Cesc Fabregas is, by any measure, a marquee name. He's also reportedly for sale, and for a mere £30M—a seeming bargain for a player many would count as a world class playmaker. There are two problems, though, if you're a Liverpool fan dreaming of his signing. First and perhaps most important is he would be a terrible fit for the style of football the club played last year and that this summer's targets to date have seemed intended to build on.
For all his talent with the ball at his feet and despite decent creation statistics at Barcelona, Fabregas plays the game at his own pace. And that pace is slow; languid; considered. In the right set up it can work, but it isn't how Liverpool's current squad is built to play and it doesn't fit the uptempo, pressing and possession way Barcelona played under Pep Guardiola and are looking to get back to under Luis Enrique.
That's the reason why Barcelona might be willing to part with him, and it's the same reason why Jose Mourinho was happy to take £37M for Juan Mata in January. It's the same reason Carlo Ancelotti last summer felt it was better to let Mesut Ozil go to Arsenal than Angel di Maria, despite that many count Ozil a better attacking talent. For all his talent, like them Fabregas is a downtempo player who does not press well and balks at defensive responsibility.
He is a talent, clearly. But he is not a complete talent, and he would require a rebuild of last year's title challenging side for Liverpool to have a chance of getting the most out of him. This makes him a bad fit in a summer where the goal is to build on last year's success rather than tearing it down and starting all over again. More than that, focusing on what seems a bargain £30M price tag ignores his wages, which any suitor cannot do.
Fans like to focus on transfer fees, but wages are just as important to clubs when it comes to determining the cost of any transfer, and an English club wooing Frabregas would need to pay him more than the €115,000 per week he's currently on in Spain, which has a lower tax rate on its highest earners. They would also have to make up for the fact that he's leaving the club he grew up at and recently returned to; the club he had expected to retire at.
Conservatively, Fabregas would expect wages in the £150,000 a week range were he to return to England. That his wages would be higher is easier to imagine than that they would be lower. Ignoring agent fees and signing-on fees, both of which would also be expected to be relatively high when dealing with a player like Fabregas, over the length of a five-year deal the total cost to acquire him would stand at around £69M, or £13.8M per season.
The math is similar for another world class player linked with an England move for a seemingly reasonable transfer fee in recent weeks, Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos. Kroos to Manchester United rumours may have ended up having no basis in reality, but the suggestion that he could be heading to them for a paltry £20M for a time had some Liverpool fans wondering what Brendan Rodgers was doing still chasing after Adam Lallana.
Those rumours, or at least those who became caught up in them, didn't bother to take into account that it has been widely reported in Germany that if Kroos was willing to leave Bayern Munich, he would demand wages of around £200,000 per week to do so, dwarfing even what Fabregas would earn. Even with his seemingly cheap, £20M transfer fee, Kroos would end up costing £72M over five years—£14.4M each year.
Which brings us around to Adam Lallana. He of what some believe to be the outrageous £25M potential transfer fee—at least if Southampton blink first in their showdown with Liverpool and the deal goes through before the World Cup. His current wages are undisclosed, but it is believed Liverpool have let it be known through his agent that they would offer him £75,000 per week and that a deal could be struck with the player at that rate.
Together with his fee, that's a five-year commitment of £44.5M, or £8.9M each season, which is what Liverpool's money men see when they look at potential transfer costs. Not Kroos for £20M and Lallana for £25M and Fabregas for £30M, but rather Lallana for £44.5M and Fabregas for £69M and Kroos for £72M. And that difference is enough to cover midfield target Emre Can's £10M release clause and a generous £50,000-60,000 per week deal.
The total cost to Liverpool to acquire both Lallana and Can and to pay them for the next five seasons would be between £67.5-70.1M, depending on the size of Can's wage packet. That's the real cost of their potential transfers—and the real cost of a player like Kroos, who isn't available, or Fabregas, who may be but who would be a poor fit for this Liverpool side and require a rebuild to even have a chance of getting the best out of him.
Looking at a transfer fee and using it to judge value is easy. It's also quite often a terrible reflection of the actual cost of acquiring a player. Or in this case of acquiring two players, as for the cost of one world class playmaker who wouldn't fit comfortably in Liverpool's current side, the club could buy two players who would fit perfectly—one in his prime and ready to contribute, the other with the potential to become a world class midfielder himself.
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