Something a little different today.
I was going through my emails today and there was a common theme.
What do I do with X player?
Should I sell him now amidst transfer hype or keep him as a long term hold?
This isn’t surprising. Particularly now ahead of a transfer window and with lots of moving parts in the world of football anyway, every trader is going to be looking at their portfolio and dealing with these individual decisions.
I’ve dealt with this at a high level in terms of Key Strategy, but in order to implement our strategy we have to take dozens of judgement calls on individuals.
I review lots of players and talk about that to an extent, but I thought an article specifically focused on when to hold and sell might be useful right now. I’m calling it Selection Headaches!
Some players are fairly straight forward. Others much less so. So I’m going to discuss a batch of players and I’ll pick some that I think illustrate the thought processes I go through when deciding whether to sell or hold a player.
This thought process is the real point of the article, the individuals discussed are just context and add a little colour.
Scenario: High quality “Core” player rising to a premium price because of transfer links. Example: Timo Werner (or Havertz)
If holding Werner now you may be sat on a fat profit. Even as late as pre-season site Scouting he could still be picked up at £2.01 in August.
£6.05 now after showing consistent performance strength and hitting a transfer move whilst being a perfect fit for what I have called a “Full Season Fit” player, and is now called a “Core” player in latest Key Strategy.
Werner was a clear strong bet so not picking him up around pre-season or at least early season can be flagged as an obvious mistake to learn from.
Performance strength was there. Trend fit was there. Transfer was possible. Price was fair. We may only get a half dozen of those slam dunks per season so a good trader goes for those all day with a confident chunk of their cash.
Once we start getting this player into premium price territory though as we have here it starts to become debatable.
Because Werner is really good you could still legitimately call him value at £4 but as we reach £6 you start to wonder.
It’s probably one of the easiest ways to spot a pumper as opposed to someone more sensible. The pumper will rarely say “ok, we’ve reached a fair price here” he’ll keep pushing and coming up with increasingly outlandish ways to justify the price (until they are left with an oddball calculation of “career dividends” or “he’s still cheap compared to X” where X is also overpriced).
But there is always a point where you can pay too much for a good player.
As a player reaches higher prices it is also the point in a trade where genuine quality and long term real value start to really matter in our decision making.
Low. Whilst there is lots of uncertainty here about Werner’s destination, with potential EPL moves, Bayern moves or even staying at RB Leipzig another season, I would not be sweating much on Werner despite the high price.
Because he is a “Core player” and our good quality scouting tells us Werner has genuine quality and we know he matches long term trends, we have made it very difficult to make a genuinely bad decision here.
We have options.
If we are active we can move him to market amongst the hype and cash in a big profit.
We should never be unhappy with that – we’ll have other good targets to go for and don’t need to fear missing out of any further run from £6 to say £7 – it’s not a huge percentage gain.
We may get lucky and if the Liverpool transfer falls through after we cash in, we may want to buy him back cheaper because we know he is much more likely to be more valuable long term at Bayern.
We can also comfortably hold Werner if we want. We may get short term lucky and the Liverpool transfer causes a spike in value. I might stay, hoover up a bit of media and then cash in. Why? Because whilst most mugs will think the EPL move is great, I know Liverpool are not that great for his performance prospects.
We may get short term unlucky and the transfer falls through. He may go to Bayern, which is superb and I’m happy to hold him there. Or he stays at RB Leipzig where I expect to eat up a short term loss but longer term know the transfer rumours will be back, and he’s a decent performance player at RB Leipzig anyway.
This is a great example of how strong Core players give us options – there are lots of good scenarios ahead, very few bad ones, and his quality and trend fit means he can perform well wherever, he isn’t reliant on just one turn of fortune.
Scenario: Poor quality player rising to a premium price because of trend fit/pumping/hype Example: Erling Braut-Haaland.
This is a night and day scenario with Werner so I’ve put them together. With highly priced but poor quality players, we have fewer options, and are much more reliant on short term hype and unpredictable events to see us through.
Haaland is currently doing well on the market as the Bundesliga trend continues. And, the absence of football means there is space to dream again.
As the relentless weeks of poor performance scores start going by, that shine is going to wear off quickly. We already saw this with him where the price stopped moving even when he scored.
That is very likely to repeat again.
Stress Levels: Medium. If holding this now or in recent weeks I’d have stayed around for the “return of the Bundesliga” trend. He is probably fine for a few weeks to a month but eventually, the successive poor performance scores will likely drag Haaland back down.
Verdict: When you take the bluster out of the debate about a player like this it fundamentally comes down to this:
Am I a person who bets on evidence? or am I a person who bets on hope?
As covered many times, all of the evidence from his entire career at senior and youth level suggests he will be bad for FI performance scoring to anyone who is halfway competent at reading the numbers.
He does however offer some real value in terms of IPD and possibly some media if German media sources start counting for points which I think is likely. But nowhere near enough for £6+.
As always, there is a small chance something changes. Maybe Dortmund suddenly decide to use him differently or coach him in a different way. But can I predict that and is it a smart thing to bet on? Nah.
Even if I do that and I end up being right I’ve just made a bad decision and got lucky.
And, if I have the mindset to gamble and make decisions based on poor quality evidence, I have probably made lots of other bad decisions too. Overall, that’s losing trading even though very occasionally I will get my big win.
It’s the psychology behind why bad poker players keep playing poker. Because of that time they went all in with a 10% chance of winning and it paid off for a thrilling win. That jackpot moment is remembered and discussed much more than the other 9/10 hands they lost.
But overall, they are being cleaned out by the good player who consistently stacks the odds in their favour.
Naturally, a Haaland pumper will counter “ah-hah! But you said that at £5 and look at him now!”. This is garbage.
If we were to sit down and flag up every hype kid of recent years and see where they are now, we’d see that more have faded into irrelevance than held their high prices. But social media is unsurprisingly empty of discussion about why they were wrong on Tammy Abraham or Rhian Brewster or “The CHO train”. Stuff like that is glossed over.
Overall, it is losing trading to chase players like this after they have reached this kind of popularity. This isn’t a point of debate it’s just a matter of historical record.
Using this strategy, for every Haaland a trader has won on, we will have lost much more on a Moise Kean or a Tammy Abraham or a Joao Felix or a Rhian Brewster or.. I could probably list a hundred of them and we’re only a few years into performance scoring.
There is nothing wrong with going for a Haaland but you’ve got to do it early and crucially you must be able to cash these out when others are still willing to buy. The mug who hangs around thinking they have the real deal is the one who pays the bill at the end.
That means selling whilst the player is rising which lots of people find very uncomfortable but it is an essential thing that all good traders must be able to do.
For me, this is a no brainer – be happy we got the rise and cash it out in the coming weeks before the likely poor scores start dragging him down.
And if he pulls off another miracle? Doesn’t matter at all. Consistent good decision making beats gambling over the long term – and we can have shifted that money to something with higher potential and less risk.
Scenario: High quality “Core” player rising to a premium price WITHOUT a transfer or short term hype factor Example: Serge Gnabry
Another common conundrum.
Gnabry is a strong player, one of the consistent “Full Season Fit” or “Core” players that I’ve flagged on the site for a long time now.
Again, big profit possible and a straight forward slam dunk buy at the time at £1.26 in pre-season scouting.
Yet £4.92 now which is a big price and for any player you have to start challenging it as the price rises. The bigger the price – the more the player has to do to convince.
This is similar to Werner except there is much more certainty – all we really expect of him is to stay at Bayern and do his thing and feature for Germany.
Stress Levels: Low. He’s a high quality player and he is not dependant on any short term fortune like a transfer. If his levels drop we will spot it earlier than most through Scouting when football resumes and be able to deal with it then.
He’s a high quality player at arguably the best performance club and can be a regular dividend contender especially as a Forward now. Strong for Germany too which remains a big factor with Euro 2021 now sitting at the end of next season.
At 24 he is pretty much the perfect age – young enough where he can still get better, but he’s established at both domestic and international level and it will be 3 years before his age starts becoming a drag on the price.
A vigilant long term holder has little to fear here – if he declines we will spot it in scouting.
He may struggle if he doesn’t make an instant impact in the first few games – the price tag puts pressure on him – but he has the ability to win.
Nor is he going to be the biggest percentage returner from here. Getting a £5 player to £10 is extremely difficult – it’s much easier to get a £1 player to £2 of course. So you may choose to pursue something like that instead.
But, a well balanced portfolio has a good chunk of these core players in my view as set out in Key Strategy and Gnabry is pretty much on the bullseye for this category.
Scenario: High quality older player who has fallen in recent months Example: Toni Kroos (or Parejo)
In pre-season Key Strategy I advocated buying the off trend cheap and high quality veterans like Kroos and Immobile who turned out to be the highest percentage profit players around. Despite being unpopular at a time when all social media wanted was youth.
But, even as early as August I was saying we should start to cash these in as we head towards Christmas. Reason being – the “end of season sell off” fear would start to drag on older players no matter how good. This was right.
However, as discussed in Scouting at the time, I made Kroos my exception to the rule even though he was flying at £4.95 at the time (£1.56 in pre-season scouting).
This was a high price and I was clearly aware of the issue with age but I decided to bet on Kroos to power through with raw performance strength.
This doesn’t feel so great now. I’ve watched him rise from £1.56 to £4.95 and then back to £3.23 again.
As it turned out, he hit his dryest spell at this time when the age trend was running against him. He came very close to wins a few times but it didn’t happen, plus things like the unexpected dropping in the CL and then Real all but going out didn’t help him.
Sometimes, you can make a call based on good evidence but it still doesn’t go right. It’s just going to happen. Is this a mistake? Well, the same instinct for basing decisions on the evidence usually pays off for me but it won’t every time and we have to be able to deal with that without losing the plot.
Part of the reason I was ok with making this bet was that it wasn’t all or nothing. With a high quality asset, we can rely on them to bounce back once older players come back on trend usually with a long footballing calendar ahead.
Stress Levels: Low. He is one of the elite FI players and I expect him to recover when the aversion to age softens up (when long seasons are ahead) and he is likely to put up consistent high scores that will attract buying.
Verdict: We can’t make the trade we wished we made 3-4 months ago today. It’s another common instinct to want to sell what has hurt you recently.
But these trends flip around all the time.
We have to look at what is ahead, not what just happened, when making our decisions.
The age factor is overblown for Kroos and we shouldn’t let this sidetrack us. He is only just 30 and is expected to play for years at the top level for club and country.
Traders are short term minded. All this talk of investing in youth for years ahead is rubbish – they are investing for short term gains and as soon as those players stop rising they are out.
By contrast if an older player keeps winning repeatedly the tune will change very fast and people want to collect that dividend spree and jump on the rising player.
The lack of resale value at the end of that period is a factor to manage later on but that is why you pay £3.23 not £10+.
Older players in general are likely to again be the biggest growth area if football does restart without a hitch – I am moving closer to this area of the market not further away from it.
Scenario: Good potential performance player who has fallen or flatlined in recent months Example: Mario Pasalic (or Cornet, Zielinski)
These are some players who have been flagged as having performance potential in Scouting reviews this season at value prices.
They might have shown flashes of good scores but they haven’t really had their “big moment” and broken out yet either.
Pasalic is a good example. This sort of player will have suffered in the absence of football. We know he’s good. But if he can’t play then he can’t demonstrate that to the masses by hitting a big score and then rising in price.
Without those big scores they don’t really have any hype factor either. So it’s no surprise they have fallen.
We can expect some limited buying for them as and when people get more confident football is on the way back. This will be the smart money who know they are good. Pasalic for example has had a trickle of that – £1.11 to £1.22 in the last week or so.
But it’s the dumb money that really pushes a price and that typically comes after the big score.
A player like this will need to play and demonstrate strength before we can expect them to rise significantly. Unlike well known performance players, they won’t get a huge automatic rise just because football is back.
Stress Levels: Low. The damage is done here and as a good potential player at a reasonable price, he has a decent chance of bouncing back.
If we wanted to sell the moment to do that was before the lockdown on spreads as corona was just starting to get peoples nerves jangling.
If we miss that window of opportunity and the price has levelled out, I see little point in closing that stable door after the horse has bolted.
The two key factors here are quality and price.
Pasalic checks the box for potential quality, and £1.22 is clearly a value price for an FI suitable 25 year old Croatia international at a decent club. I’d be happy to keep him as long as his Scouting reports remain positive.
This can be another value area of the market right now – if you know something most people don’t – take advantage of it before the player starts hitting big scores, not after.
But if for any reason we have lost confidence in this sort of players ability or think the price is way too high, we might want to list them to market.
Scenario: The Transfer Punt Example: Jack Grealish (or Jude Bellingham)
In this scenario we are relying on a specific transfer to justify a huge chunk of the players value.
In this case it’s Grealish to Manchester United (equally applies to Bellingham to the same club).
Buying a player like Grealish before the transfer window and before the hype is good trading.
Buying him now or failing to sell him sometime soon is bad trading.
Grealish is better than Bellingham because Grealish was at least showing performance suitability as a fallback option if the transfer didn’t happen. This is why Grealish got positive reviews in September Scouting at £1.93 and again in October at £2.11. But by £3.55 I thought it was getting silly in December.
The best strategy with a trade like this is to get them early and bank before something goes wrong.
You don’t want to be too greedy. In this case being greedy for a longer hold beyond December worked out and the rumours continued but most transfer rumours fall over – it can easily go the other way.
To be holding Grealish at £5.36 in this moment we are seriously pushing our luck.
Stress Levels: High. If this moves falls over, it is hard to justify a value of even half his current price. And we can wake up any day and that has happened. If it does – we can’t sell.
This is a horrific situation to put ourselves in for a trade where the best of the gain has almost certainly gone already.
Verdict: The art of consistently trading transfers successfully is to do all your buying outside of the window and all your selling very early in the window.
It is very easy to predict the behaviour of other traders buying transfer trades in advance of a transfer window.
It is very hard to predict which transfers will actually happen.
We should bet on the behaviour of other traders rather than the transfers themselves.
This is why the Transfers section of the site is spun up and populated 1-2 months ahead of each window.
Secure the targets in advance of the main wave of hype. Take the profits as the hype for the transfer builds BEFORE the window gets too far in and it is possible for the link to be shut down.
Rare exceptions can be made as I did for Fernandes as discussed a lot back in January. Again, this is because genuine quality gave me options.
Even at £4 I would have been content to hold Fernandes even if the Manchester United link fell over. I was so confident in his ability that I would have been willing to wait for a move to any good performance club.
That security meant I could be comfortable gambling on the jackpot of the Manchester United move paying off, which it did.
Point is – I wouldn’t have been upset if it hadn’t and that’s the key to holding a transfer trade during the window itself.
One of the key issues I am grappling with right now in my own portfolio is how to get out of remaining risky transfer trades gracefully, and possibly some of the higher priced youth where the price has exceeded the quality.
I think I’ll need this money because the more likely it looks that football is back on – the more the trends and social media chatter will switch to genuine dividend returners rather than hype.
So we’ll all have decisions like the above to make. Today’s article hopefully gave you a flavour of my thought process for different types of player.
Each player is it’s own decision but there are some common themes there.
The most important thing I can say is that we won’t get all of our Selection Headache decisions right – it’s impossible.
In the Kroos example above – that didn’t turn out to be right. But it doesn’t mean it was a bad decision – I looked at the evidence and made the bet.
The reasons I thought I might win were credible and based on fact – he is one of the best performance players around. I was aware of the risks too. It just didn’t work out – tough luck and no big deal.
Those kinds of marginal calls aren’t the ones that will kill us.
It’s the obvious “car crash waiting to happen” trades that we must avoid.
When the price is way out ahead of any kind of rational value it’s a red flag.
Particularly where the price is spiking because of a short term factor like that one transfer or relentless social media hype, those are the things that should be flashing up big red warning signs to us when we look through our portfolios.