Big tickets or mere stubs?

Club presidents don’t ever wish to weaken their position and one of the best ways to keep fans happy is to sign star players. For supporters intoxicated by the World Cup experience, there’s hardly a better sight than the arrival of a player who has recently set the world alight. The low success rate of such players at their new clubs notwithstanding, these transfers are about glitz and glamour to some extent. Hence, it’s impossible to believe clubs will ever exercise

Even the greatest can’t seem to escape it. It was the summer of 1996. If you were to believe the narrative around the European Championship then, football had come home. Hosted by the inventor of modern football, the tournament in England saw a mawkish evocation of nostalgia and patriotism.

However, England was knocked out in the semifinals. Yet, it gave an opportunity to managers and scouts to assess talents on the continent closely. In the post-Bosman scenario, there was a possibility to attract more foreign footballers to England.

Sir Alex Ferguson was enthused by the displays of Czech Republic’s Karel Poborsky and Johan Cruyff’s son, Jordi. Manchester United soon acquired the duo for a combined fee of five million pounds — not a significant amount by today’s standards but a decent fee to spend back then.

Interestingly, a year ago, Poborsky was touted to be worth only 200,000 pounds by a West Ham fan who was teaching in Prague at that time. The teacher even wrote to the then Hammers’ manager Harry Redknapp, advising him to buy the “brilliant” winger.

Jordi lasted four seasons at the club, but Poborsky could manage only two. Unfortunately, both failed to hit the ground running and were ushered away from United without any palpable sadness. Ferguson had learnt a lesson.

“I was always wary of buying players on the back of good tournament performances. I did it at the 1996 European Championship, which prompted me to move for Jordi Cruyff and Karel Poborský. Both had excellent runs in that tournament but I didn’t receive the kind of value their countries did that summer... sometimes players get themselves motivated and prepared for World Cups and European Championships and after that there can be a levelling off,” said the former United manager. The temptation is understandable. When a player demonstrates his capabilities on the biggest stage, the doubts over him dissolve at a quicker rate than usual. World Cups can, at times, transform into auditions for moves to bigger clubs for players. It can also boost the value of an already sought after footballer.

It shouldn’t happen but it does. Scouts and managers would usually reserve judgment on a player until he proves himself over a significant period of time. Yet, footballers are bought on the basis of just a couple of viewings at the World Cup or European Championship.

Unsurprisingly, clubs battle huge risk when they do so. In this age of information, it’s almost impossible for a talented footballer to remain under the wraps till he features for his country. If he hasn’t been revealed somewhere yet, he’s probably not very good.

The big clubs seem to have learnt their lessons, though. It would be unfair to say that James Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) and Romelu Lukaku (Everton) were bought solely on the basis of their World Cup performances. Only in the case of James, possibly, the transfer fee was inflated due to his exploits in Brazil.

By all accounts, Lukaku had a mediocre tournament there. And Sanchez was probably forced out by Barcelona’s capture of Luis Suarez — another player who didn’t cover himself in glory in Brazil.

In fact, if one were to consider the big deals this summer, the World Cup has had little impact on transfers. Players like Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Eliaquim Mangala were bought for a heavy fee despite failing to make their national team’s first eleven in Brazil. Toni Kroos, on the other hand, was one of the best players at the tournament, but Real Madrid bought him for a lower fee than Shaw and Mangala.

Another interesting aspect was that Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and David Luiz had their transfers arranged in principle before the tournament began. Considering the money they were bought for, it’s a moot point whether their underwhelming World Cup displays would have lowered their valuation.

This certainly happened in Mario Balotelli’s case, according to AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi. “Other than Italy, I’m the one who lost this World Cup. I was on the point of selling Balotelli to an English club for millions, but who will buy Balotelli after this World Cup?” lamented the former Italian Prime Minister. Finally Milan agreed to sell Balotelli to Liverpool for 16 million pounds, a fee lower than what he was bought for in January 2013.

Yet, below the top sides, there are signs that the World Cup has influenced recruitment. West Ham United paid 12 million pounds for Ecuadorian forward Enner Valencia who scored three goals in the group stages — two of them against Honduras, one of the weakest sides in the tournament.

West Bromwich Albion swooped on Costa Rica defender Cristian Gamboa, along with Australian full-back Jason Davidson. Eduardo Vargas acquitted himself well for Chile in Brazil, but had failed to force his way into Napoli’s first team last season. Now, the forward has been signed for a season-long loan by Queens Park Rangers.

While the jury’s still out on these signings, it’s not without reason that popular sport websites have come out with a ‘World Cup stars to be avoided’ compilation after the tournament in Brazil. Too often, moves influenced by a few stellar performances don’t work out.

The painful experiences of El Hadji Diouf and Salif Diao at Liverpool (2002) and Ilie Dumitrescu at Tottenham Hotspur (1994) are still fresh in memory. The argument against such moves is strong enough to warrant caution, but sometimes reason alone doesn’t guide a transfer strategy.

Club presidents don’t ever wish to weaken their position and one of the best ways to keep fans happy is to sign star players. For supporters intoxicated by the World Cup experience, there’s hardly a better sight than the arrival of a player who has recently set the world alight.

The low success rate notwithstanding, these transfers are about glitz and glamour to some extent. Hence, it’s impossible to believe clubs will ever exercise complete restraint in a post-World Cup season.

In a society fuelled by consumerism, the acquisition of the most coveted product at any cost is the popular demand. Whether one needs the product is a question for another day.

Here's a list of ?ve big transfers after a World Cup:

Luis Suarez (Liverpool to Barcelona, 2014; 94 million Euros) - After failure on major fronts, Barcelona chose to revamp its squad. Moves to sign Suarez were afoot before the World Cup started; the desire to buy him wasn't dimmed even when he bit Giorgio Chiellini.

Angel di Maria (Real Madrid to Manchester United, 2014; 80 million Euros) - The arrival of James Rodriguez meant that despite being one of the stars of Real Madrid's Champions League triumph, di Maria was no longer a certain starter. After Paris Saint-Germain couldn't foot his price, the Argentinean decided to move to Manchester United.

James Rodriguez (Monaco to Real Madrid, 2014; 79.5 million Euros) - Having bought James for 45 million Euros in 2013 from Porto, Monaco chose to cash in on the playmaker a season later after a superlative World Cup performance.

Ronaldo (Internazionale to Real Madrid, 2002; 45 million Euros) - Knee injuries had ensured Ronaldo was absent for the best part of two and a half years prior to the World Cup. However, a stirring comeback at the tournament propelled Brazil to the title and the striker to the Golden Boot. The move to Real Madrid followed soon.

Rio Ferdinand (Leeds United to Manchester United, 2002; 44.8 million Euros) - An impressive World Cup performance and Leeds' dire ?nancial state led to Ferdinand's move to Old Trafford. In the process, he became the world's most expensive defender for the second time.

Priyansh