Not all of our selections are going to work out as hoped.
We can be as diligent as we want in our research but unexpected events are going to torpedo the best laid plans.
This is fine – and it’s going to happen to every trader.
You can make a good decision and lose due to bad luck. You can make a bad decision and win due to good luck. But over the long run – if we are are making consistently good, evidence based decisions we will come out on top.
Historically speaking, I find 7-8 out of 10 of my picks end up working out well. I put in a lot of time into my research and get more and more experienced each week.
A 70-80% success rate is strong. But that also means 20-30% of my selections do not work out. And it’s how we deal with those that can make the difference between average results and great ones.
This is the key difference with FI compared to traditional betting – the 20-30% of trades that go badly do not have to be significant losers. We’ll often have the chance to limit that damage by spotting warning signs early – and doing this is in my opinion much harder than picking a good player.
I don’t view it as a failure to have a trade go badly – we’d be asking the impossible of ourselves if we expected success from absolutely every decision we made.
Usually, we’ll have made a good decision on the evidence available at the time but circumstances changed. We’ve got to be able to deal with that.
The failure generally comes not at the time we bought – but rather if we had a chance to recognise our selection was going badly, and missed an opportunity to limit the damage.
If selections are coming good 7-8 times out of 10, and we’re managing the 2-3 that go badly well – we should be getting out of most of them before too much damage is done.
That would leave us with around 1 trade in 10 where we take any kind of significant loss – which would be very acceptable and well within the budget of a good trader who is performing extremely well overall.
I believe we should forgive ourselves an occasional slip up so we don’t put too much pressure on ourselves or become too risk averse.
This is all nice in theory – 2020 has been a hell of a year though. It’s been particularly difficult for managing trades that are going badly.
There was often no ability to sell at all with the market locked down for long periods in early/mid 2020 – this was particularly bad if hoping to shift any transfer trades we may have picked up in January/February.
And more recently – it’s been very difficult to offload any unpopular player for an acceptable price given the difficulties with the introduction of the Matching Engine.
So, I’m sure many members have, like me, been wrestling with problem players. In fact it was an email from a member that inspired today’s article.
To illustrate the thought process on dealing with problem players I’ll consider 4 case studies who have looked good at times but hit some kind of roadblock that forces us to make a decision: stick or twist?
Jonathan David - Lille
Problem: High expectations... not looking like meeting them at Lille
Why was he a good pick?
David started the season with high expectations and Lille was a good move for him, as a potential performance platform as well as a club renowned for developing talent and selling them on later.
His historic numbers at Gent were incredibly impressive, not just for the stellar number of goals and assists but his overall numbers indicated an all round game that is potentially very suitable for FI.
Given that, the price of £2.37 in August looked tempting even though it is still quite high, and it had dipped after disappointment he did not move to the EPL.
We had no minutes on him at Lille at this point, so it was a risk. But one I felt was probably justified given the upside.
What went wrong?
Early performances at Lille were very poor – looking bad in both the “eye test” and in the stats.
If a player looks good to watch early on at a new club but is poor in his numbers – we can often get away with that for at least a couple of games. Many will only see the good performance and not be aware of the poor background stats that matter on FI.
For example, if he had played this poorly yet happened to get a goal – many holders would have remained optimistic. But if I still felt the underlying numbers were poor – I’d still be getting sceptical in scouting.
In that scenario we could probably get out without too much trouble since the goal would have kept people optimistic.
But with no goal and poor performances in reality.. the mood quickly soured and he was dropping under £2 very quickly on a bid after just a couple of games.
In Scouting on 24 August I highlighted his weak opener – but felt that just one game was not enough information to judge him on. By the 2nd poor game on 31st August scouting I said this was time to re-evaluate. When a player has fairly high expectations like this – you won’t get long to make a call and still come out without too much damage done.
High expectations are fun during the period of hype – but when the player has to deliver on them it adds pressure.
For those reasons – that’s probably the point where you cut this off and the 2nd poor game was the moment when we had enough information to do so sensibly. The first game would have felt like a knee jerk reaction.
Even two games isn’t enough to really judge him – but because this was a popular player with a high price – I’d tend to be more twitchy given the performances were so obviously poor even to watch.
So at this point, if you’ve picked him up for… £2.20 or so on a bid pre-season and you’ve been able to offload him for maybe £1.90 after the 2nd game. It’s a hit but it’s not terrible – and whilst this is a loss – I’d say that trader can be happy with their decision making.
It was perfectly valid to go for this – but you’ve also realised when it was going wrong and corrected it. Can’t ask for more than that from ourselves.
If however you’ve missed those cues and are still holding today… you’ll be looking at £1.46 to move him on which is a real blow. And even worse… the numbers in the opening 6 don’t really give us much hope he can force people back to him with a big score anytime soon.
So this is where we will have made an error that we can note and hopefully bear in mind for any similar situations next time. Particularly in the first year of trading – we’re going to learn lessons the hard way like this. As long as we learn and don’t repeat them – it’s not wasted.
Be wary of players at new clubs, particularly if young and coming from weak leagues like the Belgian or even the Eredivisie – they can often appear a little better than they are. And if the new club uses them slightly differently – it can make or break them as a performance prospect.
This isn’t to say don’t buy them – but we should watch them carefully in the first games and be quite twitchy if they start poorly. With a more established player – I’d be much more likely to hang in and give them a chance if the numbers are encouraging.
If still holding… tricky. Often by this point in a trade there are no obvious good decisions to make.
To keep holding we need a reason he can recover. As per scouting, the performance numbers suggest that the chances of a big performance score or dividend coming to the rescue anytime soon are very slim.
The likelihood of that first goal is better… he is getting chances and he is probably unlucky not to have one already. But it will likely deliver a poor score so will 1 goal change the mood on him? Not likely. We’d be hoping for an explosion – a sudden hatrick or similar and that is a very long odds bet.
He’s also just moved to Lille so the odds of a good transfer rumour coming this season are slim, especially in this form.
It’s bleak. You can always hold out hoping for that big fightback but the evidence suggests it’s not coming anytime soon. I’d have to say bite the bullet on this and focus on something else, even though that is painful now.
Sebastiano Esposito - SPAL (Inter)
Problem: Shipped out to a small club not even eligible for performance
Why was he a good pick?
Esposito is a genuinely FI suitable young talent and is generally expected to have a big future in the game. The expectation for the season was that he’d continue making some bench appearances for Inter – or possibly get a loan to a smaller Serie A club.
Both of those are acceptable outcomes for a high potential player with a great trend fit available somewhere between £2 and £2.40 in pre-season.
Appearances at Inter were probably the preference – all he’d need to do is get a few goals from the bench and he’ll maintain optimism.
The Serie A loan move is a little tougher because at a smaller club he’ll struggle to show big performance scores – but good displays and goals would be enough to keep holders feeling good.
What went wrong?
For whatever reason, he was sent to SPAL instead in the Italian second tier which I certainly did not expect. As far as I know there were no rumours of this until quite late.
Whilst he may do well at SPAL and score plenty – not many people will notice or even check these results.
I think with this as soon as the SPAL moved looked on if you can get out for any kind of reasonable price (£2?) then that’s worth a hit and decisive action could be taken there.
But I wouldn’t jump at the first rumour either – there is an art to this that I think you can only really pick up with experience. Some sources are much more credible than others. What we don’t want to be doing is outsourcing our decision making to some click-bait rag like Don Balon.
If we jumped at every rumour we’d be in and out of trades far too frequently, so we’ve got to assess how credible the sources are, how many sources are repeating the rumour, and just how much that move makes sense in general.
Assuming we didn’t miss any obvious information linking him to SPAL well before the move, there isn’t a great deal we can do about this kind of bad luck event, any more than we can really predict an injury to a player who is not generally injury prone.
We were relying on either staying at Inter or going to a Serie A club – both credible outcomes but neither came off. We could try to dodge every possible risk and only go for players with a very certain future, but we’d miss out on so many opportunites that way.
All we can really do here is keep on top of transfer news when dealing with players with an uncertain future. Be honest with ourselves – are we really checking the news on our players every couple of days at least?
If not… we may not be well suited to having too many players with uncertain futures in our portfolio. If we can’t change our behaviour because we’re busy etc – better to change our portfolio selections to make it practical for us to manage it correctly.
Esposito remains a good potential player, and this season is shorter so it probably won’t be too long before discussion of his next move, back to Inter or otherwise, crops up.
If he does well in Serie B – that will likely register at some stage and see his price creeping up slowly as people notice. But not for a few months at least, most likely.
A balanced decision that I don’t think there is a clear cut right answer to now. The best answer (in hindsight) if you are checking the news regularly and on top of your portfolio is jump ship as soon as the SPAL news looked serious.
But if still holding there are valid reasons to tough this one out – plenty of reasons to think that in 6-8 months he could be doing much much better. So if you are patient, this is fine.
Equally, if really frustrated with it and very keen to pursue other targets… the current sell price of £1.57 is painful but not tragic. If that dipped towards £1.30 I’d be much more on the side of sticking with it because he is a genuinely good prospect.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek - Fulham (Chelsea)
Problem: Blocked by incoming transfers and shipped out to a poor team
Why was he a good pick?
In early to mid-2020 there were many reasons to be optimistic on RLC.
On his previous career numbers he was clearly performance suitable, and likely to be Chelsea’s best performance player at the time, with only really Barkley competing for that honour.
His trend profile is good as a potential England international and still just 24. And he was returning from injury – always good for a natural bounce – and his opening performance on his return was good as per 15 July scouting. He was available for under £2 on a bid then and that to me looked great value.
I don’t think that’s unfair – a fully fit RLC playing week in week out? I don’t think he’d have a problem clearing £3+ on merit assuming he played somewhere close to his usual level.
What went wrong?
Just about everything that could? He never really got going and his performances upon return from injury, whilst showing some glimmers of hope, were very average overall.
Worse – as per 15th September scouting he had a nightmare performance that weekend which was very visible to even casual fans – and it so happened to be during a week where the market was nervous and crashing which is really bad timing for holders.
That caused his price to get hammered overnight – a straight drop from £2.45 to £1.24! Crazy even by the standards of that particularly savage week. Had he played well that day… I suspect his price would have stayed higher for much longer and wouldn’t have hit the deck quite so hard. We’ll never know.
Over the Summer as the raft of Chelsea signings came in his place looked more and more threatened. And to cap it all, he is loaned out to Fulham – hardly a platform for performance success.
A grim tale, all up.
I think the reasons to go for him in early to mid-2020 were compelling, so I would not regret the buy itself.
I think this is about how quickly we could have realised it was going badly – and I think in this case this was very hard to do.
If the numbers are straight up abysmal then it’s easy. But they weren’t.
Even as late as mid July.. he put up his best FI numbers of 2020 against Norwich – similar to his historically performance suitable stuff that made him attractive in the first place.
So if we were looking for reasons why he could turn it around – we’d find them in his match stats.
Probably the more obvious warning sign he was unwanted was those other big name players coming in.
Perhaps we could get our heads out of spreadsheets and think a bit more widely when a player is under threat like this?
Following the numbers would have given us hope… but maybe the fact that Lampard was making so many big signings put the writing on the wall.
One of the reasons I think FI is so interesting as a product is that we can’t just be a spreadsheet warrior who thinks he can solve it all with a formula. And nor can we just be a guy who watches football and thinks he can “just see” good performance scores and “just knows” when a player feels right.
We have to be able to combine that grasp of hard numbers with softer overall judgement and experience.
85p to £1.09. Crikey.
I think this drop all the way from £2.83 on a Blue Button in June (or just under £2 red button) is a bit overly negative. A drop is fair but I think £1.30 to £1.50 would be more reasonable.
He’s still only 24, and is performance suitable. There is a decent chance he can revive his career and it may be that regular games at Fulham are exactly what he needs.
I won’t be expecting big performance scores at Fulham – but what holders will be looking for is good performances that put him back into contention to return to Chelsea expecting games or get links to other big clubs. And it may get him back in the England squad, too.
If we’ve correctly read the tea leaves of those incoming transfers and sold for anything £1.50 and above we can probably say we’ve come out of this well even if we took a hit.
If not… and still holding now? 85p just feels like an insultingly low price to take. I’d give it a few games at Fulham and see if there are any signs of life. If not… it may be time just to take that hit and move on.
Viktor Tsygankov - Dynamo Kiev
Problem: Did not get an expected transfer
Why was he a good pick?
Tsygankov is a promising young player, still just 22. He’s very FI suitable and frequently linked to big clubs. Currently in an ineligible league with Dynamo but they are in the Champions League. And he also plays for Ukraine who will be at the Euro’s.
He’s also retained a relatively value price compared to other youngsters, rarely nudging over £1.50 and often available much cheaper particularly on bids.
What went wrong?
Those big club rumours never really gained momentum this Summer and he’s stuck in an ineligible league for another season.
This happened for many transfers as clubs tightened their belts due to corona virus uncertainty.
What was particularly hard with Summer transfer trades this year is the lack of availability of Instant Sell. Often, I’d do a lot of “Summer shopping” around Feb to April at the latest – seeking to profit from expectations of transfers rather than holding too long into the transfer window itself.
See the often repeated example of Sancho this year as to why I do that. Or any of the dozens of high profile transfer trades that went badly recently.
With Sancho, he was so popular that getting out of him relatively early with a big profit was a doddle in the Matching Engine. There was no shortage of people happy to pile in late chasing the hype. A tried and true formula for profiting from transfers.
But that was not the case this year for the more obscure or unpopular players. Getting out of a player like this who is promising but in no way popular without live big transfer rumours is extremely difficult.
It was very easy to get stuck in this kind of trade in 2020.
Assuming that the market settles somewhat in the coming months – I’d see no reason to change tactic and avoid some of the more obscure transfer trades like this.
Whilst 2020 has been difficult – we have to view it as an exceptional year of change so when 2021 comes around relying on “what worked last year” should be an even more shaky strategy than usual.
If we got stuck in this trade it’s unfortunate, but provided the market is healthier ahead of the next window I’d have no worries about going for transfer trades like this again.
One of the benefits of holding quality players is that even when they hit hard times – there is generally a reason you valued them in the first place and often that reason can swing back around if you are patient.
Not much has really changed for Tsygankov except the price. He’s 74p to 90p now and has every chance of picking up those big transfer rumours again later. He’ll also have the CL where he could put in a good display, and his Ukraine involvement too – another stage where he can show his ability. (In fact he scored a lovely goal vs Spain last night).
I’d have toughed this out throughout 2020, despite the major price drop. Taking under £1 for him just feels too cheap and I don’t recall it being possible to get much better than that.
If I didn’t think he had reasons he could recover I’d feel differently. But I think he does and I’d be far more inclined to pick up more rather than sell at his current price.