Do football transfers work?
- The players Arsenal are buying and selling. What are they smoking in Fleet Street?
- Top six after six: how time and again surprise rises are followed by a fall.
By Sir Hardly Anyone
The distance between reality and the media hype about transfers grows wider by the day, but it has become more confusing by the decision of the Mirror group of newspapers to point out as it did recently ( “How last summer’s 20 biggest transfer signings have fared”) that most transfers are actually a waste of money (at the very least in the first year of the player at the new club).
We have cited the Mirror’s article before, and considered it at some length in the article “What difference did last summer’s transfers make? but what we didn’t do there was consider how Arsenal’s own transfers worked out.
So here we are with the players brought in last season alongside how many games they played. The “Played” figure is just league games and the number of appearances as substitutes is in brackets.
|Matt Turner||New England||€6.36m||28|
|Leandro Trossard||Brighton||€24.00m||28||10 (10)||1|
|Fábio Vieira||FC Porto||€35.00m||23||22 (1)||1|
|Oleksandr Zinchenko||Man City||€35.00m||25||26 (1)||1|
|Gabriel Jesus||Man City||€52.20m||25||24 (2)||11|
So given that there were 38 league games and thus 418 starters in the course of a league season (38 games x 11 players) we can see that just 91 Arsenal starters in the league last season were newcomers. That makes it 21%. Put another way, around four fifths of the team were the same team as the year before, when Arsenal came fifth.
That might not seem a particularly noteworthy set of data initially, but consider this. In 2022 the top six at the end of the season looked like this:
Now if we look at the money spent on transfers from 2020/21 to 2022/23 then we get some more insight. Here Arsenal are the fourth biggest spenders, or if we look at net spend the third biggest spenders. Only Chelsea and Manchester United outdid us. Figures are from Transfermarkt
|6||West Ham United||£280.08m||£60.70m||£-219.38m||14|
What conclusions can be drawn?
Most obviously, spending money can take clubs down the league as much as up. Indeed if one looks at just one year’s spend the chances seem to be that the more that is spent the more likely a club is to slip down the league. West Ham were seventh in 2022 and spoken of as being a club heading into the European arena. They then spent loads of dosh and managed to go down to 14th although to be fair they did with the Conference League. I’m sure they are very happy.
But what does help a club go up the league? Here are two thoughts – there may be more later…
1: Development over time
I think this is the prime lesson to be drawn – that clubs that do rise up, do it slowly. When Herbert Chapman came to Arsenal in 1925/26 he took over a club that had just avoided relegation. He transformed the team, and their style of play, and in his first season Arsenal were runners’ up. But in fact Chapman didn’t win any trophy for the first four years of his reign, and it was only in 1929/30 that Arsenal won the FA Cup. And what is perhaps worth noting is that in that season Arsenal came 14th in the league.
2: It’s a team, not a top player
Clubs can bring in all sorts of players, but of course that is irrelevant in many ways. It is the way the team plays as a team that counts. This is something many journalists fail to realize, as with the recent newspaper chitchat about Arsenal needing a 20+ goals a season man.
Arsenal’s top goal scorers in the league last season were seventh in the league of top scorers, each with 15 goals in the Premier League. Put them together and they haven’t scored as many as Haaland at Manchester City, although they did equal the second highest scorer in the league (Kane at Tottenham Hots).
But if we take the top ten scorers in the league and analyse them by club we get this:
- Manchester City (Haaland) 36 goals plus 8 assists
- Tottenham Hots (Kane) 30 goals plus 3 assists
- Arsenal (Odegaard, Martinelli, Saka) 44 goals plus 23 assists.
Now one may ask, is there a benefit having three goal scorers rather than one? In one sense there is an argument against using three players in this regard, because if they were not looking to score, they would be undertaking other duties on the pitch. But the fact of the number of assists is high, shows that they are indeed creating other opportunities, and indeed Arsenal we may remember had the second-highest goal total in the league.
I’ll try and continue this theme in a later article.
- Arsenal continue to make more progress than the rest of the big seven
- Arsenal v Tottenham; the team and some rather jolly recent history
- We are running out of referees, and the reason is the PGMO.
- Arsenal v Tottenham: the key fact the media won’t to tell you – and why they won’t
- Arsenal v Tottenham: different clubs, different managers, different successes