The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
Here’s a question for everyone else who plays this game: How do you know when to sell a star player? Do you hold onto him at all costs and hope he retires with the team? Do you try to unload him before his abilities start to decline? Or is there some monetary threshold beyond which you can’t turn down an offer?
The answers to those questions most likely vary with your club circumstances and with your own managerial temperament. But they become especially urgent when you’re managing a lower league club and hoping to improve its fortunes. In a game like that, you can’t afford to be sentimental about too many players; improving your club’s bank balance is probably the most important single element in achieving long-term success. At the same time, you’re trying to get promoted, something you won’t be able to do if you sell irreplaceable players. Deciding which of those rules is most relevant when you get a tempting offer for a first-team player can be one of the trickiest things you have to do in the game.
Miguel José is our young right-back and, by numerical rating alone, Pro Vercelli’s best player this season. He’s defensively solid, has world-class strength, and is rapidly getting better; our coaches already rate him as a “leading star” in Serie C1/A, and I think he has Serie B potential. He’s one of those players you’re sometimes lucky enough to find in this game who do the job you need them to do from their first game and keep doing it reliably. His morale is unshakable, and his temperament is “resolute” (my favorite). Best of all, since I changed Pro Vercelli’s corner tactic to something less utterly ineffectual this season, he’s even scoring goals; three so far, to go with three assists.
In the January transfer window, Serie B club Virtus Lanciano offered €1.1 million for him, plus a massive 50% share of his next transfer fee. Our bank balance was about €500k, so this was a chance to triple it in one move. I looked around for other right backs, and found that I probably wouldn’t be able to bring in an equal replacement, but would be able to bring in someone close for a fraction of the price. Given that José didn’t have anything like Serie A potential, the deal made all the sense in the world, from a business perspective, at least.
From a football perspective, it was a different story. With over half the season gone, we were sitting in fourth place, 12 points behind top-ranked Rimini and only five points away from falling out of the playoff spots. Our success had been due to a number of factors (we were the second-best goalscoring team in the league, and Ibáñez and Messi of Waidhofen/Ybbs were apparently competing to see who could be the top scorer in the league), but one major aspect of it was our defensive improvement over last season (we were now the fourth-best defensive team in the league, up from 10th the year before). Losing José could upset both the offensive and defensive sides of our game, and it was hard to risk that in the middle of a grueling push for promotion.
I agonized over the decision, but I finally decided to keep him. There’s a certain feeling you get about a player every now and again, a sense of total, calm reliance, as if you can look at that position on your team and think, “It’s taken care of.” Normally every aspect of your team seems to be in a state of harried disarray that you’re barely holding together—that’s the fun of it—but that one slot on the team-sheet is something you never have to worry about. It’s a feeling I seldom have even where my very best players are concerned, and I’ve learned through long experience to trust it when it appears. I have that feeling for Miguel José, so even though it flies in the face of my general system, I’m keeping him, bank balance be damned.
Of course, now we’re into February and we’ve fallen 14 points behind Rimini, who will not lose while we seem to be drawing every game. Of course, that probably has less to do with José than with the fact that Ibáñez has decided to sleep through the spring semester and hasn’t scored in four games. Now if only someone would offer me a seven-figure sum for him…
January Transfer Activity
by Brian Phillips · February 11, 2009