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Data website Transfermarkt has become the actionable adjudicator of European top football. Its valuations can be begin in anniversary letters and at the negotiating tables of above clubs. How authentic is its data?
Höhenkirchen-Siegertsbrunn, bisected an hour from Munich, is a apple of aboveboard authentic houses and area that accept been about obsessively tended to. On its outskirts stands the BlueBox adolescence centre. Despite its name, this is one of the few barrio in boondocks that are not absolutely square. It is blue, though.
From the ceiling, beaming tubes adhere on metal affairs amid the oak beams. There’s a basin table, a TV with PlayStation, and a complete system.
Martin Freundl – ellipsoidal glasses, atramentous face mask, abbreviate albino beard – welcomes us at apex with a cup of blooming tea. Freundl advised to be an economics abecedary a few years ago, but afterwards admission couldn’t get a abiding arrangement anywhere. So he afflicted tracks: he afresh accelerating as a amusing artisan and went to assignment at the adolescence centre.
Later this afternoon, the architecture will be beat by youngsters age-old 10 to 17. Freundl’s job is to affliction for them and accumulate them from activity at anniversary other’s throats.
In the meantime, he opens an Excel book on his computer. The leftmost cavalcade contains the names of every club in the Bundesliga, Germany’s top able football division. Next to it, it lists the names, ages, and positions of every player, including top strikers like Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland. On the far appropriate are two added columns absolute estimates of anniversary player’s accepted and accessible approaching bazaar value.
Martin Freundl. © Pepijn Keppel
Freundl manages the spreadsheet for Transfermarkt. With one billion folio angle per month, it is one of the world’s bigger football websites. Freundl is amenable for chargeless the bazaar appraisal of every Bundesliga player.
It’s a autonomous job he active up for in 2017, assertive that the ethics on the armpit deviated too abundant from reality. ‘My ambition is to accomplish that gap as baby as possible,’ he tells us. ‘I anticipate of it as a affectionate of game. You accomplish a prediction, and it’s acceptable to be authentic right.’
A 28-year-old amusing artisan and football activist voluntarily accession out the bazaar bulk of football players for a statistics website. It seems innocent enough, but these valuations accept a above appulse on able football organisations. An assay by Follow the Money begin that the abstracts produced by Freundl and his colleagues are acclimated in the anniversary letters of top European clubs, at alteration agreement tables, by scouts, and in boardrooms. Do the professionals apperceive how their abstracts are made?
Follow the Money approached fifty able clubs from seven top European leagues, as able-bodied as twenty-seven arch sports agents. Twelve clubs and nine agents answered our questions. The European football abutment UEFA answered; the apple football alliance FIFA didn’t. We additionally batten to eight advisers and volunteers from Transfermarkt.
Transfermarkt.de was built-in in 2000 as the abstraction of Matthias Seidel, a German computer engineer. He founded Transfermarkt.de as a hobby, a abode to aggregate account about his favourite club Werder Bremen. A year later, he added a accessible database absolute advice about players, coaches and leagues.
Over the afterward years, the armpit developed into a able organisation. In 2008, the German publishing abode Axel Springer acquired 51 percent of the aggregation shares. Afterwards that, things confused fast: Transfermarkt acquired web developers, an online beat team, and a common annals for agents. It now employs about seventy people, the armpit is accessible in fourteen languages and the amateur database contains capacity of added than 800,000 able footballers.
Transfermarkt gets its abstracts about these players from its users. They accumulate clue of how abounding account anniversary amateur spends on the pitch, how abounding cards they get shown, their medical history, arrangement duration, and abundant more. The advantage doesn’t aloof extend to top players like Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong, either. Joseph Ochaya, a 26- year-old left-wing apostle from Uganda who plays for the Congolese club TP Mazembe, can aloof as calmly be looked up.
Nick Kersten, arch beforehand and abettor administrator at Nijmegen football club NEC, says every beforehand is ‘addicted’ to Transfermarkt. ‘The armpit is consistently accessible on my browser, usually with about fifteen tabs. It’s the one I use the best by far. Aboriginal of all to see the players’ ages, secondly their arrangement durations, which are about absolute accurate, and thirdly the name of their agent. That tells us appropriate abroad who to acquaintance back we’re absorbed in a player.’ The advice is about consistently correct, he says: ‘I anticipate that’s absolutely an accomplishment on their part.’
In accession to statistics on cards and contracts, Transfermarkt additionally publishes an appraisal of every able player’s bulk tag. According to the site, Messi has a bazaar bulk of €100 million. Frenkie de Jong should bulk about €70 million; Joseph Ochaya, the Ugandan, about €200,000.
These bazaar valuations are what the armpit is mainly accepted for; they are broadly accepted for their amplitude and accuracy.
Kersten says he doesn’t pay too abundant absorption to the bazaar values. ‘We sometimes use them in arrangement negotiations, but I’m not bedeviled on them.’ Transfermarkt is theory, he says; it works abnormally in practice. ‘It’s an ancient bold of accumulation and demand. If a amateur is in the spotlight, their bulk automatically rises. If there’s little interest, the club will get rid of them for less.’ But if a new amateur is offered to his club, Kersten would adopt to see his Transfermarkt profile. ‘That’s all I charge to know.’
Where does Transfermarkt get its numbers? No one anytime asked
Kersten is not the alone sports administrator who pays absorption to Transfermarkt. Top European clubs accomplish approved use of the site. Booty above FC Barcelona administrator Josep Maria Bartomeu, who appeared on the Catalan radio abject RAC 1 in July 2020. Amid added things, he talked about Lionel Messi’s arrangement addendum and Brazilian amateur Arthur Melo’s move from Barcelona to Juventus for a whopping €72 million, excluding bonuses.
When asked if Melo was account that much, Bartomeu replied: ‘His Transfermarkt bulk was €70 million.’
In addition case, a above adviser to Spanish club Valencia CF filed a bent complaint adjoin Portuguese abettor Jorge Mendes and the club’s buyer Peter Lim in August. Mendes had brought a cardinal of Portuguese players to the Spanish club; the adviser claimed that Mendes and Lim had illegally aggrandized their bazaar valuation. The accessible prosecutor threw out the case, on the area that the paid alteration fees were abutting to the estimated bazaar ethics on Transfermarkt.
Transfermarkt is not the alone aggregation that publishes bulk estimates for football players. Accountancy and consultancy abutting KPMG, as able-bodied as FIFA’s CIES Football Observatory, additionally affair desultory letters on alteration fees and the accompaniment of the market. However, Transfermarkt distinguishes itself by the admeasurement of its database, its chargeless access, and the abundance with which it updates its bazaar bulk estimates.
And thus, the website has become the actionable amateur adjudicator of the football world. The above examples are aloof a few of the abundant cases area top clubs adduce Transfermarkt as a source. All-embracing media, too: from ESPN to L’Equipe and from The Guardian to La Gazzetta dello Sport, abounding ample publications await on abstracts from the website.
Where does Transfermarkt get its numbers? No one anytime asked, employees of the armpit acquaint Follow the Money.
“I’m aloof a amusing worker. I do this for fun, and the football industry is account millions. That adverse is insane”
Martin Freundl, the amusing artisan who manages the Bundesliga statistics, says it’s ‘crazy’ that able clubs booty his valuations seriously. He puts his easily on his arch and action in disbelief. ‘I aloof absorb a bit of my chargeless time on my computer at home, ciphering prices. And the football industry afresh takes these valuations seriously. It’s unreal. I’m aloof a amusing worker, I do this Transfermarkt assignment for fun, and the football industry is account millions. The adverse is insane.’
Other advisers and volunteers at Transfermarkt acquaint Follow the Money that the website never planned to accept such a cardinal position in the all-embracing football world. Christian Schwarz, who as ‘international arch of bazaar values’ is the aboriginal point of acquaintance for players and clubs who disagree with a appraisal on the site, can hardly appreciate the access of his work. ‘Clubs shouldn’t accomplish alteration decisions based on the abstracts on our website,’ he says. ‘Our adjustment is not scientific.’
Schwarz explains that prices are set according to the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ principle, which is agnate to how Wikipedia works. Users can altercate bazaar ethics on the Transfermarkt forum, but the ultimate cardinal is based alone on embodied arguments, and is ultimately bent by Freundl and his colleagues. Their breezy job appellation is Pate, ‘godfather’: they are the ambit that guides the acceptable address Transfermarkt.
Each alliance has its own autonomous ‘godfather’. They abject their abstracts on a cardinal of factors, including the affectionate of spreadsheet with ages and positions Freundl showed us earlier. Added criteria, according to a Transfermarkt certificate acquired by Follow the Money, accommodate account played, goals, assists, matches played for the civic team, arrangement length, salary, and the club’s authority and banking situation.
An example: according to Transfermarkt, a larboard wingback arena for a mid-table ancillary in the Bundesliga is worth amid €5 actor and €10 million. Players at Ajax, the best acknowledged club in the Netherlands, are about admired added awful than those at Feyenoord. Agnate players are additionally compared to access at a final bazaar price.
‘Clubs shouldn’t accomplish alteration decisions based on the bazaar ethics on our website’
Eventually, the numbers end up on the board of Christian Schwarz, who ensures that the abstracts for anniversary alliance are analytic consistent. Sometimes, he suggests a accessory correction. But Schwarz can’t assay all 800,000 players by himself, so he has to await on the ability of his autonomous godfathers.
Players in top-level leagues are revalued four times a year: two above updates afore alteration periods, and two accessory ones in between. The action takes abode in the aforementioned way for anniversary country, with a few exceptions.
Something Transfermarkt absolutely does not use, is an algorithm – alike admitting about every scout, sports administrator and added industry eyewitness we batten to anticipation the website does. That isn’t to say that an algorithms would automatically accomplish bigger at admiration bazaar values: in 2016, scientists from the universities of Copenhagen and Vaduz approved to aftermath estimates application a assorted corruption model. They ultimately assured that their archetypal was beneath authentic than the acumen of Transfermarkt’s crowd.
Transfermarkt may be bigger than an algorithm, but that doesn’t beggarly its abstracts are consistently absolute or alike close. In practice, they’re inaccurate predictors of absolute alteration prices, a abstracts assay by Follow the Money credibility out. On average, Transfermarkt’s estimated bazaar bulk differs by some 60 percent from a player’s absolute alteration fee. For transfers account added than €10 million, the aberration is 34 percent. Added than bisected of the site’s calculations are lower than the absolute alteration price.
Nevertheless, clubs consistently use it to allocution up the bulk of their players. For example, Olympique Marseille administrator Jacques-Henri Eyraud said in a 2018 columnist conference: ‘The aboriginal date of our accretion is complete […] today, the club is aggressive again. We invested €120 actor during the aftermost alteration period, and according to Transfermarkt our players are account about €200 million.’
Marseille are not the alone club accomplishing this. The anniversary letters of Olympique Lyonnais, FC Schalke 04, Hertha BSC, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and FC Porto all adduce Transfermarkt as a antecedent for the ‘value’ of their aboriginal team. And European football affiliation UEFA uses Transfermarkt abstracts in a 2016 report.
In accomplishing so, these clubs actualize a absoluteness that exists alone on paper. Our abstracts assay shows that around no club is able to about-face this abstract bulk into absolute income. In Europe’s top leagues, amid 62 and 70 percent of players acquire them nothing; in the Netherlands, the bulk is as aerial as 81 percent. This is the case back players serve out their contracts, are exchanged, or stop arena football. In the bristles top European leagues this summer, players in these three categories were apparent on Transfermarkt as actuality account added than €930 million.
‘We got a bulletin that Ronaldo had blocked us. He disagreed with our appraisal of his worth.’
Bart Tamsyn, Transfermarkt’s bounded administrator for the Netherlands and Belgium, says he thinks clubs, brokers, players and journalists put a lot of acceptance in the website. ‘When I aloof started as bounded manager, I was afflicted by the bulk of absorption Transfermarkt attracts. I consistently accept emails from able players and agents. Aloof recently, a approved amateur at SC Heerenveen asked if I could assay his statistics.’
Even Juventus brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo is not immune, says Tamsyn: ‘Last year Ronaldo was downgraded, and his bazaar bulk fell beneath €100 million. We put that on Instagram, and afresh we got a bulletin that Ronaldo had blocked us. He disagreed with the bulk we’d put on him.’
Tamsyn says he and his adolescent bounded managers are sometimes offered dinners or watches in acknowledgment for a bigger valuation, but that these offers aloof arm-twist laughter.
Thijs van Es, managing administrator of FC Utrecht, says that his club sometimes looks at the bazaar ethics on Transfermarkt. Van Es calls them a baseline, rather than a above base for decisions. ‘Setting prices in beforehand is complex. Abounding factors actuate a alteration value, and anniversary amateur is unique. We’re guided by the ability and acquaintance of our abstruse staff, not from online sources such as Transfermarkt.’
‘I use Transfermarkt to attending at the abstracts of players that I ability appetite to accompany in,’ says Guido Albers. He is managing administrator of the bureau Players United, which amid others represents Dutch internationals Donny van de Beek and Steven Berghuis. Albers says the site’s abstracts are of accessory importance, admitting they’re generally absolutely abutting to the absolute bazaar values. He says that the aphorism of deride amid sports agents is one of accumulation and demand: the added interest, the college the price. ‘Just like the apartment market. A amateur is a product, acrid admitting it may sound.’
Back in Höhenkirchen-Siegertsbrunn, Martin Freundl closes his laptop. Outside, a plastic-wrapped Christmas timberline is cat-and-mouse to be busy afore the accouchement arrive. Freundl has spent the accomplished few weeks alive on his Excel files: it’s about the winter break, the time back Transfermarkt publishes an amend of its bazaar bulk estimates.
The assignment was added difficult this time. Covid-19 isn’t authoritative anyone’s activity easier, not alike that of a Transfermarkt godfather. Some days, Freundl spent so abundant time on his laptop that it collection his wife mad. ‘Are you alive on those statistics again,’ she would sigh.
The new abstracts are appointed to arise a few canicule afterwards our visit. Afterwards that, the buzz of point-of-contact Christian Schwarz will be campanology non stop. ‘Technical admiral of Bundesliga clubs, who will appetite to altercate the numbers with us,’ Freundl says.
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