The YouTube Effect

YouTube exposure hinders the judgement of some decision makers


The biggest story of this summer’s transfer market is Gareth Bale’s move to Real Madrid. He’s the first player to be transferred for €100m (€91m +bonuses). This raises several questions about players’ transfer fee.

First of all, the legitimacy of transfer fees is questionable. In their report to the European Union, Brussels-based consultancy KEA European Affairs mentioned that the system should be changed (which might happen in the future), as the current transfer system is damaging for clubs and players alike: Clubs pay another club for a player’s services, while also buying the players themselves, thus losing money. In turn, the players also lose out on some cash, as the money that goes to their old club should logically be theirs for the taking.

So the system may change in the future, but let’s deal and the here and now - do the current asking prices make any sense?

Real Madrid’s entire financial model is based on purchasing exciting players. Since 2002 the club has spent around €1.3 billion on transfers. Since then, their annual income has increased from around €193m per season to an impressive €520m. This summer, the club has spent around €172m on new players, and managed to cover most of it by selling players for a total of around €115m.Real’s income will probably grow substantially, due to the growing East Asian market and the worldwide increase of sponsorship revenue.

Despite all that, €100m is quite a lot of money to spend on a player, who hasn’t won a substantial title in his career. According to The International CIES Football Observatory’s Demographic Study , Bale’s “objective asking price” (which calculates skills and financial worth) is somewhere between €43m and €50m. Real Madrid spent double than that, due to a combination of several factors – Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy’s negotiation skills is one of them. Another factor is Madrid’s desire to maintain “alpha dog” status in the transfer market, fending off new powerhouses like Monaco and PSG. We must also remember that Madrid president Florentino Pérez had promised club members to bring Bale to the club.

There is one more important factor, however, that influenced Bale’s transfer fee, and it is the “YouTube Effect”.

Make no mistake about it – Gareth Bale is a spectacular player. His speed, shot power and great technique make him the perfect YouTube player. Millions of people will hit links to watch his performances for Madrid. The YouTube Effect has a lot of influence in today’s transfer market – one of the main reasons that Neymar cost Barcelona €57m was that he’s one of the biggest football stars on
YouTube. His incredible skill and amazing maneuvers (which usually don’t even end up in the back of the net) have more views than Japanese cats, and it’s one hell of an accomplishment in today’s world. YouTube exposure could worth a lot of money, but it probably hinders the judgement of some decision makers.

A great example of this lack of judgement is Mesut Özil’s move to Arsenal.

According to the CIES, Özil is valued somewhere in the range of €36m-42m. He joined Arsenal for a transfer fee of €50m in total (€43m in cash + €7m in bonuses). This means that, unlike Bale, Özil was bought for a price quite similar to his objective value. Özil is 24 years old, just like Bale, but he isn’t a YouTube star, because the things he does on the pitch are more efficient than spectacular.

When Bale was presented at the Santiago Bernabéu last week, Real Madrid’s fans made it clear that they want Özil to stay at the club. They had a terrific reason, too: In the past 3 years, Özil made more assists than any other football player (122 in total since 2010). In comparison, Andrés Iniesta, who is widely regarded as a football “genius”, had made 62 assists in the same period. Özil also scored 55 goals in that time-frame, while Iniesta had only 29. Let’s look at some other assist tallies from 2010: Lionel Messi has 82, Juan Mata has 72, Franck Ribéry has 60 and Cesc Fabregas has 56. Özil is not only leading all of them, he’s making laps around them.

When comparing Özil and Bale, we can see that Bale has scored more goals, but Özil was much more accurate, and also created much more opportunities than the Welsh winger. Last season, Özil scored 9 league goals, while Bale had 21. However, Özil only had 22 shot attempts (82% of them on-goal), while Bale had a staggering 134 shots (only 54% on-goal). Özil created 91 scoring opportunities while Bale had 75, and his pass completion rate of 84% was significantly higher than Bale’s 78%.

Florentino Pérez is lucky enough to have Zinedine Zidane by his side. The former superstar was instrumental in bringing Isco to the club, and that just  might be the steal of the summer. Isco is a player who will be able to do at least most of the things that Özil did for the club.

Mesut Özil is the type of player that plays well without being an instant hit on YouTube. He creates space for his teammates, he’s great at maintaining possession, knows when to shoot and when to lower the pace of the game. His turns are not spectacular but super effective.  He’s got incredible vision and a rare first touch. All of these qualities are extremely important in the game of football, but in the YouTube era they are  worth much less than they should be.

Well, Real Madrid’s loss is Arsenal’s gain.

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