The Robin van Persie transfer: Is there any value in it?

While pursuing the young Brazilian Lucas Moura, Sir Alex Ferguson recently stated that “when a team is paying 45 million Euros (approximately £35m) for a 19-year-old boy you have to say the game’s gone mad”.

It is hard to argue with him, but for those of us who remember back a few years the irony is not lost. Perhaps Ferguson has led to his own demise here and contributed to the maddening of the transfer market himself.

By using the Transfer Price Index, created by Paul Tomkins for his excellent book (co-written by Graeme Riley and Gary Fulcher) “Pay As You Play: The true price of success in the Premier League era”, a football transfer inflation calculator which adjusts and adapts figures relative to the market today, we get an idea of the “true” amount spent on a player in previous years, in relative terms.

Interestingly, there are three British transfers that continue to be at the top that surpass even the recent big money moves of Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll:

  1. Alan Shearer to Newcastle in 1995/96 which was worth £50.5m in today’s money.
  2. Rio Ferdinand to Manchester United in 2002/03 which was worth £61.6m in today’s money.
  3. And out in front, Wayne Rooney to Manchester United in 2004/05 which was worth £62.6m in today’s money.

If we then look at it in the context of Fergie’s quote, £62.6m for an 18 year old, the game went mad a while ago.

Seemingly though, his frustration is rather down to Ferguson having to tighten the purse-strings in recent seasons as the Glazers continue to accumulate debt at the Manchester club with fewer big money moves coming into the red half of Manchester than their cross-city rivals or Londoners Chelsea. The Cristiano Ronaldo money hasn’t really been re-invested and a hole in midfield last season wasn’t fixed by an exciting new signing; rather by calling Paul Scholes out of retirement suggesting there isn’t much money to play with for the wily old Scot.

So, when he does sink his teeth into the transfer market it is expected that he has done his homework and the deal does represent value for money – except when bringing in Portuguese players from the third division, but that is another matter altogether, and a very suspicious one at that.

The deal for Japanese international Shinji Kagawa does look a good piece of business. A young superstar on the rise who wanted the move to Manchester, Dortmund couldn’t refuse their advances and, as often is the case in Germany, the deal went through at a fair price for all concerned.

However, the most high-profile move of the summer was that of Robin van Persie, moving from arch-rivals Arsenal for a fee believed to be in the region of £24m.

When you are buying from rivals there is often a premium, and with only one year left on his contract the fee does seem somewhat inflated; even more so when you consider that last season was the exception to van Persie’s EPL career, rather than adhering to the rule in terms of both appearances and goals scored.

Ultimately, does this transfer represent value for money?

In order to establish what United can expect from their expensive new investment a comparison is going to be drawn with another former Gunner who recently made a move, albeit a less-publicised and outrageous one, Emmanuel Adebayor.

(All fees and figures are taken from media reports and official statistics).

So, Manchester United signed van Persie for £24m plus between £40m and £50m in wages over a 4 year contract. Spurs signed Adebayor for £5m and are paying him in the region of £80,000 a week – or £12,480,000 over 3 years – plus a £4m signing on fee. Looking at both of their time in England (Adebayor has two less seasons than RVP, he was signed by Arsenal in a January window and spent a further six months on loan at Madrid) Adebayor has scored 78 league goals in 171 appearances at a rate of a goal every 2.19 games (he also played 14 times for Madrid and scored 5 goals, if we include that his games per goal ratio increases by 0.06, but for the sake of consistency we will just compare their time in the English Premier League).

Van Persie has scored 96 league goals in 194 appearances at a rate of a goal every 2.02 games.

Van Persie, due to his injury history, averages 24.25 league appearances per season meaning you can expect (by averages) about 12 goals. Adebayor, in six seasons, averages 28.50 appearances per season meaning you can expect (by averages) about 14 goals. The Adebayor statistics are misleading though, it includes his first six months at Arsenal where he was just a squad player and only scored 4 goals in 13 appearances, and the time he was at City where he was frozen out of the first team due to their abundance of attacking options – he only played 8 matches and scored 1 goal. By comparison, van Persie has a first teamer from his first season at Arsenal. If you eliminate this equivalent of a full season from Adebayor’s career (to compare only time when they were both first choice for their respective teams) his stats change to:

73 goals in 150 appearances, 1 goal every 2.05 matches which puts him only 0.03 behind van Persie in terms of strike rate. But here’s the kicker, he now averages 30 appearances a season meaning, on the basis of averages, you will get about 15 goals – 3 more than Van Persie averages.

So, who got the better deal?

Manchester United, spending £64m-£74m for an injury-prone 29 year old and paying him until he is 33?

Or Tottenham, paying £21m for a 28 year old, who has no serious injury record, and scores about an identical rate but averages more games per season, and only having him on the books until he is 31?

And Fergie says there is no value in the transfer market… Perhaps he just needs to have a better look.

About Mark Houston 86 Articles
Mark is an editor of The Blog FC and has also contributed to other sport and music sites. He predominantly writes about La Liga but also follows Europe's other top leagues and the local A-League. There's a special place in his heart for bearded deep-lying playmakers and he's a proud member of the Goalkeepers Union.


  1. While i absolutely agree that RVP is injury prone and has only had one amazing season, I’m not arguing for or against RVP value, but judging a price purely and injury record by GPG is silly. There are many, many factors that go into these decisions. Oversimplifications like these are often dangerous.

    • Agreed. Oversimplifications like this are terribly dangerous and seem to be comparisons for comparisons sake, supported by statistics for statistics sake. Judging strikers in terms of strike/assist rate is not accurate – it fails to recognise that there are 10 others players on a team (and 21 others on the pitch) who impact upon these stats. The comparison to Adebayor seems odd as well, considering the only link that these two players share in common is they both played for the same club at one point in time (in fact, Adebayor was transferred to City for 25 million, more than Van Persie). Adebayor is not in any way a better finisher nor a bigger goal threat than Van Persie. The Manchester United squad does not compete with the City squad over the pitch, nor on the bench – this could be solved by improving the entire squad, but new players need time to gel – something that a fiscally worried United does not have. Alex Ferguson wanted a consummate professional who requires little man management, no coaching, and can put the ball in the back of the net on a consistent basis (especially from half chances)- and RVP is that man. He scored a great goal against Fulham, a chance not many others would have put away. And he will keep doing it. Did it win United 3 points? Who knows… but it certainly helped. What we do know is Arsenal have failed to score in two games without RVP. That is no coincidence. Goals and ‘grinded out’ points win Titles, and RVP will give Alex Ferguson both of these without having to take the time to build an entirely new squad. If Alex Ferguson was looking for value, I would agree with you…but he isn’t: he looking for a Title and RVP is a title winning asset.

  2. I think 24 million for a 29 year old who is injury prone is good business. But the simple fact remains if he stays fit he will guarantee you 35-40 goals a year! Could be the difference between 1st and second – and if its arsenal in that battle they will be kicking themselves!

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