily that season, both have since moved on for in excess of a combined fee of £8million and again highlight the importance of being clever with signing a player in this key position.
When discussing value for money centre-forwards, Kevin Doyle and Reading are often mentioned, as along with the Irish international they have made other astute striking acquisitions in the form of Shane Long, Dave Kitson and Noel Hunt; all players who can score goals and not one cost a great deal of money. Indeed, in the 2005/06 season, both Kitson and Doyle scored 18 league goals at a combined cost of £150,000, the price of Kitson’s transfer from Cambridge Utd. The collective income generated from these two amassed £12million for the Berkshire club and is a great example of not needing to spend big on a ‘tried and tested’ Championship goalscorer. Two other players scored more than 17 league goals that season, Watford’s Marlon King (a £500,000 purchase from Nottingham Forest) who was later sold to Wigan Athletic for £5million, and Cardiff City’s Cameron Jerome (picked up for nothing from Middlesbrough’s youth team) who moved to Birmingham City for £3million. In 2005/06, King, Kitson, Jerome and Doyle scored a combined 75 goals, cost £650,000 and were later sold for £20million!
Those four players weighed in with a league goal per £2,167 of transfer fee; although good, that’s still not as good as last season’s group of eight where ‘value for money’ can be measured at £949 of transfer fees spent per goal and is evidence that spending great amounts is not always needed in order to find yourselves a goalscorer.
The following outlines the average cost of players scoring 17 or more league goals in the Championship since 2001 and what this reflects in terms of the £ per goal measurement:
2011 (8 players – avg cost £150,000 – £949 per goal)
2010 (5 players – avg cost £1.355m – £14,570 per goal)
2009 (5 players – avg cost £400,000 – £3,922 per goal)
2008 (4 players – avg cost £1.175m – £14,688 per goal)
2007 (6 players – avg cost £1.166m – £9,722 per goal)
2006 (4 players – avg cost £162,500 – £2,167 per goal)
2005 ( 10 players – avg cost £625,000 – £3,238 per goal)
2004 (6 players – avg cost £583,333 – £4,944 per goal)
2003 (8 players – avg cost £937,500 – £5,580 per goal)
2002 (9 players – avg cost £650,556 – £3,614 per goal)
2001 (9 players – avg cost £1.194m – £6,527 per goal)
Within each season there are going to be anomolies; for instance, Matt Jansen cost Blackburn Rovers £4.1million and scored 23 league goals in 2001 and both Kenny Miller and David Johnson cost Wolverhampton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest £3million and weighed in with 19 and 25 league goals respectively in 2003; but the clear conclusion from the analysis is that an expensive forward is not always the answer. What appears to be the most successful route is for a player to be acquired who has the right attributes to fit into a team and its formation comfortably.
There are too many examples of a forward having a prolific season (I have identified that as scoring 17 or more league goals in this instance) and not commanding a large transfer fee to write off any cheaper acquisitions. More astute managers will identify that value for money is key; what is the point spending £2million on a player who scores you the same amount of goals as someone who cost a tenth of the price; particularly if your pot of cash isn’t bottomless?
The trouble is with football is that there are no guarantees. If you could guarantee that Nicky Maynard (£4.75million anyone?), Shane Long, Billy Sharp or any other Championship striker out there would score you lots of goals, win you promotion and increase their asset price, then they would be a safer bet to spend the huge amounts of money that it would cost to pry them away from their clubs (not to mention cost of wages and also the need to offer them something that they haven’t got at their current club… chance of promotion being the obvious one). However, as this is not the case, a more measured and considered approach is often necessary. Good managers tend to pick players up that slip comfortably and successfully into the team both on and off the field and represent good value for money which ultimately sees them move on at a much greater price than they were bought. Examples include Graham, Hooper, Doyle, Kitson, King and Jerome that have already been mentioned, but others including Chopra, Kamara Macken and Andrew Johnson have all scored well having been bought wisely and then sold on for much larger sums. Equally, names like Lisbie, Cureton, Iwelumo, Shipperley, Furlong, Morrison, Carroll and Ashton are proof that clever purchases or a youngster from the reserves can also be as equally successful as that much lauded multi-million pound centre forward.
So when we fail to make that headline grabbing big money centre-forward signing this summer, I for one won’t be jumping about and screaming that Nigel Clough has gone mad, I trust his judgement and understand that there may be other options out there that represent better value for money; and to be honest, I think there is much greater satisfaction obtained out of taking a relatively unknown quantity and turning them into a household name than it is pinching someone else’s best player.