The Michael Wood Column

Friday 15 March, 2002

The smart money is not going on transfer this summer

Conversation on "where it all went wrong" always seems to follow the same path. Premiership was it worth it? Richmond what is he doing? Should we have even gone for Benito Carbone? Why did we waste money on Ashley Ward? You've had the dates yourself.

It tends to be circular. Richmond should spend more money someone says and then in the next breath they slag off Ward and Carbone, proof positive that spending alone does not make a club.

The longer the conversation goes on the more the Carbone/Ward situation is discussed. Were they good players gone bad, bad players come good at other clubs or just square pegs in our round holes.

There is, in my estimation, a distinction to be made between the signings of the two players. Without mentioning there comparative abilities there is a general consensus that Carbone represented better expenditure than Ward.

Ward cost the club £1.5m plus a standard £150,000 signing on fee (10%) and £18,000 a month. Carbone cost £2m in signing on fee but of course no transfer fee. He gets £40,000 estimated.

For the sake of argument lets half Beni's signing on fee. He is paid twice as much as Ward, we will assume that if he got the same, he would have commanded half the signing on fee as a free agent. In those circumstances the Carbone type deal would represent much better value than Ward. Even with a large signing on fee it is cheaper to sign free agents than it is to pay a club for the privileged of taking an expensive contract off their hands. The fact that Barnsley and City could not come to a deal with Ward because of the sums involved in his transfer when the clubs tried to get the player back to Oakwell on a free underlines this. Put simply there are some players that you cannot even give away.

Looking at the level of transfer fee's paid for players brings about some confusion as to what constitutes value for money. Manchester City's signing of Jon Macken has been warmly greeted in the City of Preston as very good business but the buyer is more than happy with his recruit. When West Brom scooped up Scott Dobie for a fraction of the price they got for Lee Hughes both Albion and sellers Carlisle were happy with that deal. Dobie and Macken have similar strike rates in the first division this year. Why is one worth almost ten times what the other is and how can all four parties be happy with this situation?

The transfer market is a lottery. City often end up with duff tickets: John McGinlay, Bruno Rodgriguez, Ashley Ward, David Hopkin and on and on, but the story from other clubs is not dissimilar. Every club has got a forgotten man who cost a lot and ended up in the reserves. Recent trialists Jean Philippe Javary and Sean Evers had both cost clubs who could hardly afford it the thick end of £500,000 yet both were at Valley Parade looking for a free transfer and signing on fee or, to use our vanacular, a "BeniDeal".

It would seem that BeniDeal offers better value for money than the traditional transfer. No fee to pay to a club to release the player. Signing on fees, while astronomical, are cheaper than the £5m asked for when City go after a player like Marlon King. Managers are given more of a chance to suss out a player before signing. City spent two days talking to Carbone before the Italian signed, we have a constant stream of would be Bantams spending two weeks trial at the club. In a BeniDeal you can get a feel of the type of man you are signing as well as the type of player. In contrast a transfer deal is buying a player in bubble wrap.

Of course all this depends on there being the player available to BeniDeal with. At the top level this is a problem. Out of contract internationals to be traded for are few and far between, although the likes of Steve McManaman and Jari Litmenan prove that they exist. However at City's level there is a source. 900 professionals will be released by English clubs this summer. A mixed bunch of youth players who never came through, old pros who cannot get a contract and guys who think they can do better. It is football as a flea market, but with an average of ten players from every club in football coming onto the market there is quality to be had. If you were a promising second division club then you might look at Lee Sharpe, Gareth Whalley or Stuart McCall and think that you could get a decent midfield from City without paying a transfer fee.

Simiarly City may look at the likes of Tom Kearny or Everton, Charlton's Jamal Campbell-Ryce or out of contract Gary McAlister and think that these giving these players a signing on fee to tempt them to Valley Parade would be better than trying to barter with Gillingham over the unproven although excellent Marlon King.

This is of course a standard in North America where Gridiron players signing on fees, not payments between teams, that make the headlines. City have a transfer chest in the summer, it is reported to be around £2.5m, I would not worry if all of it went on BeniDeals because that is where I feel the smart money will go this summer at this level.

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