How to go from nowhere to Champions League in no time at all

Robert Tressell 04/12/2020 9comments  |  Jump to last

In response to the recent excellent thread about whether Carlo Ancelotti should get the chop, I made the observation that successful clubs need both an excellent manager and excellent players.

Personally, I think excellent players often mask the shortcomings of a manager. I think we'll eventually find that out with Frank Lampard at Chelsea. There's only a very few managers to ever really elevate a club beyond the ability of the players – and that's often a never-to-be-repeated trick.

We currently have the 7th most valuable squad in the Premier League. And Carlo is a really good manager. Ergo, Carlo is likely to get us to 7th place or thereabouts. Any better is a tremendous achievement.

To put this into context, squad values are:

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  1. Liverpool (€1,080M)
  2. Man City (€1,080M)
  3. Chelsea (€838.9M)
  4. Man Utd (€799.85M)
  5. Spurs (€738.55M)
  6. Arsenal (€631.95M)
  7. Everton (€508.3M)
  8. Leicester City (€469.00M)

So, we're not just a bit behind those above us, we're miles off in terms of first 11 and, importantly, squad depth. We're talking hundreds of millions difference. In terms of player quality, that is huge.

Add to that the clubs above us have at least as big transfer budgets. So how do we improve the value of our squad, rise up that list (which generally corresponds to league places) without outspending our rivals?

One answer: over to Marcel Brands.

I get the point. It's kind of what he's been hired to do. But how? To my mind, the obvious answer is to look for clubs which have undergone similar transformations – and then copy the method. The most startling transformation of any club – perhaps ever – is that of RB Leipzig.

At the start of the 2013-14 season, we were about to embark on a brilliant (by our standards) season en route to 5th place under Roberto Martinez. Leipzig in the same season were in the third tier of German football, in a division alongside Stuttgart and Dortmund's reserves. Their squad value was valued at €8.03M. Fast forward to today, they are a force in the Champions League and German football with a squad value of €527.68M (a bit north of ours).

They are where we want to be as a club; so how have they done it? The easy answer is that they’ve thrown money at it. And this is true. Red Bull have ploughed millions into transfers – and created a feeder club with RB Salzburg which in turn has a feeder club called FC Liefering. Liefering and Salzburg are picking up a lot of unknown teens from Eastern and Central Europe, France and Africa. So basically there’s an excellent scouting network too and a way to develop all of the players in competitive adult football from an early age before they are ready to play for Leipzig.

Our global scouting network has recently been overhauled, as someone better informed than me noted on another recent thread. Our UK transfer ban on non-professional teens has also been lifted recently, so there’s a bit of hope. I have no idea how this compares to the Red Bull arrangements but I’m guessing we’re behind.

What else can we learn?

  1. The average age of the current RB Leipzig squad is just 23.8 (ours is 26.1).
  2. Their transfer record is €29.75M for Naby Keita (ours is €49.4M for Gylfi Sigurdsson).
  3. They’ve exceeded €20M only 4 times (compared to 20 times for us).
  4. They’re mostly spending between €10M and €20M on players.
  5. They’ve bought 7 players from Salzburg.
  6. Almost everyone they buy is under 22 (we’re more like 26 – with some expensive signings plenty older than that).
  7. They’ve sold on quite a few at very big profit (Keita and Werner in particular – we obviously did very well with Stones, Lukaku and Fellaini).
  8. With others, they tend to make a bit of profit or at least break even because the player is still full of youthful promise.
  9. We’ve been stuck with some really big signings on the payroll that we can’t shift or who are worth practically nothing by the time we come to sell.
  10. They have no superstars and have never attempted to buy any.
  11. They don’t seem to have much of a local youth set-up – instead, picking up youth from other clubs (particularly Salzburg). This may be changing – I have no idea.

By adopting this approach, they have increased the value of their playing squad by over half a billion Euros in just seven years. As a consequence of having such a good squad, they have gone from playing third tier / reserve football to competing in the Champions League in the same timescale.

With Everton, it is fair to say that we’ve gone backwards. This is a remarkable achievement given that, in the same 7-year period, we’ve had more money to spend than ever. During our years of austerity, Moyes regularly had us as best of the rest when there was a big 4. Martinez gave us a thrilling first season – but since then it’s been downhill. Despite all the money spent, we are now a mid-table side trying (and failing) to stay ahead of Leicester and Wolves. The acquisition of Doucouré, Allan, Godfrey and Rodriguez has given us a really good first 11 but it’s not given us a better first 11 than any of the big 6. Neither has it greatly improved the depth of the squad – which is still very patchy, as recent injuries and suspensions have exposed.

What is our next step?

Well, of the players we have, only a few would manage to get game time in a top-6 side. I’d say Holgate, Digne, Allan, Rodriguez, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin. Mind you, I’m not convinced any apart from Richarlison would be a regular first-teamer.

That means (and I think we all realise this) the squad needs a serious overhaul. It’s not just the back-up, it’s the first team. Players like Gomes, Delph, Sigurdsson, Bernard etc are getting worse, not better. Then there’s the mediocrity in Pickford, Mina, Iwobi etc. When we have to rely on these players without all the stars, we look truly awful.

So the next step, if we are to improve, is to commence the overhaul in Summer 2021. This is convenient because we lose a lot of deadwood from the wage-bill. This might give us a bit more spending power.

That spending power could be bolstered by a big fee for Moise Kean (£50M?) and a very big fee for Richarlison (£100M?). Losing the latter would be a really big blow. We would lose goal threat, pace and work rate in one player. He’s one player I will be really sad to see leave. But leave he will, this coming summer or next.

With so much money to spend, who do we spend it on?

Well, if we finish outside of the top 6, then we simply cannot go out and buy the likes of Leipzig’s Upamecano, Laimer and Sabitzer. Not because we don’t have the money – but because they will have much better offers. This leaves us in the same sort of position we were in with the Lukaku money, trying to break into the top 6 through buying expensive players who are not good enough for top 6 sides (eg, Sigurdsson, Schneiderlin, Keane etc). It is obvious really that this is not a good plan.

Which is why I think we should at least consider what Leipzig would do.

One option would be to invest the Kean and Richarlison money into a genuine feeder club – say Hearts or Aberdeen. I have no idea how it would work – but it would be a good base for young British talent to flourish alongside some exciting youngsters from further afield. That would be a really bold move. I’d love this.

Another option would be to buy the sorts of players Leipzig buy. There’s no secret to this – it is simply to select very high-quality talents aged circa 19 to 21. Between us, Sam Hoare and I can probably name dozens just off the tops of our heads. There’s plenty out there. I’m sure actual scouts have heard of Hlozek, Veron, Kai Jorge and Talles Magno. They’ll all be playing for big clubs in Europe soon enough.

Looking at Leipzig, players in their ranks we could easily have bought are:

  1. Olmo (excellent young Spanish playmaker)
  2. Angelino (excellent Spanish left-back from Man City’s reserves)
  3. Nkunku (excellent attacking midfielder from PSG’s reserves)
  4. Mukiele (excellent right-back from France)
  5. Henrichs (pacey right-sided player from Monaco)
  6. Kluivert (son of the famous father)
  7. Sorloth (the crap lumbering Crystal Palace striker who turns out to be quite good).

Provided we can offer good wages and a route to the first team, this is eminently possible. These players tend to cost much less than we typically spend, so you can buy more of them. The ones that don’t work out are still very marketable so you don’t lose the money. You can even make money on failure (eg, Vlasic, Lookman and Onyekuru).

So, within a year or two, your circa £15M outlay becomes worth between £15M to £30M and beyond. This is not about sell-on value, it is about improving the value and quality of our squad. Someone who increases in value is getting better (eg, Richarlison, Kean etc). Someone who decreases in value is getting worse (eg, Bolasie, Sigurdsson, Walcott, Tosun etc). If the players on your books are getting better, then results should be improving too. As we have seen over the past few years, the reverse is also sadly true.

And it’s not just Leipzig that’s proved this works; it is us. Although the recruitment policy has been a mess, every time we’ve bought a player in this category it was worked well. Look at Holgate, Coleman, Branthwaite and Calvert-Lewin. Look at Stones, Fellaini, Lukaku. Look at Onyekuru, Lookman and Vlasic. I’m not really sure why we do anything else.

The downside is that you have a wait few years for players to mature. That is exactly what Leipzig have done and continue to do – show some patience. And it’s not even been much patience. Contrast that with our wait of 30 years or more for something decent to happen.

As for next summer, Leipzig have already signed the excellent Gvardiol for next season (18-year-old Croatian centre-half linked strongly with Leeds this summer). They are sticking to their guns despite the success. I expect they’ll take Szoboszlai from Salzburg too unless Salzburg get a huge offer from elsewhere (he’s magnificent).

As for us, it’ll probably be nothing like the Leipzig model. Perhaps Isco, Aarons and Sarr. And a few more if Richarlison goes. And we’ll be hunting down 7th place as usual. But it will be interesting to see, given that our squad values are almost neck and neck right now, which team materially improves that value (and challenges for trophies domestically and in Europe) and which stands still. We can measure this, season on season, for the next few years. Anyone think we’ll keep pace with Leipzig?

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Reader Comments (9)

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Derek Moore
1 Posted 04/12/2020 at 00:02:44
Robert, you and Mr Hoare are two of my very favourite TWebbers. This excellent article only aids in my high opinion of you. Well done.

The Sky Blues of Manchester have the same "feeder club" type process you cite. An integrated global scouting network, with stops every step of the way to polish up players regardless of their stage of development. Got one for the future? Loan him out to the MLS or A-League in Australia. One that can help us now or next season may be loaned to a promoted team or similar.
The only issue I have is, didn't we try and get Martinez to already do this? That is better integrate club and scouting while modernizing our training facilities? One of the biggest reasons I assign towards the ongoing futility that is Everton is that we just don't commit to a course of action and stay with it. Moshiri flip flops, changes direction abruptly, will commence a strategy only to abandon it before seeing it through to the end.
Whatever the plan going forward is - whether it's the model you propose here, or an alternative - the club needs to commit to it and follow it through. Stay the course.

Thanks again for all your contributions Robert, I enjoy them greatly.

Derek Thomas
2 Posted 05/12/2020 at 00:31:31
How to go etc etc...Better players?

Edit; Now to read the OP

Edit Mk II; Correct in theory but easier said than done...and I think some if not all of any big money coming in will be earmarked for the new stadium

Mike Gaynes
3 Posted 05/12/2020 at 02:05:55
Robert, a great and thought-provoking article.

I heartily agree with your basic premise of scouting, pursuing, signing and developing young talent almost exclusively, with exceptions only for misplaced stars like James and Allan who can change the character of the club at a minimal cash outlay.

It's important to note, however, that following the RB Leipzig model comes at a very high price, and not just financially. Leipzig is now the king cog in a corporate entity -- no single financier or even Middle Eastern royal family could create such a structure -- and as a result RBL is now, without question, the most universally hated club on the planet. The intensity of the venom directed at them is hard to comprehend for anybody not in Germany.

Also, it's the massive corporate structure that makes the "feeder club" arrangement possible, and few entities are capable of executing a cross-ownership model like that, especially across national borders. It would be more logical for Everton to establish a relationship like that with, say, Tranmere rather than Hearts.

However, I would suggest a different target for our scouting network, roughly modeled along the RB lines but not competitive with them. And that target would be North America. It's obvious from the suddenly rich vein of youthful talent in the US national program that player development in this country has, at long last, exploded -- but those young players must almost always abandon the US on their own incentive to seek greater development opportunities on the other side of the Atlantic. Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna are only two of the most prominent examples of that.

Were I Everton, I would dive into partnerships with MLS development programs like FC Dallas, LA Galaxy (which have picked up a knack for spotting top Mexican youth talent as well), Seattle Sounders and NYCFC (Claudio Reyna's organization). Offer them financial support (always a struggle for MLS academies) and a pipeline for their players to train with our academy coaches in the offseason. Imagine how excited those programs would be to have Carlo Ancelotti drop in for a week's training camp in the summer, or play friendlies with our U18s. It's a relationship that couldn't fail to provide a steady stream of prospects, and at a rational cost -- because we'd be leveraging their scouting networks along with ours.

And we have a built-in ambassador to launch the relationship -- Tim Howard, who is revered above any former US national team player with the possible exception of Reyna. He's already in an international ambassadorial role for Everton in addition to his high-profile TV appearances. He could walk into this role without changing his shoes.

Dale Self
4 Posted 05/12/2020 at 03:09:03
Well done Robert. Mike has eloquently laid out the cultural critique that I would have attempted and come up light. I hope this is a long thread, I've got a lot to learn here.
Robert Tressell
5 Posted 05/12/2020 at 09:29:42
Thanks Guys. I hope it's a long thread too as plenty of posters can fill in the gaps of my patchy knowledge.

Having a good strategy and commiting to it is key. Using connections in N. America could be part of that. I'm not convinced the volume of talent exists in N. America - and German clubs seem to have stolen a march on us in that respect - but it's a good place to develop players. I do think there is scope for a club in the UK to really dominate the Scottish, Irish and Scandinavian markets where there is excellent talent that is really suited to the Premier League culture.

I don't like the idea of partnering with Tranmere because the quality is not good and style of play too rudimentary. I want to develop our own Szobozslai type players - and Tranmere is not the place to do it unfortunately.

It is entirely possible that Brands is building this sort of thing with the scouting restructure. And maybe the u18s will get some new players now the transfer ban is over. In the meantime though I think we spend far too much on very average players. And that approach really hurts us.

Phil Wood
6 Posted 05/12/2020 at 11:17:41
A fine article, Robert, and a warning of trying quick and expensive fixes as we have tried and failed.

The tactic of hoovering up young top talent at lower prices appears a simple fix but our experiences with the likes of Kean run contrary to this (although we may turn a profit on him).

Maybe our talent spotters are not as good as other clubs... who knows? But an excellent read nevertheless.

Mark Taylor
7 Posted 05/12/2020 at 11:29:54
I can't add much to the debate, it's a bit beyond my pay grade but I applaud anyone who questions the status quo and comes up with alternative approaches.

One thing I can add is that while RBL have had a net spend of around 𧵄m in the past 7 years, which pretty much co-incides with their rise in status, we have had a net spend of around 𧸌m, so way more than double. Granted we are in a league where clubs are routinely exploited on transfer fees because of the perceived wealth of the Premier League compared to even Germany, but on the other hand, 7 years ago, we were already a Premier League club whereas RB Leipzig needed to invest to get up to equivalent status.

Either way, it's a sobering comparison and there is no doubt we have had an awful lot of dead wood to clear out and while we have had some big successes, led by Richarlison, we've also had way too many write-offs.

Kieran Kinsella
8 Posted 05/12/2020 at 16:46:34
Robert

RB Leipzig is an interesting comparison and closer to home you could look at Soton under Nicola Cortese. The Brexit deal makes scouting foreign youngsters tough going forward. No under 18 signings, and points based signings of up to three under 21. With that in mind, the feeder club may be the way to go with say a Belgian affiliate stocking up on under 21 talents.

Mike I think your idea is good. US players like Aussies seem to have the work rate and mentality to succeed in England. Commercially it raises our profile too.

Robert Tressell
9 Posted 05/12/2020 at 22:22:47
The bizarre formation and personnel (again) today is just more of what made me write this article.

I'm fed up.

There is a possibility that Carlo, experienced as he is, is making clear to Moshiri that the squad is very average. If that leads to a couple of quality acquisitions in January, then I can see the point.

However, if that is not the case and we get served this conservative nonsense en route to an 8th place finish, then you can only despair.

It's soul destroying.

What is the point?

What's the point of Everton?

I've always thought of it as a club that kids with talent and heart can play for from the north-west / Liverpool. A club that will give an opportunity to a Cahill and reap the rewards.

Trouble is, we're not that. I'm not sure what we are. Managing to be neither big spenders nor youth developers – just nothing really.

Why do we bother?


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