As the summer transfer window wears on, big-name strikers are once again the mega-money attraction. While some European clubs have already spent hefty sums on pricey attackers, others continue to be linked with a costly target of their own.
The question is: Are these guys worth it?
French champions Paris Saint-Germain broke the French transfer record to sign Edinson Cavani from Napoli, and Napoli in turn moved quickly to sign Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid with a significant chunk of the profits. Meanwhile, AS Monaco continued their nouveau-riche revolution with a big-ticket capture of Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid.
And the spending might not be finished.
Arsenal, long known for financial prudence, have lodged an eye-popping bid for controversial Liverpool striker Luis Suarez. And Chelsea have been linked with a high-priced move for Manchester United's Wayne Rooney.
In trying to determine whether the players mentioned above are worth their transfer fees (whether they are confirmed, reported or still merely bids), it's worth looking to last summer's transfer window.
In 2012, like most years, world-class strikers changed clubs during the offseason. Sweden international Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then 30, left AC Milan for PSG in a deal reportedly worth €23 million. Robin van Persie, shortly after his 29th birthday, joined Manchester United from Arsenal for £24 million (about €27.7 million in current conversion rates).
Ibrahimovic scored 30 league goals in 34 appearances last season, shot with 57 percent accuracy and created 60 total chances for an average of 1.76 per match (stats per Squawka). Van Persie scored 26 league goals in 38 appearances (in the Premier League, which, in terms of competition, is superior to Ligue 1, where Ibrahimovic played), shot with 59 percent accuracy and created 71 total chances for an average of 1.87 per match (stats per Squawka).
Depending on whether or not you believe Falcao, both Ibrahimovic and Van Persie were older last summer than any of Falcao, Cavani, Higuain, Suarez or Rooney. But all five of our 2013 strikers have been either sold or priced higher than Zlatan and RvP.
So are they worth it? Let's take a look at the stats.
Age: Disputed (27 or 29, based on a report from the Mail Online)
Status: Transfer to AS Monaco completed
Fee: Disputed (between €50 million and €60 million, per the Associated Press)
Falcao ranks among the best players in the world currently playing the true No. 9 role. Last season he scored 28 league goals as Atletico Madrid qualified for the Champions League with a third-placed finish in La Liga and won the Copa del Rey.
In two seasons with Atleti, Falcao amassed 70 goals in all competitions, in 90 appearances. That record includes a hat-trick in the 2012 Europa League final, which Atletico won, a performance that demonstrated Falcao's big-game prowess.
According to WhoScored, Falcao averaged 3.6 shots per game and completed just under one "key pass" per contest in La Liga. As any onlooker could easily note, most of Falcao's goals come from inside the box, and his production rate is good both in terms of goals and shots.
But does that mean he's worth between €50 and €60 million? If he has been lying about his age and he's actually 29, then the answer is probably no. At 29, he would be approaching the point at which footballers tend to decline, usually around 30.
At 27, it's a different story, but not overwhelmingly so. If Falcao replicates his return of 28 league goals next season, that would work out to roughly €1.8 million per goal (at the €50 million transfer fee). Monaco, bankrolled by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, can clearly afford it, and spending big is necessary for the newly promoted team if they want to challenge immediately for the league title.
But how long will Falcao remain atop his game? By the time he starts declining, will Monaco have improved enough to win the title? Compared to the fees paid for Ibrahimovic and Van Persie, Falcao seems rather expensive.
Status: Transfer completed
Fee: €64 million, per AP
Cavani won last season's Capocannoniere as the top scorer in Serie A, with 29 goals. WhoScored has released a detailed breakdown of his stats, and it appears in the graphic below.
(Stats and graphic via WhoScored.com)
Cavani's totals in goals and shots per game are impressive, but he fell well short of matching either Ibrahimovic or Van Persie for shot accuracy. Moving from the defensively strong Serie A to France's Ligue 1 should prove a beneficial transition for Cavani, but PSG certainly spent heavily to get their man.
Status: Transfer all but completed
Fee: €37 million up front, with €3 million more in potential add-ons, per Reuters
Higuain had been linked with Arsenal for much of the summer before Napoli entered with a superior bid. According to a report from The Guardian in early July, Higuain was on the verge of a £23 million move to North London. That works out to about €26.6 million, so Napoli apparently outbid Arsenal by more than €10 million.
Last season, Higuain split time in Real Madrid's attack with Karim Benzema. In 28 appearances (19 starts), he totaled 16 goals and five assists. His shot accuracy was 51.8 percent, his conversion rate 28.6 percent, per WhoScored. The former number ranks Higuain slightly below Ibra and RvP, but perhaps that can be explained partially by his lack of consistent playing time.
But that fact cuts both ways; Higuain was unable to secure a consistent first-team place at Real Madrid. So is he worth €37 million? Was he even worth the £23 million Arsenal reportedly wanted to pay?
Status: Arsenal reportedly interested
Latest bid: €40,000,001, per The Guardian
Suarez scored 23 goals in 33 Premier League appearances before his season ended with a 10-match ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic. And as this article outlines, that was far from the Uruguayan's first controversial moment.
Though Suarez is capable of producing jaw-dropping moments on the pitch, his stats—especially shot accuracy and conversion rate, as this WhoScored graphic shows—aren't quite as impressive. With all that baggage, it's hard to understand why the usually frugal Arsene Wenger would shell out more than £40 million for Suarez—even if he might be a strong tactical fit.
Verdict: Highly overvalued
Status: Chelsea reportedly interested
Latest bid: £40 million, per The Telegraph
Rooney's production declined sharply last season, when he scored 12 league goals following a 2011-12 campaign in which he bagged 27. But Rooney also produced 10 league assists in 2012-13 as he shifted deeper in United's formation.
However, as the season wore on, Rooney apparently became expendable in United's lineup, as famously illustrated by the Champions League showdown with Real Madrid. Following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, new manager David Moyes has a dilemma on his hands.
Is Rooney worth keeping? Is he still the player that excited us so memorably at Euro 2004? Or should United cash in?
Rooney's shot accuracy last season was 40.7 percent and his conversion rate 14 percent, according to WhoScored. Meanwhile, he completed almost 83 percent of his passes, created nine clear-cut chances and converted half of his clear chances.
Is that worth £40 million?
Verdict: Overvalued at £40 million, but a lower bid might be worth it for Chelsea's title push.
Based on the stats, I think all five players analyzed above are overvalued. Van Persie, who was instrumental in Manchester United's Premier League title campaign in 2012-13, provided much better value.
Of course, the valuations here were based on last season's stats, and it's entirely possible that any of these players could produce a season worth any price tag.
For now, though, they have plenty to prove.