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Sep 11, 2012

What a waste of money

Norman Hubbard is ESPN FC's resident anorak. If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to asknorman@hotmail.com and he'll try to answer as many as possible.

Dimitar Berbatov has moved to Fulham from Manchester United for £4 million after signing for United four years ago for £30.75 million. Is there any other player whose transfer value has dropped as much in a shorter span of time? Derrick from Singapore asked

There are different ways of looking at United's transfer-market loss on their club-record signing. They recouped just 13% of their original investment. They also lost an average of £6.68 million per year and a total of £26.75 million.

In one respect, any player signed for a fee and who leaves without one brings a greater loss, because the buying club loses 100% of their investment. For instance, Didier Drogba, Jose Bosingwa and Salomon Kalou cost Chelsea a combined £48 million and all left on free transfers this summer, though Drogba and Kalou had been at Stamford Bridge for longer than Berbatov was at Old Trafford. If Rio Ferdinand leaves United either on a free transfer or to retire, they will not have recouped any of the £30 million spent on the defender, which would be a bigger loss than the £26.75 million difference between Berbatov's purchase and sale price.

However, Ferdinand is in his 11th season as a United player so, on average, United have lost less per year. In comparison, Chelsea signed Andriy Shevchenko for a similar fee and wrote it all off after three years, one of which he spent on loan at AC Milan. Depending upon how you view that loan spell, they lost either £10 million or £15 million per year on the Ukrainian.

Among players to lose 100% of their value at one club, the greatest ever loss sustained was by Real Madrid on Zinedine Zidane: signed for £47 million, he left for nothing, to retire. That title could yet go to one of the select group of footballers to have cost more - Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Fernando Torres - if they depart their current clubs either for retirement or on a free transfer.

But the biggest annual loss ever sustained by a club on one player came in a shorter timespan than Berbatov's United career and as a result of the second most expensive transfer ever. Barcelona bought Zlatan Ibrahimovic for €69.5 million in 2009 and sold him for €24 million in 2011. As that deal to take him to AC Milan was actually agreed in 2010, Barcelona accepted a €45.5 million loss, or 66% of his purchase price, after one year. Even over two years, at €22.25 million or 33%, it is still huge.

I noticed Dave Jones has gone 18 games without defeat since he took over at Sheffield Wednesday and wondered what is the longest unbeaten start at a club by a manager? John O'Dail asked

Jones' long run came to an end in his 19th game in charge, Sheffield Wednesday's 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace on September 1, so the longest run I am aware of is that of a manager who recently lost his first competitive game with his current employers. Andre Villas-Boas was beaten on his Tottenham debut but never lost a league game as Porto manager and, in all competitions, went 30 games without defeat before a Europa League loss to Sevilla - though Porto went on to win the competition.

In terms of English league games, the best start I could find came at the start of the Football League when Preston, under William Sudell, went 23 games unbeaten between 1888 and 1889. Including the FA Cup, it was a 28-game run, but Sudell, who had been in charge long before the formation of the Football League, had lost cup ties in earlier years.

But the overall record for unbeaten league games came at the start of a manager's reign. Angel Iordanescu took over from the European Cup winner Emerich Jenei in 1986 and did not lose a league game for over three years, a run of 104 matches.

Have Manchester City ever retained any cup or league title? And has any other club which managed to break into the top four to win the league managed to retain it? Ibrahim Kwaku Duah asked

To answer the first question first: no, they haven't, so should City win the Premier League again this season, it would be the first time they have won any competition in successive seasons.

Secondly, the notion of the top four - or the 'big four', as they were branded, is comparatively new. Indeed, everyone who wasn't in the top four in the initial league season of 1888-89 and has subsequently finished there has broken into it, including Liverpool and Manchester United, the clubs who have retained the title most frequently. But since 1984, there is only one club, apart from United, to have retained the title and that is Chelsea. They finished sixth in 2002, broke into the top four 12 months later and were champions in both 2005 and 2006.

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