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Ben Hayes - Charlton Athletic programme

Rationality, Kim Jong-un and the transfer window


Everyday understandings of rationality often miss the point.  You may disapprove of someone's objectives, but that does not make them irrational.  For example, portly North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is clearly a nasty piece of work.

Having visited the DMZ between North and South Korea, and entered the so-called negotiating building which could serve as a village hall if troops of two countries still technically at war were still facing each other down, I can say that is one of the strangest places I have ever been to (I would actually give the award to a divided Berlin when I lived there, but that is another story and one I still feel unable to tell).

However, Kim Jong-un is not irrational.   His objective is to keep his brutal hereditary autocracy in power. He saw the fate of Colonel Gadaffi when he abandoned his nuclear weapon plans: caught hiding in a drainage ditch and suffering a quick but ignominious death.  Saddam Hussein failed to make enough progress with his plans for a nuclear weapon, was hauled out of a hole in the ground and subsequently hanged.

Firing a missile over Japan is a graduated escalation.  The person that people really fear in Japan is Donald Trump because he is erratic, although he is now hemmed in by generals in a Pentagon run administration.  Generals don't take unnecessary risks with their troops and equipment.  (OK, there are a few exceptions like 'Bombs away with Curt Le May.')

What has also this got to do with the transfer window?   One may disapprove on moral grounds of the large sums of money spent on football players, although they can generate big tax revenues (cases of tax evasion aside).   However, the football transfer market may be economically rational rather than over exuberant.  Deloitte have shown that despite the big increases in transfer spending this summer, player spending in the Premier League has remained constant at around 20 per cent of revenue.

'Clubs do not account for a transfer all up front', Tim Bridge, senior manager at Deloitte Sports Business Group told the Financial Times.  'They spread the fee across the life of a contract.  [The numbers have] people asking whether this is sustainable.  But on a proportionate level, we are seeing it remain on a similar level.'

At more than 40 per cent of PSG's revenue, Neymar's transfer is a statistical outlier.  However, outside of natural science, one can expect a linear regression using the OLS method to produce outiers.  PSG is playing a bigger game which is as much political as commercial.

London-based football consultancy the 21st Club is one of the consultancies that has produced a statistically based model to assess signings.   It weighs various factors to assess how many points a player will potentially add to a team's final total at the end of the season.  This includes the relative strength of the teams the player is moving between; time spent on the pitch as a surrogate for a measure of effectiveness; and the number of goals and 'assists'.

Players' transfer values can also be estimated using the consultancy's model.  Based on historical prices, top-of-the-market signings typically equate to about 20-25 per cent of a club's revenue.  That suggests PSG should have paid no more than €150m for Neymar but were forced to spend more in order to trigger his buyout clause.

Omar Chadhuri, head of football intelligence at 21st Club told the Pink 'Un: 'Clearly his impact is beyond just football.  It is part of a bigger statement around trying to make PSG a superclub of the level of Bayern and Barcelona and Manchester United.'

I know that many fans dislike the impact that analytics of this kind are making on the game and may refer to the old canard lies, damn lies and statistics.  Of course, you can distort statistics to make them show what you want, but if the working behind them is transparent, they are open to challenge.

The real risk is cheap imitations.  It is alleged that at one time Charlton Athletic were taking advice on players from a young Belgian with no real life experience of football.  A no doubt apocryphal story had him sitting in a back bedroom in Belgium with a laptop, a takeaway pizza and a supply of cola to sustain him through the night.