Spurs’ managerial vacancy rather abruptly ended yesterday deep into its third month with the hiring of Nuno Espirito Santo. Meanwhile, another embarrassingly drawn out vacancy period will officially end today. The Director of Football position remained unfilled since Franco Baldini’s departure nearly six years ago, though several figures have occupied lesser functions since then, such as Paul Mitchell as Head of Recruitment and Player Analysis and Steve Hitchen as Head Scout and, more recently, Technical Performance Director.
The announcement of Fabio Paratici being hired as Tottenham’s new “Managing Director of Football” starting July 1st was understandably overshadowed, as football and Tottenham news cycles were distracted by Christian Eriksen’s collapse only minutes after the announcement was formally made. However, Fabio Paratici soon made his best attempt to wrest back the attention of Tottenham fans days later by reportedly torpedoing advanced negotiations with Paulo Fonseca to hire the newly available Gennaro Gattuso. Jack Pitt-Brooke of The Athletic recently reported that Levy retook control of the search from Paratici, an embarrassing reprimand of his Director of Football so new that he hadn’t even officially began the job yet! More recent reports, though, suggest that Paratici had reestablished control of the process by “convincing” Levy of the merits of hiring his man, Nuno Espirito Santo.
To put it mildly, though, Paratici’s start could not have been much worse. Despite only starting today, he has already alienated the fanbase and invoked a relatively public rebuke from his boss, after a failed approach with three consecutive managers. Altogether, the past year has not gone well for Paratici. In May, it was announced that Paratici’s contract would not renewed by Juventus, a club he shepherded to arguably the greatest decade in their history, winning 19 domestic trophies along the way. Paratici is the protégé of Giuseppe Marotta, and was brought to Juventus in 2010 from Sampdoria with Marotta, who was Juventus’ CEO from 2010 to 2018, before departing for Inter Milan.
Paratici, as Marotta’s right hand man, was largely responsible for Juventus’ scouting and transfer business, and Marotta and Paratici’s long standing relationship reportedly deteriorated over differences in opinions over Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer in 2018. It was also apparently at this moment that Paratici and super-agent Jorge Mendes developed a working relationship.
Unlike the current managerial landscape, there is a veritable bounty of talented Directors of Football available at the moment. Arguably the two best in the world, Ralf Rangnick and Luis Campos, are currently unattached to clubs. However, despite a brief flirtation with Campos in 2019, Levy set his sights on Paratici, and (again, unlike the manager search) got his man. Rather than wallowing in what could have been with Ralf Rangnick and Luis Campos, I have set out to analyze Paratici’s tenure at Juventus, and try to draw some conclusions from his eleven seasons of transfer business. It’s a remarkably large sample size to draw from, and one which should yield some interesting findings.
Anyone who was read my comment history will know I am not exactly enamoured with the hiring of Paratici, but I have undertaken this exercise as a way to challenge my pre-conceived ideas of who he is and what he can bring to Spurs. I have also developed a few metrics beforehand to counter my negative sensibilities, and eliminate as much subjective analysis as possible.
A bit on methodology
I systematically went through Transfermarkt’s extremely useful transfer database, and developed my own database compiling every Juventus purchase from Summer 2010 to Winter 2021. For simplicity, I ignored transfers of players whose fees were for less than €1m or their Market Values were less than €1m. Transfermarkt has developed Market Values based off performance and previous transfer fees, and while they are imperfect, they are generally a very good approximation of an individual player’s real value. For example, in this sample, Juventus spent €1.395b on players. Those collective players’ Market Value was €1.376b, representing a 1% difference in Transfer Price and Market Value.
The reason I eliminated players purchased or valued at less than €1m is because Juventus were rather prolific in purchasing young academy players from around Italy and the world. Many of whom were completely unheralded, unproven and unvaluable. This eliminated a large chunk of players, without ignoring anyone of any notability. For example, Emre Can was acquired on a free transfer and Paul Pogba for a tribunal fee of €800k, but both are still included because their Market Value was well in excess of €1m at the time. Conversely, Dario Del Fabro was purchased four seasons ago for €4.5m, despite his Market Value being only €600k. He is also included in the database.
In total, Juventus purchased a remarkable 113 players under Paratici’s watch! This works out on average to a bit more than 10 players each year, including 16(!!!) transfers in the 2011/12 season alone; an absolutely incredible volume, completely incomparable to Tottenham’s transfer business. The last time Spurs exceeded ten transfers was twelve seasons ago in 2008/09, in the heady Damien Comolli Era, when Spurs completed 13 transfers (including Luka Modric, as well as buying back three players they only recently sold, in Keane, Defoe and Chimbonda). Since 2009, Spurs have never completed more than 8 transfers in a season, as well as famously zero in 2018-19. This high turnover at Juventus suggests that Spurs may see a distinctive increase in the volume of transfers made each season, which many, myself included, see as a very positive development, as squad stagnation has been a large factor in Spurs’ recent decline.
Paratici has, fairly or unfairly, been judged for his first three managerial targets being managers from Serie A, but does his infatuation with players also extend to Serie A? It does. Of those 113 transfers, Juventus purchased 77 (68%) of them from Italy. The next most popular league? Miles behind: Spain, with only 10 transfers (9%), followed by England (8), Germany (5), France (4), and then an assortment of other European leagues with only one transfer. Notably, Juventus only thrice dipped their toes into the global market, purchasing Nicolas Anelka (hardly an unknown) from China on a free transfer, as well as an unknown Andres Tello from Colombia, and Rodrigo Bentancur from Argentina. Again, a highly noteworthy point. Even Spurs, having done three times as few transfers over the same period, have turned their attention beyond Europe five times (Juan Foyth from Argentina, DeAndre Yedlin from the United States, Paulinho and Sandro from Brazil, and Bongani Khumalo from South Africa). This suggests that Paratici’s networks are heavily Italian focused, and even more European focused. So get ready for a lot more links to players from Italy.
Over the past decade, Juventus have gained a reputation as a haven for older, world-class players to gracefully fade to
retirement the MLS. Under Paratici’s watch, Juventus acquired some truly world class players, like Andrea Pirlo, Patrice Evra, Dani Alves, Blaise Matuidi, Leonardo Bonucci, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gianluigi Donnarumma. You would be forgiven if you thought this was a Greatest Players of the 21st Century List, but rather it’s a list of players Juventus acquired who were in their 30s (or 40s in Gigi’s case). After the success of the Pirlo transfer, this became somewhat of a hallmark of Juventus’ transfer business.
However, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Juventus did buy a remarkably high number of players in their 30s (13 or 12% of all transfers). The more surprising story is the number of players they bought long before their primes. Juventus purchased 45 players under the age of 23, and 55 players from age 23-29. This shows a surprisingly high diversity in the age profile of Paratici’s transfers. Indeed, the average age of players acquired was 24.3 years old. By comparison, Spurs’ average age of transfers in the 2020/21 season was 25.8. Even if you take out Joe Hart, Spurs’ average age of transfer was 24.4!
Of particular note, Juventus completed a remarkable amount of academy transfer business, spending hundreds of millions of Euros on completely unproven players. For example, Juventus spent €10.6m on Stefano Sturaro, who’d played just over 2000 minutes of total time in Serie A. They spent €9m on Rolando Mandragora, who’d just had one promising season on loan in Serie B. In total, Juventus spent €432m on players under the age of 23, with Matthijs de Ligt’s €85m fee, Dejan Kulusevski’s €35m fee, and Paulo Dybala’s €40m as the most notable.
With that said, Juventus did spend a worryingly high amount on players they were all but assured of never recouping a transfer fee on, which I have classified as those aged 28 or older. Juventus purchased 26 of these players, and spent a remarkable €412m on them. 5 of those players, including Ronaldo, Bonucci and Danilo are still with the club, so it is not possible to assess just how much they have lost on these players, but among the other 21 that have since left the club, Juventus spent €203m on them and only recouped €37m in sales, constituting €166m in losses.
In the early to mid 2010s, Spurs had a “sweet spot” to target players valued between £10m and £20m, buying the likes of Mousa Dembele, Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen in this range. But what about Juventus? What was their “sweet spot” in transfer spending? Did they have a type too under Paratici? Not quite. They absolutely did have a thing for free transfers. 18 free transfers were completed, including the likes of Luca Toni, Andrea Pirlo, Sami Khedira, Emre Can, Aaron Ramsey, and Adrien Rabiot. Those 18 players obtained for “free” (let’s ignore the agents fees and exorbitant wages) had a collective Market Value of €204.6m, which is great value, especially when you consider they later on recouped an additional €45.6m in sales of those same players.
In addition to free transfers, Juventus another 42% (48 players) were purchased for less than €10m. This relates back to the earlier point about Juventus’ extremely high turnover of youth players. Several players, like Mandragora, James Troisi and Frederik Sorensen even appear twice on this list, with Juventus selling them, and later exercising buy back clauses, only to quickly sell them to another club for a slightly higher profit.
In the mid 2010s, though, Paratici and Juventus made a notable shift in spending patterns. Perhaps spurred on by the rapidly increasing costs of players, or by the rapidly increasing revenues generated by football, Juventus began splashing out a lot more money. It wasn’t until Paratici’s fifth season in charge that Juventus broke the €20m barrier for a single player, buying Alvaro Morata for exactly €20m. The next season, they skipped the €30m barrier and went straight to €40m, when they bought Paulo Dybala, and then completely threw away all sense and more than doubled their transfer record the following season, spending €90m on Gonzalo Higuain. In recent years (before COVID), Paratici seemed to have found a new “sweet spot” in the €20m-40m range, with 7 of their 17 transfers 2018-2020 being in that range, largely giving up on the “budget” transfers of €1m-9m, only 2 of 17 falling in that range. However, Juventus’ total spending has rapidly increased over Paratici’s tenure.
It’s hard to determine which kind of Director of Football Paratici will be at Spurs, whether it will be the one from 2010-2015, who never bought players above €20m or the man from 2018-2020, who almost never bought players under €20m. But what this might mean for Spurs is that we might see the club continue targeting similar types in the €20m-40m range that we’ve seen in recent years (Moussa Sissoko, Davinson Sanchez, Serge Aurier, Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn, Gio Lo Celso, Sergio Reguilon). However, it may be complemented further with lower-value purchases (under €10m), something that has all but completely disappeared from Spurs’ transfer business. The last player Spurs bought for under €10m was, incredibly, Kieran Trippier, six years ago in June 2015!
In total, Juventus spent an eye-watering €1.4bil on players in eleven seasons under Paratici, or €127m on average each season. Surprisingly, if we only look at the transfers of players that Juventus has purchased and subsequently sold, they have produced a cumulative profit of €48m. Though a caveat is that Juventus will almost certainly eat a substantial loss on the €189m spent on Ronaldo, Bonucci and Danilo, largely offsetting their present profit. Paratici has overseen quite a few profitable purchases, selling 10 players for a profit of €10m or more, topped by Pogba’s €104m profit, as well as tidy €25-28m profits on each of Bonucci (the first time), Vidal, Pjanic, Cancelo and Can. On the other side, Paratici has largely avoided large losses (for now) on players, with Gonzalo Higuain’s €90m loss being an obvious outlier, incurring losses of €10m or more on 7 other players.
By comparison, Juventus spent 70% more than Spurs since 2010. Spurs only exceeded Juventus’ average annual spend of €127m only once, in 2019/20, when the club purchased both Tanguy Ndombele, Lo Celso, Bergwijn and Ryan Sessegnon. Even in the Bale 7 Summer, Spurs only spent a cumulative €122m. In addition to potentially buying more players, Tottenham will also spend more on players, while recouping sizeable sums in sales due to the high turnover of players.
Individual Transfer Success
In addition to drawing out some trends in Paratici’s transfer business, I also wanted to assess the quality of those transfers. So I sought out to develop a more systematic measurement to judge transfers. Simply looking at profit and loss is not entirely accurate. While Pogba was an obvious transfer success and Higuain an obvious failure. Juventus also technically lost €10m on Stephan Lichtsteiner, who they purchased for €10m and allowed to leave on a free to Arsenal. What the story does not tell is that Lichtsteiner went on to play 259 matches and seven seasons for Juventus, worth many times over the mere €10m spent on him.
With that in mind, I looked at Transfermarkt’s Market Value again at the time or purchase and two years later (except for players purchased in Summer 2020, I only looked on year ahead to the present day). I felt that this would be a useful proxy to determine how a player performed in the near-term but long enough to allow players to adjust to a new league or develop on a series of loans (for the young players). Of the 113 players purchased, 53 decreased (47%) in value after two years, while 60 increased in value (or stayed exactly the same) (53%).
This to me is the most worrying finding of this exercise. Any given transfer of Paratici was basically a coin flip as to whether they would improve or at least maintain their value. A few months ago, I conducted a similar but far less systematic look at Ralf Rangnick’s transfer business at both RB Salzburg and Leipzig, and found that you could count on one hand the number of transfer failures at both clubs, while there were at least five times as many successes. I would be very interested to see this model applied to other notable DoFs, like Luis Campos, Mochi, Sven Mislintat, Paul Mitchell, and others, to understand how “good” a 53% success rate is.
If I am to take away any main conclusions from this exercise, I see a few positives and a few negatives.
- Paratici likes a high turnover of players, and is willing to spend a lot of money in the process.
- Paratici places high emphasis on the recruitment of promising, young players.
- Paratici is willing to do unconventional things, like recruiting players on free transfers and making use of buy-back clauses on young players and extensively using loans to develop them.
- Paratici does not have an obvious “type” of transfer target (besides the league that they come from), and is willing to buy players of all different ages and Market Values.
- Paratici’s scouting network is not particularly wide, and is inordinately focused on Italy.
- Paratici is willing to spend a lot of money on older players with little sell-on value.
- Paratici has not had consistent, obvious success with his transfers.
Altogether this exercise has given me some reasons to be encouraged by the hiring of Paratici’s transfer business, despite there being some potential areas for concern.
his is only one element of a Director of Football’s responsibilities. Another critically important task is building the systems that sustain continued success, with the academy being central to sustaining a club’s success in the future. If others would be interested in reading a similarly detailed look into Juventus’ Academy player development over the past decade, I would be willing to produce a sequel to this article. However, a teaser is that it does not look good. Juventus have been famously ineffective at developing talent from within, and they appear no better off now than they were in 2010, when Paratici joined the club.