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Billions for transfers is not enough or necessary - long term success can only be achieved by qualified decision makers.

According to our researchers (the Football Observatory of the International Centre for Sports Studies – CIES), on average, during the three summer transfer windows between 2013-2015, the amounts invested in transfer fees by clubs from the Big-5 leagues (the five major European leagues, of England,  Spain, France , Germany and Italy) have increased by 68% compared with the three previous Summer windows between 2010-2012. The largest increase was observed in England at 98%.The biggest spending club in the last transfer window was Manchester City who invested €230 million, followed by another English team, Manchester United who spent €189 million. This compares to the last finalist in the Champions League, Juventus, who spent €137 million on their team. In total, the clubs of the Big 5 have committed €3.3 billion during the last transfer window (2015) to recruit new players (bonus pay and loans included). This is 32% higher than the previous record set in the summer of 2014.

Based on the most recent data collected, the amounts spent by clubs on transfer fees are higher than ever in professional football. In this article, I will briefly develop the approach of the CIES Football Observatory for advising on the creation and management of a team with a view to long term performance. I believe the management of professional clubs should adopt a more scientific-driven approach to player recruitment, so as to avoid engaging in unnecessary expenditure, in what is becoming an ever more competitive football market.

There are four key areas which have been identified by the CIES Football Observatory to ensure greater success for teams active in player recruitment: team chemistry, demographic structure, performance analysis and transfer policy.

Using examples, this article will take a closer look at the key areas of demographic structure and performance analysis and why the CIES football Observatory uses these two factors as benchmarks for success.

Demographic structure

Obtaining positive results over the long term depends largely on the manner in which a team is structured from a demographic point of view. Our studies notably show the importance of taking into account four key areas: age, experience, stability and contract duration. Our analysis, which has been developed since 2005, indicates that the best performing clubs have balanced squads from the point of view of age and experience. This allows young footballers to develop alongside more experienced players and progressively replace them as pillars of the team. A balanced structure in age and experience is also a necessary prerequisite to maintain a satisfactory level of stability over the longer term. From this point of view, it is necessary to limit the number of transfers by prioritizing the recruitment of young talent who can potentially become part of the team project over the long term. Within a framework of stability that supports the integration of new recruits, the signing of long term contracts, with automatic extension options, is beneficial not only on a sporting level but also from a financial perspective.

Performance analysis

Any club with ambition must be capable of objectively evaluating both individual and collective performance (beyond results obtained over the short-term) from a multidimensional perspective (mental, physical, tactical and technical). On a technical level, the basic principle of the Observatory approach consists of considering that in football, like all team sports, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. All great teams throughout history have understood the importance of putting individual talent at the service of the collective effort. From a methodological point of view, our approach to the technical analysis of performance consists of considering the team as a single unit before going on to study player performance on an individual level.

Our approach allows us to identify not only the best performing players in absolute terms, but also those who outperform their teammates. This approach is notably useful for revealing the potential of players that are not yet part of the most competitive clubs, as well as to measure the level of reliance of teams on their best players.

In my view, future sport managers should consider as much as possible from our  research in order to make better informed decisions in the future. Indeed, the success of certain clubs, or the marketing success of some sport industry actors when compared to others, is not accidental or dependent on luck. The sport sector is increasingly moving towards a more academically and scientifically driven decision making approach. However sport is not just another area of business; It requires specialist knowledge.  Sport managers, therefore, must work with sport specific researchers such as the CIES Football Observatory and must be encouraged to follow dedicated sports management education programmes, such as the FIFA Master offered by CIES to enhance their knowledge in key sport management areas.

In their quest for higher performance, professional football clubs are constantly evolving. This holds particularly true when considering the huge growth in technical and support staff now active in the industry: medical staff, fitness coaches, rehabilitation specialists, nutritionists, psychologists, video or data analysts and statisticians are now all commonplace. From a management perspective, however, much remains to be done in order to create the best environment to support the expression and development of player talent. To be truly successful, this must be  sustainable in the long term, both from a sporting and economic perspective.

About Vincent Schatzmann and CIES

Vincent Schatzmann is General Secretary at The International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES) which is an independent study centre located in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. It was created in 1995 as a joint venture between the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the University of Neuchâtel, the City and State of Neuchatel.

Using a multi-disciplinary approach CIES provides research, top-level education and consulting services to the sports world with the aim of overcoming the complexities of sport in today's society and improving how it is governed and managed across all sports. 

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