Does buying and selling players bring league success?


Today on the Arsenal History Society site: When Arsenal abandoned its policy of appointing ex-Arsenal players as managers, and the disaster that followed.

By Tony Attwood

In the short answer: “Not really,” and we know this because pf an analysis by Football Observatory of the net transfer spends by clubs in Europe.  This analyses both the amount of money flowing in and out, and the balance of expenditure over income, across a number of large clubs, and shows only a slight relationship between money and the success of the club.

Let’s start with the amount of money moved around (which is to say players sold and players bought) in the last five seasons.  Who has been the most active in the market?

In the last five seasons, the top five clubs in terms of expenditure and receipts on transfers are Liverpool, Brighton, Everton, Newcastle, and Leicester.  The range of money is from €880m to €711m.  Which suggests that the mere movement of players around doesn’t guarantee anything like success.  Everton have already lost a load of points, and are in the midst of a second investigation under FFP, while Newcastle are constantly spoken of as underperforming (they are currently 10th, 24 points behind Arsenal). and Leicester are in the Championship, although likely to come up at the end of the season.

So let’s try another measure – that of the funding balance.  When the sales are taken away from the purchases how much have the most active clubs spent?   And come to that, where they are in the league at the moment.

Top spenders are as you might already know, Chelsea, who have a net outflow of transfer money of -€782m and who are currently lying 11th in the league 25 points behind Arsenal.

Second is Manchester United on -€773m.  They are currently sixth in the league and eight points behind fourth place so seemingly quite unlikely to make up any of that loss in time to join the Champions League bonanza next season.

Then we have Arsenal who have spent -€622m.   Now here that does seem to have been an interesting investment since five seasons ago the club finished 8th in the league but they did win the FA Cup along the way.  You may have noticed Arsenal are currently top of the league.

Tottenham are next on -€608m.   Now we must be fair and admit that they have come runners-up in the Champions League and the League Cup in the past five seasons, but unlike Arsenal they have not actually won anything since the little cup in 2008.

After the tots comes Newcastle United on -€574m.   They were runners’ up in the league cup and fourth in the league last season, but at the moment are 10th in the Premier League and unlikely to qualify for Europe.

So that’s the top five.  I won’t bore you with the figures for the next five nor their lack of trophies, but the clubs are Aston Villa, West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and Leeds United.

Now one key point is just where the club is starting from when it started spending all this money.  Mostly we can see clubs that are very much wanting to rise up the table, and are needing to spend to (or at least believe they need to spend) to make that happen.  Manchester City have been slipping down the expenditure charts because a) they already have a trophy-winning team and b) if they sell anyone they get big money for him, because of the player’s success with Manchester City.

But the key point is that big spending fails to achieve success much more often than it succeeds.  I would suggest that Arsenal have made a success out of their expenditure, what with their cup win, coming second in the league last season and being top at the moment.   But I think many would agree that it is harder to make a success story out of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Everton and Leicester City at the moment.

As the research points out, of the 14 clubs that have over a billion euros income and outgoings in the past five seasons, five are from England,  Of the rest, PSG are in a one-club league where their financial clout means hardly anyone else has much of a chance.   Barcelona are now effectively bankrupt and attempting to use the money from the sale of future broadcasts to pay off this seaosn’s bills.

As for Juventus (in sixth position in the European loss-making league), according to ESPN, the club recently “forecast another loss in the current full fiscal year after they reported a consolidated loss of €124m to June 30, 2023, bringing their cumulated losses to over €700m in six years.   The club last posted a net profit in 2016-2017.

So yes, transfers can bring success in a competitive league, as Arsenal have shown, but it is not guaranteed, and many more clubs fail with the gamble than actually gain that success.   Which doesn’t matter, at least until the money runs out, or the rich donor vanishes pursued by a variety of law officials and creditors.

3 Replies to “Does buying and selling players bring league success?”

  1. To cite how spending does not achieve success and example the top clubs
    So you couldn’t example lower clubs who spend less because they are, well, completely unsuccessfulL.
    So yes, spending does bring degrees of success

  2. Al m… I am sorry I did not make myself clear. My point is that the general thrust of contemporary commentary on blogs, websites, broadcast media and newspapers is that buying players is the heart of success. Indeed if I look today at the Arsenal stories on News Now the vast majority are about transfer rumours.
    The implication of this is that transfers are the way to improve a club’s position, and there is no suggestion in these transfer tales that this can be a false hope. Yet the evidence is all around that much of the time it is a false hope.
    True I did not delve down into the lower reaches of the Premier League, but from the limited research I did yesterday and today I would say that the same position applies. Most clubs don’t find that transfers take the club up the league table.

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