Desai: On Gareth Bale and sample sizes

Aug. 6, 2013, 9:18 p.m.

Let’s play a quick game of blind resumé. Player A is 24 years old, has accumulated 60 goals in his career and is yet to win a trophy. Player B is 22 years old, has scored 63 goals and has assisted on 68 others, while winning three different trophies in his career. Player A costs you $150 million, whereas Player B costs $50 million.

Player A is obviously Tottenham attacking midfielder Gareth Bale. Player B is Chelsea winger Eden Hazard.

Now, it’s clear that stats can’t tell the whole story. I can choose the stats I want that make Hazard appear superior to Bale. But even if that is the case, there’s one element up there that you cannot ignore: the price tag.

When you really look at the numbers, Gareth Bale has had one exceptional season in his entire career. That season may have been full of plenty of long shots, skill runs and “heart” celebrations, but it was still only one year. And if I’ve learned one thing about the fiscal front of sports, it’s that you should never pay for an outlier season.

Two years ago, Michael Vick seemed like the best quarterback in the NFL and even touted the 2011 Eagles as the “Dream Team.” But realistically, Vick only played well after the Monday night miracle against the Redskins in week 12 of the 2010 season. That didn’t even last long, as Vick is currently in a training camp battle with Nick Foles. (I never quite understood the magnitude of Vick’s decline until I read that sentence out loud.)

When I draft my fantasy teams, one of my main guidelines is usually to avoid players with small sample sizes. Sure, Chris Davis and Mike Trout may have worked out for you, but you can’t forget about the likes of R.A. Dickey, Chase Headley and even Josh Hamilton. And yes, Hamilton has actually had a small frame of success. He essentially played well for one month last year, and tanked the rest of the way. Hamilton’s wins above replacement (WAR) statistic during his 2010 MVP season was greater than his WAR for the past three seasons combined.

Though Bale was the best player in the Premier League last year, his past isn’t quite reflective of his performance last season. Despite having played professional soccer for eight seasons, Bale scored almost half of his 60 career goals last year. He scored more goals in the 2012-13 season than he had in the four prior seasons combined.

Of course, many players tend to break out between the ages of 21 and 24, and Bale’s blistering pace, powerful shot and strong leadership have all developed this season. However, many players in Premier League history have regressed significantly following an excellent season.

Bale’s teammate, left midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, recorded seven goals and five assists during the second half of the 2011-12 season while on loan at Swansea City. His success prompted Tottenham to sign him during the summer, but he flopped upon his return to the Premier League with only three goals last season.

Also, British players are infamous for staying in the Premier League, as many of them struggle to play outside of their home country. One of the reasons why David Beckham is one of the most iconic soccer players in the world is because he played in five different countries; his reputation grew globally, rather than domestically. But players like Michael Owen, Owen Hargreaves and David Platt all left England, only to struggle in a foreign country and return to English soccer.

But there is a significant difference between Bale and those players: Bale isn’t English. Because Bale is Welsh, he doesn’t enjoy the spoils of playing for a prominent international team. Wales has only played in the World Cup once and hasn’t qualified for the European Championship since 1972.

That’s why a potential move to Real Madrid would be a perfect transfer from Bale’s perspective. By expanding his play to the Spanish market and one of the most popular clubs in the world, Gareth Bale will gain massive popularity not only in Spain, but also all around the globe. Just imagine the El Clasico battle pitting Neymar and Messi against Bale and Ronaldo.

Of course, that is assuming that Ronaldo will stay at Real Madrid. It seems like Ronaldo is escaping the eyes of Real Madrid, and that’s a key reason as to why this transfer would be completely illogical from the perspective of the Spanish club. Real Madrid’s current dilemma with Ronaldo looks like this: The club has one of the two best players in the world, but he’s becoming unsettled and has even hinted at a desire to leave the club. But Real Madrid has set Ronaldo’s contract negotiations to the side, and is wholeheartedly pursuing Bale at quite an unreasonable price.

The price may also be dictated by Real Madrid’s new manager, Carlo Ancelotti. Ancelotti is well-known for his trigger-happiness when it comes to transfers. When he managed Chelsea, he bought Fernando Torres from Liverpool for $75 million, a quite unnecessary transfer considering the Blues already had experience (Didier Drogba) and potential (Romelu Lukaku and Daniel Sturridge) at the striker position. Ancelotti also enjoyed a shopping spree at PSG last summer, when he bought the likes of Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ancelotti’s actions are reminiscent of the Toys-R-Us sweepstakes in which the winner gets to run around the store and keep whatever would fit in a shopping cart.

Look, I think Bale is an amazing player. But I wouldn’t be so quick to place him in the Ronaldo/Messi tier. I would actually put him on par with Robert Lewandowski in his current form. I never realized that both players are the same age but Lewandowski has an estimated value of 75 percent less than Bale. I would rather wait another year just to see Bale’s performance and get a larger sample size before making a $150-million gamble.

But as far as I know, the Welshman could continue his blazing streak and then he’d already be financially out of reach by this time next year. The problem with soccer transfers is that they are so unpredictable.

Even in hindsight, it’s impossible to tell whether or not a transfer was actually worth it. Was Fernando Torres’ goal against Barcelona in the 2012 Champions League semifinal worth the $75 million Chelsea paid for him?

All we know is Chelsea was willing to pay it.

The Stanford Daily is negotiating a two-figure transfer fee to get Nathan Desai onto its school-year staff. To weigh in on whether the price is too steep, email Nathan at thegreatnate97 ‘at’ gmail.com.

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