Fuzzy math in the Benitez-Ferguson spat

March, 23, 2009

Lots of stuff across the board to talk about, so I'm going to get right into it. Here's what I'm thinking about this Monday morning:

1. The U.S. roster to face El Salvador: Not a lot of surprises here for the game (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360), but a welcome recall for Watford's Jay DeMerit (he was also called up for Mexico but was unable to attend due to injury). Given Eddie Johnson's fragile mental state, I'm not surprised to see DeMerit back on the squad either. He's on a good run of form right now, and obviously the thinking here is that a call-up will only serve to galvanize him further and hopefully spur him on to greater things for the rest of the season. Having said that, it doesn't say a lot about the depth of the U.S. forward pool when a striker who has failed to perform for much of the past year is recalled after scoring all of one goal in English league play.

2. Lost in translation: That would be Jozy Altidore, who continues to be left out in the cold by Spanish second-division side Xerez. He's also the subject of further loan rumors (this time linked with Levante). There's no real logic to why he's failing to even make the game-day squad. However, given that Xerez president Joaquin Bilbao just resigned over the weekend -- for his alleged participation in a drive-by shooting at a brothel (yes, you read that right) -- one can only assume that comic decision-making is prevalent throughout the organization. Meantime, it's frustrating to see Altidore MIA considering the amount of playing time another loan signing (and an inferior striker), Jo, is getting with Everton, one of the teams that inquired about Altidore.

3. MLS roundup: A few brief thoughts on MLS' opening weekend. Lots of rookies started, but the only one that really impressed me was New England's Kevin Alston. Speaking of the game between the Revs and the 'Quakes, it's pretty obvious that San Jose didn't address its offensive deficiencies in the offseason (if anything, the 'Quakes got worse by letting Ronnie O'Brien go). All offseason, I'd been hearing that Cam Weaver and Ryan Johnson would deliver, but I remained highly skeptical. After watching the pair in action, I seriously doubt they are the answer.

Other disappointing performances included Houston, which I think will struggle to score this season. The Dynamo have gone from a team that was heavily reliant on Brian Ching and Dwayne De Rosario on offense to a team that is completely reliant on Ching. With the Felix Garcia signing falling through, there's no young, exciting prospect on the roster, and I don't think Stuart Holden can fill De Rosario's boots. The Dynamo still will be an extremely well-coached and solid team that can be hard to beat, but unless they add some offensive sparkle, a title is out of the question this season.

Finally -- and I realize it's just the first game, and that it came against a dire Red Bulls team that was missing four or five projected starters -- I thought Seattle was easily the most impressive team during opening week. Looking at the diluted talent base in the West, I think the Sounders are a real threat to make the playoffs. They moved the ball impressively along the ground, their players made intelligent runs and, in general, they eschewed the long-ball approach that was still prevalent in some other MLS games.

Plenty already has been said and written about Colombian Fredy Montero, but the exceptional performance of defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso also is worth mentioning. As I've detailed before, I played with Alonso for a week last year while he was with the USL's Charleston Battery and mentioned him over the course of last year to various MLS team execs as a player they should look to sign. It's amazing to me that, even after he stood out in the U.S. Open Cup final against D.C. United last September, it took so long for anyone in MLS to actually make a move for him. Kind of like the situation in which few teams tried to sign Andrei Arshavin, but don't get me started on that one either.

4. Benitez vs. Ferguson. This season's most interesting subplot in the English Premiership is the ongoing war of words between Liverpool's Rafa Benitez and Man United's Sir Alex Ferguson. Beginning with Benitez's infamous rant in January (which wasn't really a rant) and continuing with Ferguson's recent and belated ripostes, it's clear that the two have gotten under each other's skin. However, there's a whole lot of fuzzy math on both sides (and on the part of fans), so I'm going to clear up the basic misconceptions.

First of all, Benitez recently claimed that United had spent 100 million more than Liverpool. This part is simply untrue, although I suspect that Benitez was referring more to the current comparative value of his squad compared to Ferguson's. That being the case, United's first-team squad is certainly far more expensive (an estimated 206 million) than Liverpool's (an estimated 126 million). However, this too is misleading and doesn't really account for aspects such as Robbie Keane no longer being factored into the value of Liverpool's squad.

At the same time, Ferguson's claim that Liverpool has spent more than United under Rafa's tenure is equally inaccurate. Here I feel I must point out that most people seem to have forgotten the law of basic economics when assessing a club's spending. You just can't take a raw figure of 200 million and say that's what a club spent, for the simple reason that there's double counting involved. For example, when looking at Liverpool's spending, the unenlightened will say that Liverpool has spent 7 million or so on right backs during Benitez's tenure (2 million for Josemi, 2.5 million for Jan Kromkamp, 2 million for Alvaro Arbeloa). However, that's inaccurate because each player was sold and replaced by the latter, meaning that the net outlay was only 2 million or so.

After all, if you as a consumer bought a $200,000 house and sold it a year later to buy a new $220,000 home, would you tell people you'd spent $420,000 on the house? Of course you wouldn't. You'd say you had spent $220,000. This is why, when you analyze a team's spending, you throw out all the figures and focus solely on net spending.

United's gross spending between June 2004 (when Benitez arrived at Anfield) and the end of the January transfer window in 2009 totaled 221.95 million, compared to 212.6 million spent by Liverpool during that same period. Those totals may be comparable, but Ferguson's net spending during that span was 147.90 million, compared to Benitez's 111.39 million.

I'm not a fan of debating about how much impact a team's spending has to do with its success, but if people are going to get into it, they should at least get the numbers right. On that note, I will add that Arsenal's net spending during the same period is approximately 20 million, which is astonishing -- especially when you consider that Spurs' net outlay is about 98 million during that time. It's yet another reason to admire Arsene Wenger.

Jen Chang is the U.S. Soccer editor for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes regularly and is a contributer to Soccernet podcasts. He joined ESPN Studio Production in 2004 and earned a Sports Emmy award, before making the move to ESPN.com in 2005.



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