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Let's stop comparing transfer fees, shall we?

Some footballers costs a lot of money. Others cost less. But simply comparing the figures is futile.

There is not enough room in this piece to list everything that is irritating about the transfer window. There may not be enough room on the internet. Indeed, it might not even be possible for the human brain to comprehend everything all in one go, in the same way that it is literally impossible to grasp the scale of the planet on which you are sitting. Some things are just too big. Some things need to be chopped up into little bits before they can be digested.

So, then. Transfer fees. Specifically, the comparison of two or more, with the intention of Making A Point vis-a-vis the "remarkable"/"disgusting"/"unbelievable"/"hilarious" size of one. Raheem Sterling went to Manchester City, did you hear? They paid £49m for him, did you hear? That's £20m more than Liverpool paid for Roberto Firmino! That's £2m more than Arsenal's Invincibles! That's ... hang on, give me a second ... £39,384,923.50 more than the United States of America paid France for the Louisiana Purchase! Assuming Wikipedia's figures are correct!

It's nonsensical. While the fundamental business of a footballer changing jobs is usually the same, every single transfer arises from a unique circumstance, and the fee is always determined by a vast range of variables above and beyond the basic (er, hugely complicated) question of how good a footballer is. Look, here's a pitifully incomplete list of the factors that can raise or lower a fee...

• The relative wealth of the clubs.
• The relative financial clout of the leagues involved, as manifested in television revenue, sponsorship deals, and so on.
• The interest of any other teams.
• Years remaining on the player's contract.
• Days (hours, minutes) remaining in the transfer window.
• The position of the moon relative to the seventh house.
• Release clauses.
• Gentleperson's agreements.
• Whether Ed Woodward woke up that morning feeling like he was in a good place, like he was a tiger, grrrr, roar, come on, Ed, you're a hero, you're the man, you can do it.
• The fame of the player.
• The marketability of the player.
• The age of the player.
• The experience of the player.
• The fitness of the player.
• The nationality of the player.
• The wantawayishness of the player (yes, that's a word, and it encompasses everything from homesickness to ambition to greed to thinking that the current manager's a bit of a berk).
• Whether this player will play well with the other players.
• Daniel Levy.

And that's before we even start to think about the vexed business of comparing transfers across time — £49m used to buy you Zinedine Zidane! — in which all of the above applies and we have to think about such exciting concepts as inflation, deflation, the relative values of currency at the time of the deal, and the state of the economy, both local and global, both then and now.

Except, of course, that we don't have to think about it. We don't have to think about any of it. Assuming one has managed to arrive at some kind of uneasy truce with the sheer stupidity of something as silly as football having this much money floating around — and since you're here, dear reader, you probably have — then what does it matter that Stupid Amount A is four times the size of Stupid Amount B?

There are times when a fee can appear too high, but those apply to a club in isolation, not to some great cross-sport concept of value. A club can spend more than it should and leave itself short of cash to invest elsewhere. A club can even spend so much that it places itself in existential peril. Or a club can spend so much that it becomes impossible not to wonder where all the money's going. But assessing one club's business against another's by comparing the price tags is at best tricky, and at worst entirely facile. And that's before even taking wages into account.

A pound is not a centimetre, and transfers can't be laid alongside a ruler. City don't think Sterling is worth 24.5 Michus, any more than Liverpool think Christian Benteke is worth £2.5m less than Andy Carroll. Indeed, perhaps Carroll is the ultimate example of this. It is, of course, very funny that Liverpool (a) tried to replace Fernando Torres with Andy Carroll and (b) paid £35m for the privilege. But all (b) actually tells us is that Liverpool suddenly had loads of money floating around, a hole up front and a really peculiar group of people making their decisions. It doesn't say much of interest about any other transfer.

"Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it," as Leonard Nimoy once said, and when it comes to something as nebulous as the idea of worth in football, he was spot on. Raheem Sterling is "worth" exactly as much money as Manchester City are willing to spend and Liverpool are willing to accept. If he scores lots of goals and City win lots of trophies, he'll have been a good buy; if he doesn't and they don't, he won't. And that, ultimately, would have been true whatever the price.