If you thought signing a big-money footballer was as simple as getting a chequebook out, think again.
The summer transfer market — a period where players can be bought and sold — officially opened on June 9 (June 1 in Italy). Right now, the best clubs Europe has to offer are all looking to strengthen their squads ahead of the new football season.
2017-2018 could be a record-shattering season for transfer spending as elite footballers like AS Monaco forward Kylian Mbappe, Chelsea attacker Eden Hazard, and Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have all been linked with high-profile transfers in the coming months.
Even Real Madrid goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo could be on the move.
Mike Rigg, the transfer market guru who helped usher in a new era at Manchester City, told Business Insider that there is a seven-step process involved in signing a superstar footballer. A process that can take months — and even years — to complete.
Here’s Rigg’s 7-step process:
- Consolidate a player acquisition department
- Build a database of knowledge on footballers
- Empower the manager
- Streamline a shortlist of players to identify one asset
- Complete the transaction
- Medical examination
- Oversee asset aftercare
Rigg joined City as Technical Director and Head of Player Acquisitions in 2008, just before the club was taken over by Abu Dhabi United Group.
At the time, precious little was known about the private equity firm who had just bought City, ushering in Emerati entrepreneur and Abu Dhabi royal advisor Khaldoon Al Mubarak as club chairman.
Al Mubarak had one clear objective, according to Rigg. “Khaldoon came in and wanted to win the Premier League title.”
Rigg had only been in the role for two months when Al Mubarak bought City and admits he did not “have time to think too much [about the takeover]” as he “had to hit the ground running.”
Rigg wanted to revolutionise the adminstrative structure at City.
Here, he explains each step in detail.
Step 1: Consolidate a player acquisition department.
Manchester City was not Rigg’s first role at a Premier League club as he had previously worked as the chief scout at Blackburn Rovers, assisting Hughes — or “Sparky,” to Rigg — in talent spotting.
Rigg “professionalised” the scouting department by “building a team” who could build profiles on good footballers and identify the top talent.
That organisational skill benefited Rigg at City. “I wanted to create a department which mirrored what we tried to do at Blackburn. But the beauty of what we had at Manchester City was [that we had] the resources to do it.”
“I built a department that included me, Dave Fallows who is now [director of scouting] at Liverpool, Barry Hunter [now chief scout at Liverpool], and [head of player recruitment] Gary Worthington from Chelsea.”
In a short space of time, Rigg had developed an organised football department that consisted of highly-experienced names. But now it was time to start the hard work…
Step 2: Build a database of knowledge on footballers.
“Khaldoon came in and we knew he wanted the Premier League title, but [to recruit championship-winning players] we first needed a database of knowledge on footballers,” he said.
It’s surprising how extensive this database needs to be. Rigg said this knowledge on players would include:
- What they are like (as a player and as a person)
- Their on-pitch character
- Their valuation (what their transfer fee could cost Manchester City)
- Will they sign? (can City successfully purchase that player)
When it comes to character, Rigg said: “It’s not personality per se but commitment, composure, and all those other intangibles that make up an athlete’s mindset.”
“When I [was] watching [former FC Barcelona midfielder] Yaya [Toure], he played on a Sunday in a league game and then again on a Wednesday in the Champions League,” he said.
“His attitude and desire didn’t waver from a lower league team in La Liga to top competition in Europe. He didn’t have to switch it on for a big game because he was always switched on.”
He added: “I’m always looking at what a player’s attitude is like off the ball, what the attitude is like when he loses the ball, and what his attitude is like during transitions [moving the ball from defence to offence, or vice versa].”
“You have to measure and record what these characteristics are like, while building up a profile on the player: married, children, any preference of living in the country or city. It’s a warts-and-all report, because if you spend £20 million, £30 million, or £50 million, you need to have as big a picture on this asset as you can.”
Step 3: Empower the head coach.
“The head coach should have the first and last say,” Rigg said. “I’d sit down with the head coach and say ‘First of all, how do you want to play, what is your philosophy, and what is the methodology for this system.'”
“We need to work out the position [they] want and the profile of the position [they] want. I then go out with the department and send scouts to certain clubs in certain countries to find quality footballers who would cover different areas of these characteristics.”
Step 4: Streamline a shortlist of players to identify one asset.
After that initial consultation with the head coach, the player acquisition department would have a long list of potential targets. “I’d whittle [that list] down with the business side [the boardroom], to present five options.”
“This is what the coach wants… option number one will cost £25 million, [on a] £100,000 per week contract because he’s 24. Option two is 33 and is available on a free transfer but a decent wage.”
“Each of these options has different pros and cons. But if we want eight players in a summer transfer window, we can’t go for eight ‘option ones’ as it will cost £200 million, and clubs just don’t have that budget for one window.”
For Rigg, it then comes down to priorities.
“Defensive midfield may be an absolute priority and a left winger a second priority, for example. So maybe we go for a mid-20s, high quality midfielder who would cost a lot of money and an early-30s winger who would cost less.”
“The best model involves the head coach having the first and last say on the options presented. The last thing I ever wanted to do was bring in a player who the coach had not bought into. If or when that occurs, the player spends his time on the bench, not getting games.”
Step 5: Complete the transaction.
After an asset has been identified and the head coach is emotionally invested, two difficult questions arise.
- Can the club afford him?
- Will the player sign?
“This is the real beauty of what I do as you never know if you can get a player until they sign on the dotted line. Fans often ask why clubs scramble to complete business on the last two days of the summer market and the answer is simple. It’s out of our control!”
“Every club wants players on the first two days of pre-season training but some clubs play the market, some agents play the market. You absolutely never know what will happen.”
But completing the deal is only the fifth step in Rigg’s process.
Step 6: Medical examination.
The final hurdle in transfer negotiations is the completion of a medical. These examinations can vary from club to club but typically involve MRI scans, blood tests, and cardiac screenings.
Club doctors are not the only staff members to examine an incoming player, as physiotherapists and sports scientists will also undergo their own tests.
Once the club is satisfied that the player has passed these tests then it’s time to crack open the Champagne. Why? Because congratulations are in order! You’ve signed yourself a superstar.
Step 7: Oversee asset aftercare.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Rigg’s seven-step process is the extraordinary aftercare that goes into player acquisition.
“If a player signs, you go back to that database of knowledge and you know if he has two kids, if one of them is starting nursery, if one of them is in Year 2, if they need english language lessons, and if the wife doesn’t speak English,” he said. “The club would… 100% recommend schools [for a player’s children], places to live, and all round player and family care and support.”
“We had a big player care department [at City],” he added. “The idea is that there is a seemless transition for the footballer so that the only thing the player has to worry about is football.”
“It sounds so obvious but it’s so true. If these things are not taken care of, stresses can arise. Let’s not forget, an entire family could be moving from one country to another. They are hauling their life, their luggage, and their children to new foreign surroundings.”
“When these things are taken care of, the player is happier and can focus on football.”
As for the superstar signings Rigg is most proud of?
“The players who have come to the club and made a significant impact in the team are the transfers I’m most proud of,” he said.
“Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, and Sergio Aguero… they’re all brilliant. These are brilliant people and have proven themselves to be brilliant players over a sustained period of time. They have not only come to the club, but excelled and it is all the more sweeter when critics said we couldn’t get them.”
“Look at David Silva. Even I thought there might be a doubt… did he want to come to Manchester? Sometimes people think players would prefer London. And traditionally that might be a case.”
“But for players like Vinny [Kompany], Pablo [Zabaleta], Sergio [Aguero], and Yaya [Toure], it wasn’t just a case of coming to live in England and having a lovely little holiday in London, earning whatever money, it was being involved in a great project and winning trophies at City.”
During Rigg’s time at City, the club won two major trophies. And yes, in 2012, Rigg did help City win club chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak that Premier League title he so desired.
Rigg’s greatest achievement, though, is a lasting one, as the club is still clearly benefitting from the work he produced over five years ago.
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