The rise and fall of World Cup values
It is a tale of two men Manchester United wanted to sign in a World Cup year. Not Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, or even Arturo Vidal and Mats Hummels. Rather, contrasting examples of how, and when, to do business at a time when players' values can suddenly be inflated by performances on the global stage and when fine displays can suddenly prompt a surge in the number of suitors.
In 2006, Sir Alex Ferguson identified Owen Hargreaves as half of an English Pirlo-and-Gattuso-style pairing he hoped to combine, along with Michael Carrick. Then the Anglo-German-Welsh-Canadian was about the only player to truly excel in England's mediocre World Cup campaign. Bayern Munich showed rather more interest in keeping him after that, though Hargreaves eventually arrived at Old Trafford a year later and for 18 million pounds, rather than the initial mooted price of 8 million.
Four years later, lessons were learned. A move for Javier Hernandez was agreed in April 2010. The Mexico striker emulated Hargreaves; he enhanced his reputation at the World Cup. Indeed, he was timed as the quickest player in South Africa and scored against France and Argentina. Yet there was no increase to his 6.9 million pound fee, no more competition for his signature. There could not be; the deal was done.
It is but one club's experience, but it illustrates the World Cup's capacity to affect the economic equation of supply and demand. It is why canny buyers and savvy sellers alike completed some business before events began in Brazil. Borussia Monchengladbach signed Fabian Johnson, perhaps the United States' most impressive player, on a free transfer. Udinese, long admired for their transfer-market nous, tied up the transfer of Charles Aranguiz, a revelation for Chile. Zenit St. Petersburg signed Ezequiel Garay for a bargain price before he was being described as one of the defenders of the tournament. At the other end of the market, Chelsea banked 50 million pounds from PSG for David Luiz, a sum that seemed generous before Brazil's 7-1 thrashing by Germany and would have appeared impossible after his traumatic afternoon in Belo Horizonte.
Then there are those whose cost is dictated not by performance but by release clauses. Keylor Navas, seemingly Bayern Munich-bound, is available for a mere 10 million euros, whereas on the open market, his excellence would have inflated that fee. Diego Costa's fee was set at 32 million pounds. An underwhelming World Cup did not bring it down when Chelsea pounced, just as a superb La Liga season could not take it any higher. Neither Barcelona new boy Luis Suarez's biting nor his goal scoring seem to have altered his valuation, courtesy of the clause inserted into the last deal he signed with Liverpool.
Perhaps more surprisingly, Alexis Sanchez's value appears unchanged, despite his terrific form. The Chilean, and now Arsenal, winger belongs in the upper bracket of players who ought to be worth more than they were five weeks ago. They are the footballers whose class was not in doubt. Stars such as his Chile teammate Vidal, the French duo of Mathieu Valbuena and Antoine Griezmann, and the reported Real Madrid targets Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez wouldn't have come cheap anyway. Nor, indeed, would the latter's Colombia colleague Juan Cuadrado. If zeroes aren't added to the price tag, higher numbers may replace their lower counterparts.
More intriguingly, there are the breakout stars. Would Tottenham and Liverpool have engaged in a scramble for Divock Origi's services if Christian Benteke had been fit and the teenager hadn't been in the Belgian squad? We may never know, but the odds are against it and the probability is the Lille forward would not have been as expensive.
Another who exceeded expectations is free. Guillermo Ochoa picked an opportune moment to be out of contract. The agile Mexican goalkeeper left French side Ajaccio; a series of saves in Brazil should bring a more glamorous destination and a more lucrative contract.
He is not alone in being catapulted to prominence: Ecuador's Enner Valencia now seems to find himself the subject of a tug of war; Netherlands' impact substitute Memphis Depay appears in demand; Bosnia's Muhamed Besic did such a fine job against Lionel Messi that Ferencvaros can command rather more for him; the United States' DeAndre Yedlin could be another subject of footballing inflation. Then there are a whole host of Costa Ricans, many of whom are plying their trade in their homeland. Columbus Crew centre-back Giancarlo Gonzalez may have been the most impressive of the surprise quarterfinalists, Navas apart, but others could find themselves in greater demand, and at higher prices, than they were.
It also raises the question if others' values deteriorated in commensurate quantities. For instance, Barcelona may find it harder to dispose of Cameroon midfielder Alex Song after his senseless red card against Croatia. Yet the reality is that many of the underachievers are already employed at high-profile clubs in England, Italy, Spain or Russia (not surprisingly, as some of them are English, Italian, Spanish or Russian). They may not need to find alternative employers and, in any case, while brilliance in a country's colours can swell players' prices, underachievement does not seem to have the opposite effect. It is another of the win-win situations footballers encounter.
Shaw and Adam Lallana were only bit-part players in England's campaign, but neither saw his value deteriorate. Eliaquim Mangala was France's unused fourth-choice centre-back, but Manchester City's quest for his services continued unabated. Romelu Lukaku did not reproduce his Everton form for Belgium, but his club record ought to dictate he remains expensive.
Perhaps a few may have played themselves out of a move -- then again, who was queuing up to buy Fred anyway? -- or will find themselves leapfrogged on short lists by World Cup wonders. But there are few signs of clubs trying to negotiate down prices after players disappointed in Brazil. Perhaps, in this era of player power, football doesn't work that way anymore.
Richard Jolly is a football writer for ESPN, The Guardian, The National, The Observer, the Straits Times and the Sunday Express.