This is what the site was designed for: providing a source of knowledge, a point of reference and, through the buzzing chat boards, a place for a community of like-minded (read: slightly nerdy) individuals to come together. But that’s not what it’s known for, not what made it famous.
Trying to put a value on an individual footballer is like capturing the beauty of a sunrise. The sport’s frenzied trading activity is, in the words of Thomas Lintz, director of Transfermarkt, “a marketplace without many of the classic market factors.” A player can be invaluable to one club and worthless to another. Values can rise or fall based on a manager’s whim, a bad game, or the emergence of a superior rival.
Still, Transfermarkt has been trying for years to provide a guideline on how much each individual player could cost, from Messi to Mozambique, through what it calls its market value: an estimate of value based on the work of thousands of players. volunteers and sifted by the site’s 80 employees.
It’s that one detail – which deep down is just a crowdsourced guess of a valuation – that has transformed Transfermarkt from a single bright spot in football’s vast digital constellation into something akin to a lodestar, that has inexorably turned it from a site designed to showcase the sport’s ever-buzzing transfer scene in one that now defines it.
The journey from Bremen to Hamburg takes just over an hour. At the turn of the century, it felt much further to Matthias Seidel. Seidel, an advertising executive and avid fan of Werder Bremen, his local team, had moved to Hamburg, Germany’s media capital, for work.
However, it turned out to be almost impossible to keep up with the fate of his beloved Werder. The internet was still in its infancy as a source of news. The Hamburg press barely mentioned all the transfer gossip that had been covered so extensively in the Bremen newspapers.
Seidel decided to do the job himself. He set up a website, initially intended to keep track of the players Werder had associated with signing, either in the local or national news media. It was rudimentary: he entered their names into a spreadsheet, added the scant details he could determine, and published.