There was a great article in The Athletic this week on the dire state of Premier League club finances.
It started with this classic investor quote:
“only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked.” – Warren Buffet.
I use quotes very sparingly given how corny they are and because people often misuse good quotes to justify madness. But this one felt very relevant to what we’ve been facing.
The article goes on to say “Getting through this will depend on a combination of luck, nimble management and what state you were in when it started.”
This applies to us as traders as much to EPL club finances. Once the crisis hit fully, football was off, and the spreads lockdown was on, we were largely left with what we were holding when the music stopped.
With Key Strategy as it was laid out in mid-season, and my general approach of sticking mainly to players of genuine FI quality, I feel about as comfortable as I can really expect to be during the biggest crisis football has faced possibly in living memory.
If on the other hand I was holding too many overhyped and overpriced players, I’d be sweating buckets. In this climate mistakes are going to get punished heavily. And the cost of missing a transfer link etc can be 40-50%, not the 10% many may be used to.
Mistakes are very expensive now and we have to minimise them.
The spreads lockdown has meant lots of bad decisions haven’t been too heavily punished yet.
Fortunately for many, Adam Cole has come along with his fig leaf and is currently covering up a lot of those who were indeed swimming naked when the tide went out.
I’m sure you enjoyed that mental image as much as I did.
But that doesn’t mean bad calls won’t be punished eventually, particularly if trends move on and some traders realise they are stuck in the wrong areas of the market.
Picture the day the spreads lockdown ends.
We’d better be bang on trend when people can sell again or that will be a bad day. It could also be a great day as the cash people free up from selling likely moves somewhere fashionable.
What fashionable looks like will depend on events, particularly whether it looks like football is coming back or not.
This is going to be a long article as Key Strategy always is and has to be. Definitely best read with a cup of tea, coffee or something stronger.
At least with us all under lockdown not many of us have anything better to be doing this time!
Through Coronavirus Strategy - Summary
This is a Summary of the Objectives of the strategy covering the months ahead.
Full discussion of each is below, and I recommend reading it all not just the Summary!
What have we done recently?
We’ve been through a period of patiently watching and waiting which has been right.
But eventually, a good trader has to make a decision on where they are going to go next.
In uncertain times I want a strategy that can perform very well or at least acceptably in a wide variety of the most likely future scenarios.
It has to be resilient to sudden changes because we have to assume that once we buy a player we are in for the long haul. The current circumstances with spreads locked down and Instant Sell even suspended means we are going to have minimum flexibility in the foreseeable future.
This is why I think plowing heavily into players for short term media related reasons is a very bad move right now even though many will be tempted. Sure, you can get lucky with bad decisions and sometimes they pay off. But we have to manage risk better than that if we want consistent success over seasons.
There isn’t a perfect strategy though, only a best judgement based on the information available.
We don’t have the luxury of perfect information. Once perfect information becomes widely available the value in the market will have gone.
The Major Factors Ahead
Coronavirus is The Big Thing but it’s not the only thing. We have to think of all the major events that are going to impact trading over the coming months. I’ll discuss them here.
The Return of Football. Or Not.
At this point I am considering a return of football in May/June to be a very welcome bonus but not specifically making a bet on that alone.
Things look quite positive at time of writing particularly in the Bundesliga. But it only takes one player to catch coronavirus in that first game and it could be curtains.
The really critical question is will we have football back by August/September?
Whether that is a restart of this season or the start of the next is much of a muchness.
But I have a preference for finishing this season even if that’s in August since it puts a huge glut of CL/Europa Gold Day’s right up front.
With this Key Strategy, I am betting that football will be back at least by August/September.
It’s important to understand that as the basis for this whole strategy. Because if you think that’s very unlikely you shouldn’t do what I’m doing.
Obviously I don’t know for sure it will happen, it’s a judgement based on the available evidence.
I think this is more likely than not because:
- National lockdowns seem to be working. We don’t have a way out yet but we do seem to have the ability to reduce the number of cases even at huge economic and social cost. We may hit our “peak” soon which will be bad, but then it should start stabilising and hopefully dropping.
- This means that some countries have already been able to start a gradual slackening of the lockdown in low risk activities.
- There is clear sympathy from the Government, certainly in the UK, for trying to get sport back on track if it can be done safely. This is not frivolous or sport just being self centred – if you fast forward a few weeks people are going to be going nuts under extended lockdown. Keeping us plebs entertained and fed is Government 101 if you want them to keep listening to you and obeying the restrictions.
- The measures needed for player safety seem achievable. Tests can already be bought online privately. Clubs are going to have no shortage of money to test everyone who needs to be tested. Putting players in lockdown camps and televising games behind closed doors isn’t beyond their capability either.
- My main concern is the potential drain on public resources to police and staff matches. If there is a hiccup I think this may be it. But I also think that football authorities essentially have limitless money to throw at this problem and I’m willing to bet they come up with something.
- Finally, the determination of football authorities to get this show back on the road, and the absolutely withering financial consequences for the game if they don’t, lead me to believe that everything that can possibly be done to get football back will be done. This may not mean by May or June. But the consequences of it not being back by August or September would be staggering and it won’t be allowed to happen unless there is absolutely no other choice.
If we do finish the season, even if it’s not done by August, there will likely be a very short break before we start the next one.
This could be a huge opportunity where performance players have a uniquely packed and lengthy schedule ahead. We may never see that many fixtures ahead of us again.
This will particularly benefit the older players who have been struggling in recent months since traders will get much less wary of age with a full calendar of games ahead.
The Spreads Lockdown
I’m assuming this lockdown will be here to stay for weeks, possibly months. Instant Sell may even be disabled entirely for long periods as it has been in recent days.
This means selling is going to be very difficult and we should make sure the vast majority of players we hold:
– do not overly depend on a short term turn of fortune like getting that one transfer to a specific club.
– have shelf life for the next 2-3 years, to the extent that even if we did have to wait until 2021 for football we can reasonably expect them to bounce back at some point.
Whilst we are making a bet on football restarting by August/Sept, if we get another awkward twist to this tale, we want players who are resilient as a way of managing risk.
I’m also thinking about the circumstances in which FI will lift the spreads lockdown. I don’t think they will until football is back on the agenda and people won’t want to mass sell anyway.
On that day, it seems more likely that performance will be on trend rather than media assuming I am right that they won’t lift it until football looks back on.
An Uncertain Transfer Market
We’ve got an uncertain transfer window ahead. Some clubs may not have the cash we expect them to splash around like normal. Big clubs may weather the storm better and will be able to exploit smaller clubs who become desperate to sell.
And we may have a much shorter window between seasons. Or the window could end up running alongside the new season for an extended time.
This makes transfers arguably more unpredictable, though in some cases we might think some smaller clubs may be more desperate to sell than usual.
If football returns in May/June it will seriously suffocate a lot of mid to low tier transfer gossip as it will share the limelight with actual football. Transfer gossip could flourish though if we don’t see football until August/September.
My takeaway from this is that we should still be involved with transfer players particularly as a hedge against this season being scrapped. BUT. The best targets are the hybrid performance/transfer players particularly where they have the possibility of a great transfer without being totally dependent on it. If they are still decent at their existing club, that’s a big positive here.
I will strongly avoid players who overly depend on getting a very specific transfer and have little real quality. If that transfer link dies we can expect to take a 40-50% hit and that just feels like a stupid risk to run. Social media / chat groups will be loud about these picks because they need people to follow into them. I’ll ignore it all.
FI Dividend Review
Still planned, as far as we know, is the now regular Summer dividend review. Given the outrageously high expectations of traders, and the general intent to keep dividends a strong incentive in a rising market, the likely outcome of this has to be some form of dividend increase.
It may be that this doesn’t happen, maybe FI take a hit and don’t feel they can sustain an increase. But as it stands I’m putting this in the “potential positive” column without relying on it too much.
A dividend increase can generally be considered good for quality players who return dividends and bad for garbage ones who don’t.
Anyone around in October 2019 will remember the belief at that time that young players were the only thing worth buying and older players were worthless.
What immediately followed was a dividend increase and then a bonfire of previously fashionable yet weak youth players in favour of older higher quality players.
By holding quality, we’re putting ourselves on the right side of “luck” here.
Quality can be both young and old – but generally to benefit from a dividend increase they need to be a widely known dividend returner not a super secret prospect that only we know about.
These well known returners will tend to be older.
Media Reviews and New Territories
This is on-going. We can expect some tweaks to exactly what words count for what points, which is all very difficult to predict to the point where I don’t try (or care).
The real main event here is the expected opening up to foreign media like Bild in the Bundesliga etc. This will have a huge impact on values on FI.
As it stands, the EPL is the most popular and worst value market. You pay an EPL premium because a) people watch more of it and even a bog standard player having a good match will be praised on Match of the Day and bought and b) EPL players are more likely to win media with a British-centric press.
Once you bring foreign media into it, the EPL loses one of the two reasons for it’s premium.
And then when you go the whole hog and start opening up FI to German/Spanish/Italian traders etc, they will inevitably have their own bias towards buying players they know from their own league.
Result of this: Bad for EPL players. Good for foreign league players.
Incidentally, it’s also bad for English players in general. “Young and English” will not be the free dinner ticket it used to be in a world where media dividends are less UK centric. It will take many traders a long time to adapt to that because it’s so ingrained.
I am not expecting this very soon. I don’t think FI want to create more uncertainty right now. But they did have a view towards this being done by next season.
Again, we want to be on the right side of this possibility if we want to be “lucky” traders.
Potential Performance Changes
Like last season, we may see some tweaks to the way performance scoring works.
I was expecting this before. Now? Less so. I am not sure FI want to introduce any more uncertainty into this market if not strictly necessary.
And it’s not. The scoring system largely works fine. There are some rough edges to shave off, the huge rewards for bad crossing being my personal bugbear. But nobody will ever come up with a system that perfectly converts what makes a great footballing performance into numbers.
I’m not making any real special provision for this yet. If it happens, I’ll analyse it and make the adjustments to how I rate players just as I did last season.
You can factor it in if you want by paying attention to the most complained about issues with the scoring system and not paying too much for players who over rely on it. (Obvious example: If inaccurate crossing is reduced as a factor someone like TAA is in trouble given even for a good player just ~30% of crosses might be accurate).
If we believe any changes like this are likely, again, we want to put ourselves on the right side of them so we stay lucky.
I hope there is a review purely for selfish reasons. The more uncertainty that is thrown into the market the more valuable my extra effort becomes.
There are enough changes per season to make it worth it anyway, but when everyone’s knowledge about who is good is effectively reset I can really find an advantage here.
Clubs Going Bust
Some clubs may not come out of the other side of this mess. I’m going to be even more bias than usual towards big clubs with lots of financial muscle.
What happens to a player I own on FI if his club goes bust? I have no idea. And I don’t particularly want to find out the hard way.
The very generous 8.25% bonus is in play. If you trimmed your portfolio before the spreads lockdown, this may end up not being a great deal of use to you unless you are putting in new money on top.
However, if you were one of the lucky ones who was blessed by Adam Cole, you may have had your buys/sells reset (you will have had an email if this is you).
If so, that means the cuts made prior to the lockdown don’t count towards your total buys/sells. You’re getting an 8.25% bonus just for putting that same money back in.
I know this is a bribe and I’d not be letting this bonus drive my decision.
But an 8.25% uplift is a real factor and not to be overlooked.
Not having it doesn’t change anything but it’s nice if you do have it.
Worth noting that I wouldn’t let it tempt me into putting in new money I wouldn’t otherwise be comfortable with.
Where Key Strategy is Now
Where we left off Mid-Season Strategy was building towards a shift towards transfer players and Euro 2020 players (FI had a Euro 2020 announcement planned for April).
And like the Winter Strategy, it encouraged removal of any remaining deadwood (i.e elite veterans) as November > March was the wrong moment for them.
In a corona free world I think the core “Full Season Fit” players plus transfer prospects etc would be doing even better right now, particularly after any Euro 2020 announcement.
But things have changed a lot since Mid-Season strategy was published. Fortunately, one of the reasons I trade in high quality players is that they tend to be resilient and flexible if bad things happen.
In response to coronavirus, I have already advised the following changes to Mid-Season Strategy through State of the Market and the Portfolio Strategy article.
Tighten up on:
- Players who depended heavily on Euro 2020 or the rest of this season including the CL or Europa for their value
- IPD players
- Any remaining short term elite veteran punts.
- And any fat that shouldn’t be there anyway as per the “Clean House” objective from Mid-Season Key Strategy
- Strong core performance players who can be held through to next season (if they have a good transfer prospect too, it’s a bonus).
- High potential long term youth
- Summer transfers (big bias towards those with performance quality as well as a transfer prospect).
- 1-3 premium picks.
That wasn’t a huge change, I described it as a trim not a deep cut.
This is because whilst we use “performance player”, “transfer player” and “media player” as short hand – there is no reason they can’t be both and I often promote making sure they tick more than one box because that flexibility comes in very handy at times like this.
I estimated this would leave about 10-20% of freed up cash in the balance with 80-90% of the portfolio still as we were from Mid-Season Key Strategy.
For the purpose of continuing Key Strategy I’ll assume that I’m working with a portfolio that looks something like this or close to it. Though I know many are starting from different positions, and I’ll consider alternative starting points below.
Key Strategy Objectives - Detailed
Examples: Gnabry, Loftus-Cheek, Alcantara, Kroos, Eriksen, Ruiz, Griezmann. Many more in Value Hunting – Core Performance 1 and 2 and recent Scouting.
These players should have real performance strength at least .
They should be regular dividend contenders in their domestic league and generally be involved in the CL and Europa next season and ideally Euro 2021 too.
If they are still involved in the current seasons CL/Europa it’s a bonus.
Full Selection criteria for these core players are at the end of the article.
Note: We are tightening up a bit on age to cover the risk of football being pushed back to 2021. For new buys I’d be looking under 29 for the moment. But crucially if already holding a good 29+ player I would absolutely not be Instant Selling them now.
This may change fast if we get very confident football is back on the agenda and targeting Elite Veterans again may be exactly the thing to do.
If 40-60% of our portfolio is made up of the above core full season fit selections, we should branch out a bit with the rest of it to pursue other opportunities.
I view a good selection of Core / Full Season Fit players as essential but too many of them can make a portfolio a bit too safe.
High Potential Young Players
This is what I look for in this category:
- 21 and under, maybe up to 23 for a special case
- Genuine performance potential at least
- A credible prospect of at least regular sub appearances next season at a big club, or if at a smaller club, regular first team football.
- Reasonable price with room to grow that hasn’t been pumped up recently.
Examples: Rodrygo, Curtis Jones, Aouchiche, Esposito etc (Lots of examples in the recent wonderkids/young players series).
Assuming I had decent coverage of core players already, this would be my first port of call for investing new money now.
These players don’t have to do much to rise. Traders don’t need much convincing to buy them and there is no point making things harder than they need to be.
But crucially, because we have vetted their real FI potential through proper scouting, these young players are more reliable as long term assets than the overhyped garbage.
The reason I think they are safer ground now right than the Elite Veterans is purely because if things go south and we see football being disrupted throughout 2020, I would expect younger players to hold up better than the veterans.
I am managing the risk of my central bet being wrong (football restarting by Aug/Sept) by sticking to players who should retain long term optimism and value even if football isn’t back until 2021.
I’ll discuss this age factor more below in the FAQ at the end.
Transfer Prospects with Performance Strength
In Key Strategy I’ve consistently advised picking up transfer prospects that also have performance suitability and it’s no different here.
But we want to avoid “punt” picks that are significantly overvalued outside of the transfer hype at this point.
The criterion are:
– A high quality player, with real performance strength for the longer term at their expected destination club and ideally at their existing club too.
– A medium to high chance of picking up a good amount of media in the coming months due to a big transfer
– A reasonable value price, ideally dropping recently.
Examples: Coutinho, Moussa Dembele, Milinkovic-Savic, Van de Beek, Ruiz, Umtiti (Many more in Value Hunting: Transfer/Media Picks and the Transfers section).
A good general test is this: if we look at a player and think “I’d like him to get this transfer but if not I’d be content to hold him where he is” we’re generally going to be on safe ground.
That flexibility of having players who cover both the media and performance angles is great for an uncertain period ahead.
If we get football back, they’ll help us. If we don’t and we have a long transfer window, they are part of our backup plan if football is delayed until August/September or even disrupted throughout 2020.
This is why I’ve been particularly keen on these “hybrid” performance/media players like Fabian Ruiz or Coutinho.
Important Note: At this point, I would tighten up on “punt” transfer picks who have little long term value outside of the hype. With the spreads lockdown looking here to stay, we are unlikely to have the flexibility needed to be punting on players who have questionable value if they don’t get the hoped for move etc.
This would include players like Rice, Lingaard and Sancho who I’ve liked as a hype pick since the turn of the year but feel he is reaching a point now where he can’t sustain that price outside of the initial burst of media.
If something goes wrong with a player like this, getting out will not be cheap. It’s just not worth the risk, at least until spreads are back to usual levels.
This is one of those times where we can dodge one of those obvious risks and be very happy we did later.
Even if bad decisions to gamble on risky transfer holds end up paying off (some will) and we see social media gloating about it later – it doesn’t matter. If we make consistent good decisions we’ll do better in the long run.
1-3 Premium Proven Dividend Returners up to 15% portfolio value
This is the sort of player discussed in the Value Hunting – Premium Players article.
Examples: Fernandes, Neymar, Kane (?)
I recommend the proven dividend returners like Neymar, Fernandes, possibly Kane if we think he has a good transfer ahead.
I do not recommend the short term buzz / long term problem players. Pogba is the classic example. Sancho is getting there. Although I’ve liked Sancho as a hype pick since the turn of the year, it’s now reached a silly price and I’d be getting wary and thinking about moving him on.
Someone like Messi I’d be open to but as per the discussion on age below I’d want more certainty on football being back before heading towards veterans.
The change here is that normally I recommend 1-3 premiums comprising no more than 10% of total portfolio value. This is because one of the mistakes I see all the time in underperforming portfolios is having far too much allocated to premium players, sometimes up to 50% of the portfolio.
You cannot achieve optimal results that way. It might suit a passive/lazy trader to stack premiums heavily. But I think most people using Key Strategy want better than that.
However, with a big period of media potentially ahead, shifting up to 15% of total portfolio value in this area wouldn’t be a bad idea right now.
I am keen to maintain a small cash balance. This gives general flexibility but specifically I plan to drop it into Elite Veterans and IPD players if we get very confident that football is back and can operate comfortably behind closed doors.
The trigger may be if we see games starting to go off without a hitch in the next month or two. It may be earlier if some other reason appears.
But I want greater confidence football will return before diving into this area of the market and the reasoning behind that is explained below.
Despite the aversion many have for older players (as they have been dropping in recent months) this is exactly why they can be the most profitable, just as they were early this season. But for that to happen, we need to see a long football calendar ahead of us.
If on the other hand football looks likely not to return until August/September we may want to drop this into media/transfer holds instead.
It’s difficult to sell right now but one area where we might be able to cash in some players for a profit in the coming weeks and months is transfer holds.
I’ll have to discuss this in depth because the situations in which you might want to sell or hold are unique to each player, there isn’t a one size fits all solution.
For hype transfers this is a really bad time to be holding volatile players because things are not like they used to be. We could take a gamble in the past and sometimes be able to get away with losing just 10-12%.
Now, the cost of a mistake is going to be extremely high and we need to adapt to that and not take on as much risk as we used to with transfers.
If a player is heavily reliant on hitting that one transfer for their value I would be dropping them like a hot potato. And when I say hot potato I mean a lump of radioactive waste.
The most obvious example right now would be Bellingham who has very little value outside of any initial burst of media.
Yes, he may do well short term and collect some media and if the move gathers pace he can rise based on hype. But he also may not move at all and then you are left with a heavy, heavy bag.
Even if he does move you then have to move him on fast or you are holding a £5+ player with next to no chance of winning a performance dividend and the media front will likely go quiet unless he suddenly becomes a superstar too.
I’d be selling this and putting that money somewhere that can rise more at less risk in a heartbeat.
He’s an extreme example because of the sheer amount of pumping that goes on for him. Most of the time it will be a more nuanced decision.
We may also have a good transfer trade and just be happy to cash it out at some point. Last season for example, I was a big holder of Joao Felix but as the Atletico rumours started up I sold up as I was not happy with that move. Had the move been Real Madrid, I suspect I’d have made a different call.
The thing with transfer trades is that the hype is usually outstripping the reality. We generally want to sell them as the hype picks up rather than wait for them to actually make the move.
The exceptions are extremely good performance players coming to the EPL which can be worth keeping (e.g Fernandes). Or good performance players heading to a strong foreign club (i.e Bayern).
Particularly good are the performance/transfer hold hybrids like Coutinho or Aouar. Some potentially huge moves for them, but both worth holding even if they stay where they are.
Something like a Werner or Havertz is borderline. Big price now. If the hype keeps picking up and they reach £6+ starting to think about moving them on might be smart.
The perfect scenario for me with Werner would be:
- Hype for Liverpool move sends him to £6+. Holder sells to market.
- Liverpool move collapses. Price drops to £5.
- Bayern rumours start. Trader buys.
- Werner moves to Bayern. Trader holds.
This is because his longer term prospects at Bayern are actually much better than at Liverpool, particularly if you factor in that the EPL premium may not be what it is now once German media sources count for media dividends.
But at least with these quality players who tick just about every box we have, it’s quite hard to make a truly terrible decision. They’ve got long term quality even if they have a short term misfortune.
So I don’t sweat on good players too much. The important thing is to make sure we aren’t holding any really obvious car crashes waiting to happen.
I’d expect this strategy to perform particularly well if football returns in May/June and we see a finish of this season including the CL/Europa.
I’d expect it to do well if football doesn’t restart until August/September. We will not have to wait until August for people to want performance players. Many traders will want to prepare for next season well in advance, possibly even by June. And, we have plenty of media coverage with possibly 1-3 premiums and some players with transfer prospects too.
I’d expect it to do badly versus a Big Media Strategy (prioritising hype/transfer/very large holds of premiums) if football is disrupted to the extent of the start of next season being pushed back into 2021.
As discussed above my personal judgement is that it is more likely we will see football back by August/September than not. But it might not be. What if there is a second outbreak in China after lockdown is lifted? What if the first Bundesliga games go ahead in the coming month and it’s a disaster?
No path is without risk – this is the one I’m taking. But what have we done to manage that risk?
- We still have plenty of media relevant players, perhaps 1-3 premiums and some transfer players. This means that a good chunk of our portfolio is still geared towards media if things head that direction.
- We’re holding high quality players in a good age range. Even if football is disrupted throughout 2020 and we see heavy price falls for these players there will be reasons to believe they will bounce back later on.
Then there is the wider risk that everyone in FI is taking no matter the strategy.
What if FI itself gets hammered and falls apart as a business? I’ve seen no direct evidence this is the case. I think FI has held up very well and the team has done a good job to my eye. But it might struggle, plenty of businesses have.
If really worried about this then we should have mass sold before the spreads lockdown. I decided not to do this, and so far, I am happy with that call. It’s certainly very difficult if I wanted to change my mind on this now.
As things stand, aside from a handful of (likely popular) players we may be able to market sell, we are basically locked in by the huge spreads. The idea of taking a 40-50% hit right now to shield myself from any risk of FI getting into trouble? My personal view would be you’d have to really need your cash back now to go for that option.
If it was a 10% hit to become more liquid a “wait and see” strategy would look a hell of a lot more attractive. But that’s the whole reason why the spreads are so high – if lots of people did that it’s bad for everyone.
The only real defence against this, going back to the original theme of the article, is how we prepared in the first place. We shouldn’t have more money in FI than we were prepared to gamble or invest (however you want to think of it).
We do have to accept the risks as well as raking in the profits we’ve seen in recent years and we can’t have one without the other.
If really worried about this it may be best to be conservative, keep as much cash as possible and slowly try to reduce your positions through market sell if you can.
There will actually be plenty of players shifting in the sell queue – the main issue being that they will tend to be popular players you may not want to sell!
With everything going on, this strategy has probably chewed up more of my brain power than any other.
It’s a difficult time to be planning, although I also enjoy the challenge of it.
There’s never a perfect strategy that guarantees success. And the coming months are particularly uncertain.
But I feel this is a strategy that has strong upsides whilst also being resilient in a wide variety of scenarios.
The scenario I worry about most is a very long disruption to football, extending for the whole of 2020 – that’s the situation where I think this strategy may struggle.
That’s why I’ve taken steps to hedge that risk as much as possible by ensuring there is still a good chunk of media relevance in the portfolio and sticking to players who will have long term value even if football doesn’t return until 2021.
It would have been easy to not put out a strategy and to say everything is just too uncertain. But as traders we always need a plan. Even not making a decision is a decision, just probably not a very well thought through one.
Overall though I remain optimistic. FI is coming through this very well so far. The Mid-Season Key Strategy to date has weathered the storm as well as I could have hoped and has proven adaptable to what we need for the coming months.
And we’ve even seen some decent progress for lots of players I talk about positively on the site in recent weeks.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. There is an FAQ below, and the full selection criteria for Core or “Full Season Fit” players.
Feel free to drop me a line if there is anything you want me to clarify.
And I’ll keep members updated on my latest thoughts through the State of the Market articles as we’ll no doubt see some twists and turns ahead.
Why don't we go for Elite Veterans now?
It’s worth clarifying why I’m currently favouring youth but might change that quickly (I’ll update on that in State of the Market as we go).
I actually believe veterans offer far better value than many young players at the moment.
There is an incorrect belief in the market that young players are safe ground. It’s not true.
Young players may be around for a long time but that doesn’t mean they will stay relevant. The majority, and this is just a historic fact not an opinion, will end up at minor clubs and will not become the stars people hope they will.
But this false belief can be exploited as long as we don’t become the mug who really believes in it.
After all, it won’t be until football restarts and several months of football goes by before it is proven that some youngsters aren’t going to make it. Until then, people are free to dream.
By selecting the young players that have the best chance of real success, and carefully monitoring the action when football restarts through Scouting, we will have a much better understanding of which of them have a chance of success on FI than the vast majority. My record from pre-season at being able to do that speaks for itself.
We can use that knowledge to dump the weak, hopefully for a profit, and increase our holdings in the real quality.
Ironically, a player at 21-30 can be established and we know a lot more about them. We can make much more accurate predictions about whether they will be around at the top level as an FI relevant force for years to come.
Somewhere around 21-26 is the real ideal age. Old enough where we will know plenty about them, young enough that the lack of resale value at the end of the (mythical) 3 year maximum hold isn’t going to drag the price.
All this said, I think it is better to prioritise spending any money we want to invest now on high quality 18-27 year old players who are more likely to move in price sooner.
Veterans may be better value in theory but the really good traders know how to separate theory from actual behaviour when it’s useful to do so.
I still think elite veterans are going to be very profitable, possibly even more profitable, than youth in exactly the same way they were in early season. But I think we can wait a bit longer on these, and for a bit more certainty that football is definitely going ahead first.
This is because people are generally slower to buy veterans because of the current aversion to age (the aversion to age will reduce with a long football calendar ahead particularly when they start winning and prove people wrong). We can get away with waiting longer than we can with youngsters who people are swift to buy.
And the other reason to hold off on them is to manage the risk of football being called off for a very long period and my central bet that football will be back at least by August/September turns out to be wrong.
If that happens, traders will tend to dump their veterans and hang onto youth. So we want to be pretty confident football is going ahead before we move back to elite veterans. That’s something I’ll monitor over the coming weeks and I think it is worth retaining a small cash balance for those if possible (5%-10%?).
What if I’m holding good players that don’t fit key strategy now?
I would avoid dumping good players who aren’t a fit for Key Strategy if we hold them already.
Messi comes to mind as the obvious example. Would I buy him now? No. I’d wait until we were confident football was back and I’d enthusiastically buy him then.
Would I sell him now if I had to Instant Sell? Absolutely not. That would be crazy.
If I was really worried about football not coming back in 2020 and veterans struggling in that scenario I might try to market sell him but I’d certainly not be taking a 40-50% hit on a player who can easily come back on trend in the near future.
Our flexibility is limited right now and our moves often dictated by the position we were in when the music stopped. For future, we should remember this and make sure we can’t be caught with our pants down holding garbage OR good players at the wrong time. If you were doing this right, you’d have dropped Messi in November/December as per Winter Key Strategy.
But we can’t turn back the clock. For now, if we are currently holding a decent player who might be off trend for the coming months, patience is likely the best course.
If we are holding a player that we think is worth taking a 40-50% hit on then we must be holding some real garbage.
What if I have 50-100% cash now?
Perhaps you are new to FI or chose to sell up at some point when this was all unfolding.
This isn’t a bad position to be in. There is power in flexibility and having liquid cash makes you quite nimble.
I guess the first thing to say is stick to the golden rule and don’t put any amount of money in that makes you uncomfortable. It’s an uncertain time and even the best strategy can go wrong.
I’d still recommend building a portfolio along the same lines as above provided you are happy with the central concept of this strategy – that we will see football back by August/September.
There is some value to take advantage of as many decent players have dipped, as per the recent Value Hunting articles.
The one change I might suggest might be leaving a bit more than 5-10% balance free so that you can catch up with Key Strategy on 29+ elite players when and if we see a football calendar back on the cards. (Many Key Strategy portfolios will have lots of these left over from Mid-Season).
There could be huge value in this elite veterans area but it will need certainty that a long period of football is ahead.
What if I have no spare balance now?
If you didn’t trim before the lockdown and are largely holding what you had, it’s not a disaster by any means. Ideally, I’d suggested it was a good idea to free up some cash to invest in some value when/if we saw drops in the market.
We have seen some drops, although because of the spreads lockdown, not as much as we might have expected. So those who did free up cash will have got an advantage, but not necessarily a huge one.
Plus, Mid-Season Strategy has proven flexible and most (80-90%) of players in that strategy remain suitable to carry over to the next. That’s not an accident – I plan my strategies and player selections not just as a big bet on the few months ahead but so that they can also stand up to any disruption just like this.
As per Objective 4 we may be able to cash out some transfer picks for a profit in the coming weeks or months and that might be the best way to generate some cash.
You may also be able to move some players to market if you think they aren’t a good fit yet others are currently buying them.
I would however strongly caution against cashing in good players for a big hit just to chase some players from Value Hunting articles or similar.
Unless you are able to market sell you’d have to make 40-50% profit just to break even on that exchange.
Full Season Fit / Core Player Selection Criteria
Essential: Performance Quality
They will be quality performance players or potentially good quality, ideally at least for potential but no less than .
For a player 21+ or older, we likely want to see a good current rating as well as potential because they will need to be demonstrating consistent strong performance scores to maintain momentum, especially at higher prices.
For a player under 21, we can be a bit more forgiving of current ratings provided their potential rating is high.
We want to avoid any poor players who are going to be exposed by consistent weak performance scores, particularly if carrying a high price.
I will assist with this weekly through the Scouting section (and the site Player Ratings are there for reference, too).
Essential: Broadly match Site trends for age and playing position
In general youth is still a positive force especially for attacking players. However, they must have a realistic prospect of playing regular football as per the other criteria.
21-24 is a great age provided the player is getting regular minutes. 24-27 can be where a player is in his prime and delivering his best results whilst not being too old that it starts to impact his value. These are the most reliable ages to target.
Under 21 players that show or greater potential for performance as well as a good trend fit should usually be bought heavily provided the price is right.
However, many young players are currently sitting at prices well above what they deserve. Be careful with this and generally stick to players who offer value and have real potential. Today’s hype kid is so often tomorrow’s disaster.
For older players at 29+ we should be cautious until we are very confident football is back on the agenda. If we do get that confidence, Elite Veterans may quickly become the best value around.
Price is everything.
A player can be an exact match for all of our criteria but if the price is already flying way above site Guide Prices, we need to consider this very carefully and consider whether they have room to grow.
Of course, many Full Season Fit / Core players will by now be at prices in the £2 to £5+ range.
This can be fine, provided they genuinely deserve those prices because of their trend fit and performance strength. I would not stress at this point about paying a reasonable price for a quality player to build my core portfolio, even if that was in the £2 to £5 range.
The stronger the fit with these selection criteria the more we can be prepared to pay. But, we must always find the best value we can and ensure we leave realistic room to grow.
Essential: Champions/Europa League involvement next season and Euro 2021 involvement OR a Summer transfer
This is not just because of the extra games and chances to win, it’s another reason traders will stay optimistic on them longer term.
If they are still involved with this seasons CL/Europa it’s a bonus. But for longer term perception of value we want them to be involved in next season’s tournaments too.
There can be some exceptions. If a player meets all of the Essential criteria but lacks CL, Europa or Euro 2020 involvement I will not refuse to buy them but they would need to be particularly strong and particularly good value.
Note: It is debatable whether very highly priced players like Raheem Sterling or Alexander-Arnold would be included and I get asked this a fair bit. Whilst they have quality and a great trend fit, they would fall foul of my above “price” selection criteria. The prospects of large further rises compared to what you can get elsewhere are limited because of their sheer popularity.
Price remains a factor even with strong trend fit players. I think they are solid holds but the risk is that if too much of your bankroll is occupied by them they can draw your money away from targets that can rise more and hit your overall ROI. There are far worse players to be holding though – their strength is not in doubt.