Just how well have Premier League clubs been doing when it comes to big money transfers?

By Tony Attwood

A couple of years ago I reported on an analysis which showed that roughly only 25% of big value transfers came good in their first season.  Most made a fair impression within three years but a quarter still failed to make the grade even in that space of time.   The point made was that spending a lot of money on players as a way of buying quick success was not a very successful move.

Now we have new figures from the Soccerex Transfer Review which shows that over the last three seasons €650m worth of players signed by Premier League clubs were only used for 50% of the time for which they were available – suggesting that quite a few never made the grade.

This figure accounts for 42% of the players costing more than €10m signed by Premier League clubs – all of whom were used less than half the time they could have been used for.

Even more surprisingly, the figures show that 28% of the signings that cost Premier League clubs more that €10m leave their clubs within three years.  Indeed of the players analysed by Soccerex 23 players that cost a total of €411m were moved on within the three year timescale.

Of course players may not be used because they suffer very serious injuries.  Likewise players may be sold on because a bigger club offers to buy them, having seen how good the players are.  But generally speaking it appears that the reason for the restricted use of these players, and for the fact that many of them are moved on faster than one might expect is that they simply didn’t prove to be as good as expected.

Manchester United (€161m) and Tottenham (€138m) topped the list of clubs signing players that failed to succeed, spending a combined €300m on 12 players.

After this came Manchester City (€73m), Liverpool (€69m), Arsenal (€47m) and Chelsea (€45m)

In terms of individual players former Manchester United midfielder Ángel Di María (€75m) was seen as the biggest disappointment of the three seasons analysed followed by Marouane Fellaini who at  €32m came in second.

At the other end of the scale Alexis Sanchez was the most profitable signing during the period covered with the site noting that he played 86% of minutes available.

But the review particularly notes that “only five out of the ten highest summer expenditures resulted in League or Champions League success,” a figure even worse than we found in our analyses of the issue.

However the Soccerex report brings up another matter that we haven’t considered before, when it comes to the benefit of transfers.

The rules of the Premier League also mean that there is a constant search for “Homegrown Talent” and the prices of such players have climbed year after year.  But despite the regulations requiring that the list of 25 registered players includes a set number of home grown players the Premier League continues to have the lowest number of national players (just 32%) of any of the major leagues.  Soccerex points out that La Liga has the highest such percentage (58%).

Thus we can see that the Premier League teams have invested more and more money each year on players, and it turns out that around 86% of the total spend being on foreign talent – the highest amount ever.

The site also notes that the inclusion of the home grown requirement in the Premier League has meant that PL sides have become ever more desperate to find players who quality under the convoluted home grown regulations, and this has pushed to price of home grown players ever higher.  According to Soccerex the cost of the average home grown player for English clubs in the Premier League is three times that of clubs in Spain.

Overall what these figures, combined with those we have seen before, confirm, is that transfers quite often don’t work, and that, as we know, clubs have more and more money to spend.  Because the demand for success is ever greater, clubs are becoming more and more desperate to have success now, and so spend the money – often without the best of results.

But because Premier League clubs are allowed a maximum of 25 players in their squad of which eight must be homegrown, and because there is an apparent shortage of top quality young English players (because, as we have shown, of the appalling lack of top quality coaches in England) this which means they have must have come through an English academy there is an ever increasing demand for such players.  What this means is that clubs that can develop or buy in at an early age young home grown players are at a great advantage while those who fail to do this, find themselves struggling to fill their quota of 25 players.

In effect any very rich Premier League club can go out and buy 17 top players from around the world to give themselves a superb squad.  But finding those remaining eight players from the homegrown category can be rather difficult.

In contrast We know that Arsenal have little difficulty in finding home grown players.   We have Coquelin, Gibbs, Jenkinson, Macey, Martinez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Walcott, and Welbeck.

But how well are other clubs in the Premier League doing when it comes to filling up their 25 player list of over-21s with home grown talent?  It is rather an interesting question, and one that we hope to be answering shortly.

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10 Replies to “Just how well have Premier League clubs been doing when it comes to big money transfers?”

  1. Macy
    Jenkinson Holding Chambers Gibbs
    Ramsey Wilshire Ox
    Walcott. Welbeck. Akpom

    After reading the post I thought I’d have a go at picking a British team for Arsenal.
    If you wanted to make it an English team it would not be difficult to replace Ramsey.
    So if the boss is thinking of taking the England job (hope not) he won’t have to go far to find English players who will know how he likes he’s teams to play.

  2. Lot of figures to contend with there. We’re in the territory now where 100 million plus might not lead to much improvement to a team.

    Can’t see anything at the first pass to shift me from my stance that relentlessly spending huge amounts of money should move you, fairly soon, into strong title contention and keep you there as long as you keep spending.

    The figures about the amount of failed transfers fit within that picture rather than harming it for me. The biggest of big spenders can afford for many of their transfers to fail- they just need to spend big enough for long enough for a very strong team to form.

    City are the kings of this. Until recently, a massive purchase who flopped at even a big club did at least a bit of medium term harm to them. Not City, they painlessly move on to spend big again. I hate that about them more than I do their ability to spend endlessly, as it snuffs out the hopes that if huge spenders are wasteful those who spend better can rightly claim the (mid or long term) advantages they deserve, though i suppose it’s the same thing.

    True, Utd are the ones heavily testing the theory that relentless spending will give you a good team before too long.

    It’s been enjoyable watching them toil despite throwing about so much cash, but it’s annoying for them not to be in the trouble they would once have been if so many expensive transfers underperformed (I remember Souness going on a big splurge for the time at Liverpool in the 90’s; poor return; hurt them plenty). Plus, surely it is only a matter of time before such spending results in a formidable team. Alas.

    Anyway, I have to enjoy what we have created with good use of our improved finances. Just unfortunate that the advantages of that aren’t as large as I’d like them to be.

  3. “Just how well have Premier League clubs been doing when it comes to big money transfers?”

    Very well. If you are a Special Agent.
    Or Specialist in signing players signed up to Special Agents. I mention no names.
    Laughing all the way past Risdale’s Leeds and into today’s brave new world.

    ‘The list is long, with many a winding turn…’

  4. OT: Coquelin

    Daily Star reports he is almost ready for training again. It is too early in his rehab to consider playing Sunday however.

    Reports may not be an accurate word, as this is the medja.

  5. An interesting read. Had a look at the presentation on their website too. They had an analysis showing the “top 10 biggest disappointments (last 4 seasons)”.

    Di Maria (Man U)
    Benteke (Liverpool!)
    Depay (Man U)
    Fellani (Man U)
    Soldado (Spuds)
    Son (Spuds)
    Markovic (Liverpool!)
    Jovetic (Man Oilers)
    Balotelli (Liverpool!)
    Filipe Luis (Chelski)

    So pleasing to know that actually we don’t make the sort of cock ups that the other ‘big’ clubs do. It’s a shame the media and the aaa don’t pick up on that really……….

  6. Goonermikey,


    Personal favourite? The Falcao loans whilst he was recovering from the same serious injury that Walcott had before the last WC, save he opted for quack surgery instead.

    Comic genius. ‘Arry could only dreamed such stunts. Funny how you will never rad or hear the unemployed physiotherapists out there critique the Special Agents who force their mules under the Quack’s knife…

    Ian Wright gets critiqued when he deserves it but credit where credit is due he’s the only figure in football who so far following the recent story had said that he’d like to see some bigger fish caught as opposed to the little nibblers who get done for the odd five grand bungle. After all Ian knows better then most that the only club to publicly sack a manager for taking the kind of bung that all his mates were taking was: AFC.

  7. Excellent article Tony! Not surprised at all about the amount of big transfers that have failed.

    OT: Arsene Wenger has given journalists new pens as a gift to mark his 20 year anniversary. Very classy as usual!

  8. Just wondering what will happen if one of those pens fails to write. Probably you will see this headline tomorrow.

  9. Rich

    Good post.

    Relentless spending will out in the end, or at least it usually does ?

    But as you say, United are currently testing that particular theory to the limit.

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