Soccernomics, Transfer Rumors and the January Window

You shall stay, Cheik. Unless you shall go.

Or: Can We Hope To Predict Which Players Will Or Won't Move With Any Degree Of Certainty?

Or:  Will Newcastle United Cash In On Integral First Team Players Such As Cheik Tiote And Fabricio Coloccini?

Or:  THEY WILL SELL ANY PLAYER OF ANY QUALITY AND RUIN OUR CLUB!!!!11!!!!11!

We sit 40 days away from the opening of the January transfer window, and while there are some enjoyable rumors regarding potential additions to the Newcastle United squad, there are rumors that are persisting or cropping up that will likely unsettle Newcastle support, especially with a benefit of hindsight with previous transfer dealings and promises.  Is there a way to rank potential January departures by using the Mission Statement and certain relevant transfer philosophies? 

In the idea formulation part of this post, I felt that it was important to try to take the pulse of the fan base at large regarding attitudes towards senior squad players.  Generally speaking, the feedback was quite as I expected.  Players such as Tim Krul, Yohan Cabaye, Cheik Tiote, Fabricio Coloccini and Demba Ba hold status within the fan base as "untouchable" so far as the transfer window goes, and rightfully so.  Any attempt to kick on from the massive start that we've had to the season is going to hinge on players of this quality staying in the side.  It is also one of the reasons that I am afraid that we shall emerge from the January window disappointed, if not shell-shocked.  Without listening too much into the "He won't sign!" or "Contract talks are stalled!" types of news bits out there, I'm afraid the handwriting is on the wall for at least one Newcastle United stalwart, and there may be reason to believe that the summer will see even more unwanted departures.     

First off, let us take a step briefly back in time and refresh ourselves on the Newcastle United mission statement, specifically as it pertains to player recruitment and retainment:

Summer transfers

Our priority during the summer transfer window was to secure exciting young players with huge potential that add real strength to the squad.

There are certain perceived ‘big’ clubs that have no financial constraints whatsoever. But for us as a club rash, short-term spending is not the answer and the days of Newcastle United acquiring ‘trophy’ signings who command huge salaries for past successes on the pitch are over.

Such players have generated excitement and anticipation in the past, of course, but ultimately they have left the Club poorer and with little to show for it in terms of our standing in the league and cup competitions.

Our focus now is to bring in players who can develop and fulfil their potential at Newcastle United. This does not however discount players of any age who we feel can add experience to the squad.

The board, the manager, our technical staff and our scouting team worked very well together to ensure we brought in seven top class players who represented excellent potential for the Club.

Yohan Cabaye, Sylvain Marveaux, Demba Ba and Gabriel Obertan were all brought in early in the window and they have settled quickly into the squad and performed well on the pitch. Medhi Abeid, another early signing, is already showing that he is a great prospect and we hope he will be pushing for a place in the first team this year.

We were delighted to bring Davide Santon from Inter Milan to the Club towards the end of the window and we are looking forward to seeing him perform over the coming weeks. We also brought in goalkeeper Rob Elliot from Charlton Athletic who is ensuring we have healthy competition for the number one spot.

Unlike many clubs in England, we endeavour to pay transfer fees in a timely manner rather than spreading payments over an unrealistic number of years. This is a far healthier financial model which gives us greater certainty over spending in future years.

When Mike Ashley took over the Club, we were still paying fees for players who had already left. This is now, thankfully, a thing of the past. However the same cannot be said for all of the players we sell to other clubs, for whom we ordinarily receive dated payments over a period of years.

The Club’s considerable wage bill this season has risen by seven per cent as a result of the salaries of our new signings and the wage increases awarded to existing players on new deals, such as the six-and-a-half year deal we agreed with Cheik Tiote in February.

 

Youth development

We have some excellent young players amongst our current crop who have come through the Club’s Academy system, some of whom have now broken into the first team, including Sammy Ameobi, Shane Ferguson and James Tavernier.

The board will continue to focus on strengthening the Development Squad to make sure we identify and nurture the region’s wealth of talented youngsters, as well as bringing some of Europe’s most exciting young prospects to Newcastle.

Corollary to these ideas is the idea that as a club, we would much rather spend less money on a player who is a) under 25, b) has at least some manner of recognizance and c) will likely have tremendous sell-on value to the club. 

Additionally, I will need to introduce the following ideas, taken from the "12 Main Secrets Of The Transfer Market" from the book Soccernomics:

 

  • A new manager wastes money on transfers; don't let him
  • Use the wisdom of the crowds
  • Stars of recent World Cups or European championships are overvalued.  Ignore them.
  • Older players are overvalued
  • Center forwards are overvalued; goalkeepers are undervalued
  • Help your players relocate.
  • Gentlemen prefer blonds:  identify and abandon "sight-based prejudices"
  • The best time to buy a player is when he is in his early twenties.
  • Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth.
  • Replace your best players even before you sell them
  • Buy players with personal problems, then help them deal with their problems

Establishment of Who is Expendable

There are a couple of players on the senior squad who are widely accepted to be on their way out.  Peter Lovenkrands, for example, has already declared he will be looking for a new club in January, and the club are not likely to try to stop him.  As he is (at 31) one of the oldest current outfield players, there is no surprise here.  Alan Smith (also 31) is another player that fits into this age-expendable group.  It would further not be a surprise to see a player such as James Perch move on even though he doesn't fit in the age-expendable group.  If for no other reason than respect for the way the man has handled his Newcastle United career, it seems just to allow Steve Harper the chance to leave as well.  

Establishment of Who is NOT Expendable

Whereas the handwriting is on the wall for a certain number of players, there are players that are extremely unlikely to be moved in the January window just based on the logistics of replacements.  That is not to say that they couldn't be moved ever, but you are not going to find a Demba Ba on a free in January, so it is going to be extremely unlikely that Demba moves.  Steven Taylor, Jonas and Hatem Ben Arfa are also players that for various reasons are likely to not be moved on... Steven Taylor is right in what could be considered the prime years of his career (for purposes of this conversation, I'll draw from that the assertion from the book Moneyball that a player comes into his prime at around 26/27 and begins to decline after 30) and despite being in tremendous form, is likely to get fewer looks in the window than other players.  Hatem Ben Arfa, on the other hand is the type of player that would be a strong January possibility had he not been on the sidelines for the last year.  If he comes back and becomes ever-present in the side, it'll be interesting to see what happens with him over the summer... but he will not be moved in January.  Tim Krul is another player that I would not expect to see moved in January, not necessarily because there will not be interest, but remembering the axiom "goalkeepers are undervalued," there is almost no likelihood that a club will step up with an offer so significantly over our value of Tim that it would force us to sell.

The Factors That Will Likely Influence January Sales

Once you get past the expendables, there next deciding factor is likely to be more of a combination of three factors:

 

  1. Name Recognizance:  The clubs that are likely to meet the next two factors are likely going to be the clubs whose fans are going to demand a name in their acquisition.  When you are talking about a center back, for instance, the Sky6 are going to be much more likely to line up for Fabricio Coloccini than for Steven Taylor or (let's all laugh) Mike Williamson.
  2. Age:  Outside of the expendables, there are no players that are over 30 in the squad.  Following that, you are looking at Coloccini at 29 (30 in January), Jonas at 28, Ryan Taylor at 27.  Mike Williamson weighs in at 28, Shola at 30... but these are not players that are likely to command the fees that will induce Newcastle to sell in January.
  3. £££:  Part of living in the Sky6 world is that the sky is falling.  Always.  Particularly at Chelsea, where the minimum requirement is to win more than everyone else no matter what, the panic button is pressed on a rather continuous basis.  For the need to protect their own job, managers frequently push through panic buys, and at cost as well.  Right now, panic-du-jour at Chelsea is at CB, and they will commensurately throw many many many £ at the target of their selection.  There are, actually, several of the Sky6 that are looking for a CB, which is only going to serve to drive price up for the "name" names out there.

 

Assuming these basic guidelines, I think that we can build a reasonable, prioritized list of departures that we could see in the January transfer window... and it looks a little something like this:

 

  1. Peter Lovenkrands - His agent is already looking for a new destination, and the club have no real desire based on the combination of factors above to keep him.  Thank you for your efforts, Peter, and good luck!
  2. Alan Smith - There is some interest in Alan from the Championship, and again with his age and the current make-up of the squad and transfer rumors, other less likely moves are going to have to be made in order for Alan to continue as a Magpie.
  3. Steve Harper - Steve stays if the price gets made on Tim Krul, because nobody wants Rob Elliott as the number 1 on this squad.  The must-sell price on Krul won't be met.  
  4. Fabricio Coloccini - Ignoring the recent news (or lack thereof) regarding Captain Colo's contract extension, Captain Colo is the player for which the must-sell price is most likely to be met in January.  This is not going to be a £35m blockbuster fleecing like the former number 9 shirt last January, but with the needs of the Sky6 being what they are, I could see a fee in the high teens being commanded and met.  There is one Gary Cahill, and once he's spoken for, Fabricio is next.
  5. Danny Simpson - Danny probably fits in less with the three factors, but it is looking like he is on the way out by his decision, whatever the reasoning is.  If it is completely on the club, Danny rates a little lower on the list, as it is unlikely the must-sell price gets met.
  6. Cheik Tiote - The popular rumor has Cheik on the way to Manchester United, and there is some amount of validity to the reasoning behind the connection.  There are a couple of problems with the Tiote to ManU rumor, though, not the least of which being his involvement with the ACON through January and February.  Sir Alex will be looking for someone who can be plugged in right away and be present consistently.  There are other, more available for selection players that would likely be attractive for Manchester United.  Also, Cheik is not a great fit for sale based on the factors-- at 25 years of age, there is no onus to sell on due to shelf-life.  The £ factor is likely to be something that the club will be willing to ride out one more window to try to maximize the sell-on profit.  Also, paying special attention to the transfer rumors and how they relate to the current squad, a summer departure looks much more likely.  Through the above model from Soccernomics, the hope is that you replace a player 6 months to a year out from selling him on.  The replacements for Cheik are being lined up for this window... so barring a ridiculous offer, I don't think we'll see him leaving.
  7. Yohan Cabaye - see Tiote, Cheik

 

The January window may just pass with minimal heartbreak or fuss for Newcastle United.  The tropic climates of Florida might just move to Missouri.  In light of the needs out there and the status of players that could be involved, both seem as likely.  We might as well prepare ourselves now.

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