Game Theory: Leicester Has To Sell Jamie Vardy in January

With his record goal-scoring streak for Leicester City, and at least a couple “big clubs” in England in need of a goal-scorer (Man United and Chelsea stand out in my mind), you’d have to imagine Jamie Vardy will be in demand this January. There is zero doubt in my mind that Leicester City should cash in and sell him now.

Much of my logic comes from my “You should sell your over-achieving striker” post, with the basic idea being that strikers who go on a hot streak end up over-valued. This is particularly true in January when teams are willing to overpay for mid-season replacements1. Jamie Vardy’s value will likely never be higher than it will be when the transfer window opens in a few weeks.

But there’s a second level logic here – either Jamie Vardy is a world-class finisher who will continue to perform at a world-class level, or he’s going through an unrepeatable purple patch and will regress to the mean in the very near future. The problem for Leicester City is that those two realities lead to two very different outcomes for them.

As of this post, Vardy has scored in 13 straight games, leading the Premier League goals table, breaking world records, and is confident he can keep scoring goals and getting away with racism.2. And using Danny Page’s great Expected Goal simulator (and Paul Riley’s tremendously helpful public numbers), we can see that he’s scoring at over 2 standard deviations above the mean expectation for his xG.

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The first, and most likely, explanation for this scoring rate is that Vardy is on a ridiculous hot streak that won’t continue for long. These sorts of streaks seem to be able to continue for a season, but after that we see massive drops in production and a host of “what happened to…” stories. If Jamie Vardy regresses to the mean and scores goals at a reasonable rate after this (8 goals in 14 games is nothing to dismiss), he’d be a solid striker for a mid-table EPL side like Leicester hopes to be. However, if he follows the pattern of so many before him and drops below the expectation he’d not be a drag on Leicester’s expected points. In this case, Leicester City would certainly be able to keep him, and more accurately wouldn’t be able to sell him even if they tried.3

The other option is that Jamie Vardy is one of Europe’s best strikers, scoring at a rate comparable to Lionel Messi and the other elites. With all due respect, strikers who score at anything approaching this rate don’t play for Leicester City. If he actually is that good, Leicester has to sell him eventually, so why not now? His value is likely at, or near, the highest it will be while he’s with Leicester City. He’s 28, so he’s as young as he’ll ever be, and is nearing the end of his sellable years. Even if he’s an elite striker, scoring well above expectations, he probably can’t maintain this pace (10-11 goals with this xG seems more reasonable for a world-class finisher), and we know teams over-value goals. And January is the time for panic-buying, so they’ll probably be able to get a premium there as well, plus we’re early enough that he won’t be talking about how he wants a transfer and how unhappy he is at Leicester which will reduce his value.

As of today, there’s a lot of hype and uncertainty as to Jamie Vardy’s future goal-scoring prospects. Plenty of people are likely to overrate him due to his current form, and additional time will reduce that uncertainty in one direction or the other. And as I said above, neither direction really helps Leicester’s position, so all this, combined with the fact that Leicester’s league status is basically assured for next year, makes it ideal (and I would argue practically mandatory) to sell him today while his value is at its highest. Get the rumored 15 million pounds for him and invest in a couple other players to improve the team for next year and seasons to come. If he’s that good, they’ll have to sell him anyway, and if he’s not, they’re stuck with a depreciating asset.

  1. I could easily picture Chelsea drastically overpaying to try and right the ship and replace the out of favor Diego Costa
  2. Yes, I’m aware this is a parody site, but it’s a really funny one so I wanted to link it
  3. I know there are injury issues at play here, but Swansea releasing Michu on a free transfer is a good parallel for what I’m thinking right in this case

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