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Liverpool’s Transfers Under FSG: Are They as Bad as We Think?

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As fans we’re prone to complain about any situation, and transfers are no different. But have Liverpool been as bad at them as we sometimes tell ourselves they’ve been?

Tranmere Rovers v Liverpool - Pre-Season Friendly
This may be hard to believe, but this is the face of someone statistically average.
Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images

Jürgen Klopp's choice to not bring in any new players during the transfer window prompted much angst and handwringing amongst Liverpool fans who had hoped even just one new face at Anfield might inject some life into an otherwise dispiriting group of performances that characterized the start of 2017.

Central to the recruitment concern was discussion of transfers under not-so-new owners FSG. Under FSG, Liverpool fans have frequently lamented the prospects lost to other clubs and been critical of the talent that did come in. The feeling is that Liverpool have largely been unsuccessful in the transfer market under FSG and that big, bold statements are needed this summer.

But how true is this? If conventional wisdom suggests that roughly 50% of transfers are considered a success, how do Liverpool fans actually perceive the transfer business done during seven seasons of FSG ownership? I decided to find out via a survey1 that asked respondents to rate each transfer on a five point scale from Poor to Excellent, with an N/A option available for those who felt they couldn't adequately assess a given player's LFC career. While the 215 kind souls who responded are not necessarily a huge sample size -- I have limited reach! -- they did provide enough data that outliers from initial responses eventually averaged out into the larger picture.

Here are the results. Remember, this is subjective and, in theory, meant to be a bit of fun.

Results by Season

Table showing the sum of all ratings per type of rating per season.

The numbers in the Poor through N/A columns are the number of times new players from that season were given those ratings, e.g. in 2010/11, Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll received 89 Poor ratings and 2010 Excellent ratings combined. (You can take a wild guess which player was more likely to be awarded which rating.) A weighted average based on the number of ratings given in each category was used to arrive at an average rating (out of 5) per transfer per season. A few things can quickly be gleaned here:

1) That fan perception of our signings since January 2011 has gradually shifted over time from Poor to Above Average. There are a few obvious outliers in early seasons (Luis Suarez in 2010/11, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho in 2012/13), but for the most part there is a steady perceived improvement in overall satisfaction with the talent brought in.

You can see this both in the gradual shift in dark pink across the Poor through Excellent columns as the seasons progress, as well as in the same shift occurring in the Average Rating Per Player column from top to bottom.

2) The number of players given N/A is most common for recent transfers, which makes sense.

Results Overall

Our perception of the success of our transfers is improving. Hooray! But can we quantify this a bit further to see on a more individualized level who is cutting it and who is not? Of course!

Table showing best, average, and lowest rated transfers per season.

Above we can see who the best and worst rated players of their season were, as well as the players who are closest to the average rating for the overall season in which the arrived at Anfield.

But we can go a bit further. If we assume that a perfectly bang average player is rated a 2.5 -- i.e. midway between 0 and 5 -- how many of the 46 senior players signed in this time2 are above and below the 2.5 average?

Brace yourselves: 47.8% (22 players) are above 2.5 and 52.2% (24 players) are below 2.5.

Obviously, when you look at the details of just who sits around that middle mark, there is room for debate about whether or not that player's tenure at Liverpool has been a success; there are probably more than a few who might swap players between being above and below that 2.5 mark. But we're measuring average, not individual, perceptions here and on average LFC's success rate under FSG seems to be closely in line with the conventional wisdom that transfer success in football is about 50%.

Liverpool's average across all seasons is 2.82, slightly higher than an assumed 2.5 average rating per player.

But What About the Money?

While this survey was meant only to look at perception of transfer success without defining "success" since this means different things to different people, the return on investment for a transfer fee is often a consideration for many when assessing a player's overall success. Total spend on different types of transfers isn't necessarily a good measure, of course; we've spent more on above average players than we have on below average players, but that's exactly what you would expect given that usually you pay more for higher quality players. Of Liverpool's absolute successes, i.e. players rated 4 or higher, only Philippe Coutinho cost less than £10m.

That said, of the "abject failures", i.e. players with a rating less than 2, four of them have been big money failures where Liverpool spent £16m or more (Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Lazar Markovic, and Mario Balotelli). The rest of the abject failures -- thirteen players in all -- were all players with transfer fees of £10m or less, which is exactly how much you want to have paid if a player is going to have a negative impact on the game.

Some Surprises

Given the intensely subjective nature of this type of survey, some of the results made me laugh a bit as they started to roll in. Was Andy Carroll really so bad that just over 40% of the people who filled out the survey rated him as Poor, which was defined as "abject failure" in the instructions? Below average, certainly, but abject failure?

Likewise, poor Alex Manninger earned the title of Worst Signing but mostly due to the fact that 43% of respondents rated him N/A, which unfortunately carries a value of zero when calculating the weighted average rating for each player.

Speaking of players folks felt they couldn't adequately assess: Andy Carroll, Philippe Coutinho, Kolo Touré, Divock Origi, Emre Can, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Ragnar Klavan all received exactly one N/A rating. Friends, who amongst you are still unsure about Philippe Coutinho? You haven't seen enough of James Milner to take a stance? Kolo Touré remains a great enigma for you? I am fascinated by this.

And just for the sake of argument, if we discard all N/A ratings so that only true ratings are included, the overall average rating per season only rises to 2.84 (from 2.82) but Alex Manninger suddenly jumps from 46th to 29th place. Congrats! Unfortunately, that means Adam Bogdan takes his place at the bottom, tied with -- perhaps you've guessed it -- the one and only Mario Balotelli. Why always him?

Finally, there are three oddities in the list. Both Joe Gomez and Ragnar Klavan managed the feat of being rated below average for the seasons in which they were signed, but still pulled off a rating that was above average across all seven seasons. Jose Enrique, wildlife enthusiast, managed the opposite by finding himself rated above average the season he was signed but ultimately below average when compared to all FSG seasons. Sorry, guy!

Notes

1 This is an entirely subjective survey. Our feelings on a player are not necessarily an objective assessment of his quality nor his relative success at Liverpool. Mostly, this was just for fun and isn't meant to be taken too seriously!

2 This number excludes players signed for the Academy and any loanees, even if we paid a fee for them in either case.

You can see the full list of results here if you'd like to dive into the data a bit more. I do genuinely think that the results skew a little low, if only because we are so very irrational sometimes when it comes to the players we don’t hold in terribly high regard and I think that is reflected in the results.

Below is a summarized version listing only the players and their ratings in order from best to worst for those who don’t want to click on over to the Google doc.

Liverpool Transfer Ratings

Rank Player Rating
Rank Player Rating
1 Luis Suarez 4.97
2 Philippe Coutinho 4.86
3 Sadio Mane 4.76
4 Daniel Sturridge 4.44
5 Roberto Firmino 4.23
6 Jordan Henderson 4.22
7 Nathaniel Clyne 4.21
8 Joel Matip 4.18
9 Adam Lallana 4.04
10 James Milner 3.98
11 Georginio Wijnaldum 3.98
12 Craig Bellamy 3.56
13 Mamadou Sakho 3.49
14 Kolo Toure 3.47
15 Joe Allen 3.46
16 Divock Origi 3.41
17 Emre Can 3.38
18 Dejan Lovren 3.25
19 Simon Mignolet 2.75
20 Ragnar Klavan 2.73
21 Joe Gomez 2.73
22 Danny Ings 2.55
23 Loris Karius 2.44
24 Jose Enrique 2.38
25 Alberto Moreno 2.38
26 Kevin Stewart 2.33
27 Christian Benteke 2.14
28 Danny Ward 2.04
29 Fabio Borini 2.02
30 Lazar Markovic 1.94
31 Marko Grujic 1.93
32 Rickie Lambert 1.93
33 Andy Carroll 1.77
34 Iago Aspas 1.74
35 Stewart Downing 1.72
36 Joao Teixeira 1.67
37 Luis Alberto 1.62
38 Charlie Adam 1.6
39 Sebastian Coates 1.59
40 Oussama Assaidi 1.51
41 Tiago Ilori 1.47
42 Doni 1.31
43 Mario Balotelli 1.31
44 Samed Yesil 1.25
45 Adam Bogdan 1.25
46 Alex Manninger 1.18