How much is Gareth Bale really worth? Is he worth the £50 million that Real Madrid offered for him, or is Tottenham right to stand firm amount the £80 million mark?
It’s a few questions that people have been asking for about a week or so, and now those questions have an answer. It’s hard to find another winger in the EPL who stacks up against Gareth Bale from a statistical standpoint, but there’s one player who comes very close: Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. Just to be clear, this article is not to determine if Eden Hazard is better than Gareth Bale; it’s simply to answer if Gareth Bale is worth the steep transfer fee Real Madrid offered Tottenham.
Hazard, like Bale, is considered to be a talented young winger with ample amounts of skill and potential, and Chelsea signed him before the 2012-2013 season for a transfer fee of £32 million. Comparing Hazard to Bale actually demonstrates why it’s so hard to determine a player’s worth: If Eden Hazard is actually worth £32 million, then Tottenham should treat Gareth Bale like a hot stock and dump him while the value is high. However, if Bale’s actual value is the £80 some-million that Tottenham is asking for, then Chelsea got an incredible bargain when they purchased Hazard for a mere £32 million.
It’s worth noting that transfermarkt.com has estimated Hazard’s transfer value to be £42.5 million while Bale’s is right at £50 million. It’s reasonable to assume that those numbers are a pretty close representation of the players’ actual values, but let’s have a closer look at their numbers and see for ourselves how valuable each player is.
From a defensive standpoint, there’s virtually no difference between the two players, but frankly, even if there were, it wouldn’t be a deal breaker or a deal maker. The only real difference between the two players is that Bale wins roughly 41% of aerial 50-50 balls while Hazard wins just 21%. Hazard makes up a little ground with tackling (he tackles with a success rate of 5% higher than Bale) and winning 50-50 balls on the ground (also 5% higher than Bale).
But when all defensive stats are accounted for, Gareth Bale actually only creates one more possession per game for Tottenham than Eden Hazard creates for Chelsea (there was an equation used to come up with that result, but I won’t bore you with explaining it). Considering an average football team has over 100 possessions per match, the effect each player’s defence has on their teams’ possession is minute, so the best thing to do with the defensive category is consider it a wash.
While it’s true that possession is not be considered to be as important as it once was, it is still a large part of the game, and Hazard has a slight edge on Bale in this category. Hazard loses possession once every five minutes while Bale loses possession once every 4 minutes. Translated into an entire game, that’s an average of 18 lost possessions for Hazard, and 22.5 lost possessions for Bale. Hazard creating 4.5 more possessions for his team than Bale creates for his means the slight edge would have to go to Hazard. It also means that after defence and dispossession is considered, Hazard creates 3.5 more possessions per game than Bale creates. It seems as though Gareth Bale has some catching up to do.
Unfortunately for Bale, that won’t be happening in the next category on the list: passing. Not only is Eden Hazard an above average passer; Gareth Bale is a below average passer. Shocking for someone who is widely regarded as not only the best winger, but also one of the best players, in the EPL.
The fact that Hazard’s open play pass completion percentage is 6% higher than Bale’s is significant, but the fact that Hazard’s overall pass completion is a massive 12% higher than Bale’s is astonishing. Perhaps most importantly, though, is Hazard’s forward passing is 3% higher than Bales, and his final third passing percentage is 10% higher than Bale’s. Those two things are important because: 1) Forward passes are the most difficult passes to make, and 2) the final third of the pitch is usually where things are the most congested and passes are the hardest to play, so a difference of 10% in that area of the pitch leaves little to question about Hazard’s passing competency while it raises several questions about Bale’s competency. In fact, the topic of Bale’s poor decision making in the middle of the field hasn’t even been broached yet. Hazard’s passing percentage in the attacking portion of the field was 79%–a respectable percentage indicating that Hazard is competent at seeing a pass and being able to play it. On the other hand, Bale’s passing percentage in the same area was a paltry 63%, meaning one of two things: Either 1) Bale knows who to pass to, he just doesn’t have the ability to play the proper ball, or 2) Bale is a bad decision maker. Neither possibility is a good scenario to be in for someone who makes a living as a supposedly all-around offensive player.
It’s worth noting, though, that Bale does make up ground in the goal-scoring department. A lot of ground, actually. This is where the comparisons to Bale got tricky. Bale plays primarily as a winger, so it is difficult to find someone who plays a similar position and is roughly the same age as Bale who produces similar offensive numbers. Many wingers are superior passers, but inferior goal scorers while many forwards are superior goal scorers, but inferior passers. What makes Gareth Bale unique is his combination of skills. That is not to say that he has mastered every offensive skill (as the stats show, that is far from the truth), it is simply saying that he has a unique skill set.
In the straightforward category of goals scored, Bale’s 21 goals puts him +12 over Hazard, but that’s about the only number that favors Bale. In fact, Hazard’s shooting accuracy of 60% is 5% higher than Bale’s shooting accuracy, and Hazard’s chance conversion of 21% is also 5% higher than Bale’s. So while Bale may have scored more than Hazard, it took him more chances to do so. In fact, if they kept the same percentages and Hazard attempted as many shots as Bale did, Hazard would have ended up with roughly 28 goals—seven more than Bale had. But that’s not what happened. Hazard made more passes than Bale, Bale attempted more shots than Hazard, so that leaves us with one question: What’s more important, goal scoring or goal creating?
Well, according to the book, Soccernomics, goal scoring is priced higher, but goal creating is more valuable. The book points to Manchester City and uses David Silva and Yaya Toure as specific examples. The book basically says that Manchester City experienced a more efficient and productive offense after those two players arrived because of their abilities to pass accurately and set up teammates with good scoring opportunities. The book heralds David Silva as the best passer in the EPL because he creates more goal scoring chances than any other player, and the authors believe (based on research and statistics) that Manchester City was able to score goals not necessarily because they had better goal scorers, but because they had great goal creators who made scoring easier.
By that logic, Hazard should be worth more, but Bale’s perceived value would be higher—which is exactly the situation.
But that still leaves us with the original question: Should Tottenham have accepted Real Madrid’s offer of £50 million? No, but with one caveat: they should accept an offer for him in the near future. Jean Michel-Aulas, owner of Olympique Lyon once made a comment that went something like: A soccer player is like a block of ice. The goal is to be able to sell them before they become a useless puddle of water.
That’s not saying that Gareth Bale will be a useless puddle of water anytime soon, but it is an apropos analogy in that every player’s skills diminish. Gareth Bale had the best season of his career last year, and there is no guarantee he will do that again. Yes, he might, but should a club with the financial capabilities of Tottenham take that gamble? That’s not meant to be an insult to Tottenham, but the fact is, they are not Manchester United, Manchester City, or Chelsea. And as much as their supporters probably hate to hear it, they’re not even Arsenal when it comes to financial strength. The following quote, taken from the movie Moneyball, is quite fitting to Tottenham’s situation;
[quote] If they try to play like those teams off the field, they will lose to those teams on the field.[/quote]
A player like Gareth Bale comes to a club like Tottenham once, maybe twice, every generation (if the club is lucky), so Tottenham need to decide what they want to do. Do they want to hitch their wagon to Gareth Bale and go all in with him for the next few years and hope he will take them to the Champion’s League, or do they want to sell Bale and invest the money in building a strong team that can compete down the road?
But before “rebuilding” gets mistaken for a bad word, let me explain what I mean.
A player like Gareth Bale cannot be replaced because there is simply not another player like him. As I mentioned earlier, he has a very unique skill set. The key is to replace the sum total of all the parts, and that cannot be done with one player. But Tottenham could very easily get somebody to replace (and probably improve) the possession and passing voids that Bale will leave when he’s gone, and then get another player to replace the goal scoring void that Bale will leave.
When you look at it in terms of replacing 21 goals, 4 assists, 68% pass completion, 47 chances created, and losing less than 22 possessions per game, the task of replacing Gareth Bale doesn’t seem so daunting. Especially on a potential budget of £50 million.
In fact, it’s entirely possible to improve Bale’s possession and passing stats on a budget that’s about 1/10 of that, and two options are Swansea’s Nathan Dyer and Southampton’s Adam Lallana.
Dyer’s estimated value on transfermarkt.com is less than £4 million, while Lallana’s value is just under £5 million. If we can assume these are reasonable and accurate assessments (which they probably are), then that would leave Tottenham with roughly £45 million to replace Bale’s goal scoring.
But before we dive into the goal scoring, let’s quickly assess Dyer and Lallana.
Dyer’s aerial 50-50 win percentage is even lower than Hazard’s, but his tackling (83%) and his ground 50-50 win percentage are both higher than Bale’s. Like with Hazard, the defensive category would be a wash.
Dyer’s possession stats are also similar to Bale’s, but his passing stats are even better than Hazard’s. Dyer’s open play pass percentage is 87%, and his overall pass completion percentage is 84%, almost 16% higher than Gareth Bale’s. It’s also worth noting that Dyer’s crossing accuracy is higher than Bale’s, and his passing accuracy in both, the attacking zone and the final third of the pitch are significantly higher than Bale’s passing percentages in the same areas of the pitch.
Yes, Dyer’s goal scoring ability is nowhere near what Gareth Bale’s goal scoring ability is, but Dyer’s passing and possessions stats are even better than Hazards, so when you’ve conceded the fact that it will take two players to replace Bale, any goals from Dyer would be an added bonus since another player would be purchased to replace the goals Bale left behind. Needless to say, Dyer being valued at around £4 million would be a very inexpensive way for Tottenham to begin replacing Gareth Bale.
The other option is Adam Lallana. He’s valued around £5 million, so he is a bit more expensive than Dyer, but he is still a good player for a team on a budget. Like Hazard and Dyer, his defensive comparison with Bale results in a wash, and his loss of possession stats are nearly identical to Hazard’s, putting him at +4.5 possessions created per game when compared with Bale.
Meanwhile, Lallana’s passing stats are nearly identical to Bale’s. Lallana has an overall pass completion percentage of 72% compared to Bale’s 68%, and their passing percentages are nearly equal for all parts of the field (Lallana has a slight edge in passing percentage in the defensive third of the pitch and the attacking zone, but not enough to make a significant difference).
Lallana is a downgrade from Dyer, however, in the chances created department, so if Tottenham were to actually sell Gareth Bale, Dyer would be the ideal first choice to replace Bale’s passing and possession because 1) According to the stats, he appears to be more skilled than Lallana, and 2) He is cheaper, which would leave Tottenham more money to spend on a goal scorer.
But who could that goal scorer be?
Ideally, Aston Villa man Christian Benteke.
His 19 Premier League goals were only 2 fewer than Bale’s 21, and his shooting accuracy and chance conversion percentage were both higher than Bale’s. Of course, Benteke’s passing skills are a downgrade from Bale’s, but again, replacing Gareth Bale has to be looked at as a team effort, not a one-man solution. Dyer/Lallana (preferably Dyer) could easily replace the possession and passing gaps that Bale would leave, and Benteke could replace the goals that Bale would take with him.
But the best part about Benteke is not that he had as many assists as Gareth Bale (4), it’s that transfermarkt.com estimates his market value to be just £15.5 million. This means that even if the transfermarkt.com estimates on Dyer, Lallana, and Beneteke are low, Tottenham could still replace Gareth Bale for well under £50 million. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to think that they could replace him for under £20 million, and it’s highly probable that they could replace him for less than £25 million. That means Tottenham would have between £25-30 million in transfer money to invest in other players, or to keep for other seasons when they need to replace someone not named Gareth Bale.
The fact is, there have been a lot of clubs who have overachieved by buying low and selling high, but there haven’t been many clubs who have overachieved by hanging on to players for too long. Clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid can afford to do that and still be successful. Tottenham cannot. As long as Tottenham keeps making decisions like they’re a big club, the real big clubs will continue to beat them.