Morgan Rogers Transfer Analysis
Not The Top 20’s George Elek and Ali Maxwell have differing views on Rogers' transfer from Middlesbrough to Aston Villa...
David Ornstein says £8m + £7m in add-ons. John Percy says an initial £10m + a further £5m in add-ons. All we know is that the Championship has lost another player to the Premier League, as Morgan Rogers joins Aston Villa from Middlesbrough.
Not The Top 20’s George Elek and Ali Maxwell have differing views on the 21-year-old’s move to Villa Park, so the pair have gone head-to-head in presenting those views here. Let us know what you think in the comments below, and please subscribe to NTT20.COM for quality, detailed EFL analysis and opinion.
There is no doubting Morgan Rogers’ talent, but I’m not sure whether this is the right move at the right time for a player who is finally thriving with regular minutes.
Since he burst onto the scene on loan at Lincoln City in the second half of the 2020/21 season, when the Imps were carried to the League One play-off final by the mercurial talents of Rogers off the left and Brennan Johnson off the right, it’s been obvious what made Manchester City decide to take him from West Bromwich Albion as a teenager in 2019.
However, a second-tier loan spell at Bournemouth in 2021/22 saw his progress stalled by the unexpected emergence of Jaidon Anthony, and last season’s attempt to reunite at Blackpool with his former Lincoln boss, Michael Appleton, unravelled when Appleton was sacked just days after Rogers’ arrival. While he was a rare bright spark in that doomed side, a move to the Premier League for an eight-figure fee did not look on the cards 12 months ago.
Middlesbrough saw the potential, though, and risked a reported £1m on him last summer, with Manchester City also inserting a 25% sell-on clause. That potential has finally started to translate into real Championship ability over the past six months under Michael Carrick. Rogers has settled into a no.10 role which showcases both his ball-carrying ability and his creative passing range.
You can see him maturing with every game that he plays – no longer the flashy winger we saw at Lincoln, but a classy attacking midfielder, robust and tenacious enough to be an effective force out of possession.
He is delivering now on his promise. But wouldn’t he be better off continuing this sharp ascent into the Championship’s gold standard, rather than cashing in on a few good months to find his pathway to a Premier League first team blocked by a 24-year-old Moussa Diaby who cost Villa more than £50m last summer?
Impacting games in the final third in the Championship, when you are one of the best technical players around, is an easier assignment than doing so in the Premier League, especially when you aren’t likely to be afforded the time to settle and improve.
We’ve seen how talents such as Jack Clarke and Dan James have been plucked from the Championship at the first signs of delivering on talent and then struggled to break into top-end Premier League teams. This set back their careers: both had to return to the second tier, years after their big moves, to finally start delivering the dominant displays that they are capable of at the level.
On the other side of the coin, you have Ebere Eze, who made more than 100 Championship appearances for QPR before he took his chance at Crystal Palace. At the start of his time in QPR’s first team, he was raw and exciting. By the end, he was clearly the best player on every Championship pitch he stepped on.
You can understand why Rogers would be keen to move when his stock is high after the difficulties he faced at both Bournemouth and Blackpool, but it’s hard to see him as anything more than a rotation option at Villa for the foreseeable future. This can only stunt his current progress towards being one of the best players outside the Premier League, and I don’t think it’ll be long until he is back trying to hit that mark.
I take George’s point about Rogers needing more time to establish himself and thrive at one level before moving up and moving on. I just don’t think it’s realistic for players to turn down opportunities such as this, even if doing that would have its merits.
I really like this signing, because I think Aston Villa are doing something rare and brave: attempting to buy Rogers ‘before the leap’.
Rather than wait until Rogers outgrows the Championship, until there’s no question at all that he’s ready for the Premier League — with the price tag to boot — they are gambling on the quality of their talent ID and player development. They’re buying a player for what is a small fee for a Premier League club, and backing themselves to develop him into the player they want him to be, rather than buy the finished article, which isn’t what they need in their current situation.
I think it is an excellent approach. People — ourselves included — get too caught up in only looking backwards at what a player has done before, and trying to transpose that onto their new team. This is ‘performance-based recruitment’.
It’s the obvious approach. But is it a good way of accurately predicting a player’s future performance? Given that such a small percentage of transfers actually succeed to the level expected, perhaps not.
Remember: you are signing a player for what they will do for your team, not for what they’ve already done for another. The best skill in recruitment and scouting isn’t being the best at analysing past performances, nor crunching numbers.
It’s knowing how a player will look in your team, in the future.
Another approach is ‘profile-based recruitment’, so let’s look at Morgan Rogers through this lens. Rogers is 6’2. He is naturally athletic and has a physique that suggests he could follow a similar physical development to the sort of attackers that thrive in the Premier League, most notably his new team-mate, Ollie Watkins.
Rogers’ standout on-ball qualities at this stage are his ball-carrying ability, particularly driving forward through the centre of the pitch in transition, or receiving the ball in wider areas and attacking the box. What also stands out is Rogers’ weight of pass while travelling at speed, and his ability to combine with team-mates with quick passing in tight areas. He has the creative numbers to back up the notion that this is an intelligent and collaborative attacking player, rather than a DIY-type.
Not only that, but he is comfortable playing left wing, right wing, no.10 and feasibly in a channel-running #9 role.
A tall, mobile, fast, skilful, technical, versatile forward who could feasibly bulk up?
That is The Profile right now.
Even if you apply a ‘performance-based approach’, a glance at underlying numbers will suggest there’s more to his performances as an all-round attacking player than the goal and assist numbers suggest. The below chart from @Louorns shows the compound benefit of a player with a varied skill-set, rather than a specialist.
There has been some questioning of Aston Villa’s decisions to sell Aaron Ramsey, Jaden Philogene and Cameron Archer in a short space of time. Clearly, there is a financial benefit to selling ‘academy products’. Equally, I think there’s a footballing argument as well. In comparison to Rogers’ playing profile, I believe the following to be true:
Cameron Archer — a poaching #9 with incredible goalscoring instinct but less positional flexibility, less comfort outside the box, and less dribbling and creative instinct.
Jaden Philogene — a pure dribbler, less dynamic physically and less creative. A better inverted winger at Championship level? Right now, probably. But down the line? I’m taking Rogers.
Aaron Ramsey — similar in that he is most comfortable as a #10 or left winger, but Rogers has a significant physical advantage, which will likely translate more easily to Premier League football.
Given the strength of Aston Villa’s current first-team squad, there isn’t an abundance of minutes to go around in attacking roles. To me, it make sense to focus those bench/development minutes on someone who can feasibly cover both wings, the #10 role and striker, rather than try to spread them over three more specialist players.
There’s also the very real chance of Rogers being earmarked for the Ollie Watkins striker role, long-term. He played up front for Blackpool for a period last season, and has done so fleetingly for Middlesbrough, with mixed results.
He’s not in the traditional mould of a striker, but those moulds became outdated years ago. Football needs to update its definitions.
Ollie Watkins wasn’t a striker, either… until he was. His positional change, from a direct, ball-carrying winger — remind you of anyone? — to a future England international striker happened when he was 23.
Now, Watkins was able to adapt to that new role in a dominant Championship team, rather than at the very highest level of the game. But Unai Emery and his coaching staff will back themselves to oversee the same development for Rogers, who is currently just 21 years old. And even if he doesn’t become a Watkins-esque #9, he will still have the ability to play, and develop, in any role behind the striker.
For Middlesbrough, this is a fantastic piece of business. They are not going to lose out too much in the short term. This shouldn’t be a deciding factor in them making the play-offs or not. Finn Azaz has already signed, and while he is a different physical profile to Rogers, he’s equally able to create and score goals in a similar role.
And, as bleak as the expression is when we’re talking about something involving humans and emotions, this is great ‘player trading’ from Middlesbrough. Remarkable profit made in a short space of time, and crucial for loosening the leash of Profitability and Sustainability (‘P&S’) Rules.
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