This is going to be the start of a series which will likely take me a full week to get through. But it should be a good one.

It’s going to be a  big round up of lots of the value targets out there at the moment without waiting too long for new pre-season information.

As things stand – there is tons of value there and we don’t need to over complicate things right now or sit back waiting for new information. 

We should have a head start if using Key Strategy or close to it because preparing portfolios for next season on this sort of basis has been the name of the game for a while. 

But after a huge dividend increase our calculation of value changes. And with spreads closing up we may have more liquid cash free to take advantage of the situation!

Before we get to the players, I’ve written a short preview of pre-season which sums up my thinking when preparing for a new season.

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

Pre-Season Preview

If this was a normal season build up the market would be distracted mainly by transfers and we would be scouring pre-season games to give ourselves early clues as to who the standout performers of next season might be.

But this is far from a normal year. 

Transfer business is difficult as club finances are stretched. And those transfers are going to be stretched out over a long period of time. We’re going to see changes and new players introduced, but they might not start seeing first team action until as late as October in many cases.

Usually, all the transfer hubub acts as a nice distraction for others whilst I quietly work my way through pre-season games. In fact it’s worth looking back at what was acheived in Scouting last pre-season which is reviewed here. (I had Twitter stato Buzzing Paul independently review these figures).  

The headlines are that when I was positive on a player in Scouting they all made some form of profit, with 61% of them beating the market from pre-season to December with an average profit of 81%.

Perhaps even more importantly, players I was cautious on in pre-season made a loss 68% of the time and undeperformed the market 97% of the time for an average loss of -2.92% in a market that had risen by 57%. Grim. And if you look at the list in the article – these were all popular players being pumped at the time.

This is crucial to understand – what is currently popular and what is going to turn out to be profitable can be wildly different and it happens time after time. Fashions change fast but quality is always quality. We must remember that when preparing our portfolios. 

If I have a single piece of advice for pre-season it is this: do not let the market pull you along – use the good scouting information available plus your own research to get ahead so other people have to catch up with you

Last Pre-season to December Scouting is a tough act to follow but that’s a nice problem to have.

What we can’t do however is just repeat the same formula because every year is different. This one particularly so.

Last pre-season we profited big because people were distracted by transfers and because a new performance scoring system meant lots of people were really uncertain about what a “good” FI player looked like. After weeks of analysis I had a better idea than most and it paid off. 

But lots of good players outed themselves over the course of last season and we can expect fewer big changes this season, at least early on.

So now we have this huge dividend increase, attention in the market is clearly turning towards preparing portfolios for next season. Fortunately, that’s something we’ve been doing on the site for months by now  so we should have a head start in many cases. Many of  those “Core ” players I outlined a long time ago in Key Strategy are now in hot demand. 

Now we are going to see big changes to teams. But many won’t become apparent for weeks or months from now when we see pre-season and early season games. We’ll be able to get an advantage from that later.

But for now – what are traders going to do? They are going to prepare their portfolios for the new season based primarily on who was good last season

This will often turn out to be wrong as lots will change. But it is still the right thing to do right now

So, rather than wait to do pre-season scouting purely on the basis of pre-season games, I am going to do a “pre-season preview” series where I highlight notable players from any league that have strong prospects of doing well next season. 

I’ll also do one article focusing on players that are getting a lot of hype but don’t have a lot of substance and may struggle under the weight of their price tags. This cautious or even negative scouting may not be the most enjoyable but I can’t stress enough how key it is. 

It would have been so easy last year for example to get suckered into a De Jong or Daniel James or Moise Kean or Pogba or Felix or de Ligt. All were being pushed in advance of pre-season and were “popular”. All made a loss by December.

And you haven’t just made that loss, you’ve lost the opportunity to make an average 81% gain elsewhere. That adds up to a huge swing in a traders total returns.

Beware the hype – we are entering a huge period of games and these games are all tests. The more tests players have the more strong players will shine and the more weak players will be exposed.

That’s our key advantage – knowing who is likely to do well for the best possible price and avoiding the highly priced players who are likely to flop.

So let’s see what we can find in the first article in a series running through all of the Big 5 Leagues and possibly into ineligible leagues. 

I’ll spend much of the next week covering:

– Core Performance Players

– Premium Big Hitters

– Challengers (Players who may reach Core level but have some challenges to overcome)

– Promising Youngsters (The real FI Wonderkids! And all without opening up Football Manager even once). 

– Strugglers (Good players having hard times)

– Overhyped players (who may struggle in both performance and with the weight of their big price tags). 

If time: Ineligible League players for future transfers. 

Oh and also. Here is a sneak preview of a new logo I’ve had made for the site which brings a slightly more professional image now that the site has grown! I will miss my thinking football emoji but I think his time has come. He may make some guest appearances though. I hope you like the new logo! It’s going to get some final tweaks over the weekend but it’s 95% there.

If you have any feedback such as “Actually FIT I’ve already seen that image has been used by a fundamentalist terrorist organisation” please say now before it goes live. Thanks!

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

Core Players

To get this series started let’s look at some examples of players I consider to be strong fits for the “Core Player” I’ve identified in Key Strategy. They tend to be first team big hitters at big clubs that are very likely to be consistent dividend challengers and are involved in a lot of competitions.

Basically: solid, lower risk players with little to prove but with the potential for a substantial profit. We should never think that players have to be new or exciting to make money on especially after a dividend increase – they just have to be great value.

There is no such thing as a sure thing but these players are as close to it as I can think of. If someone said I had to pick a portfolio and couldn’t touch it for six months you can bet it would be made up of a lot of these Core players.

It’s going to be far from an exhaustive list. There are a lot of them and they won’t all appear here. I’m going to highlight the ones that look particularly great value at the moment or haven’t been mentioned in a while. 

As these players tend to be reliable I’d generally consider them to be “Standard Buys” or in a small number of cases “Big Buys” in the context of my Staking Strategy outlined in the recent portfolio clinic

There is usually no value in being tentative and “limping in” with an established player like this. The more we know about a player the more confident we can be. Either go for them or don’t, in my view!

Core players are generally lower risk and usually at a reasonably high starting price so we will need a good chunk of cash in them to get a big reward. 

And we won’t be able to collect them all either whilst maintaining a compact portfolio. We have to make choices.

Hakan Calhanoglu

Hakan won’t be unfamiliar to season long members as he’s featured often in Scouting.

The FI ability was always there but it hasn’t been until recent months he gained traction. Under coach Pioli from October he’s really improved and strengthened his position as a key player in this Milan side. 

I’d expect to see consistent challenges from him and given the dividend increase the buy price of £2 is still extremely good value, despite any holders enjoying a rise from around £1.30 to £2 already.

Usually I avoid piling into sharply rising players. But in this case he was so grotesquely undervalued this price rise was just catching up to his ability even under the old dividend structure.

In the new one? Assuming he keeps playing as he has throughout 2020 it would not be outrageous to see him hit £4 during the course of this season with dividend payouts as they are now.

Kevin De Bruyne

I’ve reviewed him recently but it’s worth thinking about players like this now the dividend circumstances have changed.

It wasn’t long ago I said he was value at £4.72 and that was under the old dividend structure. 

He’s a clear cut beneficiary of increased dividends so even after the price bump to £5.66 I’d still consider this a solid addition as a Core Player – and their aren’t many value options in the EPL it’s a saturated market.

He may be 29 now and you still see the view that “but by the Euro’s he’ll be in decline”. I suspect that attitude won’t survive a few wins which are about as inevitable as it ever gets on FI. 

Of course it is reasonable to factor in age to the price and I do but I think KDB carries £5+ in this new structure with ease. 

The biggest mass delusion on FI is that “young = safe and old = risky”. So many young players that are currently well regarded are going to be toxic assets 3 months+ from now and not enough people respect that risk.

So it puts worry about KDB declining by the end of the season in context. You can apply this logic to a lot of quality 28-31 year old players actually.

In reality traders are not that far sighted. If he starts well and racks up some dividends holders are very likely to get rewarded with a further price rise.

As an obvious pick though the only advantage you ever get is to buy before those near inevitable big scores. So it’s one you should decide now if you want or not in my view.

Benjamin Pavard

Bayern got a lot of coverage in Scouting recently but with Pavard out injured for much of the CL he didn’t get quite so much attention.

If he had played though the odds of him challenging strongly throughout the month were high. A really solid performer who can pick up wins with consistent baselines on soft days (which should be more important now that Bronze and Silver Days are worth more next season) plus he has goals and assists to give him occasional score spikes.

At £2.16 he is not exactly an unknown but I would have called him fair value before the increase and now I’d be very comfortable signing him up as a value Core Player. And there aren’t that many defenders you can really call consistent challengers.

Manuel Neuer

Goalkeepers are no longer the sole preserve of bizarre fetishists and we have to adapt to that. I think adding a couple to a portfolio will be worthwhile especially if you can pick them up under £1.20 that gives you a decent chance of getting a good return.

I think keepers are a bit out of the limelight at the moment as they didn’t get a perceived dividend increase but let’s not forget they did just get a huge boost recently.  

There are few better value than Neuer who I’d expect to consistently chip away at dividends next season. 

It’s not just that he’s particularly good it’s more the team he plays for which is going to be a thing with Keepers. He hits a sweet spot with a high number of clean sheets with few goals conceded whilst also making a solid personal contribution. That gives him an edge over other big club keepers.

Toni Kroos

A brilliant 2019 for Kroos but 2020 was grim and holders have had highs and lows this season.

His drop off in form, some tinkering from Zidane and a little bad luck came at the wrong time with traders getting very down on older players as they started worrying about the end of the season. And of course corona didn’t help.

Can’t win ’em all and I paid for this in January after making a huge profit on him in 2019. 

Having picked him up at a now absurd £1.56 in pre-season last year I watched him rise to £4.99 by the end of November, more than a 200% profit. I brazenly held the bulk and his price eroded to £3.20 by April. Much lower on the bid too and when it reaches a point like that it feels like the only thing to do is stick it out.

Long time members may recall as part of Key Strategy back then I dropped most veterans approaching Christmas which was the correct call but I made an exception for Kroos on the basis that he was so strong he could punch through anyway. Could have. Didn’t. Oh well. A few bad results are in the budget they will always happen.

Performance wise though he remains a powerhouse and there is no reason not to expect him to be a first teamer again next season.

What has changed is the price is lower and dividends are higher. And he’s exactly the sort who can explode and take full advantage of those juicy Gold Day’s.

I think when a player has had a rough time recently people tend to get over pessimistic and it opens up strong value. 

A little like KDB the only real advantage you get with a well known strong performer like this is being willing to go for it before the very likely big scores come rather than waiting for that reassurance.

Theo Hernandez

Theo has been one of those players I’ve known to be good but I’ve found hard to really get fully on board with to date because he’s always carried a high price for a defender since his breakout.

He shot up very fast in December and January with two little sprees of goals which were actually pretty lucky based on his stats. I thought he had no right to be scoring 4 over 7 games!

But the market didn’t care – he’s young and scoring goals from defence and so he was bought heavily.

I was right about the hot streak though because he has only managed 1 in 18 outings since.

However his numbers have got better in the last 10 games and if anything with just 1 goal and 1 assist he is now likely underperforming and can be doing much better.

Somewhere between these two extremes is his real ability.

What really gets me over the line on him is the recent dividend increase. Yes £2.41 is dear for a defender but he can justify it at just 22 with this level of ability and potential to improve.

That, plus Milan joining European competition is going to really help him for next season (please don’t slip up against lowly Novara tomorrow Milan). And you would think at some point a France call up wouldn’t be outrageous.

Solid player even at the £2.40+ price.

Ciro Immobile

Already getting a decent rise and really this was so predictable even before the dividend increase it hurts. 

It was only a month ago since the last review at £1.49 on the bid and he’s already up to £1.74 on the bid or £1.81. A 14% in month profit even if Instant Selling today.

He’s capable of occasional wins, has strong involvement in all competitions, and should pull in bags of IPD to boot. 

In the previous dividend structure I may have jumped off around £2 or £2.20 but now I think he can comfortably carry £2.50+ and that may be conservative.

Luis Alberto

Also at Lazio we have Alberto who I consider to be a sleeping giant. He did notch a win late in the season but his numbers in the final 8 games of Serie A were incredible. 

He managed a 253 and a 203 in that run but with a bit more luck on his side he could have had more 250  scores and even pushed 300 in one case.

I reviewed him a month ago too in the same review as Immobile although I did not note his bid price at the time. I suspect it was a lot lower than the current £2.30.

And really all we’ve done for a profit here is take advantage of the short term nature of many traders thinking. At around £2 he’d have been value in the old structure anyway. 

I’d expect Alberto to challenge consistently and £3+ would not be unreasonable during the course of the season.

Julian Brandt

I debated whether Brandt should be listed here or in my next article which is going to be the Challengers – players who aren’t far away from being reliable returners.

Brandt does have a few question marks most notably playing position but weighted against that the price is rock bottom at this point, still available at just £2.10 on a bid.

He’s still an exciting player at just 24 but pretty much wherever he starts it’s hard to see people not being tempted by a leading Dortmund player and Germany regular at that price. 

He hasn’t set the FI scoring world alight yet but he’s doing so much right it really wouldn’t take much improvement to see him become a regular contender.

For the money, with him having gone largely under the radar in any rise, I’d say he’s a reliable value choice to take into the season where a holder could evaluate the first games. 

Paulo Dybala

Dybala is not for sale and a key player. So says Pirlo.

We do have some uncertainty here as we always do with a new coach. But being real, Juventus weren’t brilliant for performance under Sarri and Pirlo is making noises about possession focused (FI friendly) football so I’m optimistic if anything.

I would like to see how he lines up under Pirlo but it’s a case of some positions being better than others. He’s always likely to be a challenger when on the pitch. And if given a key role he could be one of FI’s absolute best.

£4.38 on the bid is far from cheap but as discussed in the Live Blog my strong expectation is that over this season such price tags will become commonplace in the top 100 players. The dividends support those prices and so logically they should come.

A strong choice, even if with this one there is some new manager uncertainty and we do tend to go for safer picks with Core players. But overall I’d be happy to go into the season holding him. Alternatively, you could wait for a little pre-season information.

Romelu Lukaku

Lukaku is generally best held in very specific periods where he has a lot of European games or perhaps for Euro 2021.

Typically, I’d try to snag him when he is unfashionable at £1.70 or £1.80, take some IPD but then not really push my luck much beyond £2. Because he really is an occasional winner not a regular and much of his value is in IPD.

However, there is no denying the appeal. He’s involved in all the right competitions, is scoring hatfuls and does bring home the occasional performane dividend on a really good day.

He ticks so many of the right boxes and with the dividend increase I think £1.81 for this on the bid is really tempting. I would expect players like this to be commanding £2.50 at an absolute minimum during the course of the season, probably closer to £3. 

A solid choice but you do need to strike when he’s out of fashion.

Marcel Sabitzer

We often find ourselves coming full circle on FI.

Back when Sabitzer was the latest social media craze I remember being pretty scathing about this. He was close to £3 which was a huge price back in November 2019 and it was absurd. Pure social media pumping at it’s worst. People were taken in by soft Europa League scores which made him look better than he was.

These are the most dangerous pumps because they are almost right. He does have desirable aspects to his game and he is a capable occasional winner. It makes it easy for the pumpers to sucker people in (and they may even really believe it themselves).

In particular, he has a high score ceiling and can really pop off in the scoring when he drops on a really good day. 

When we are wanting to win the now very lucrative Gold Day’s that’s a desirable trait. And yet, those days will be occasional rather than every week.

But lots has changed and one of these things I try really hard not to do is get set in my ways.

He’s nearly a full £1 cheaper than at peak hype, coming off a drop. Instantly better. And now dividends are doubled from what they were back then too. This puts him well back into value range. 

We should occasionally see him get up there for what could be a big win and the old members of the Sabitzer cult will come out of the woodwork to claim they were right all along. No, you weren’t. But he is much more sensible now. These things are all about timing.

In fact it’s interesting to look at my “Cautious” list in the pre-season results article last year and see many names I now think are decent holds. They flopped at the time but things do change. Aouar. Barella. Sané. Ousmané Dembelé. Marquinhos. Brewster. Maybe Hudson-Odoi.

Ok most of the other ~50 are still awful but the point is players can improve and we should try to keep open minds!

Rodrigo De Paul

He may be outside of a big club but I’m going to give De Paul an honourable mention because he deserves it.

If he can do this well at a small club like Udinese who aren’t even particularly performance friendly it’s a fair bet to say he can do it at a bigger one.

And whether he goes or stays, holders will have a little time to evaluate his early games.

It really is rare to see numbers this good at a smaller club in terms of both threat and particularly the overall involvement levels. 

At 26 and entering his prime I think he looks a great pick, even if you do have to keep an eye on the transfer destination which is a black mark against his “Core Player” status. We don’t want too much uncertainty in this category. 

But as I say I’d back him to do well at most clubs and he should be going to a better one if anything.  

£2.45 on the bid is very reasonable for a high potential player and the fact he has put up big scores repeatedly in 2020 should make lots of people optimistic on any big move. That will give us time to evaluate how he is really getting on.

And if he stays Udinese? No disaster.

Andrej Kramaric

It seems questionable at first to put Kramaric under Core but it’s not wrong.

He’s got performance strength and certainly bags of goals. He was unlucky to have a long injury this season. Some may recall his 4 goal thriller in the final game of the season which unfortunately for holders came too late to really make a market impact.

But he’s a really solid player capable of performance wins and I’d certainly want him on my team at £1 now that IPDs are doubled for that alone. 

Hoffenheim are also in the Europa plus he’s a Croatia regular. So it goes to show there are players that match my criteria for Core that you wouldn’t necessarily first think of. And that’s where you can often find the biggest profits because he has gone largely under the radar.

Paying £1.01 on a bid for Kramaric or even the Blue Button £1.17 is a bet with a lot of upside and a lot has to go wrong for him to dip from there.

Raheem Sterling

Not a player I typically rave about because of the price tag but I have to say I think people are sleeping on him after this dividend increase.

Perhaps that Champions League miss is sticking in the memory and people tend to over compensate for unfortunate recent events.

If we take his last 8 games as a whole he’s racked up 8 goals including a brace and a hatrick. 

He’s a capable winner involved in all competitions, a key player for England and can pick up steady media.

Still just 25 so if you do want to add very well known players to your portfolio you absolutely have to get them when they are down. £5.16 on a bid and with the dividend increase I think that could be a low or close to it for him. 

It seems hard to believe that he won’t have his moments in the sun again next season.

Thorgan Hazard

The other Hazard is borderline “Core” but he has so much going for him in terms of overall trend fit and his involvement in the competitions that matter.

What is questionable is his performance quality. He sits in that awkward winger spot with the baseline numbers of a forward yet he has to compete with the really big hitting midfield goalscorers. Tough gig.

I am going to let that slide though on the basis that his goals and assists record is great (including 2 in pre-season although Dortmund’s friendlies have been SOFT so far). So even if we only ever see IPD out of him that would do enough.

And that’s because the price is rock bottom. £1.21 on a bid is ridiculous for a player who will get significant Dortmund minutes even if rotated and is also a regular for Belgium.

Not every player has to be a world beater they just have to be value and tick some if not all of the boxes. And this looks value to me at this stage.

Also consider from recent Scouting and the Champions League Articles:

  • Joshua Kimmich
  • Serge Gnabry
  • Leon Goretzka
  • Marquinhos
  • Lorenzo Insigne
  • Robert Lewandowski
  • Memphis Depay
  • Renato Sanches
  • Rodri (Manchester City)
  • Joao Cancelo
  • Nico Barella
Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

This article series will continue next week with more on premiums and more speculative picks as well as the real potential wonderkids and players that are likely to be overhyped. Check back then!

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