Is Paul Mitchell a transfer wizard? Joshua Olsson takes an in-depth look at the man with the Black Box
Paul Mitchell the transfer genius?
Looking forward to the summer transfer window there is a great deal to be excited about. Mauricio Pochettino has now had a full season to assess what areas of the squad need to be strengthened in order to better implement his tactical philosophy, and, by all accounts, he already has one eye on potential incomings (and outgoings) at White Hart Lane.
Speaking to The London Evening Standard a few days ago, the Tottenham manager emphasised the importance of making quick moves in the transfer market to trump richer rivals: “For us, it’s important to work hard during the season to take early decisions. This is always important.”
Most intriguingly, in the same interview Pochettino also said: “I think that we need to be more clever than the teams that invest more money than us. It is for that, I am very happy because we create a very strong institute now and follow the players around the world”.
The reference to the creation of a new “institute” for tracking players is a strong indication that Tottenham’s Head of Recruitment, Paul Mitchell, has finished laying the foundations for a more analytical approach to player scouting at White Hart Lane. A good idea of what this institute might look like, is found in an article that Jeremy Wilson wrote for The Telegraph, in which he gave a detailed portrait of Mitchell and his scouting methods at Southampton:
“In a large open-plan room at the club’s new football development centre, there are literally 10 computer screens of matches being watched throughout the day by full-time staff. In another corner is the base for a team of scouts who physically get out and identify potential players right the way from the age of five upwards… The most intriguing element of the department, though, is what is known as the “black-box”.
It is a small room with a phone, a desk and a row of chairs that faces a giant screen. Southampton designed their own computer software that is used in this room and, with just a few clicks, Mitchell and his team could be watching any player, team or target anywhere in the world.”
One suspects that a similar set-up has been established at Tottenham, and that even now Mitchell and his team are focussing their efforts on identifying high-performing yet undervalued players, who will buy into Pochettino’s high pressing system and finally take this team to the next level.
There is a great deal of optimism about what Mitchell will be able to add to Spurs’ somewhat underwhelming transfer performance over the past couple of seasons. After all, for the £43 million Tottenham spent on Roberto Soldado and Paulinho, Mitchell managed to recruit Nathaniel Clyne, Steven Davis, Maya Yoshida, Victor Wanyama, Dusan Tadic and Dejan Lovren. One suspects that all of these players would quite easily find their way into the Tottenham match-day squad.
Moreover, the first five of these players now have a Market Value (MV) of somewhere in the region of £46 million (and a Transfer Value – TV – considerably higher), while Lovren alone was sold to Liverpool for £22.3m last summer. Given that Spurs are looking at heavy losses to offload players such as Adebayor, Soldado and Paulinho, the acquisition of a Head of Recruitment who appears to have the ability to buy players who actually increase in value, appears to be an excellent move by Daniel Levy.
Spurs’ appointment of Mitchell has been the subject of near-universal approval. Indeed, I too share the view that he is exactly who Spurs need right now and I am excited to see what targets we make a move for in the summer.
However, I would also like to issue a note of caution for those who are expecting miracles. The data concerning Mitchell’s past recruitment performance is inconclusive, ambiguous and highly debateable, but, in my opinion, it suggests that there are quite a few failures to go along with the unequivocal successes.
In the tables below, I have assembled all of the players signed on permanent deals while Mitchell was Head of Recruitment at MK Dons, Southampton and Tottenham. For each, I have noted the cost to the club, and, where known, the fee received upon their departure. Of course, many of the players Mitchell signed for Southampton are still at the club, and thus we have little real idea of whether – in financial terms at least – they were astute buys. To remedy this, I have also compared their transfer fees to their MV according to transfermarkt.
Of course MV only has a cursory relationship with TV, which, by virtue of a multitude of subsidiary factors, can be vastly higher or lower than MV. The case of a couple of Spurs players provides a neat demonstration. Jake Livermore, for instance, had a MV of only £2.2m when he went to Hull for £6.2m in 2014.
However, a number of other factors – such as the fact that he is a Tottenham academy graduate, he is English and because he was being sold by the master negotiator Levy – raised his TV in a way that sites such as transfermarkt often fail to properly factor in to their calculations. At the same time, however, Emmanuel Adebayor has a MV of £6.2m. However, his ridiculously high wages mean that Tottenham face a huge struggle to get him off their books. It has been widely reported that Spurs will let him go for free just to get him out of the club, and thus his TV is actually close to zero.
This being the case, the fact that the comparison of transfer fee to MV shows that – when assessing Mitchell’s acquisitions still at Southampton – he has actually lost the club money is almost certainly wrong. The TVs of players such as Clyne, Rodriguez, Tadic and even Mane are almost certainly at least double their MV, and they will – in due course – show that Mitchell’s decision to recruit these players was extremely good.
At the same time, however, the MV of other players appears to be more accurate, and this does raise doubts about some of Mitchell’s decisions. In particular, the transfers of Osvaldo, Ramirez, Long and Mayuka for a combined £43.3m (now with a MV of £21.5) look dubious, with all except Ramirez unlikely to command TVs exceeding their MV. Moreover, Mitchell has also lost money on players: £97,000 on Charlie MacDonald at MK Dons, and almost £3.5m on Billy Sharp and Vegard Forren at Southampton.
Of course, it might be argued that Osvaldo, for instance, was Pochettino’s choice and that Mitchell should be exculpated from blame. However, this leads to a slippery slope. If transfers went ahead without the full support of Mitchell, then we must just as quickly cast doubt on his contribution to the successes as we pardon him for the failures. One might wonder, after all, whether the influx of extremely talented players to Southampton from Holland in 2014, owed more to Ronald Koeman’s expert knowledge of the league than Mitchell’s scouting and analysis network. I have chosen to proceed, then, from the assumption that Mitchell signed off on all of the incoming transfers which occurred during his tenure at MK Dons and Southampton.
My aim in all of this is not to cast any doubt on Mitchell’s expertise, but simply to temper the expectations of Tottenham fans who are anticipating a summer of unequivocal transfer successes. Mitchell’s recruitment quality has already been shown by the club’s excellent decision to buy Dele Alli from MK Dons in January. Alli has just been made the Football League Young Player of the Year and appears to have all of the attributes to become a mainstay of the team for years (and to see his MV skyrocket in coming seasons). However, it also seems likely that a few of Tottenham’s purchases this summer will turn out to lose the club money.
Paul Mitchell Transfer History
Transfer Fee Compared to MV for Southampton Acquisitions
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