News spread yesterday that uber talented Wilifred Bony signed for Swansea for £12 million in a move that could well prove to be the signing of the summer, the Ivorian having scored 36 goals in 36 matches for Dutch side Vitesse. With the summer transfer window hotting up, I can’t help but reflect on some of the most brilliant, and often surprising, bargains of the 2012/13 windows.
If we talk about whether a player is a bargain then we are of course referring to what extent he was a value-for-money purchase. However I will also take other factors into account, for example if the player is young and has even greater possibilities of improving. There are many nominations to be made and some are more obvious than others. It is a contentious topic in many respects, mainly in terms of who is included and excluded from the list, but I will try to give a justification for my decisions.
So beginning in no particular order…..
Let’s establish this early – the January transfer window is being included. Before Coutinho ever came to the Premier League there were reports that Rafa Benitez told the Chelsea hierarchy that if they were going to sign any player it must be 21 year old Coutinho, Benitez having coached him before at Inter Milan. It wasn’t to be and instead he signed for Liverpool for around £8.5 million and in just half a season he is well on his way to paying it back. From January he went on to make 12 appearances before the end of the season, and in that time he scored 3 goals and laid on 5 assists. If we call that his bedding in period then that is very impressive for such a young player.
What is really fantastic about the Brazilian though is the pure excitement that he brings to the game. He has the rare knack of making the ball stick to his feet in a, dare I say it, Messi-esk kind of way. Indeed it is rare to find a skilful kind of player who is as good in real life as he looks on youtube. What is most brilliant about Coutinho though is his creativity. He produced 9 clear-cut goal scoring opportunities for his team last season, creating one every 103.6 minutes. Let’s put that into perspective: the Premier League’s top assister (12) Juan Mata produced a total of 14 clear-cut chances over the season, creating one every 196 minutes. With goals, creativity, Brazilian flair and youth all for £8.5 million, Coutinho was certainly up there in terms of the Premier League’s greatest bargains.
May I introduce one of the most underrated and undervalued players in the Premier League. If he played at a ‘bigger’ club then maybe that would not be the case, or just perhaps just if he didn’t play at West Ham because many of their players are undervalued if truth be told. Take Andy Carroll for example, everything in the team goes through him and without him West Ham would have likely been in a relegation scrap last season. Similar things can be said of Diame and considering that he was signed on a free transfer he absolutely has to be nominated for bargain of the season.
Diame may seem like a complete move in the opposite direction from Coutinho, but he is not as different as one may think. He is generally perceived as a big and strong engine in midfield and don’t get me wrong he is that, but he is also so much more. On top of being solid and dominating in his defensive duties, he is also far quicker and more skilful than many give him credit for.
In defence he has a 78% tackle success and an 84% pass completion percentage, and so he is highly effective in both winning and keeping the ball, his two most primary duties. While he is praised for his defensive work he is arguably at his best when breaking from deep when the opportunity arises. Given the fact that he is viewed chiefly as a DM it is mighty impressive to have successfully completed 65 dribbles over the season. Again – to use perspective – that is more than Walcott, Mata, Bale, Hazard and finally Yaya Toure (35) who is the kind of player one may naturally try to compare him to (his tackle success is also higher than Toure’s). In short, he takes care of all of his defensive work and then some, and at a price of £0 million the deal was something special.
This £2 million wonder-buy really hit the ground running at the beginning of the season and immediately built a reputation that had people gawking at that fee. Many will have gone into this article not really considering the fact that anyone but Michu could win the award for the greatest bargain (although I hope it is clear that that there are in fact various worthy winners), and that is a testament to how good he has been. He has even managed to create his own cliché. When before one might have asked how many millions of pounds Falcao cost Monaco, one would instead ask now, “how many Michu’s did he cost?” and quickly come to the realization that Monaco paid 30 Michus for Falcao.
Michu scored 18 goals in the Premier League, starting out at attacking midfield but moving to striker once it was realised that Swansea had an abundance of talented midfielders compared to strikers. Purely in terms of goals, £2 million pounds is a fantastically inexpensive. Although his natural position is to play as a CAM his stats are similar to that of a striker, and although that isn’t surprising since he played there for over half of his starts, he is not particularly creative (given that he is naturally an attacking midfielder) making only 2 assists and creating a chance every 89 minutes.
However it is goals that are the most impacting on the game, and he scored 18 of them. So a strong candidate for deal of the season, but not the nailed on victor that many might have thought.
Of all players under the age of 23 in Europe, Benteke scored the most goals (followed by Lukaku and El Shaarawy) and he did so for £7 million. He is just one of many exciting Belgians introducing themselves to the Premier League, and he scored freely in a season where the team that he played for was battling for survival.
You could question why I would nominate a striker if that player only scored 1 more goal for £5 million more. Well I just name one reason; he was playing in a team that struggled for the grand majority of the season and spent a lot of time during matches on the back foot. There is also the fact that he is younger than Michu while the latter is in his prime (26 years old). Indeed, Benteke is also statistically stronger than the Swansea forward.
I have already said that Benteke managed 19 goals, but he did so with an impressive shooting accuracy of 59%, a chance conversion of 26% and a minutes per goal of 149 – all of these stats being (sometimes significantly) higher than Michu’s. He was also more creative providing 4 assists with a chance created every 53 minutes. So it is my opinion that Benteke is better than Michu, but he a £5 million more fee better? When you take into account the team he was in and his prospects for the future this becomes an interesting question.
If I were to pretend that I had a team that was not obviously weak or strong in any particular area, and could make only one of these signing for the same fee….. then I would sign Coutinho. That is who I believe the bargain of the 2012/13 season was. He has shown big things to critics and there is only more to come. £8.5 million for a player who could potentially be a starter for Brazil in the next World Cup ain’t too shabby is it?
That said, this is all subjective, and some may want to vote for a player who was not even nominated here. Furthermore I have taken the future potential of the transfers into account too and not just what they achieved last season.
Honourable mentions to Matija Nastasic, Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Sissoko and Dimitar Berbatov, each of whom could have easily made the list.