Soccer’s Confounding Calculation: What’s a Player Worth?

After all, as Chelsea Manager Antonio Conte said last year, this is soccer’s “crazy” age.

“Prices are too high in general; the market is crazy,” he said. “When you try to buy a player, the cost is very expensive. It is not the real valuation of the player. It is a very strange situation.”

Events so far this summer — before the window has even opened — have only compounded that impression.

Those inside soccer have long since grown used to spiraling price inflation, driven by the wealth of the cash-soaked Premier League, the rising revenues of the superclubs of Continental Europe and the ever-present threat of the riches being offered by teams in the Chinese Super League.


Georginio Wijnaldum, right, and his Newcastle United teammate Moussa Sissoko celebrating a goal last year. Both players departed the team, for far higher prices than Newcastle had privately set for them.

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

What leaves even those employed to track the pulse of the transfer market scratching their heads is that there is no pattern to the prices that they are being are quoted. Nobody seems sure anymore of exactly what, in Conte’s words, ‘‘the real valuation” of a player should be.

Everton, for example, valued its striker, Romelu Lukaku, at 100 million pounds (about $126 million), the same figure that Barcelona may have to pay to extricate the Italian midfielder, Marco Verratti, from Paris St.-Germain. Yet beyond their age (24), Lukaku, a powerful Belgian forward, and Verratti, a creative and technical Italian playmaker, have little in common: They share neither position nor pedigree.

Even prices for theoretically comparable players offer no clear signals. Manchester United recently paid Benfica 30 million pounds (nearly $38 million) for one of its crown jewels, Victor Lindelof, a 22-year-old Swedish…

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