Did top English clubs really up their spending this summer, and how did Arsenal compare to the rest?

By Tony Attwood

We have often heard in recent years the stories about how Arsenal is a “selling club” unable to hang on to its youngsters, with the proven child traffickers Barcelona endlessly sniffing around trying to buy back players that they have let go to Arsenal, while using the old “Barca DNA” gibberish as if it had some kind of meaning.

We also remember the sale of players from Arsenal to Barcelona, from Hleb to Henry, Petit to Song, Vermaelen to Overmars… the list goes on and on.

We also have the singularly boring chant of “Spend some fucking money” that was choreographed at the Leicester away match in injury time.

But exactly what did Arsenal do in the transfer window this year compared to other clubs?  Was our expenditure up or down or middling?

Of course issues are complicated by the fact that most clubs in the Premier League spent more this summer because of the new TV deal.  Prices went up for everyone, so we can expect everyone to spend more.

So were Arsenal continuing to hang on to the coat tails of others or did Arsenal’s expenditure rise?

To help us put together this analysis CIES Football Observatory has done two reports.  One showing which clubs get the most money when selling to clubs in the English, French, Spanish, German and Italian top divisions and one of which clubs spend the most in buying players from the self same leagues.

When it comes to selling to other clubs in the big league leagues top of the table is Liverpool!!!! (that’s three exclamation marks to meet their normal requirement of the way the press and their supporters talk about the club and one because it took me by surprise.)

Liverpool have brought in to the club coffers 442 million euros selling players to clubs in the five big footballing nations of Europe – the most of any club – although a huge chunk of this came from one sale – the sale of a vampire to Barcelona.

When it comes to buying from clubs in the big five leagues Liverpool are sixth.  Top of the league for spending money in the big leagues is Manchester City, as we might expect.

Unfortunately the amount of money spent with other clubs in the top five leagues only records the top 20 clubs, so some English clubs that have sold a lot don’t have their purchases recorded – but nevertheless putting the various bits of data that CIES Football Observatory have provided together, we can see these figures, and draw some conclusions.

Club From sales Money spent Difference
Liverpool!!!! € 442m €663m  €-221m
Tottenham €369m €457m € -88m
Chelsea €358m €871m € -513m
Southampton €268m  n/a  n/a
Manchester City €247m  €1024m € -777m
Newcastle €225m  n/a  n/a
Arsenal €187m  €466m € -279m
Man U €182m  €841m € -659m
Aston Villa €155m n/a n/a
Swansea €153m n/a n/a

Also provided is the transfer fee expenditure of certain clubs over the last six years.

Now if clubs spent the same amount of money each year, the average percentage expenditure per year would be 16.67% of the last six years’ total.  But we have also to take into account inflation in the cost of players – especially when being sold to English clubs, and so we would expect the percentage per year to rise if there were no other factors involved.

So any club that in the past year that has spend under 16.67% of its six year budget is clearly cutting back on its trading.  Anyone spending more than around 20% of its six year expenditure in the past year is clearly growing its budget.

Club Spend 2010/16 Spend 2016 Average 2016% of total
Manchester City €1024m €231m €335.66m 11.47%
Chelsea €871m €149m €170m 17.11%
Manchester United €841m €185m €140.17m 22.00%
Liverpool €663m €96m €110.5m 14.5%
Arsenal €466m €129m €77.67m 28.92%
Tottenham Hotspur €457m €86m €76.17 18.82%

Because of the nature of their funding both Manchester City and Chelsea are certain to exceed all other clubs with their expenditure on players year by year, and because of the long term established nature of its worldwide marketing Manchester United is often able to rival these two clubs when it comes to buying in players.

So the bottom three clubs in terms of expenditure on players are going to stay there unless either over time they can greatly expand their marketing income (Arsenal’s plan) or they can bring in very rich owners (seemingly Liverpool’s plan under its various American ownership schemes).

We also need to take into account the issue of buying in very low cost players and turning them into stars, and the bringing through of the youth players.   Chelsea as we have noted in previous commentaries don’t seem to be very good at bringing through youth players to the first team (although each time I write this I get emails saying that it is about to happen big time).  Arsenal on the other hand have quite a track record over recent years (Coquelin, Bellerin, Iwobi) with every chance that at least one name will be added to that list this season.   Tottenham can in particular point to Kane.

There is also the issue of big sales which feed the club coffers.  Arsenal had a few – RVP and Fabregas for example, but Tottenham and Liverpool excelled here with one very large sale for each club – Bale and Suarez.   What is interesting is that although both clubs spent the millions they got in each case, neither seemed to make really brilliant purchases with the resultant income.  (Incidentally Liverpool might be a trifle embarrassed about the free transfer of one particular player bought in the aftermath of the Suarez sale.   “Mario Balotelli scores twice again as Nice thrash Monaco 4-0 in Ligue 1” is the headline in the Guardian with Mr B having now got four this season and Nice being top of the league.)

As for low cost players who turn out to be worth their weight, many teams do pick up bargains, and it would require quite an analysis to see who is best at it, but Holding, Ospina… these are the sort of players bought for a couple of million that I have in mind and Arsenal do seem to get quite a few such players.  (As it appears do Nice).

Thus there are many other factors around, but returning to the table, what we can see is that Arsenal spent 28.92% of its six year budget in the last year.   That doesn’t mean that the club got up to the levels of Mourinho (what would the media have made of it if we’d bought back a player for £59.50m who we had sold for £2.98m just four years earlier?)   But it means the club spent far more of its average expenditure across the years that we might have expected – and more than any other club.

Arsenal are still outspent year on year by four clubs, and such figures are not meant to convince anyone who is certain that Wenger won’t spend any money and the club owner is regularly putting his hand in the till.   (By my reckoning the owner is currently getting a return on investment of around 1%, which is better than the Nat West pay but about 6% worse than anyone who invests in UK property and then rents it out can get).    But it is an interesting sign.

All we need now is the return of FFP and things would start to even up a bit.

Recent Posts

Anniversary of the day

22 September 1999: For only the ninth time Arsenal played a home match in front of 70,000+.  The match, at Wembley, was against AEK Athens and Arsenal won 3-1.  Ljungberg, Henry and Suker scored.

You can find 5000 Arsenal anniversaries arranged day by day on the Arsenal History Society site.




4 Replies to “Did top English clubs really up their spending this summer, and how did Arsenal compare to the rest?”

  1. Tony,

    there is more than a coïncidence Nice comes up in your article.
    Lucien Favre their trainer is the guy who got Granit onto the world stage.
    As well as a whole bunch of others.
    He is no stranger to grooming young lads to become great players.
    And his teams have always had a ‘signature’ look and play that was attractive.
    Keep him on the radar.

    as for the owner’s ROI, I’d think his big payback will come when he sells the club.



  2. Possibly related to spending, who knows? But the richest man in Africa, from Nigeria, is in the news again. More stories that he wants to buy Arsenal (and ruin the club).

    Another trophy on the wall (speaking of the heads of animals, shot on “safari”).

  3. Corruption News

    Not even a year after BladderNost, we are seeing the strict rules to control or eliminate corruption being relaxed.


    The infant one thinks that any of his new people can do a wonderful job, regardless of how many brown paper bags filled with money happen to be involved. So we can relax the rules to nothing, so that we can all get back to “work”.

    I will guess that the infant one is uncomfortable that outsiders can properly deal with the brown paper bags which just naturally show up, so there must be easier ways to get insiders to do these terribly important jobs.

  4. Corruption News

    Not really corruption, maybe. LawInSport has an article about sport as a brand, which touches on corruption issues.

    > In perhaps the biggest corruption story of them all, FIFA’s on-going tribulations have shown that there is a separation between what is being sold and who is selling it. The fans’ passion for, and therefore value (both commercial and otherwise) of, football, remains – despite the organisation’s deep-rooted troubles.


    To read most of the article, you need to be registered. And I am not.

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