Recruitment is an essential part of a football club’s success. Whether that be in the form of coaches, additional staff or players, some clubs excel others continue to make the wrong decisions.
Why is it that so many of the largest clubs across the globe struggle with their recruitment, when minnows in comparison, such as Leicester & Rennes, flourish in the transfer market?
I’m going to take a look at a few different different profiles; successful and unsuccessful clubs when recruiting to profiles, or simply not having a project in mind and outlining why big money signings often turn out to be major flops.
Profiles in the Market – A Common Occurrence
So, what is the best way of signing players? Acquiring to profiles or possessing versatility as a focal quality.
A club signing a player which fits their needs rather than a global superstar is becoming more apparent. Although there may be a minor financial and commercial benefit to making a major headline signing, signing players to profiles fills the needs of what the club wants, not just to bring in a few extra shirt sales.
Different profiles vary depending on positions- but examples would be a ball-playing defender, a deep block defender, a press resistant, good in tight spaces midfielder or a deeper playmaker who dictates from deep- any Football Manager fans out there will be very familiar with this.
Recruiting to rare profiles comes at a cost, for example, Ben White cost £50m- a price tag which may have seemed extortionate, but obtaining a young Englishman, who’s a valuable player to what Arsenal desperately needed and offers a unique, ball playing profile. The fee is hardly surprising.
With every signing made, there are multiple variables- including attitude and location- aside from solely footballing reasons. Many athletes haven’t made it or have been limited within their progression for reasons outside of poor or superfluous recruitment.
These names include the likes of Ravel Morrison who never had as successful a career as his talent may have suggested when he was just a teen. Any scandals as you would expect would halt a transfer- and clubs do constant background checks to avoid anything alike occurring.
Let’s start with Liverpool’s business. Signing Mo Salah & Sadio Mane, who tick the same inside forward profile, are versatile across their wing & as a 9, are absolutely rapid and incredibly strong, was a perfect stylistic fit.
Klopp’s system has 2 inside forwards and these 2 superstars fit the roles to a tee. An example of Liverpool’s unbelievable scouting as they got the duo for a combined fee of around £70m. They would likely cost in excess of £200m today.
Other examples are Alisson who, despite the hefty fee, is an ideal all rounded keeper and Firmino, who is acknowledged as a false nine which is so fundamental within Klopp’s footballing ideology and vital to Liverpool’s trophy wins over the past few seasons.
The Reds also brought in Kostas Tsimikas; a perfect profile to backup, and perhaps one day, take over the role of Andy Robertson, and Ibrahima Konaté; who was just a quality purchase for a great fee- learning from arguably the greatest current Premier League centre half. If Zlatan Ibrahimović’s words are anything to go by, Konaté may well be worth triple what Liverpool paid for him in a few years.
That’s without mentioning Diogo Jota who has been an unbelievable hit for the Anfield side. Seemingly out of favour at Wolves, but a young, rapid, strong, incredibly versatile attacker… you notice a common pattern.
Aside from just signings, deal structuring is a key reason for smart and multiple additions. Jota cost Liverpool just over £40m, but structured it so they’d only pay £9m every year for 5 years. Smart dealing allows a club’s that aren’t financially backed by tyrannical nations to excel with seemingly limited resources.
It is no surprise that the same teams continuously do the best business- most notably Liverpool & Man City. The German is very meticulous about who the Reds sign which is displayed by the minimal but effective signings the club makes.
Liverpool are one of the only teams which have made hefty £70m+ signings worth the money- reinvesting new Aston Villa starlet Coutinho’s sale in the best way possible.
Along with Man City who, despite their extreme wealth, utilise their finances incredibly well- testament to the scouting to profiles done by the Citizens to make their money spent as advantageous as possible.
Aymeric Laporte & John Stones; perfect ball playing defenders, Rodri; the necessary and now indispensable deep-lying playmaker, İlkay Gündoğan; the free roaming goalscoring 8, and finally Bernardo Silva; the complete and versatile all rounder.
A lot of eyebrows were raised at the heavy release clause paid for Rodri, or the £50m of Stones, but you can see why City were willing to spend the money they’ve spent.
That’s without mentioning the smart dealing done from the sides- Kevin De Bruyne operating at a world class level was inevitably going to be a hit, City took the gamble on a young but immensely talented Raheem Sterling and reaped the rewards, while, on the other side, Liverpool brought in Thiago when they saw the market opportunity arise.
An interesting example of profile recruitment is Arsenal in the summer of 2021. An immaculate window despite the lack of big names. Many fans raised major concerns over the Gunners money use, but as the season has progressed, the intent has become clear.
Take Nuno Tavares, a similar in style left back to Tierney, for cheap, and superstar Aaron Ramsdale- arguably the pick of the bunch- a young, experienced keeper who won POTY wherever he’s been despite the teams league standings.
It takes top scouting to realise a true modern day keeper with an obscene passing range and calmness under pressure which suits a big side to a tee (despite the clear social media outrage among fans). This is a very different approach to Leno, a great shot stopper but doesn’t fill the key modern day keeper aspects.
Takehiro Tomiyasu; a versatile, two-footed, physical fullback who is also effective offensively. The aforementioned Ben White who, despite the hefty fee, is an amazing ball carrier, passer & progressor.
The Gunners also brought in Martin Ødegaard (on a permanent) & Sambi Lokonga, the latter being a youngster recommended by Patrick Vieira and the former being the 8/10 profile that manager Mikel Arteta was crying out for
This is a great comparison to previous windows where Arsenal have signed the likes of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Cédric Soares, Sokratis, and Willian. Older players who weren’t of any special quality and had minimal potential to improve- more so just bringing in players for extra numbers in Lichtsteiner and Cedric’s case.
This shows a vast improvement in a short space of time and is a blueprint window on heavy recruitment and understanding what players are required for a specific system.
Failures in the Transfer Market
All top sides have access to top recruitment tools, so why is it clubs often go so wrong consistently?
The main confusion is also how clubs continuously avoid the obvious positional signings for their club and fail to replace key past players. Examples of this include Wolves not buying another centre half, Spurs not going in for a backup striker, and Watford’s refusal to sign a competent defender. All glaringly obvious needs but ones which never get addressed.
Clubs also spend hefty money on players but most usually don’t have a high success rate. I think the main reason for this is the inability to accommodate to the big signings. Paul Pogba rarely played as an 8, there was no real vision or plan for Kai Havertz & Timo Werner when they first came in, other than trying to get a bargain before other clubs came in.
Nicolas Pepe’s initial poor treatment, Romelu Lukaku not fitting with managerial decisions at United, Tanguy Ndombele struggling to adapt & compete fitness wise, and Naby Keïta struggling with injuries are just a few individual examples.
The common pattern is big money signings bought without any real intent or idea- aside from the few who have struggled due to injuries- another who falls under this category is Arsenal’s Thomas Partey who had a really tough start to life in London.
Partner this with the pressure and adaption period, big money signings, unless considered carefully and with the club’s best interests at the forefront, very rarely pay off.
Silly recruitment Without Logical Intent
Signing just big names without ideas of how that will impact the squad in terms of egos and profiles- is part of the reason for why the two most unbalanced squads in Europe aren’t living up to expectations: Manchester United and PSG.
Bringing in Sergio Ramos, Gini Wijnaldum, Lionel Messi, and Gianluigi Donnarumma without an idea of how to use them, aren’t going to be the superstars they were expected to be.
Ramos was signed for winning mentality and pedigree within the squad but is on such high wages and has been injured since his arrival. Wijnaldum is versatile, but is old and doesn’t really fit what PSG needed, and Messi hasn’t been operated in a convincing manner. Not to mention the superfluity of talent goalkeepers the French outfit now possess (Keylor Navas, Donnarumma, Alphonse Areola, just to name a few). They are now a team largely full of egos and personalities which was never going to end well for any manager.
A squad built to win instantly, but when you bear in mind players ages, the adaption required and the pressure, this project hasn’t paid off for the Parisians and is one which will never be sustainable.
In Man United’s case, signing Donny Van De Beek with no idea how on how to use him has led to a frustrated and misused player, showing a lack of scouting. Jadon Sancho being signed after Pogba had been so good off the left where the Englishman excelled for Dortmund- and conveniently a position also occupied by another fellow Englishman Marcus Rashford is simply over the top.
That’s without factoring in the mega move of Cristiano Ronaldo- who vacates starlet Greenwood’s 9 role which creates a further imbalance. Forcing Greenwood to the right as a touchline winger, who started off the season and ended the season well in that position.
These 2 clubs aren’t the only examples of clubs without much of an idea as Everton & Chelsea in particular constantly make signings either far below the level or spending a crazy amount without much thinking in the latter’s perspective. The Toffees’ new signing Anwar El Ghazi comes to mind.
So, it’s clear that recruiting to profiles enables for a balanced, well-built, sustainable, system which enables an efficient, high reward strategy. It will only continue to become more viable and more used as clubs improve their scouting departments, avoid big money risky signings unless forced to, and ultimately follow a young building project & culture which covers the clubs on a short & long term basis.
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