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Transfer strategies in European football

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

The Transfer market is one of the most discussed topics in football, especially among fans and social media followers. While big football clubs try to maintain a balance with their expenses relying on ordinary revenues (i.e., TV rights, ticketing/matchday revenues, and sponsorship deals), other clubs focus on player sales as one of the key elements to guarantee their financial sustainability, also using part of the generated profit to reinvest in affordable reinforcements that allow them to maintain their level of performance year after year.

A few days ago, ESPN published a list of clubs that made the most profit from player sales since 2010, finding SL Benfica, FC Porto, LOSC Lille, Ajax Amsterdam and Red Bull Salzsburg in the top 5.

Most of the clubs listed in the article are regular contenders in European competitions, which increases the level of exposure of their talented players, hence attracting interest from bigger clubs. In that sense, the recent creation of the UEFA Conference League, has not only helped to increase the revenues received by clubs in traditionally smaller leagues from Eastern, Central or Northern Europe, but also contributed to showcase their talents, either homegrown or acquired from abroad.

This participation in European competitions is also helping to raise the level of the local leagues which at the end is a way of reducing the performance gap with the elite clubs, and hence makes it easier for the players to transition from one league to another one, and adapt quickly to high-level competition.

With regards to the scouting reach, some clubs tend to focus on specific markets to seek for cheaper raw talents, like in the case of Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, or Uruguay, where Portuguese clubs have a historical tradition of transfers thanks to language/cultural similarities. Northern European clubs, especially Danish, are expanding their reach and bringing more Brazilian, Ivorian, Nigerian and Ghanian players, in most cases through local Academies, while, Eastern European clubs, tend to focus on local talents from the region.

Another interesting factor to consider is timing, elite clubs need players that are ready to perform, which makes it more difficult for them to find alternatives in the market and increases the cost of the transfers. On the other hand, middle-sized clubs can offer time for the players to develop, which facilitates the scouting process, as the number of players available is larger and puts the focus on finding cheaper players that fit their playing style and match the specific requirements per position set by the coach or the sporting director.

At Four Nations Football Consulting we have developed our own data-driven solution to help clubs in the transfer market. One the one hand, our tool contributes to analyze the performance of the current squad in comparison to the other contenders in the league, which helps clubs to identify the players in the squad to replace or sell, either for sporting reasons or financial reasons, if we identify a player that could be sold for a high sum and there’s a suitable cheaper replacement in the market. On the other hand, our tool contributes to shortlist optimal transfer combinations of players that would bring value to each club and would also meet the pre-defined requirements per position.

Our main objective in this case is not to find 1 to 1 replacements, searching for players that have the same characteristics, but to explore the market to find players that brought value to their previous clubs and therefore would contribute to increase the performance of our clients to their required level.

With this approach we aim to complement the scouting process of the clubs, reducing the number of candidates to around 10 players to be visually assessed by scouts, and provide data-driven insights on the players helping with the interpretation of all the general metrics that data providers offer with their subscriptions.

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