Does the amount a team costs reflect its position in the league or have we been led up the garden path?

By Tony Attwood

We have been told by many correspondents that it is quite possible to measure the success of Arsenal’s transfer window activity.  You know the old story.  Arsenal scored two goals fewer than Chelsea last season, and that is why we didn’t win the league, so we need to buy a new goal scorer.

Even saying it like that you can see it is rubbish.  Goal scoring was not the problem last season.  But still it is said that it was, over and over and over and… ok you get the idea.

I am currently writing a rather long piece, or as it will be, a couple of pieces, about how TV and the press, manipulate the way people think about football, to protect their own audience figures.  This has nothing to do with what actually happens in a match, but rather, how it is presented, and the definition by the media of what they want people to think is important.

So we have been told that Arsenal needs a new centre forward, and that the fact that the goalscoring difference between ourselves and the champions is not worth mentioning.

And we are told that transfers are important, because this is what the press talks about all day and night – and they do that because the story is free.  Make up the name of an Spanish newspaper, make up the name of a correspondent, make up a transfer that the correspondent (who doesn’t exist) writes about in a newspaper (that doesn’t exist) and suddenly the transfer is on – and if it isn’t it is because Arsenal are to blame.

That’s the essence of the piece I am working on (so if that sounds as boring as hell you’ll know to avoid it when it pops up on screen).

But while writing it I began to think, what about every other club?  How does their investment in new players turn into points in the league.

In the theory that transfer activity is the key thing, if we took the cost of the squad (as kindly worked out for us by Talk Sport, so it needs to be taken with a pinch of sprout but actually isn’t too far off the figures that other people have worked out) that should tell us the league position.

Because transfers are everything.  The more you buy, the higher up the league you will be, right?

So I’ve listed the details – where the clubs are in the spending table (column 3), their league position after four games, how far off the place they should be they actually are (the “Deficit” column) and the number of points scored.

This should tell us if it is true that transfers are everything.  We already know we can say a lot about the league table after four games, in terms of who should be sacked because the media and their allies on the blogettas were doing this after three games.  So that side of the evidence is valid.

Right, let’s have a look.

Here is the table.


Club Team cost Spend pos League pos Deficit Points
Man C £560m 1 1 0 12
Man U £533m 2 5 -3 7
Chelsea £407m 3 13 -10 4
Liverpool £344m 4 7 -3 7
Arsenal £305m 5 6 -1 7
Tottenham £231m 6 16 -10 3


Now we know that no club in the Premier League has been winning more league games this calendar year than Arsenal.  But clearly this is not a valid statistic because no one mentions it, and instead people focus on this season.  So four games it is.

If spending on players was a direct line to success then the spend position should be equal to the league position.  Chelsea spent £100m more than Arsenal so should have quite a few more points than Arsenal.

But everyone apart from Man C is achieving a lower position in the league than their spend position predicts.  Why is that?  Of course the theory that spending money brings success can’t be wrong, so it must be our figures.

However while we are working out where we have gone wrong, do have a look at the table.

Chelsea and Tottenham are doing worst, both 10 places below where they should be in the league.  Arsenal are closest to their position predicted by their spend, other than Man C.

So maybe we can’t predict how well a team is going to do after four games (even though the press told us that this was possible after three games).

Or maybe we can’t predict how well a team is going to do, based on how much it spends.

Or maybe both.

Confusing isn’t it?

From the anniversary files on the home page

  • 9 September 1981: Norway 2 England 1 in the World Cup stunned the nation leading Norwegian journalist Bjørge Lillelien to say, “Your boys took a hell of a beating” which became internationally famous.  Sadly Bjørge died in 1987 aged 60 from cancer.
  • 9 September 1987: Alexandre Dimitri Song Billong was born in Cameroon.  One of 28 children, at 16 he moved to France and signed for Bastia becoming part of the team after one season, and was selected for France Under 16s.

The Untold Books




27 Replies to “Does the amount a team costs reflect its position in the league or have we been led up the garden path?”

  1. Amazing how Benzema is a world class striker, but Giroud plays ahead of him for France. ( albeit missing a few goals) Unobtanium is always the best! Higuan was target a few years ago but .. now he is world class .. did not see that in between.
    Remember when we missed out Ryan Babel, oh where’s he, Kevin Mirialas chose a bigger cub over us!
    Yes we missed out on Hazard, but sorry Barca have screwed up Fabregas , pleased he went to Chelsea.
    Damn we missed out on the great unknown Martial..
    Its not only how much you spend. 49 mil on Sterling- i believe Walcott is better. De bryne 54 mil, a Chelsea discard…
    Scheinsteiger- would Bayern let him go if he still had value? Is Schneiderlin better than Coq? Is Matic better than Coq? Is Shaw better than Monreal?
    Cech improved us. Nobody mentioned above would improve us….

  2. I don’t think you can equate the league position of a club with the value of its players.]It takes no account of the payment of grossly inflated fees due to the club owner having limitless funds, pressure by the Board on a manager to invest heavily on new players and the cost of last minute panic signings.

  3. Tony I always look forward to your articles, well said. I rate what we have highly, just because we have not scored many goals in four games is not a crisis for me. Who ever said Benzema was available to Arsenal? of course the media. Whoever else was linked to Arsenal is not better than what we have.

  4. Trying to extrapolate the final league table from the first four games of the season, as you very well know, is a pointless exercise. There will always be fluke results and if your team is unlucky enough to get one or more early on in the year it will appear to have a far greater impact than it really has.

    For most European leagues the total squad value gives a very good correlation with actual finishing positions. Individual season spend figures are only a part of the total squad value and so, whilst interesting, represent a detail rather than the complete jigsaw puzzle. Growing squad value from within club resources is probably a far bigger piece of the puzzle and for Arsenal at least far more important.

  5. Here is the link to the June article I posted giving the link between squad values and finishing league positions Works for most of the major european leagues but clearly where clubs have very similar squad values other factors become far more significant.

  6. @Dave. Benzema is still ahead of Giroud in the pecking order in France.He still started ahead of Giroud in the second to the last match France played. Giroud was giving an opportunity to bolster his standing in the squad in the last match, and he unfortunately blew the chance. I just wish the boos from the fans and his early substitution at half time wont dampen his confidence.

  7. Silly to look at this now!Better to test it at the end of the season. For instance, the top 2 (City and Chelsea)continue to financially outstrip everyone else and they have won the last 2 premierships. ManU bought their way into champion league places and will continue to buy their way to get close to the top 2. Only Liverpool on your list spends big and fail.

  8. What I don’t understand is why they aren’t criticizing man utd for not buying benzema, they need a striker just as much as we do.

  9. Pleased to see Alex Oxlade Chamberlain played well and the full ninety minutes for England, and that he could be seen seated behind Rooney when he received his award for being England’s top goal scorer.

    Our players never get enough credit for what they do.

  10. The transfer money spent measure is the lazy way to assess performance. There is also a cost for players brought through from youth. The reality is the only measure is success or failure.

    However, performance is not a wasted measure. It shows progress within a team. Arsenal have had several shots at goal this season & it is that that is a performance measurement. The goals will eventually arrive if the shooting is on target & continues.

    There is a lot of media focus on our own goal ‘striker’. The reality is that we create the chance that gets the goal. If we win because of opponents putting the ball in their own net, it is no disgrace.

    This Saturday our opponents are renowned for nasty tackles. Let’s hope PGMO recognise the fouls better than on previous occasions.

    I am still wondering where my comment on an earlier topic has got lost.

  11. Stumbled across an ‘old’ book yesterday (from 2010) which is surely a great resource for this and most of the debates on the site. ‘Pay as you Play’. (Paul Tomkins, Graham Riley, Alan Fulcher)

    The idea behind the book was to look into the truth of whether or not teams buy their way to success. So a team of people ended up creating a database which included all transfers in the premier league era, all converted into a relative price index. This means, among other things, a price changes over time, down as well as up on occasion.

    Using only transfer prices they then worked out the cost-per-point of teams in the league’s history.

    I really can’t do justice to the work that appears to have gone into the book. They’re intelligent enough to explain well their reasoning at each step, the limitations within the data, that there are inherent difficulties in what they have attempted to do, and that taken in isolation any small part of the work is weaker than the whole.

    All the same, it really appears this book [not read it yet- just been skipping over the first few chapters which are available free on ibooks] is the best resource anyone could hope for who is trying to understand the subject.

    It appears to me reading the book should be like a deep immersion in the money realities of the game. I’d love to quote some of it here but alas the ‘freebie’ option seems to prohibit copy and paste. Damn.

    Couple of things though. Up to 2010 the most expensive cost per point was Chelsea, in 2006-7- £3,075,503- and they had nearly all the top 9 (Newcastle are the only other team in that top 9)- the cheapest two seasons both belong to Sam Allardyce at Bolton (82,256 and 81,710, between 2003 and 2005). An astonishing difference.

    ‘From the data, it is clear that points are harder (and therefore costlier) to win the further up the table you go.’

    That’s one among many notable observations from the data. Type of thing I’ve always felt sure is true but have struggled to express. I’m very confident the book will help explain that this is true and why.

    To the best of my knowledge no journalists picked up on any of this work at the time. You have to ask yourself why. It is surely fascinating stuff and the type of thing which would make for great debate even if you disagreed with it.

    I’d say the answer for the lack of interest is pretty obvious : this money-based analysis interferes with the way the media likes to present the game and is in danger of tarnishing the ‘product’. Plus some of the media favourites. If the stuff of the book is as good as it appears to me, every judgement of performance should be viewed through the prism of it. Oh boy, the media don’t want that sort of thing at all.

    Finally, for reasons I expect make sense but don’t fully understand yet, the book’s author’s chose to concentrate on the cost of a first 11, and chose not to use wages at all. So, very clearly, their figure doesn’t show the actual costs involved for each team. More like a very good guide.

    I believe the relationships would still largely hold and that those paying the higher fees would also pay the highest wages. The true cost per point must be even more startling.

    Hopefully a few of us can read this book when we get the chance. Sadly, the people who need to read it most probably have no interest in doing so, or would misinterpret it if they did; but still, it looks like it could be an invaluable help to those of us who want a better idea of the financial realities of the game.

  12. The 3 richest teams have won the league ever since Arsenal won it. Wage bill is strongly correlated with success.The poorest teams are most likely to be relegated.

    It is pretty obvious, and the first 4 games are not likely to show the full picture or that a rich team can buy in January if needed.

    That’s why football is largely predictable and getting duller over time. Hence big spending Man City will win the PL, unfortunately.

  13. As untold have explained to all who are willing to count: the variations in pgMOB standards which result in more hackings for AFC players and therefore more injuries is the only important consideration fans watching the game can make as opposed to budgets they can only guess at and transfer speculations which are also only ever guesses:

    It’s the football that counts.

    And when the opposition can hack your players off the park in contravention of rules that are applied in other PL games it can be observed and recorded to make a difference.

    Nevertheless the inference from the attached article, from the numbers is that given the injuries received, that AFC overachieved last season.

    That’s not an opinion 😉

  14. Finsbury

    The short cut that Tony was using to allow us to post links is either not working, or has been removed. Unknown for how long. But, it is possible to use some of the “allowed” HTML tags to input these links with a little more work.

    I will write out two blocks of text, one with parentheses so that it is not interpreted as HTML, and one with angle brackets so that it is interpreted as HTML.

    (a href=””)Matt Scott at InsideWorldFootball(/a) wrote an article about injuries.

    Matt Scott at InsideWorldFootball wrote an article about injuries.

    This kind of HTML tag is called an anchor. The opening tag has a href attribute which is where the URL goes. After the opening tag is finished goes the block of text that is to be highlighted, and which forms the link which one clicks on. After the text to be highlighted, is the closing tag.

    To get something like we had before, we make the href attribute the same as the highlighted text, as in

  15. Finsbury – Wow.

    That basically confirms what I have been banging on about for years.

    To think we have managed to finish in the Top 4 year after year with that level of injuries (because it hasn’t been for one season only) is mind-boggling.

    Wenger is beyond outstanding (unless you hold him accountable for the injuries).

    Would be very interested if the author (or someone else) could extend this analysis over the last five (say) years?

  16. Swing 10:39am
    Exactly. In fact I’d argue utd needed Benzema more than we did. And a deal between utd and madrid would have been more likely given that madrid also wanted de gea, it could have been a straight swap.

    So if one looks at the fact that madrid offered cash plus a goalkeeper (who was always going to be surplus to utd as they had 3 goalies already) and not the striker that utd desperately needed, and that utd still agreed to such a deal, one can’t help but come to the inescapable conclusion that Benzema was never up for sale.

  17. How much a team costs, all down to how you spend. Alexis costs a lot but provides a great return, unlike say the majority of the Bale and Suarez squanderlings.
    Fantastic link Finsbury. Wenger really does over achieve… ways we can see, and I would also wager in ways we know nothing about. Bob Wilson, and for that matter David Dein always hinted that not all he achie

  18. Finsbury

    Thanks for the very interesting link!!

    It really galvanizes what we have been harping on about for years!!

    It further demonstrates what an absolute magician our manager is to have placed the club at such a high level when having to deal with PGMOB’s lack of protection and utter bias against our club – being indirectly responsible for the amount of injuries we are subjected to each season!!

    Other sides with such injuries were either relegated or close to it – excepted theta they did not have the squad depth – we did!

  19. Mandy – your secret footballer link was excellent. I agree with most of what the guy says. There is one aspect of coaching that annoys me. The players are taught how to pass, how to position themselves within the team etc. but they do not seem to be taught how to kick the ball. If they were taught correctly then we wouldn’t be seeing 10yd or 20yd misses. The dead ball can be manipulated with the kick. It is a technique. Why is it so few can do it? It is because they have not been coached in the Art of Kicking.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *