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Transfer Spending for Dummies

Apropos of nothing, of course.

The People’s Bank of China Lowered The Foreign Exchange Reserve Requirement Ratio Photo by Costfoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Author’s Note: Believe it or not, I started this article in mid-August before the Füllkrug/Kotchap saga and the end of the transfer window, so you can only imagine how aggravating it has been to watch the last few weeks unfold.

The transfer market is a wild beast. The art of identifying targets of value and spending money to purchase them in an economical manner is something that continues to elude even the most elite sporting departments. Thankfully, I am here to help. After many years of successfully winning multiple European trebles in FIFA Career Mode, I have decided to share my expertise by drafting this one-stop shop guide to transfer spending. Hopefully I can provide any of the sporting directors or club CEOs that regularly read Fear the Wall with the tools they need to be successful in the transfer market.

Upon first reading many of these principles might go over your head, but alas, fear not. I am here to translate all this fancy gobbledygook into plain english that anyone can read. So without further ado, here’s number one:

Assign Priorities


Let’s say you have a transfer budget of €100 million, including fees and wages, for new players. As a rule, you want to spend that €100 million in a manner that will maximize the added value to your squad. This means that the bigger a difference a player makes in your squad, the more you should be willing to pay for them. You can figure out which players are which by creating tiers, like the following

  • Critical: If we do not sign someone, our club will go bankrupt and the world will probably explode.
  • Important: We could really use the type of signing, but we might be able to make do without it if we get creative, and the world will probably not explode.
  • Standard: These moves address holes in our squad, but we have other practical options should they fall through.
  • Luxuries: These moves don’t really address any problem areas, but they might set us up better for the future or improve our depth.

Assigning roles to tiers could look like this:

Tier 1: Critical

Starting box-to-box midfielder

Tier 2: Important

Upgrade at right back

More depth in defensive midfield

Tier 3: Standard

Younger center back to eventually replace our veteran on an expiring contract

Tier 4: Luxuries

New backup goalkeeper

Promising winger who isn’t ready for the Starting XI

Third striker

Once you’ve assigned each profile to a tier, you can go about allocating your transfer funds to each one, allocating the most money to the higher tiers. You also know which targets to sign first. If you have to go slightly over budget, it can be for the critical signings. You’ll have less money for the luxuries, but that’s okay because you can make do without those.

With only one critical target, you might be able to allocate €40 million to sign a high-quality player that will be able to make a huge impact on your squad. However, if you find a diamond in the rough and manage to fill the gap for less than €40 million, then you have more money to spend on the lower tiers.

Pro-tip: This is an area where analytics can be extremely useful, because you can actually assign a numerical value (something like goals above replacement) to each profile, and figure out exactly how much your squad should improve with each upgrade, and therefore how much you should spend!

Identifying your most important signings also allows you to identify the signings that aren’t important- the luxuries. Once you’ve identified signings that are luxuries, you know to avoid dishing out unnecessarily high transfer fees or large wage bills on players that ultimately won’t move the needle that much.

Invest in Appreciating Assets


If there’s one unavoidable fact about life, it’s that Father Time catches up with us all. This is as true for professional footballers as it is for anyone else (except for me, I age like a fine wine.)

Generally speaking, players have something called an “age curve.” This means that they start their career out in their teens young, weak, and inexperienced, and gradually improve to a point where they are at their peak performance (usually in their mid-twenties) and slowly decline after their peak. I’ve drawn a highly detailed and scientific representation of this phenomenon:

While some players peak later or earlier in their careers, and other players have very flat curves and are able to sustain a high quality of play into their thirties and even forties, this is how just about every player’s career will play out.

The implications for transfer spending are obvious: you ideally want to sign a player who is on the left side of their age curve. This is because after you buy them they will continue to get better, and might even net you a profit because you can sell them for a bigger transfer fee when they reach their peak. On the flip side, you should try to avoid signing players who are on the right side of their age curve, because both their quality of play AND transfer value are expected to decline, not increase.

Now for those getting ready to accuse me of ageism, I am NOT saying that you should never sign an old player. It could very well be that there are simply no young players available that fit your squad’s needs, and an affordable player who is in their late twenties or early thirties is readily available. I’m simply saying that when you do buy older players, you should be extremely careful about the transfer fee, term, wages, and opportunity cost of the signing.

Don’t be Afraid to Back Down

Or, for dummies: DON’T SPEND TOO MUCH

The other day, I was strolling down the Las Vegas Strip with fat stacks of $100 bills from the weekly paycheck directly from Ezra Klein that I had just cashed (for being a liberal shill, of course) when I decided to confidently strut right into the high-rollers room at the Bellagio and play some blackjack. On the first hand, I did what any analytically-inclined individual would do and doubled-down on a pair of jacks, but as bad luck would have it, I busted, and my $500 in chips had gone up in flames. On the second hand, desperately wanting to make my money back I was dealt an 8 and a 7, so I doubled-down again. Unfortunately, the gods did not look upon me with favor, and I busted.

After about four hours of this, I was down about $50,000 (equivalent to about two weeks of shilling for Bossman Klein), and I left the casino with no cash

At this point, I have a confession to make: this was not a true story. Instead, and I doubt many of you picked up on this, it was a cunning and subtle metaphor for operating in the transfer market. Sometimes, you get so invested in a particular transfer happening that you feel you have to get it done no matter the cost, and you only dig yourself deeper and deeper until you’re paying €30 million for a €15 million player. Suddenly, you don’t have money to spend on other more important transfer targets, and the quality of your squad suffers as a result.

Small Expenses Add Up

Or, for dummies: AGAIN, DON’T SPEND TOO MUCH

The other day, after sleeping out the rest of my post-casino pay period in a cardboard box, Ezra Klein’s new shill check hit my direct deposit and I was once again absolutely loaded. To celebrate I went to the classiest dining establishment I could find to celebrate - in this case, a TGI Friday’s franchise enjoined to a bowling alley. Upon entering, I noticed a sign advertising a deal that was too good to be true - $5 frozen margaritas. Not wanting to pass up such savings I immediately ordered four. The patrons next to me noticed my lavish spending, after which I offered to buy them frozen margaritas as well.

At some point, I got a little carried away, and before I knew it, I had bought approximately 5,000 frozen margaritas for the hundreds of patrons at the restaurant. All the fat stacks of liberal shill money in my back pocket had vanished, and after realizing I was broke, I reluctantly returned to my cardboard box.

This principle also applies to transfer spending in football. €5 million is not a ton of money to spend on an individual transfer, but when you’re splashing €5 million left and right it will add up very quickly, especially when you factor in wage bills too. Suddenly, when you notice a transfer target that will cost a fair bit more (author’s note: e.g., a 21-year-old center back from Southampton), you realize that all the transfer fees and lavish contracts you’ve offered over the last few years have come home to roost.


These are only four of many best practices that could apply to spending in the transfer window. I could go on, but I’m afraid the liberal shill jokes are starting to run dry. At the end of the day, the same rules for transfer spending apply that would apply to any other business that operates with limited resources, or even your own personal finances. Identify what you need, get the most important things first, and make sure every expense is something you actually need.

Unless it’s a frozen margarita.