Why football’s economic model is doomed to failure




By Tony Attwood

The transfer window is of course still open and things can change, but as they stand the most money thus far has been spent by Chelsea at £331m.  Arsenal are second in the spending league at £201m.  (Figures from Transfermarkt translated into pounds at the current rate of £0.86 to the euro).

In fact the top seven positions in the current expenditure table are occupied by the “big seven” clubs: Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Liverpool and Manchester City.

But the gap between them is quite large.  Chelsea have spent over three times as much as Manchester City.   And in a rather unexpected development, in eighth place is Bournemouth who have spent £86m.  Bottom of the league in terms of spending so far is Everton who have spent £17.2m meaning Chelsea have spent 24 times as much as Everton this summer.

But in terms of the number of new players arriving, for once Chelsea have been outdone by Brighton who have brought in 24 players.  Chelsea are on a mere 18.  And while Arsenal are second in the expenditure league, £130m below Chelsea, they are a mere 10th in terms of the new players arriving, with 10 such men – although one of them has already gone again so maybe that should be nine.

To explain that number we have to look at the fact that Transfermarkt considers a player returning from loan as an “incoming” player which means Arsenal have Rice, Havertz, and Timber recorded as transfers, plus Raya recorded as being on loan.   But  there are eight players listed as returning to Arsenal from loans elsewhere: Balogun, Pepe, Tavares, Mari, Soares, Okonkwo, and Runarsson who gets listed twice having returned from Alanyaspor in Turkey and is now going on loan to Cardiff City.  He is Iceland’s number one keeper.

Brighton’s big transformation can be explained by the fact that only four players have been brought in for a fee, two have come in as free transfers, six have been promoted from the under 21s, and 12 have returned from loan.

In terms of income Arsenal are a mere 11th having brought in around £30m.  Xhaka and Turner you’ll know about, but we must not forget Austen Trusty the centre back who has gone to Sheffield United for £5m and Pablo Mari who is now at Monza (transfer fee around £4m).  Marquinhos who plays on the right wing has returned from Nantes, and is currently back with Arsenal, while Ainsley Maitland Niles has left on a free transfer to Lyon.  Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson completes the list.

This really does show what a phenomenal level of shuffling around there is in football.  For Arsenal it means 12 arrivals and seven departures, but that is nothing compared with 24 arrivals at Brighton and 16 departures, or 18 arrivals at Chelsea and 19 departures.

The only way to bring all this together is through looking at the overall net expenditure and here we find four clubs in profit at the moment (Brighton, West Ham, Wolverhampton and Everton) with Brighton making the most money at just under £100m.  All the other clubs are making a loss on trransfers thus far.  And the biggest net spenders (which is what we normally call “making a loss” on the transfer market) are Bournemouth, Newcastle, Chelsea, Manchester United and then top (or bottom of the league, depending which way you look at things) Arsenal.   Arsenal in fact have a current net loss of £172m on this summer’s dealings.

The reason for the loss-making is of course that players are getting ever more expensive, and the desire to win (or survive) is getting ever stronger.  Probably the only club in the Premier League who could meet relegation this season without being too upset is Luton, who have already spent some of their additional income by rebuilding one end of their ground.   That money has gone but the results will stand for some years to come.

Whether all this spending can continue is hard to say.  Players are getting ever more expensive, the desire to win now seems to be increasing all the time, and most players brought in at high prices are then sold at a loss.   

Ultimately all such spirals do end as this one must, as there is a limit to how much income can be increased.  The stadia are full, and there are only so many pre-season tours, and only so many players to buy while balancing FFP.  

Ultimately the tv audience will slip; ultimately the Saudi teams will have their full complement of players, and then…  Well that’s where the problem is, for no one is planning for an end game. In a real world, Fifa and Uefa would be working to control things, but they are part of the squabble.  The only hope we really have is that the 19 clubs fighting Manchester City will win, and the countries and the mega rich will start to wonder if it is all worth it.  If not, then the number of clubs going bust is going to rise inexorably.

20 Replies to “Why football’s economic model is doomed to failure”

  1. Tony,

    I wouldn’t rely on Transfermarkt figures, at least with regard to MCFC’s business.

    Transfermarkt have neglected to include the following transactions MCFC have conducted:

    Shea Charles (sold to Southampton – £10.5 million, possibly rising to £15 million with add-ons, https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/sport/football/transfer-news/southampton-confirm-15million-signing-shea-27310233),

    Carlos Borges (sold to Ajax in a deal worth up to £17.3 million, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/66401124),

    James Trafford (sold to Burnley in a deal worth up to £19 million, https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/sport/football/transfer-news/man-city-james-trafford-transfer-27249902),

    then there are also sell-on fees for the following:

    Pedro Porro (Sporting to Tottenham – about £10 million, https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/porro-tottenham-transfer-man-city-26124951),

    Romeo Lavia (Southampton to Chelsea – £10.6 million, https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/66539123.amp).

    So, if all the add-ons are met Transfermarkt are only overstating MCFC net transfer spend for this window by about £71 million. Of course, this means MCFC net spend for this transfer window is much. much lower than claimed, as is their five year net spend.

    With regard to net spend over the last five years one could argue that MCFC have been parsimonious relative to free spending Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Newcastle, Tottenham, and Aston Villa. With the exception of Aston Villa, these clubs are, or were, MCFC primary adversaries regarding FFP.

    Due to the passage of time, it’s probably not accurate, in some respects, to suggest the other 19 Premier League clubs are as equally invested in their fight against MCFC; Luton, for example, have only just entered the Premier League, so they haven’t had any say in the matter, yet. Actually, Martin Samuel, suggested in an article about the ‘Hateful Eight’, that some clubs, like Everton, weren’t really on board even in 2020 – see Martin Samuel’s article from 14 July 2020 regarding the ‘Hateful Eight’ – https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-8523111/MARTIN-SAMUEL-Hateful-eight-step-war-against-Manchester-City-FFP-saga.html

    Of course, maybe all the sources I’ve cited are as poor as Transfermarkt. Who knows?

  2. That is very interesting Puma. Have you looked at any other clubs to see if the same thing has happened there, or are you suggesting it is only in regard to Transfermarkt. I ask because I’ve noticed that they do take a long time to get Arsenal transfer activity listed.

  3. Billy The Dog,

    Since I was the only person to respond to this article prior to your comment, I presume your comment is addressed to me, Tim. Puma is part of my e-mail address but I’m not sure how you would know that…

    Well, I guess the main point I’m trying to make is that the sources we cite might not necessarily be as good as we might hope, and sometimes it can weaken an argument we are trying to make.

    I haven’t looked at other clubs, so the same issue may apply.

    Maybe Transfermarkt will eventually get MCFC’s business accurately recorded, maybe it won’t. The Shea Charles transfer, for example, occurred on, or around, 12 July 2023 and is not listed; the Josko Gvardiol transfer occurred on, or around, 05 August 2023, and it is listed.

  4. Billy The Dog,

    I guess you are part of the Untold team, that’s probably how you’ve accidentally included part of my e-mail address. Am I right?

  5. @Tim

    I believe the issue at hand is missing one element : the massive spending MCFC has done in years prior. Guardiloa pretty much built 2 teams and has kept them stable. So there is not much movement whereas the other clubs are trying to catch up.

    So yes, for the past couple of years, they don’t spend that much. Yet they have before that. Massively. Investigations will have to show if FFP were respected.

    Today, FFP is smack center in the ‘spend’ discussion. It was not 10 years ago. Times change.

    If MCFC were ‘clean’, I cannot understand how the PL is citing more then 100 issues in the MCFC financial situation. As they say, where the is smoke there is fire

  6. Chris,

    It’s a matter of record that MCFC did spend big, and continue to spend quite heavily; however, it also can’t be argued that over the last five years MCFC’s net spend is below, and sometimes substantially below, that of several premier league clubs, including Arsenal’s.

    FFP has been an issue for MCFC for a long time, and as far back as 2014 they accepted a conditional fine from UEFA together with some other sanctions. Here’s a link to the Guardian’s take on the matter, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2014/may/16/manchester-city-fine-transfer-cap-uefa-ffp

    “So there is not much movement whereas the other clubs are trying to catch up.” I think ADUG made much the same argument in the early, very heavy spending, years after their takeover of MCFC.

    There has certainly been a lot of smoke around MCFC, time will tell just how much fire generated that smoke. Remember, the PL didn’t uncover MCFC’s claimed FFP violations and when the PL initially released the charges against MCFC they had to correct multiple errors, and that after a four year investigation – https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-11740483/The-Premier-League-forced-correct-multiple-errors-charges-against-Man-City.html

  7. Chris

    “Guardiloa pretty much built 2 teams and has kept them stable. So there is not much movement whereas the other clubs are trying to catch up”.


    Man City went a 10 year period over which they spent a Billion net. It overlapped the time we were spending net zero. I don’t remember Pep mentioning money back then.

    For him to even mention other club spending is beyond laughable.

  8. Tim, as I understand it the Manchester City issue is not FFP itself but the accounting behind it. In short income from certain areas which would not be covered by FFP being reported as coming from other sources which would help the FFP accounting.

  9. Nitram,

    Despite my doubts about the accuracy of Transfermarkt figures I’ll use them.

    Pep became MCFC manager in the summer of 2016/17 and Mikel Arteta became Arsenal’s manager in 2019.

    According to Transfermarkt, the net spend of MCFC since Pep’s arrival stands at 747.79 million Euros. I think I’ve demonstrated – see my initial response to this article – that Transfermarkt’s net spend for MCFC’s 23/24 window is overstated by about £71 million pounds. If I strip off about £10 million pounds for add-ons that haven’t been met the overstatement is about £61 million pounds, or 71 million Euros. MCFC’s net spend over the period is about 677 million Euros, or 84.63 million Euros per annum.

    Over the same period, according to Transfermarkt, Arsenal’s net spend is listed at 845.44 million Euros, and since Mikel Arteta became manager Arsenal’s net spend is 678.84 million Euros, or 135 million Euros per annum.

    Based on these figures maybe it’s not so laughable that Pep might have something to say about other clubs’ spending.

  10. Tony,

    If there’d been no FFP MCFC’s executives wouldn’t have had to indulge in the alleged accounting activity they are accused of.

    I think you’ll agree, it all falls under the FFP umbrella.

  11. Nitram,

    I’ll retract some of that spending attributed to Arteta. I didn’t realise he didn’t join Arsenal until December 2019. The main thrust of the argument still stands, however.

  12. Tim

    There is no doubt that Arteta, and Arsenal in general have been spending big, more or less for 10 years. It is also true to say that since Arteta arrived he has been baked very well, to the tune of around £590M or thereabouts. That’s around £147M per season. That is more than Pep. Who has spent around £665M over his 7 year tenure at around £95M per season.

    Over the last 10 years the 2 clubs have a similar net spend of just shy of £1 Billion.

    But as Chris and I said, it is a game of catch up.

    Over the previous 10 years Arsenal spent £84M and almost all of that was the final 2 years of the decade, prior to those 2 years we had 10 years of austerity with a zero spend.

    Over the 10 years that Arsenal spent that £84M, Man City spent £570M

    It’s been tough catching up. Pep is possibly the best manager in the World and he is sitting on a 20 year legacy of endless, unlimited for most of it, spending. We are also chasing down Man Utd and Chelsea who have also been spending enormous amounts for 20 years.

    I do believe we are back amongst the ‘Big Boys’, but we’ve had to spend big to get there, but as I have always maintained, there is no other way. But even then being amongst them doesn’t give us the right to be the TOP one amongst them. That will be down to the other factors I have spoken about, the manger, recruitment, academy etc., and it is that that I am hoping will make the difference.

    Chelsea, as we have seen today, still have major issues. Can Poch sort them out?

    Man Utd haven’t looked good and even managed to make Spurs look a half decent side.

    Newcastle are hard to predict. It’s early days for their big spending but they have looked okay and could capitalize on Chelsea, Man Utd’s and Spurs deficiencies.

    Liverpool still have a very good manager and some very good players. Was last year, well last years 1st 3rd of the season just a blip?

    With Arteta and Edu getting all the backing they have I think we are in position A to give Man City a run for their money, but it wont be easy.

    All in all I’m hopeful.

  13. Nitram,

    I think Arsenal fans should be hopeful. The board seems stable and willing to spend, or invest, depending on your optic, and they seem able to select good transfer targets. Arteta seems like a good manager, possibly even a very good manager.

    I fully expect Arsenal to be challenging for the PL and I expect them to go deep in the cup competitions, if Arteta decides to spread his resources across all competitions – something Klopp hasn’t always done in his efforts to win the PL.

    Having said all the above, I think there might be some issues that could cause Arteta some problems. Firstly, Arsenal are back in The Champions League and that should mean Arteta won’t have the luxury of resting first team players in the early stages of the European competition. The second issue that might arise comes from having more competition within the squad for minutes on the pitch. Last season Arsenal really didn’t have that problem. How will players react? Will Jesus happily sit on Arsenal’s bench? If players aren’t prepared for limited minutes on the pitch, will Arteta be able to juggle the resultant dynamics? I think he will. This is an issue Pep has been dealing with for years.

    Although MCFC have spent big since ADUG’s takeover in 2008 it is only since Pep’s arrival, actually the year after his arrival, that MCFC have started to enjoy the kind of dominance MUFC and Liverpool enjoyed in the past.

    Why was Arsenal’s net spend basically zero? Was it due to FFP, or was it due to the boardroom turmoil – the Kronke v Usamanov ownership struggle? I think it’s the latter. If you look at the top 4 (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and MUFC) prior to ADUG’s purchase of MCFC they all shared something in common – ownership issues. Arsenal and MUFC also had the additional problem of replacing iconic managers. I think these are root causes for the old top 4 having to ‘catch up’ with MCFC.

    As an aside, what do you think of the UEFA club coefficients as it relates to earnings in the competition? MCFC have the highest coefficient and Arsenal are joint 28th. If both clubs go out at the same stage of the competition, and had the same first round record, do you think MCFC should be awarded more money because they have a higher coefficient?

  14. @Tim,

    please do NOT forget the absolutely totaly crazy nuts bezerk player/transfer value inflation of the past 10 years.
    Ozil, at the height of his talent/fame was brought over for I believe it was 42 million euros. Compare that to some recent transfers as Arsenal or other clubs.

    So, for more then a decade MCFC have 1) taken all their time building a double squad full of the best players on this planet 2) done so most probably not respecting any FFP rules 3) largely contributed to the inflation in itself as not only did the player transferts raise, the salaries did as well.

    Said inflation is good news for MCFC as they can no shout loud : 1) you all sore losers are way worse then we are 2) keep on adding to their sqad as the word ‘budget’ does not apply to their owner 3) price out the competition and just wait for clubs to go bust

    Brilliant strategy if you ask me.

    So comparing net spend today with 15, 10 years ago does not really work.

  15. Chris,

    I can’t really fully embrace your player transfer inflation argument, because even you agree – see post number 4 – Pep has essentially rebuilt the squad twice. He’s managed to do it with a smaller net spend than Arsenal, Chelsea and MUFC, and only two of the Treble winning squad pre-date Pep’s arrival – John Stones and KDB.

    Do you really think MCFC have a ‘double squad’? If you do, I suggest you take a look at the squad – https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11679/9972617/manchester-city-announce-signing-of-wolfsburg-midfielder-kevin-de-bruyne

    I’m not sure most of those MCFC player purchases were considered to be the ‘best players on the planet’ when they were bought. As an example, I seem to remember Arsenal’s own Paul Merson having some non-to-complementary comments regarding the KDB purchase.

    As to your comment about MCFC contributing to transfer and wage inflation that can’t be denied. Regarding transfer fee inflation, do you blame the selling or buying club for it?

    Your comments regarding FFP may turn out to be correct.

    “So comparing net spend today with 15, 10 years ago does not really work.” I don’t think I am doing that. On the contrary, I’ve looked at the net spend since Pep’s arrival – which was not 10 or 15 years ago – and compared it to Arsenal’s net spend in the same period. This was, in part, done to respond to Nitram’s comment – see post number 6. I then went on to demonstrate the backing Arsenal have provided Arteta and compared the average net spend for Arteta and Pep.

    I’m not saying you or Nitram are wrong with respect to your comments. I’m only trying to point out that depending on your bias, or optic, there is more than one narrative to be made with the available facts.

  16. @Tim,

    Paul Merson is someone whose opinion I frankly don’t care about. Guess I’m biaised, as his relentless anti-Arsenal stance all these past years in the end got to me.

    And I do admit that Guardiola has coached some of the players to be much better, no question about it.

    Yet I do stand by my opinion that MCFC have had 10-15 years to screw around FFP and that once a basic team was set up, fine-tuning it is much less expensive.

    And as a fan of a club that paid for a new stadium by itself I’m not going to forget what that financial ‘tour de force’ which, as far as I know remains unparalleled. It’s not like MCFC had any financial effort coming close to this one and the hundreds of millions were instead into the team.

    That Arsenal have now owners who have decided to go for it and invest is not something I am going to criticise, the more so that there is a plan, there is place for players as humans and not just ‘meat’ and there is a sense that it is an investment on a 5 years horizon after a 3 years period where Mr Arteta has proven, he may well be up to it.

    Finally, on the ‘football’ side, Mr Arteta came in with a team in disarray and has built it game by game, season by season. Can’t remember Mr Guardiola doing anything similar, each team he took over was already a top of the league team.

    As for my bias, it does go to football as a game of people that should be ruled the same way for all teams which for decades has not been the case. And I have a bias for Wengerball…..and for talent rising up from U-xx teams.

  17. @Tim,

    all that being said, I don’t understand how Chelsea can be within any FFP….

  18. Chris,

    I totally agree with your comments about wanting all teams to be treated the same under the rules – a forlorn hope, I suspect.

    I also want the rules to be fair.

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