Big Hype. Little Substance. Part 1.

In the previous five articles in this series I’ve focused on players who in my opinion have a strong mix of quality and value. 

But it would be remiss if we didn’t also consider the opposite – players who are currently popular but will find it very difficult to live up to their price tags due to high expectations and limited ability. 

This is a toxic combination. And it’s very common. 

If someone asked me what is the one difference between an average trader and a good one – this is it. Good traders do not hold overhyped players too long and achieve consistent progress rather than taking two steps forward one step back.

This doesn’t mean a good trader gets everything right. But there are good losses and bad losses. A strong player at value player who just doesn’t win because of bad luck or a bad patch of form? 

That’s going to happen and it’s acceptable, especially if we can cut it off early. You can make good bets that don’t come off. It’s ok.

But continuing to hold a poor quality, overpriced player who never really had much chance of winning or carried as much risk of collapse as a hype related price rise? Unforgivable.

As we saw from the analysis of the pre-season scouting last season that I mentioned yesterday, knowing the real ability of players is crucial. 

It not only saves you whatever you’d lose holding an overhyped player too long but it gives you the opportunity to use that money on something with a higher chance of success.

The average loss from a player I was cautious on last pre-season was -5.6% which sounds modest. That could range from a 102% profit in the best case all the way down to -34.7% in the worst. If you adjust that considering the market increased by 57% though the best case would be a 45% profit and the worst a 91% loss. That shows you how much the rise in the market papers over some of these losses.

97% of players I was cautious on did not outperform the market over pre-season to December. That’s just 2 out of the 58. Who were they? Chilwell and Sabitzer and both of them succumbed eventually – dipping sharply in January. No player can exist on hype forever – they will always get found out in the end if they do not have the dividend potential to back up their price tag.

Some players are exceptionally resilient. Sancho was not a brilliant trade from early season to December, he significantly underperformed the market before picking up in January. But with someone like him or Mbappé the hype is so big and the belief so strong that they can survive a lot. But eventually they too will have to justify the price tag.

Now if we contrast that with the players I was positive on – we can see it is not a perfect record as we can’t get everything right – but the overall result is vastly superior to chasing popular but expensive and weak players.

Here our top result is a 219.8% profit and the worst possible result a 4.44% profit. Adjusting for the rise in the market our best possible result is a 162.8% profit and our worst possible result is a 53% loss.

So, on average, we dodged a -5% loss in weak and popular players in favour of an average gain of 81%. An 86% swing in our end results. That’s huge. The key lesson here is that by chasing that popular but weak player we have not just cost ourselves 5% – we cost ourselves 86% because we made poor use of our limited funds.

And, this analysis assumed that we are locked into our trades from whenever we bought them in pre-season all the way through to December. As if I’d gone on holiday and not done anything at all. That’s a harsh measure of these results but it had to be that way so that we can compare like with like, otherwise you could cherry pick and say “yeah I dropped that player before his price fall”. I might well have, but I couldn’t have always proven it so I left that bit out of this analysis.

But it’s fair to say that with active trading we would likely have cut off some of the weakest earlier and brought our average trade profit up markedly from 81%.

I’m highlighting this analysis again now because I think it’s so important to hammer this home as we enter a new season.

There are times of year where chasing a bit of the hype is a good thing to do. Early season is not one of them.

Yet, it’s really hard for many to see that. It is genuinely difficult to ignore the hype and the social media pumping and avoid being influenced by it. So my hope is that some cold hard numbers will help with that.

On social media in particular lots of people loathe realistic assessments of players because it bursts the bubble. But realistic assessments of players are absolutely crucial and if I focused only on the players who were good value I’d only be doing half my job.

I don’t pull any punches on the site when it comes to assessing players fairly. And if last season’s results are anything to go by – my cautious predictions were justified 97% of the time.

So that’s an intro into the next part of pre-season preview – the overhyped players. Primarily these are going to be weak performance players at high prices due to either deliberate pumping from rats or well meaning but equally dangerous ignorance about the players real ability. Usually, people are seduced by a good trend fit – but a good trend fit is only one ingredient for longer term success.

Occasionally in this category there will be a strong performance player at too high a price. These are probably not quite so toxic to profits because at least they have something to back them up. But they aren’t all that great either and if we want the best results we need all our money in the most optimal places.

I would add that it can work out to hold overhyped players in pre-season and even into the early games provided you know the real quality of the player and are simply exploiting the foolishness of others. But you do have to know what you are doing. And get the timing right – you really don’t want to hold too long. 

We will see occasional big scores from poor players but they will be rare. When someone like Martinelli or Pulisic puts up a big score it’s almost certainly not going to be because holders were right after all it’s because of the natural variance in statistics and games of chance. 

The weakness of bad players will be exposed over time – so hold too long into the season at your peril. It’s much better to be shot of them before they have a chance to show how average or worse they really are because most of them absolutely will. 

With that uplifting introduction out of the way, let’s get to it.

Bukayo Saka - 18 - Arsenal

In trend fit terms Saka has just about all you can really hope for, except perhaps a regular suitable place in a really strong performance team. 

Those two things could be surmountable as he probably will get more minutes next season possibly in his right wing position. But it’s unlikely to matter when it comes to performance scoring.

No matter how you cut it up, it’s extremely unlikely we will see regular success whether he is a defender or midfielder. 

As a left back, he has decent involvement but limited goal threat, so he has almost zero chance of justifying £4+ as a defender. That’s even worse if he continues to play there yet be categorised as a midfielder.

If he returns to the right wing… it’s probably a good thing for holders but he’s still miles away from being a regular contender. The dreamer or pumper’s standard line will be “he’s young and can improve!”. 

Well, that is likely but to really make a difference the improvement would have to be enormous, so much so it just isn’t worth betting on at this time.

Maybe in 2-3 years he will have improved to that level, but traders are fickle and it is unlikely they will really wait that long. 2-3 months of average or worse results is likely to see people down on him again. 

Jack Grealish - 24 - Aston Villa

In early season scouting I was pretty positive on him but at £2 it was a different proposition.

As the price goes up we have to get tougher on players and judge them more harshly – they’ll need to give us more. 

And whilst profiting from the transfer hype was smart in advance of the January transfer window – actually holding during the window when a make or break decision can actually be made? Not so smart. See Messi as a recent example.

He’s already crashed considerably from his £5.85 high to a £4 bid now. And the problem often with players who get this overhyped is that they have so far to fall to get back into value range.

In normal times at Villa it would be hard to justify more than £2-3. He really relies on that Manchester United link to pump him up and with De Beek, Pogba and Bruno in residence you wonder how likely that move is.

He’s a player who may be worth going back to later if the price drops and the transfer circumstances are right. But at a £4 bid I still think it’s too much even after this sharp drop.

Alphonso Davies - 19 - Bayern Munich

Davies has to be up there with the worst offenders when it comes to being overvalued. 

It’s easy to see how traders get themselves in this muddle because he’s a young exciting player who plays for Bayern. But that doesn’t make him the next Kimmich by default or any better than other Bayern defenders.

He isn’t awful, and we should see some occasional wins particularly if he plays on a Bronze or Silver day. 

But Pavard for example is much more likely to win at half the price.

These trades are all fun whilst the hype is still going but as he settles as a regular and continues to churn out bang average results (despite eye catching performances) I would suspect that the price tag fades as we get 2-3 months into the season.

Sometimes a player like this will hit a big score early and appear to vindicate holders. Just how the bad poker player sometimes hits that 1 card out of 20 he needed to win. But the weakness will almost certainly show over time it’s just probability.

Jude Bellingham - 17 - Borussia Dortmund

The next Sancho.

Except, apart from being English and moving to Dortmund there isn’t that much of a resemblance. They are quite different players.

He’s talented and versatile, he can play in the middle or on the wing. In either position though his numbers at Championship level for Birmingham are way, way behind where they would need to be to be a regular challenger.

Usually we need those weak league numbers to be extremely strong for them to stand a chance of translating to top level competition.

We have seen 3 appearances in Dortmund friendlies, and there is mixed news here.

The playing position is not great, they’ve used him in a deep role all 3 times. He has however jumped in goal threat and indeed scored already, and provided 2 assists.

Sounds brilliant – but then when you factor in the quality of opposition – a 6-0 thrashing of Rheindorf Altach, an 11-2 drubbing of Austria Wien and a 1-3 loss to Bochum… those headline numbers start to look too good to be true.

There are some positive numbers – the involvement is there for sure. If we saw him roaming forward like this in serious games there might be a chance. 

He’s one to keep an eye on but in a first season where he’ll be squeezed for minutes the odds of genuinely living up to anything like £4.75 are seriously low.

There may be further hype, if he gets a first start, or a first goal, and I suspect the price will be resilient for a while.

Probably the best thing that can happen for holders is that he does stay on the bench so that pumpers can say “ah but he’s only scoring poorly because of limited minutes”. That’s unlikely to be true, but it might keep people interested.

Either way, for me this is one of those trades that could go quite well early on but can also go very badly and is just not an optimal use of money. The longer you hold it the worse it is likely to get since other more capable players are going to start stealing the limelight. 

Not the worst pick if you want to trade on hype but I think you have to be very aware that is what you are doing and know not to push it too far. This is the sort of player where you really don’t want to become that awkward “true believer” who really thinks he’s got the English Messi.

James Maddison - 23 - Leicester

A bit like Grealish, Maddison has been on my naughty list for a while, certainly since he pushed over £4+. 

He’s really tumbled from a £5 high to a £3.51 bid now. And that still might be too much for him.

In performance terms, he’s unlikely to dig holders out of that hole by delivering consistent big scores. Not at Leicester. When in a real hot streak of form he can get close, hitting that awkward 220-240 range pretty often which in midfield is likely to get beat.

He’s not awful, and we should see him pushing up their occasionally, but he’d need to be in red hot form.

If we see him dive more towards £3 and we see some more transfer rumours picking up, I’d suspect November might be a better time to target him, well ahead of the window.

This is key in transfer trading – as we’ve seen with Maddison and Grealish and more recently Messi – the time to profit from transfers is well in advance to cash in on the over optimism of other traders. 

Actually gambling on the transfer happening is for the mugs or reserved for cases where you think it is a win win no matter where the player ends up. 

Christopher Nkunku - 22 - RB Leipzig

Nkunku once upon a time appeared in one of my Real Wonderkids articles. That article is here from October 2019. 

But timing and price count for a lot. He was only £1.04 then so at that price we can pretty forgiving. We don’t always need the perfect package – but the more we pay the more we want for our money.

He was always likely to be a bit soft for performance scoring but he could get close, and for a youngster with a nice trend fit at a value price, close is good enough.

As he hits £1.50 and £2 and then even £3.30+ throughout the course of the season though – you have to get serious. He dropped on some nice results, including a goal and 2 assist game in November and a freak 4 assist game in February. And people piled in.

But this is where you really need to know the real performance quality of a player to trade effectively. If you don’t – you can see these big scores in November and February and have no idea they are freaks that are unlikely to be repeated anytime soon.

It leads you into paying too much for the player or holding them too long.

A trader who does know that these big scores are more to do with luck than consistent quality can cash out at something close to the high before others have really worked it out.

And generally, we won’t even get the exact high and nor should we try. If we’ve picked Nkunku up at £1.04 then certainly by the time he is £2.50 or £2.75 we’ll want to think about cashing at least some of that in if we believe he is now overvalued. 

We don’t want to be too greedy if we think the price is way out ahead of their ability. And if we miss that little extra rise? No big deal. We’re rarely going to be able to time that perfectly because whether a player wins or not in one weekend is as much luck as anything else. We can only predict success accurately enough to matter over a series of games not just one.

So, predictably, Nkunku now finds himself back at £2.30 after a major crash. That puts him on the borderline – no longer grossly overvalued – but I wouldn’t say it’s all that great either. 

He’s not quite new and shiny anymore so he’ll need to demonstrate results to power on. Whilst we will see some decent scores from him most likely, they’ll probably be rare.

It may be one to come back to if he drops further.

Brandon Williams - 20 - Manchester United

I can’t pull any punches here. Williams is atrocious for FI purposes. 

The tragedy is – he always was. Those buying him up to £2.57 as recently as January were either trying to pump and dump him or just really, really lacked any idea of what makes a good performance player.

He’s £1.59 on the bid now which is a savage drop. And it’s totally deserved. This is the type of loss we absolutely must avoid. Sometimes we have a good player who gets a bit of bad luck or falls out of favour or gets injured. That’s forgivable. 

But players like this? They basically never had a chance and it’s just awful trading to follow into this or hold it too long.

You can never say a player doesn’t have any chance. But the odds of Williams putting up a big score are very low. 

Whilst the drop has been savage, £1.59 is still too much for him. Maybe at £1 you could consider it but you’d be betting on a big improvement even then.

Billy Gilmour - 19 - Chelsea

Not dissimilar from Williams above – this is another tragic hold that never really had a chance of justifying the price tag. 

Predictably, it has crashed now from a £3.34 high to a £2.38 bid. 

He’s just too deep for FI and unless that changes he’s going to struggle.

One thing in his favour is that if he played a game and he got a (very) rare goal he could actually put up a very big score. But the odds of that happening? Extremely low. And when you are paying £2.38+ you really want better than that.

He could of course rise if he starts and people see him playing well. But there is a lot of competition at Chelsea now and he may need to wait for Cups.

And longer term? Really not much there unless he was to become a Chelsea regular and start taking penalties or dramatically change is style of play. 

The more of these “if’s” you stack up the lower your probability of real success. So you need a cheap price to match that and it’s still too high here.

Gabriel Martinelli - 19 - Arsenal

This is the classic sort of player who is easy to pump. Young. Bigger EPL Club. Some eye catching performances and goals for Match of the Day.

But underneath the bonnet the numbers are dire, even in the Forward category. This abysmal scoring history we see? Not an accident. This is his consistent level and even when he scores and has a good game it’s unlikely to be enough to get him up there on anything like a competitive day. 

What sparked his rise is a very early 2 goals and 1 assist in the Europa back in October 2019. With the boost to European scores this netted him a very impressive 350. Cue the mania as people think they have found an FI suitable wonderkid. 

Nope – this is just a freak that happened to come early and we haven’t even seen anything close to that since.

At the time though before his rise he was quite a good punt being cheap. That’s the point you’d go for it and you’d count your lucky stars he put in that kind of performance early. 

But you just wouldn’t push it too far – holding throughout 2020 has been a waste of time. And it’s only likely to get worse. He’s losing his new and shiny status as he establishes and £3.29 is too much to carry for a weak player.

Like last season – we may well see that early big score from him or others. Bad players have good days. But through Scouting we really need to be aware which of these are freak events and which are a sign of consistency. 

Christian Pulisic - 21 - Chelsea

Pulisic is an interesting one because he’s already had one phase of hype then crash as people realised he wasn’t as brilliant as they hoped.

But recently people have come back after a nice spell of form in July and he’s really rocketed. 

This doesn’t take particularly in depth analysis though. Often the historic performance scores tell a misleading picture but in Pulisic’s case – his record is what it is for a reason. Despite all that great form in July he never got above 159 and that isn’t bad luck. 

That weakness is plain to see and when a player is hitting red hot form but it’s not coming through on FI – that’s a big red flag. Occasionally it can be down to some bad luck but not often.

So, given how obvious his weakness is and that we’ve been through a hype/bust process with him before… it is quite surprising people are winding themselves up to be disappointed for a second time.

To be competitive he’d need a switch to Forward and there isn’t an obvious case for that to happen. Even then… I’d not be overly optimistic on his chances even in that softer category. Certainly not for £3.67.

When you consider the alternatives like Ziyech who has vastly higher potential it makes you wonder why you’d go for it. Ziyech is an untested quantity in a Chelsea shirt granted but the historic numbers are fantastic and we should get a grace period to figure out whether he is the real deal or not.

With Pulisic we know plenty about him already and it’s not good. Not for FI anyway.

Nicolo Zaniolo - 21 - Roma

Zaniolo was down for inclusion before his unfortunate further injury last night playing for Italy.

Again, he’s the sort who is easy to pump. Young. “Future of the Italian team”. But in FI terms? Really quite poor and a long, long way from competitive. 

Particularly as a midfielder. If he was moved to a forward he might stand more of a chance. But there isn’t a particularly strong case for moving him to forward. 

As I type the bid price on Zaniolo is just flying around from £1.95 to £2.47 and back again. Odd.

He is out for another 6 months most likely and a second ACL is bad because it really raises questions about his long term fitness. He’s going to have to come back and you would think most big clubs are going to want him to demonstrate consistent fitness before they will shell out big money for him.

In a condensed season a 6 month lay off means he won’t have a great deal of time to do that before the next transfer window.

And that’s really the only target window holders ever had for a big price rise. It was unlikely to be sparked by any huge performance scores.

That’s the grim reality of this trade for me. If you knew he was pretty poor and were trying to cash in on the trend fit and ultimate transfer link – that’s fair. 

For those who labour under the illusion he is a good fit for FI? That sort of trader is in trouble because you can’t possibly make consistently good decisions without knowing the likely ability of the players you hold.  

An injury like this though is unfortunate and can happen to any player. We can’t control it. The only thing we can do is be wary of players who are injury prone and by risk managing with the staking strategy approach from the recent portfolio clinic article. 

Would I buy after this price drop? No. The injury lay off is too long. You may get some people who “top up” and claim he’s value now but I am unconvinced. What you generally get is some immediate buyers trying to injury trade… but as the weeks drag on you see them slowly coming out. 

Maybe if in 2 months or so you see the price really rock bottom you could pick him up in advance – much like you can for Leverkusen’s Paulinho. Both are likely to get a price bump as they near returns and that can be profited from. 

The reason I favour Paulinho is he starts much cheaper and holders will have the option of holding longer because he is vastly more performance suitable and could post big scores.

Takefusa Kubo - 19 - Villarreal

Kubo is on the rise again as he makes the step up from Mallorca to Villarreal. He is expected to go back to Real Madrid eventually, but that’s a while away. Probably too far away for a big price tag to be maintained without shorter term results.

Those are unlikely to come. He’s not prolific either for Mallora or historically at Tokyo in a soft league. We can get a smattering of goals and assists out of him but at Mallorca his baselines were so low they never really registered.

We can’t expect much better at Villarreal. And the one friendly we have seen supports that – the involvement was low in his first game 3 days ago. He did however get a decent chance to score.

So, an early goal or two might see him pumping but the chances of an actual win are remote. 

If he were to crash after initial disappointment it might be smart to pick him up later to profit from any Real Madrid hype – next season could be the one he returns to his parent club and start getting some minutes.


There are a lot of these players! A part 2 covering another 15 or so will come tomorrow. After that, we'll get back to players who are likely to be good value. Perhaps it would be a good time to scour the ineligible leagues.

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