Through research, interviews with players and coaches and statistical analysis of more than 10,000 players spanning the last 20 years, I have examined how clubs recruit and create sustainable success.
When it comes to players changing clubs – whether it is AFL, rugby, league or cricket – the information that’s come to light has had some striking similarities from both player and club perspectives. And it’s data that should not be ignored by either party.
Before anyone begins citing players that fly in the face of this information, please keep in mind there are always going to be exceptions to the rule.
I have split the article in two – one part for players and one for clubs.
Here is the information for players to be wary of. Many of these are mind-numbingly obvious but very rarely thought of when money is being flashed around.
1. Moving more than three times rings alarm bells. The more times a player changes clubs, the harder it becomes to settle in to the new club.
2. Regret related to changing clubs is almost always going to set in some time and usually when it’s too late to do anything about it.
3a. On average, it takes two years for a player to hit their peak after moving clubs and that is if they manage to hit their peak. Some players are never the same after moving clubs, although through no fault of their own (see point 4).
3b. If a player moves to an overseas club, the time it takes to hit their peak is even longer, with the chances of it even happening being severely reduced.
3c. On top of the last scenario, throw a foreign language into the mix, and the time it takes to hit peak performance is lengthened again, and almost out of reach.
4. A player’s output on the field at their previous club is not just solely because of them. Their output is a product of the knowledge and understanding that player has with the other players around them.
This is something unique for each player at each club, and is not transferrable. So it should be expected that a player who has recently changed clubs would under-perform at the new club.
5. A player’s new club is expecting them to perform at the same standard as they did during the last game at their previous old club. Players who have changed teams will struggle to deliver on this. The number of times we have heard players being described as “not the player he was at his old club” is remarkable.
6. A player’s status in the pecking order of their current club is always temporary. Have patience – coaches change their minds and clubs change coaches.
7. Staying for less at a current club is worth it most of the time, even financially. Just because the money is more to go now does not mean more money in the long term. There are many reasons why this is so, including:
a) There is a strong chance a new club will be disappointed with a newly-moved player and downgrade their next contract.
b) A player’s old club may not want them back.
c) A player is no longer seen in the same light by the market.
d) A player may earn more each time they sign a contract with a new club, but in the end, the player will run out of clubs.
e) Legacies help a player to get looked after in retirement. Clubs have a habit of looking after one-club players in terms of work and connections.
8. When a player changes clubs, they are initially an outsider at the new club, and, as a result, they won’t be shown the same loyalty the one-club players are shown. The more times a player changes club, the less likely they will be viewed as someone who is loyal, no matter what the circumstances are.
9. If someone new comes in above a player at their current club, the player needs to remember this new player may only be there a short time. The player should stay and fight it out for the spot. Changing clubs may only end in the player being on the bench.
10. Players should not focus on one per cent or even 10 per cent more they can earn. Get one per cent better at playing, and the rest will take care of itself. Dan Carter of the All Blacks and Crusaders is a great example of someone who simply focuses on getting better.
11. Working through the hard times and then winning a title at the same club is far greater than being transported into a team and winning. AFL player and St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt said, “For me, if I were to go somewhere else and win a premiership would it be the same?”
12. You can make the national team from your current club. Paul Harragon, former captain of the Newcastle Knights, said, “I wanted to make the Australian team from my own bed. I thought if I could do that, it would be 10 times better and it was.”
13. Average players can look pretty good when they know everyone around them well. They will support other team members more, and are able to clean up their mistakes.
14. A player should find the best program they can, as young as they can. Being on the bench or in an academy of a club with a good program tends to ultimately be better than being in the starting team of a club with a poor program.
15. A player should never leave a club “to play finals”. It says something about them, and it says something not very nice to your old teammates. And, for example, look how quickly the Reds turned it around to win a Super Rugby title in 2011.
16. We find it very hard to find players who regret staying at their clubs but there are a lot of players who seem to regret leaving.
17. If a player does change clubs, they need to do it for the right reasons and do it only once. Then it is far easier to overcome any hurdles that may arise.
The key point I would point out to players is this – be very, very careful of over-estimating the role you play in your own success.