I’d argue that most footballers have a price-tag, a fee that’s reasonable compensation for their exit, but talismanic, key players, that really stand out and lift a team, are just priceless. In this post I’ll be looking in detail at Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham who have each lost such players in recent seasons.
Usually it takes a huge amount of money to persuade a club to part with their prized possession, or the meeting of a release clause leaving little choice but to let them leave. The majority of this money is sometimes almost immediately reinvested on new players in order to fill the gap and appease the fans or spread across a number of areas to strengthen the team as a whole. However, when you’ve got a player that just fits perfectly in the managers system, with great chemistry and understanding with their fellow teammates, it’s always a risk whether or not the replacement can deliver with such responsibility and pressure. I think it’s extremely rare that they do.
I’m just focusing on key players so I haven’t included the arrivals and departures of squad players which I’ve left blank with an “N/A”. I’m blessed with hindsight for previous seasons, so have included all of the big signings for the 2014 summer window. If you’re interested in the transfer business of all the Premier League clubs this summer, you should find this post useful!
Performance: 4th (79 points), FA Cup Winners, Champions League Round of 16
Bought: Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid (£42.5m)
Performance: 4th (73 points), FA Cup 5th Round, Champions League Round of 16
Bought: Santi Cazorla from Malaga (£15m), Oliver Giroud from Montpellier (£12.8m)
Sold: Robin van Persie to Manchester United (£22m), Alex Song to Barcelona (£15m)
Performance: 3rd (70 points), FA Cup 5th Round, Champions League Round of 16
Bought: Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton (£12m), Mikel Arteta from Everton (£10m)
Sold: Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona (£35m), Samir Nasri to Manchester City (£22m)
Performance: 4th (68 points), FA Cup 6th Round, Champions League Round of 16
Bought: Laurent Koscielny from Lorient (£8.5m)
Performance: 3rd (73 points), FA Cup 4th Round, Champions League Quarter-Finals
Bought: Thomas Vermaelen from Ajax (£10m)
Sold: Emmanuel Adebayor to Manchester City (£25m), Kolo Toure to Manchester City (£16m)
Performance: 4th (72 points), FA Cup Semi-Finals, Champions League Semi-Finals
Bought: Andrei Arshavin from Zenit (£15m), Samir Nasri from Marsaille (£12m)
Sold: Alexander Hleb to Barcelona (£11.9m)
Arsenal are a tricky first club to assess if you compare their situation with Liverpool and Spurs. For starters, there is an element of stability that exists even with the exits of key players because of Wenger. Not having a new manager each alternate season has meant that Arsene knows his players well and also has an understanding of the academy, knowing who is next to step up to the first team. Wenger’s development of players has earned him the nickname of “Professor” and I think that this has really helped keep Arsenal a Top 4 team despite notable sales.
The sales of Arsenal’s star players have often been to questionable destinations. It was Barcelona who knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League in 2010 and 2011. Manchester City’s new owner’s big spending and ambition transformed City from a mid-table side in 2008/09 to title contenders in 2010/11, before actually winning the league a year later. In fact since 2011, Man City have finished above the Gunner’s every season, further strengthened by Clichy in 2011 and Sagna this season. Robin van Persie’s move to United in 2012 and his 26 league goals are touted as the main factor for their title-winning season. Arsenal have cheekily been named a “feeder-club” in recent years which I think is harsh but it is never wise to strengthen your domestic rivals. Of course there are only a small number of clubs in the world that can offer these moves, but selling abroad is much safer if possible.
Going right back to Arsenal’s incredible “Invincibles” in 2004, the core of that team has gradually fallen apart, with players not as good as they once were and big money exits combined with poor replacements. Just looking from 2008 onwards, I think it’s a good place to start as while fan favourite Hleb was sold, it was a good season for the club with two big semi-finals. From then onwards, the sales of Adebayor and Toure, Fabregas and Nasri, van Persie and Song, the club haven’t been as impressive. It was not until last season that Arsenal ended their trophy wait by winning that dramatic FA Cup final against Hull City. While you can’t solely pin the success on the club keeping hold of key players, I think this helps, and have since purchased two quality attacking players in Ozil and Sanchez. The start to this season has so far been inconsistent but it’s early days and they did have a tough start.
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Bought: Lallana from Southampton (£25m), Lovren from Southampton (£20m), Markovic from Benfica (£19.8m), Balotelli from AC Milan (£16m), Alberto Moreno from Sevilla (£12m)
Sold: Luis Suarez to Barcelona (£75m)
Performance: 2nd (84 points), FA Cup Fifth Round, League Cup Third Round
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Bought: Mamadou Sakho from PSG (£15m)
Sold: Andy Carroll to West Ham (£15.5m)
Performance: 7th (61 points), FA Cup Fourth Round, League Cup Fourth Round
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Bought: Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea (£12m), Philippe Coutinho from Inter Milan (£8.5m)
Performance: 8th (52 points), FA Cup Runner-up, League Cup Winners
Manager: Kenny Dalglish
Bought: Downing from Aston Villa (£20m), Jordan Henderson from Sunderland (£16m)
Performance: 6th (58 points), FA Cup Third Round, League Cup Third Round
Manager: Roy Hodgson (until 8th January), Kenny Dalglish (from 8th January)
Bought: Andy Carroll from Newcastle (£35m), Luis Suarez from Ajax (£22.7m)
Sold: Fernando Torres to Chelsea (£50m), Javier Mascherano to Barcelona (£17.25m)
Performance: 7th (63 points), FA Cup Third Round, Champions League Group Stage
Manager: Rafael Benítez
Bought: Glen Johnson from Chelsea (£17.5m), Alberto Aquilani from Roma (£17m)
Sold: Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid (£30m)
Performance: 2nd (86 points), FA Cup Fourth Round, Champions League Quarter-Finals
Manager: Rafael Benítez
Starting with the 2008/09 season, no key players were sold and the Reds managed to hit an impressive 86 points, just four points behind Manchester United who finished top, as well as reaching the Champions League Quarter-Finals, getting knocked out by Chelsea in a thrilling 7-5 aggregate defeat. Alonso later left that summer to Real Madrid, with Aquilani the signing to replace him, I think it’s fair to say he didn’t! Liverpool were knocked out of the group stage and finished a disappointing 7th with Benitez choosing to leave the club at the end of the season.
With no Champions League football, it is perhaps for that reason further big names left the club, with Torres and Mascherano following Alonso through the exit door, and again the replacements couldn’t fill their boots. Dalglish was given the job permanently the next summer, and bought in numerous British players for eye watering prices, but did however lead the club to winning the League Cup as well as narrowly getting beaten in the FA Cup final. Rodgers took over from Dalglish after his surprise sacking, and in his second season last year, saw the club do wonders by finishing 2nd, higher than any would have imagined, thanks to the “SAS” partnership producing a total of 52 league goals, with Suarez netting 31 and Sturridge 21, both finishing the league’s top scorers.
It was Liverpool and the Suarez situation that inspired me to write this post. There has been much debate to whether or not Liverpool should have let the Uruguayan go, and Liverpool’s poor start has led to his absence being highlighted. The transfer comes a year after Bale left White Hart Lane, with many people have comparing the two situations as similar. What makes Liverpool different is that they are back in the Champions League after a five year absence, while Spurs were in the Europa League again. This means that Liverpool could pick from a better pool of quality and also needed to improve the squad’s depth with more competitive games to play this season.
This season’s start has been mixed, with the same defensive frailties exploited, but without the goals seen last year. Sturridge has been injured however, and there are many new signings that’ll take time to gel, although Southampton’s great start makes that excuse invalid!
Performance: 6th (69 points), FA Cup Third Round, Europa League Round of 16
Manager: André Villas-Boas (until 16 December), Tim Sherwood (from 23 December)
Bought: Roberto Soldado from Valencia (£26m), Erik Lamela from Roma (£26m), Paulinho from Corinthians (£17m), Christian Eriksen from Ajax (£11.5m)
Sold: Gareth Bale to Real Madrid (£85.3m)
Performance: 5th (72 points), FA Cup Fourth Round, Europa League Quarter-Finals
Manager: André Villas-Boas
Bought: Dembélé from Fulham (£15m), Lloris from Lyon (£12m), Vertonghen from Ajax (£9.5m)
Sold: Luka Modrić to Real Madrid (£33m), Rafael van der Vaart to Hamburg (£10.3m)
Performance: 4th (69 points), FA Cup Semi-Finals, Europa League Group Stage
Manager: Harry Redknapp
Performance: 5th (62 points), FA Cup Fourth Round, Champions League Quarter-Finals
Manager: Harry Redknapp
Bought: Rafael van der Vaart from Real Madrid (£8m)
Performance: 4th (70 points), FA Cup Semi-Finals, League Cup Quarter-Finals
Manager: Harry Redknapp
Bought: Peter Crouch from Portsmouth (£10m)
Sold: Darren Bent to Sunderland (£10m)
Performance: 8th (51 points), FA Cup Fourth Round, Europa League Round of 32
Manager: Juande Ramos (until 25 October), Harry Redknapp (from 25 October)
Bought: Modrić from Dinamo (£16m), Bentley from Blackburn (£15m), Pavlyunchenko from Spartak (£14m), Palacios from Wigan (£12m), Defoe from Portsmouth (£9m)
Sold: Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester United (£30.75m)
Looking at Tottenham’s history from 2008 onwards is fascinating, with Harry Redknapp really taking the club to the next level. He arrived at the club after a disappointing start by Juande Ramos, and needed a solution to the departure of Berbatov whose solid record of almost a goal every couple of games a great miss to any team. Redknapp took the club from the relegation spots to 8th, as well as reaching the League Cup final which was lost on penalties to Manchester United. Ironically it was Berbatov who knocked Spurs out of the FA Cup that season by netting the winner for United.
Redknapp managed to keep hold of key players, and qualified the club for the Champions League for the first time in their history in 2010, where, with the help of new signing van der Vaart, they reached a very respectable Quarter-Final. Tottenham in 2010/11 were one of my favourite teams at the time, and it was also the season, in that Inter Milan game, that we really saw the attacking ability of Bale for the first time. Unfortunately despite finishing 4th the following season, Spurs had to settle with the Europa League once again after Chelsea won the trophy and finished 6th. This saw, like with Liverpool, players wanting to leave, which Modric did. The loss of Modric may not look apparent if you examine the performance next season, but it was the year that Gareth Bale got the attention of the world. I can remember numerous instances in that 2012/13 season where Spurs perhaps didn’t deserve to win, but Bale won the match almost single-handedly at times. The club finished a point off 4th that season, with rivals Arsenal taking that lucrative last spot.
Finally to look at last season, we saw Bale leave for a reported world record transfer fee of £85.3 million. The use of this money by AVB on Soldado and Lamela especially has been heavily criticised but like I mentioned with Liverpool, the Europa League offers less attraction than the Champions League. Nonetheless, it is clear by looking at the club’s performance with and without Bale, how much of a miss he was last season. This season Spurs are under new management once again with Pochettino at the helm, and are so far looking more of a solid team than last year, but still not perfect.
Other examples include:
Malaga – There are obvious money problems at Malaga, where the Chairmen who invested heavily in the 2011/12 season, attracting quality like van Nistelrooy, Toulalan, Isco, Cazorla, Monreal, Rondon, who helped qualify the club for the Champions League for the first time, to then selling these same players just a year later, dropping out of the Champions League qualification by finishing 6th, and then dropping further down to the table to 11th last year.
Monaco – They are experiencing a disappointing start this season and are currently mid-table, after finishing 2nd last year behind PSG in their return to Ligue 1. A large number of stars like Falcao and James Rodriguez have left this summer, with a “new long-term strategy based on financial restraint and a robust youth policy” to be more sustainable by the Chairman Dmitry Rybolovlev.
Napoli – Napoli have sold Cavani, Lavezzi and Quagliarella in recent seasons, all key players of which replacements like Pandev have been a disappointment and Higuain while solid, is not at Cavani’s world-class level. The club did however manage to qualify for the Champions League once again last season by finishing 3rd, but are looking poor so far this campaign.
Palermo – It’s hard to believe the team Palermo once had after seeing such a dismantlement over recent years. Cavani and Kjar left in 2010 after their impressive World Cup performances, and the following year Sirigu and Pastore were sold to PSG which saw the club go from Europa League action to Serie B in two seasons.
Villareal – Key player exits and long-term injuries of Rossi, Godin, Nilmar, Cazorla, saw the club go from playing Champions League football to relegation all in one season during 2011/12, highlighting the importance of star players.
I recognise that not every club is a giant, and it’s seen as best for the financial future that when a big club offers silly money for your star player, you take the money and run. However the three Premier League clubs mentioned, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs, I don’t think this applies as they are top clubs themselves. For the smaller teams, especially Palermo and Villareal who have thankfully bounced back straight from relegation, perhaps holding on to star players is still important as they have less of them and are harder to acquire. There is also often an almost chain-reaction of players jumping a sinking ship.
There are many factors that dictate how clubs perform, such as the manager’s ability, the overall quality of the team, the rest of the league’s performances, and of course luck with injuries, but I think that keeping hold of star players is priceless and the biggest factor of them all.
Hopefully you’ll be able to learn a bit of several clubs recent history from this, it certainly has been useful for me writing it up. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are, can you think of any other examples in recent seasons?