Does spending money on players bring success? Here’s the survey for 2014/15

By Tony Attwood

As an interlude from the Fifa talk (and there really is rather a lot more of that to come with several interesting questions still unasked, let alone unanswered) let’s look at something quite different.

Who spent what last season.

But before we get moving, a word of warning – there are often wildly different figures quoted for some players, and if you look at a statement below and see that (for example) Arsenal paid £30m for Alexis but find elsewhere that it is £33m, that’s par for the course.  Some of the variations in fact are quite enormous, and it is hard to know which figure is right.  So take these numbers as approximations – a generalised overview… and I have not included every player bought or sold – someone with a few days to spare could do that, and then cross check the figures too.

Normally the talk has been of Arsene Wenger somehow being a miser and not spending money for the sake of not spending money.  But last season he delivered a net spend (to be clear, spending minus intake for sales) of £46m.

Here is the list of Arsenal incomers

  • Alexis Sánchez (Barcelona, £30m),
  • Calum Chambers (Southampton, £16m),
  • Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle, £12m),
  • David Ospina (Nice, £3m),
  • Danny Welbeck (Manchester United, £16m)
  • Gabriel Paulista (Villareal, £11.3m)
  • Krystian Billick (Legia Warsaw, £2m)

Total purchases: Around £90m

I won’t bore you with a complete list of players for every team but will pick out a few salient features before trying to draw a conclusion.  And please do note the lists are not complete – just indicators of what went on.

Aston Villa, with a net spend of £6m is obviously of interest, for reasons that escape me for the moment but will probably pop into my head by the weekend.

Their problem was not just a lack of money that the owner was willing to spend, plus a lack of profit, but also a lack of players to sell at a profit.  The big price was Carlos Sanchez (Elche, £4.7m), and Carles Gil for £3.2m.

Villa’s spend of £6m looks ok for their league position and the fact that they got to the cup final – and compares favourably with Burnley below.

Burnley, net spend £8m – but compare this with …

Chelsea, net spend £10m

This was achieved by some extraordinary prices gained in the sales and their manipulation of the loan system (which interesting is getting more and more coverage among the more literate of journalists).  The incomers included

  • Cesc Fábregas (Barcelona, £30m),
  • Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid, £32m),
  • Filipe Luís (Atletico Madrid, £20m),
  • Loïc Rémy (QPR, £10.5m)
  • Carlos Cuadrado (Fiorentina £23.3m)

Lukaku selling for £28m, Luiz for £40m, Schürrle for £22m etc etc, helped bring the cost down.

Crystal Palace, net spent £11m

Everton, net spend £33m – which seems an awful lot considering how poorly they did for much of the season.  They bought but did not get much for their sales.  Some of the buys were…

  • Gareth Barry (Man C £2m)
  • Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, £28m),
  • Samuel Eto’o (Chelsea), £1m
  • Brendan Galloway (MK Dons) £2m,
  • Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros) £4m

Hull City, net spend £25m – which is a huge amount to get relegation – but it was a widespread spend

Leicester City, net spend £10m

Liverpool, net spend £36m – which is a lot considering how much they sold Suarez for.  Here’s some of what came in…

  • Adam Lallana (Southampton, £25m),
  • Lazar Markovic (Benfica, £20m),
  • Emre Can (Bayer Leverkusen, £9.8m),
  • Rickie Lambert (Southampton, £4m),
  • Mario Balotelli (Milan, £16m),
  • Divock Origi (Lille, £10m),
  • Alberto Moreno (Sevilla, £12m),
  • Dejan Lovren (Southampton, £20m),
  • Javier Manquillo (Atlético Madrid, loan)

Manchester City, net spend £57m

  • Fernando (Porto, £12m),
  • Bacary Sagna (Arsenal),
  • Willy Caballero (Malaga, £6m),
  • Eliaquim Mangala (Porto, £32m),
  • Fernando (Porto, £12m),
  • Bruno Zuculini (Racing Club, £3m),
  • Frank Lampard (New York City, loan)
  • Wilfred Bony (Swansea, £25m)

Manchester United, net spend £122m.  The big spenders of the season, which shows just how far they felt they had to go to catch up with Arsenal.

  • Luke Shaw (Southampton, £27m),
  • Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao, £29m),
  • Vanja Milinkovic (FK Vojvodina),
  • Ángel Di María (Real Madrid, £60m),
  • Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbom, £16m),
  • Daley Blind (Ajax, £14m),
  • Radamel Falcao (Monaco, loan)

Newcastle United, net spend £25m – which in the face of it seems ludicrous.  12 players were sold by Newcastle, but only Debuchy (£12m) and Yanga-Mbiwa (£4.8m) brought in any money.

Queens Park Rangers, net spend £21m.   That didn’t work did it.

Southampton, net profit £31m – and still they made progress.  11 purchases and seven sales I make it, although Wiki is unhelpful on Southampton in not actually putting any prices on any placer at all.

Stoke City, net spend £0.5m

Sunderland, net spend £10m

Swansea City, net spend £1.5m

Tottenham Hotspur, net profit £6m.   Tottenham sold eight players most notably getting £10m for Sandro and £8m for Livermore and brought in

  • Eric Dier (Sporting Lisbon, £4m),
  • Federico Fazio (Sevilla, £8m),
  • Ben Davies (Swansea, £10m),
  • Michael Vorm (Swansea, £5m),
  • DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders £2.5m),
  • Federico Fazio (Sevilla £8m),
  • Benjamin Stambouli (Montpellier £4.7m)

Their success was largely down to seeing the benefit of Kane, who it is sometimes forgotten spent a while with Arsenal youth as a youngster before moving into Tottenham’s loan system, going to Leyton, Millwall, Norwich and Leicester, playing 56 league games and scoring 14 goals.  The value of a youth policy.

West Bromwich Albion, net spend £13m

West Ham United, net spend £31m including

  • Cheikhou Kouyaté (Anderlecht, £7m),
  • Mauro Zárate (Velez Sarsfield),
  • Aaron Cresswell (Ipswich, £4m),
  • Diego Poyet (Charlton),
  • Enner Valencia (Pachuca, £12m),
  • Joe Cole (Aston Villa),
  • Alex Song (Barcelona, loan),
  • Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal, loan),
  • Diafra Sakho (Metz),
  • Morgan Amalfitano (Marseille)

Another club whose figures are hard to verify, but the Guardian has the net spend figure.  So they spent that and came 12th.  True they have been given their free stadium for the year after next, but even so I am not sure I can see them spending this much again.

Interesting though all the publicity given to Very Fat Sam, as he puffed himself up by quoting his vast achievements for the club getting them to finish 12th.  The press swallowed this story utterly, but the fact is Large Sam spent all that money for an improvement of … one position over the previous season.

I think that final point gives an indication of the complexity of analysing expenditure on players.  £31m on players (the Guardian’s figure for WHU) for a rise up the league of one place does NOT seem like a good deal, especially when two of the regulars in your side were on loan.  But somehow the media never really got that.

The simple fact is that spending money alone is not the guarantee of success in the league.  Everton (5th in 2014) spent megabucks and tumbled.  Newcastle spent £25m and did the same.    Southampton made a profit on players and moved up from 8th to 7th.

It all shows just how foolish the “spend some fucking money” campaign was.  Spending money does not bring success.  Spending some money wisely, and then having a brilliant tactician in charge of the club, is a more complex, but ultimately much better, formula.


From the Anniversary Files: the Dynasty at work

28 May 1934: George Allison became the manager of Arsenal.  Upon the sudden death of Herbert Chapman, Allison had acted as middle-man between the board of Jo Shaw.  Shaw immediately (and seemingly happily) returned to his duties with the reserves at the end of his triumphal season, and Allison took on the role, ending after the first post-war season.


17 Replies to “Does spending money on players bring success? Here’s the survey for 2014/15”

  1. Really great point, but my mind keeps running away to all the sh!t happening at FIFA!

    Exciting times, and i bet you we’re just seeing the tip of the ice berg.

  2. Interesting and mirrors my opinion. Another point, particularly looking at West Ham. Contrary to popular opinion, new players often make an immediate impact but then subside to a level of mediocrity. We saw this with Arshavin and possibly Podolski. This is why AW’s method of trying to find the “inner man” seems so important and is also why some possible deals fall through.

  3. While it’s true ( as you say ) that spending money does not guarantee success, not spending can guarantee failure. Looking at our imports I’d say that if we hadn’t bought Sanchez, Welbeck and Paulista (£57.3 million) we probably wouldn’t have even made a top four let alone the cup final. The rest (mostly) are excellent squad players who are all good value. I’ve not yet seen Billick, Debuchy had a ton of bad luck but is still top class, and I’m doubtful about Ospina as long term GK.
    So yes, very good spending last year, but will need to continue again this time round as outgoing players are replaced.
    I don’t know if we will ever be in a position where the manager could say “that’s it, the squad is perfect, I will not buy anyone this time”

  4. I think the issue of spending money to gain success is non-existent. In the mind of common person is that when you buy good players, automatically your team becomes better. It’s like saying the bigger you built your house, the cozier it becomes. Many designers and architects will disagree on that. That’s why common people will never be satisfied. Even a footballer thinks differently compare to a manager. That’s why some ex-players keep embarrassing themselves trying to be a manager they eventually condemn and insult. Only a true football manager can understand and realize what they want and how much they want it all according to the demands and requirements of the respective clubs. But, then again bricks and players are totally different. Once you lay the brick, it stays as you want, but players are human beings. Emotion and attitude management is equally important as harnessing their talents to suit the team and the club. As I always repeat myself, Championship Manager and real-life football are not the same.

  5. I think that another survery should be made, checking corelation between net salary and success in the league. I suspect higher corelation rates would surface.

  6. @Tailgunner – I think the successes of Coquelin, Bellerin and (it has to be said) Kane this season undermine your assertion that not spending money guarantees failure. Getting the right players in the team and playing in the right way is acheived via a number of routes and only if you have money to burn is it remotely sensible to go down the big purchase route exclusively.
    Arguably Man Utd gained their few places up the league only mainly thanks to having no European commitments this season (like Liverpool last season) and not just through players bought or even managerial change.
    The mixed economy, with players arriving in the team via all routes, seems to work best – but only if the guiding hand doing the moulding is of the highest possible quality.

  7. It’s about having a balance in strategies. Not spending at all is clearly not the answer just as ‘only’ spending is not the answer. Bringing players through the various levels of a club and complimenting that with buying when required and buying wisely is the optimum.

  8. Wages 2013/14
    Chelsea 192.7m
    Man City 205 m
    Arsenal 166.4
    Man U 215.8
    Spurs 100.4
    Liverpool 144
    Southampton 55.2
    Swansea 62.3
    Stoke 60.6
    Palace 45.7
    Everton 69.3
    West Ham 63.9
    West brom 65.4
    Leicester 36.3
    Newcastle 78.3
    Sunderland 69.5
    Villa 69.3
    Burnley 21.5
    Hull 42.3
    QPR 75.3

  9. I think @Swales1968 puts the exclamation point on your article, Tony. When wages are considered the money spent does relate clearly to overall position though from one year to the next there is fluctuation.

  10. Merging Swales wage data and the league data for finish position, goal difference and goals for, and converting all of that to rank (to use rank correlation), we find the correlation between wages and league finish is 0.586, the correlation between wages and goal difference is 0.490, and the correlation between wages and goals for is 0.635.

    Which for the most part says that wages buys you goals, more so than finish position.

    If a person just looks at top 6, you see that in general deviations between observed ranking and expected is smaller than the table in general, and there is a single outlier in the Top 6 (ManU). The next place where there is little difference between observed and expected rank, is the teams relegated, with QPR being an outlier. The middle of the table is all over the place. It is very much like there are 3 tables put together on this. Leicester doesn’t look any different than the rest of the middle of the pack in that regard.

  11. taking one years data in isolation doesnt really give a true picture. chelskis net spend of 10 mil was achieved like you say by selling at strangely inflated prices. Those players were all brought in previous years and the rolling effect of continous spend means they can stay at the top(no matter how many times they change manager). im not saying spending is everything however it certainly makes a difference in most cases.

  12. TailGunner, the squad can never be perfect, else progress stops, it has to be ongoing. You know what is said, it’s the journey not the destination. 🙂

    The number of footballers today that can change a team just by playing has dwindled severely. Today because of how football has changed/is changing means that even these players now need time to blend with the team. The days of a superstar coming in and taking the team to glory is a little passe today.

    I think some of our players will change though, not many but a few. If you had to ask me which, i could only base it on who was liked, available and willing to join Arsenal, and i suppose this is what AW does, adding to that his assessment of his own players individually.

  13. The Islington Tribune points out, that Arsenal is playing in TWO (2) FA Cup Final games this weekend, not just one. And they are both against Aston Villa. How often does that happen?

    > IF Saturday’s Wembley showdown leaves you wanting more then we have some good news for you – the Gunners are also tackling the Villans on Sunday. Arsenal Ladies’ Under-17s team will take on Aston Villa in the FA Youth Cup final in a 12pm kick-off at Stratford Town FC in Stratford-upon-Avon. Admission is free and any supporters up for travelling to the game to cheer the side on would be very much welcome. Goals from Laura Hooper and Taylor Hinds saw Arsenal book their place in the final with a 2-0 victory over Birmingham City.

    COYG! and COYYLG!

    I wonder where one finds coverage of this Ladies Youth game?

  14. arse-or-brain 28th @ 4:46pm

    Spot on.

    Spending big, or indeed very big, in short bursts is, as we have seen, fraught with danger. But spending big, very big, over long periods is proven to almost guarantee success.

    Approximate Net spend over the last 10 years:

    Chelsea: £600 Million

    Man City: £600 Million

    Man United: £430 Million

    It is no coincidence that they are the only 3 teams to of won the PL over the last 10 years, as well as sweeping up most domestic Cups and 2 having success in Europe.

    Then we have,

    Liverpool: £260 Million

    Arsenal: £180 Million

    Who are the 3rd and 4th most successful PL sides, all be it some way behind the other 3. BUT, there are only so many trophies available, meaning if those 3 are hoovering them up it’s hardly surprising nobody else, including us, have been getting much of a look in, even if we have been monopolising that 4th place trophy 🙂

    To my mind, it IS all about the money, as long as it is sustained spending.

    I believe this is where Wenger has shown his genius because up until the last 2 years, over which we have basically DOUBLED our 10 year net spend, Wenger has significantly over achieved, where as Liverpool have considerably under achieved.

    There are a couple of other anomalies.

    With a net spend of around £100 Million over the period, Sunderland have significantly under achieved, and with a Net PROFIT of around £20 Million over the period, Southampton have significantly over achieved.

    But by and large, your Net transfer spend over the last 10 years correlates pretty well with your average final league position, over that same period.

    My statistics are from

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