The Wisdom of the Crowd


This is what the site was designed to do: provide a source of knowledge, a point of reference and, through its humming chat boards, a place for a community of like-minded (read: slightly nerdy) individuals to gather. But that is not what it is known for, not what has made it famous.

Trying to place a specific worth on an individual soccer player is like capturing the beauty of a sunrise. The sport’s frenzied trading business is, in the words of Thomas Lintz, Transfermarkt’s managing director, a “marketplace without many of the classical market factors.” A player might be priceless to one club and worthless to another. Values can soar or tumble based on a manager’s whim, a poor game or the emergence of a superior rival.

Still, for years, Transfermarkt has been trying to provide a guideline of roughly how much every individual player might cost, all the way from Messi to Mozambique, through what it calls its Market Values: an estimate of worth based on the work of thousands of volunteers and sifted by the site’s 80 staff members.

It is that single detail — what is, deep down, just a crowdsourced guess at a valuation — that has transformed Transfermarkt from a single point of light in soccer’s great digital constellation into something approaching a lodestar, that has turned it, inexorably, from a site designed to reflect the sport’s ever-bubbling transfer scene into one that, now, defines it.

The journey from Bremen to Hamburg takes a little more than an hour. At the turn of the century, it felt much farther to Matthias Seidel. An advertising executive and ardent fan of Werder Bremen, his local team, Seidel had moved to Hamburg, Germany’s media capital, for work.

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Keeping up with his beloved Werder’s fortunes, though, proved almost impossible. The internet was still in its infancy as a news resource. Hamburg’s press contained barely a mention of all the transfer gossip that had been covered so comprehensively in Bremen’s newspapers.

Credit…Alexander Becher/EPA, via Shutterstock

Seidel decided to take on the job himself. He set up a website, initially designed to keep track of the players Werder had been linked with signing, either in the local or national news media. It was rudimentary: He entered their names onto a spreadsheet, added whatever scant details he could establish, and published.


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