Big name and big money transfers are nothing new and with these high profile exchanges come predictions from every man and his dog about the future success of a player. Players are often judged on their price tag and of course their celebrity status within the game, they are judged on past form and the leagues they have played in and all these judgements lead to everyone spitting out a different opinion regarding the future, but is there really any way to predict what will happen?
Fernando Torres and Juan Sebastian Veron are two prime Premier League examples of big money signings who failed to live up to their price tag, despite predictions of big things for both. Both of these players were in the prime of their careers and had very little excuse for their failings, especially given the Premier League experience both players already had (at least for Veron’s second failing in a row).
I can’t help but feel the weight of expectation derived from a massive transfer fee is more than a myth created by the media and that this extra pressure added on to a footballers already hectic life style can tip them over the edge into blissful mediocrity. With big fees naturally come big expectations; however I think people underestimate the affect of pressure even on top level athletes you assume would be practically immune to it, the amount of big money flops and bargain free transfers with nothing to lose proves that point, and will continue to as transfer fees continue to rocket.
Many players who were previously statistically perfect can also flop dramatically in a new set of surroundings (looking at Torres, again). People often underestimate the team around the individual and, although it is impossible to prove it I believe that a great player is made by consistently great team mates.
To excel in any job you need to be like your surroundings, the people in your surroundings and have good staff around you so you can get your job done and not be fixing other peoples errors. Iniesta to Messi is as the perfect car is to an F1 driver, the vital, unsung hero to an individual’s personal success and although Iniesta is lauded in his own right, his impact on Messi’s 50 goal season will not be remembered in 20 years as a crucial part of that season, regarding Messi’s personal achievements at least.
Throwing someone in to a new working environment, along with the pressures that come with a high profile move comes with a worryingly high chance of one element of the transition going less than perfectly for the player, thus affecting their performances. Send Messi to Newcastle in the late 00’s and see how many goals he scores inspired solely by the creativity of Nicky Butt, equal to Iniesta only in hair loss.
Stats of seasons past are only really relevant when compared to other seasons with a majority of the same team mates around them. A much better way of judging the likely-hood of success is to compare the team mates they were formerly successful with, to their new ones. Luis Suarez has become a success at Barcelona because the team fits a style he is used to, and the league fits his style of play. His hassling, agile style of play is not stopped by an overly physical league and Barcelona’s style of play is very similar to Liverpool’s in 2013/14. Both Liverpool and Barcelona rely on quick breaking and players with technical ability as opposed to strength which helped Suarez succeed far quicker at Barcelona than he would have done with a luxury move to Stoke City. On the flip side many of the better transfers conducted in the last few years have come from players joining teams they would not seem best suited to, an example being Bojan, a typical Barcelona export being a success so far at ‘Route one football’ Stoke.
It is often forgotten that transfers in football are essentially just recruitment and that humans have an uncanny ability to get very bad at things very quickly. There is no way of telling whether a player will be a success at a new club, in reality any signing, regardless of price, has just as much chance of going wrong as a team with 4 Titus Brambles in defence. The curious case of Bojan at Stoke proves to me that you really can never be 100% sure who is going to succeed where, until they have actually played a few seasons, although if everyone had this opinion, BBC Sport’s football section would look worryingly dry.