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The constraint that will inspire Newcastle United transfer business?

1 year ago

Watching the draw with Brighton, like many Newcastle fans on Saturday, I was frustrated by the slightly lacklustre attacking display and pondering how Newcastle’s alleged endless pot of money might improve our attacking threat.

I then switched over to enjoy Brentford embarrass Manchester United.

Amongst the hilarious Sky Sports melt down, one line of commentary made me think, more than laugh. The line was by Gary Neville: “It’s a real achievement for Man Utd to spend a billion pounds and be this bad”.

There can’t be many clubs capable of spending so much (even fewer are capable of spending it so badly), but considering the wealth of Saudi Arabia PIF, Newcastle United is surely one of them (although FFP will delay this).

Could we make similar mistakes with our transfer budget?

Everton is perhaps a better warning for NUFC of how clubs can spend a lot of money badly.

One aspect of my job is to advise businesses of how to spend money, and as part of this, how best to filter out solutions to find something that works for you. If Marko Arnautovic is seen as the best solution, I doubt Manchester United have much of a process for this.

You would think one of the biggest clubs in the world would utilise data driven insight to select the best possible players to fit Ten Hag’s system, rather than taking a punt on a 33-year-old former West Ham player. Yet it is Brentford, who on just 10% of Manchester United’s budget, are playing real life money ball to great effect.

Why is it then that the club with the highest commercial income in the league is unable to conduct the same sensible transfer business as Brentford on a bigger scale?

Youtuber James Lawrence Allcott has the answer: gluttony. In this video, James uses an example from Harvard Business Review to explain this.

The summary of this article is constraints are good for innovation; GE engineers when given no constraints, followed the path of least resistance, and opted for obvious, and poor options when designing solutions. When the engineers were given a tight time frame and a modest budget, they were more successful as these constraints narrowed focus and inspired innovative thinking.

In the world of football, this reveals itself in Brentford’s innovative use of data for their transfer budget. Due to a limited budget, Brentford have landed on a better solution. They have a ‘B’ team rather than an academy and they choose transfer targets based on statistical insight.

Manchester United, with all the money available, instead do the ‘obvious’ thing. They resign Ronaldo, they go after every player the new manager has ever worked with, they sign Maguire for a ridiculous sum off the back of a good World Cup, despite him being unsuited to their system. Nothing joins up.

Newcastle United therefore, need to take note.

Signing a random selection of household names for big money may be tempting but spending money is not the solution by itself.

And this is how FFP might actually work in Newcastle’s favour in the long-term.

Unlike other clubs who have had mega rich owners come in (Manchester City…), Newcastle can’t afford to waste money. They are constrained by FFP and this has to focus our transfer decisions. The transfer business so far, and the off-field appointments, suggest this is the case.

Let’s hope we are not too constrained to make one or two more sensible transfers before the end of the deadline.


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