When is the right time to sell?

Selling a player of any value is usually seen as a negative activity by football fans. You can only get away with it if you’re a very big club or very small. Anything other and you’re in for a shit storm from the fans. Even if you sell someone for £50m or £35m, some will still burn their shirts. The commonly shared ideal is to spend money on quality players and sell your rubbish players. However, this poses a couple of fundamental questions – where does the money to buy come from? And who wants rubbish players?

During the summer, Tom Glick spoke about appointing a Director of Football type role, to help us get players in and out. The topic is back up the agenda this week with speculation about Ross Wilson from  Watford being sounded out about the role. The art of selling players is rarely discussed but recent years have shown the growing importance of off-loading to the Rams.

Selling players hasn’t been one of the Rams strengths in recent years. Our turnover of players has been huge yet the minority have brought in funds. Off the top of my head, I can think of Earnie, Miller, Varney, Tito and Hulse that we received significant fees for. The problem is that even these players were sold at a loss (£4.25m for Hulse anybody? We’ll come back to timing later).

On the plus side, we haven’t sold many players against our wishes; but on the downside, getting rid of players has constantly been a drain on our resources, rather than a source of income. This has been demonstrated more clearly than ever during the past two transfer windows where we had hoped to get fees for Bywater, Pearson and Leacock that would boost our transfer kitty. In reality, getting rid of them has cut into our budget.

The sale of Dean Moxey was viewed as a bit odd and/or a bit pointless at the time. However, there was a simple logic

Derby's most profitable sale in recent history by virtue of not being a loss.

behind it. Trade someone who is not “part of the plans” and not in the team, for someone who would go straight into the first team (Ben Davies). Say what you like about Davies but he has been in or around the team since. I’m sure the two deals weren’t dependent on each other but money moves in and out. If Moxey had hung around and became an outcast (every possibility under Clough), he could well have become a Croft-esque toxic debt.

To demonstrate the importance of trading even more, look no further than our friends down the A52. Prior to last season, Mark Arthur (Forests Chief Exec) boasted that Forest had turned down £1m bids for Nathan Tyson and Kelvin Wilson. Two players that weren’t regular starters in the Championship. Madness. A year later, both players left for nothing, having started 20 league games between them during a season of constant contract speculation. (Wilson actually signed pre-contract for Celtic in January and was officially “injured” thereafter).

Despite Billy Davies’ constant complaints about not signing players,Forest’s inability to move players on has meant a glut of strikers clogging up the wage bill. Last season Earnie, Tyson, Adebola, Blackstock, Tudgay, Findley, McGoldrick, Garner (loaned out) and Boyd (loaned in). This season, Earnie, Garner, Tyson and Adebola have all left (incoming money = nominal fee for Garner) but the numbers have been swelled by Miller, Derbyshire and now Harewood joining (approx £2.5m spend). This kind of activity needs heavily subsidising and Nigel Doughty has done that for ten years. Now the subsidies are over,Foresthave no money and an unbalanced squad.

One of the most difficult aspects of selling a player is getting the timing right. The basic problem is that a player’s peak value will coincide with the most unpopular time to sell him. Look at the uproar a few years ago when clubs were sniffing around Idiakez, Smith and Camp for fees ranging between £1m and £2m. A year or so later, we got less than £1m for all three. No one was bothered though, they were no longer key players – fans don’t worry too much about the loss of income, the Directors can always pick up the tab.

Selling players sometimes needs a clinical business head without sentiment; and a thick skin against fans reaction. Dean Sturridge for £5.5m, Malcolm Christie for £5m, Rob Hulse £4.25m; who wouldn’t have done these deals in retrospect?

After Boro's bid for Studger was declined, they turned their attention to Michael Ricketts. The scout was sacked soon afterwards.

Tom Huddlestone is widely seen as being undersold and we tried to avoid a repeat of this by declining paltry bids of £1.5m-£2m for Giles Barnes, who as we all know, left for nothing relatively soon after.

The important thing seems to be that you need to be in control of the sale. If a player is playing well and/or the team are doing well, then the negotiating position is strong. When you are actively trying to get rid, buying clubs feel like they are doing you a favour (because they are!). As Glick said, clubs would not just take Bywater et al for nothing, they even wanted the Rams to sweeten the deal with the player, allowing the acquiring club to offer lower wages/signing on fee. Players like this become toxic debts over time, hence the need for a Director of Football to aid the outward trading as well as inward.


To continue with the Forest case study, there are some good examples of the above. The first being Lee Camp. In the summer, Swansea made a substantial bid for Camp (£3m allegedly), who was apparently keen on a Premier League move. Forest declined the bid and Camp’s form this season has noticeably declined. The moment has gone. With Forest in the bottom three and openly saying they have no cash, the value of the squad has shrunk massively. Cotterill has said they won’t be selling their best players but how many of their squad men are worth £1m nowadays? By not trading along the way,Forest have gone from keeping their players under the counter to openly advertising a damaged goods sale.

"If you don't sell me, I'll let one through my legs against Derby"

Without a Sugar Daddy (such as Doughty) or parachute payments, Championship clubs have to sell. 1) To bring money in and 2) because the Championship will not be the limit of your best players ambitions. Reading are a good example; selling Long and Mills on their own terms whilst maintaining a play-off challenging squad.  Burnley and Southampton have also made controlled sales whilst performing well in the league.

Whether it be this transfer window or the next, it’s likely that The Rams will face some tough decisions sooner or later. Would you sell Ward for £2.2m as the Leicester rumour would have it? (a massive profit in a matter of months but also our in-form player). What happens if Brayford or Bailey are ready for the Premier League before we are, would you begrudge them a move or keep them down? How about a bid Mason Bennett? (will he be a Huddlestone or a Holmes?).

This time last year, all the talk was of Kris Commons. The decision to sell was unpopular at the time but completely forgotten since Ward’s emergence. This year the debate will be around Paul Green. No one doubts that Green is a good player but with Bryson, Hendrick, Bailey and Addison (yes, let’s not forget him as he played centre midfield in Barnsley’s win at Leicester), the only space for Green is on the right hand side of midfield, not his preferred position. A tactical sale, followed by acquiring a right winger might be a good idea. But of course, some will argue to keep him and sign a winger!

There’s no doubt to make this work, it helps to have a long term view. Thankfully The Rams have this. Clough seems to have one eye on the conveyor belt of players coming through and has already mentioned Tom Naylor and Will Hughes as factors influencing the future of Ando and Green. Can you imagine Silly looking a year or two into the future like this? It’s not just Silly though, most managers are forced to take the short term view out of self preservation. Only the likes of Ferguson, Wegner and Gradi have the luxury of being able to plan like this.

The transfer speculation in January might be a nightmare for managers but great for fans (especially on a slow day at work). We watch with interest who will be joining us…and who will be leaving!




Posted on January 17, 2012, in General Rams Comment and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Excellent considered article. I’ve posted elsewhere that if we received a serious (good) bid for Ward, then we would have to consider it – this wasn’t well received.

    It is all about a matter of timing, something Derby haven’t been very good at. We are expected to pay the going-rate and should demand the same for our players.

    GSE don’t possess the money/will to invest and the club has to be self-financing, which is why the Academy is vital: it will save the club on transfer fees/agents’ costs as well as yield income as good players move on to progress elsewhere, which in turn can be then reinvested across the team.

    This is the way clubs which have to be run under the new Financial Fair Play Rules. It is ironic that after two years of success under Billy, NFFC now find themselves probably facing the same shock treatment and cut-backs and reinvestment in youth that DCFC have had to face. From being behind Forest, we are now probably two years ahead of them.

    • I think we are well on track with the FFP. I don’t whether we have been working towards it for a while conciously or whether it just matches the GSE model. Either way, its better than waking up one day and deciding to do something.

      Forest are the obvious example but teams like Bristol City also routinely announce huge losses with no prospect of hitting the Premier League jackpot.

      Ipswich will also struggle as Jagger persues his tried and trusted model of big-contracts-low-resale-value signings.

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