The pitfalls of spending big to sign one player
Jan 26, 2023
When your club spends a huge amount of money to sign a new player, it’s all good, right? Wrong. History is littered with a number of expensive flops and, even if they do hit the ground running, there are numerous things to take into consideration as they adapt to their new surroundings.
So, what can be impacted when a club splashes out on a record transfer fee? Here, ESPN details the potential pitfalls of landing a young sensation for a huge transfer fee.
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News of a high-profile arrival is likely to be received with mixed emotions among the current squad. Some may worry that a huge price tag may result in an ego to match, so it’s down to the newcomer to show the right attitude to quickly be accepted in the dressing room.
If the player is already widely recognised, and with a track record that suggests they may provide immediate help, the mood will be one of positive anticipation. After all, everyone wants to win trophies (and the added windfall of the personal bonuses that come with success.) However, if their new teammates are having to resort to extensive YouTube or Google searches to work out what the signing may bring to the party, the welcome might not be quite as enthusiastic.
For those who play in the same position, there will understandably be more apprehension as they might fear dropping down the pecking order. While some direct rivals may throw in the towel as a response to added competition, others will take on the challenge and up their game in training. From a club’s perspective, the latter scenario may create some much-needed energy and positive dynamics.
Impact on wages
Nowadays transfer fees are widely reported more or less accurately, and an approximation of the wages offered to a new star are rarely kept secret for long either. Unlike U.S. sports where everything is disclosed, theoretically in soccer whatever is stated in a contract is for the club and player only to know. However, some terms of the contract — including wages, bonuses or even additional perks and add-ons — can be casually shared within the dressing room. Though top-level footballers rarely begrudge the payday of a new teammate, a record arrival will often set a new benchmark for the salary levels in the squad.
If the new acquisition proves valuable to the cause from day one, there’ll be few complaints. Conversely, it won’t take many weeks before the agents of the previous top earners will demand a raise to similar levels if the impact is slow. In football, the top performers over an extended period tend to find their way to the top of the pay scale regardless.
Logically, a player arriving for a record fee is certain to trigger extra attention from owners and the board. While the majority of the top spending clubs don’t necessarily have to worry about the transfer value of a player depreciating, most owners will still view the signing in the context of an investment. In the past, a club may have had to spend significantly less to snap up one of the most sought-after talents in world football, but the shift among the affluent clubs toward recruiting tomorrow’s stars rather than established names — who are often unavailable for any price — has driven up the fees to unprecedented levels.
Of course, the signing of potential over experience brings an added risk and this is where it can get tricky. Understandably, those responsible for the finances might not be as prepared to wait for success down the line — which, ultimately, is easier to predict than to guarantee — as the football-savvy people reporting to the board. With most of the discourse around footballing matters at senior level tending to revolve around the performance of individual players, those who recommended the record arrival won’t have to wait long before being quizzed on the progress (or lack thereof) by impatient board members.
The buck stops with the coach
You’d imagine that a coach would unequivocally be in favour of strengthening the side, but a big-money signing can make or break the one who picks the team and even define their future career.
While some head coaches thrive on working with top talents and huge stars, such a signing brings new challenges to others in terms of one-to-one management. Plus, there is added pressure from the boardroom — no matter how subtle — in ensuring that the player is swiftly incorporated into the team.
A coach can spend years trying to win the trust of their squad — often by way of careful lineup rotation to keep everyone happy — and that is not something you want to compromise. While signing a new player can be done in days, offloading unwanted high-earners can take months and as they remain on the club’s books the personal touch from their boss is still needed — you never know when they might be required on the pitch. Under such circumstances, having to field an expensive new signing because of the price tag might generate more worries than points.
Having worked with the most prominent names in the game, the likes of Real Madrid‘s Carlo Ancelotti and Manchester City‘s Pep Guardiola already enjoy reputations that won’t rest on whether a single player ultimately sinks or swims — regardless of the transfer fee paid. However, in the case of a failure, a lesser-established coach is likely to be accused of not being able to handle talent of a certain stature.
The reality is that if a big transfer turns out to be a hit it’s not necessarily down to the head coach — after all it’s no more than one should expect given the money involved — but if the player doesn’t live up to expectations, then an inexperienced boss runs the risk of being held responsible.
The player may not even have been the head coach’s No. 1 choice from the outset and they may have had other preferred targets based on immediate requirements rather than potential or future value. Nevertheless, the task of the seamless introduction rests on just one person: the head coach.
So while on the surface the arrival of a blockbuster signing would seem like a dream, the intricacies of team selection, one-to-one management and intra-club politics can make it more of a tightrope walk.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.