Photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The English Premier League could not have rung in 2015 in more gloriously thrilling or historic fashion: the most goals scored (33) in New Year's Day history; the most EPL goals-allowed-ever by a Jose Mourinho team, and the most decisively ruthless of game-deciding strikes from Frank Lampard and Wilfried Bony, amidst respective geographic turmoil for each. (More on the Ivorian assassin shortly).All of which has set up a suddenly wide-open, storyline-heavy table that was unthinkable less than a month ago: Chelsea and Man City sitting in a dead heat at 46 points; a resurgent United (37) and surprising Southampton (36) currently in less-than-comfortable top-four standing; Tottenham (34), Arsenal (33), and West Ham (32) breathing down their necks; Liverpool (29), Swansea (29), and Newcastle (27) all in relative striking distance; and 13th place Everton (21) carrying on the Europa League-qualification curse, merely four points from the drop.
Thankfully, things are only getting more glorious-er, because … It's transfer time! Let the UK tabloid bullshit-blitz begin! Yes, the Winter Window is upon us, from now until February 3, ripe with juicy rumors, meandering lists of team-needs, and erroneous reporting that makes Rolling Stone look Pulitzer-worthy.The recent eyeball-grabber? A 220 million Euro doozy: with Barcelona in shocking disarray, its football director canned, and Carles Puyol immediately resigning, Lionel Messi supposedly wants out of FCB, and is eyeing a move to England. Here's the kicker: the Argentine added Thibaut Courtois, Filipe Luis, and Chelsea on Instagram, engorging the collective boner of Blues fans the world over.Unfounded gossip aside, there remains plenty of room for legitimate work, all in the midst of January's muckraking, lying, and conjuring.Like from the International Center for Sports Study (CIES), which released the 93rd issue of its Football Observatory yesterday; and wouldn't you know it, those sneaky academic devils perfectly synergized with transfer-season to drop a most interesting piece of sports business: a compilation of expected transfer values for the world's top 120 footballers.In case you're curious, here's how they did it (and no, they didn't recycle FIFA 15's expected-values):The transfer values are calculated using an exclusive algorithm developed on the basis of over 1,500 fee paying transfers occurred since 2009. The variables included in our exclusive econometric model refer to player performances (matches, goals, dribbles, etc.), their characteristics (age, position, contract duration, etc.), as well as competition level and results achieved by their teams (clubs and national sides).
A couple of things jump out, namely surnames: it's equally fascinating and perplexing to see our typically solo-titled heroes, and think, "Who is that?" A lineup sporting Oscar Dos Santos, Willian Borges, Ramires Santos, and a guy named 'Francesc' sounds suddenly inconspicuous. The best full-name rebrand, meanwhile? Atletico's Koke Resurreccion.Obviously, the dollars are probably more eye-catching than the names, and unnecessarily headline-inducing, what with No. 1 Messi's 220 million Euro valuation outpacing runner-up Cristiano Ronaldo (133 million Euros) by almost nine-digits. Meanwhile, Eden Hazard (99 million Euros) cemented his spot as the world's third-best player and Gareth Bale (60 million Euros) tipped his cap; the agents of Paul Pogba (72 million Euros) and Raheem Sterling (63 million Euros) smiled broadly; and the Atleti front-offices frowned dourly at Diego Costa (84 million Euros) as his valuation is some three-times what Los Rojiblancos recouped this summer.
Things get more interesting, though, with the slew of players tied for 68th at 25 million-and with one aforementioned Ivorian assassin in particular, who is, depending on your EPL afflictions, either the best striker you've never heard of, or the most prolific goal-scorer of 2014; good money says he will be a Manchester City man before January concludes, perhaps any moment now.His name is Wilfried Guemiand Bony, and with 34 goals to his name over 70 Swansea appearances, the 26-year-old offers the compact-strength and scoring precision to swing the Premier League title pendulum.
Bony's looming move, in fact, sums up why the January window is both amazing and maddening for clubs. For trophy-starved sides like City, acquiring a scorer of his caliber is paramount to staying neck-and-neck with Chelsea, even if the projected 25-30 million pound fee is tough to stomach given the FFP restrictions handcuffing their potential new options. And time will soon reveal City's wisdom, depending on whether Bony's arc resembles that of a UCL game changer, say a smaller, more skilled Didier Drogba, or closer to Champions League wannabe, Chelsea snub Romelu Lukaku, just 21.As for the EPL's only Welsh club, Swansea, it's a most tricky decision. In 2012-13, they begged the "to sell, or not to sell" question with similarly-prolific Michu (22 goals in his opening campaign), opting against, only to get burned by injuries to the Spaniard, currently on-loan at Napoli. Cashing in on Bony now-for a two or three-fold profit compared to the 12 million pounds paid to Vitesse Arnhem for his talents in 2013-makes sense in that light, especially with uber-talented Bafetimbi Gomis, of Lyon fame and long ago French Drogba comparisons, waiting in the wings despite only four Premier League starts under his belt (two goals in this week's FA Cup start, though). But remember, Gary Monk's talented side still sit only seven points out of a UCL berth and top-four finish; stranger things have happened, even if Monk knows making that play is impossibly unrealistic.And, like it or not, such is life for perennially-selling, typically mid-table clubs of Swansea's ilk. The truth hurts.A painful winter reminder, which reveals more truth: the EPL will be must-watch theatre the next five months, not just during the next five weeks of false rumors, Messi-crazed chatter, and other absurdities.For now, though, the stranger fiction merely enhances the actual news and drama, fun financial projections and legitimate decision-making realities, with promises of yet more glorious days of football ahead, led by Mr. Bony himself at the point of attack. Stay tuned.