With a quarter of the season gone, how much value have clubs got from their summer transfer spending?


By Tony Attwood

Last year I passed a few hours examining how various teams’ league positions compared with their position in terms of how much money they spent in the summer on players.   I’ve waited until nine games have gone this season, but now I think it might be time to see how well related spending on transfers is to league position.

As you will know, I am sure, the key “argument” (really it is just a statement) of the aaa is one that says that spending money in the transfer market is the only way to progress a team.   Untold’s view, based on a variety of sources of evidence we’ve examined over the years, is that good transfer business can indeed help, but there is more to the business of making a successful team than that.

So far we’ve looked at the number of first team players each club has managed to gather together – and considered why so many clubs have failed to put 25 players in the official list of 25, the maximum allowed under Premier League rules.   Most clubs failed to find 25 such players, largely because they didn’t have enough “home grown” players in their squad.

Now I want to look at the amount spent last summer and see how it compares with league position with just about a quarter of the league season gone.   In the next article in the series, I want to take up a point raised in discussion recently – just how well have other teams’ transfers from the summer been settling in.

The table below is set out in the normal manner to show league position in the league. The final three columns then show

  • The club’s position in the league
  • The club’s position in the table of amount of money spent
  • The difference between the league position and the position in the league table.

Following up on that last point, a club that spent the most in the summer and is thus top of the “£ pos” table (Manchester City) should be top of the league table if there is a direct relationship between league position and amount spent on transfers – as the bloggettas, the mass media and their fellow travellers like to suggest.  And they are, so their relative position (that is their position in the money spent league and their position in the actual league) is identical.  The difference is zero.

Clubs that have a league table position higher than their position in the transfer money league table get a positive relative position.   So Arsenal were fourth in the league table of clubs spending the most last summer, but are currently second in the actual league table, so have a position of +2.  They are two places higher than we would expect if money bought positions.

The team that has come off best is Stoke – they are four places higher in the league than we might expect from their summer spending programme.  Five teams are just behind with +3.  The team that came off worst is Sunderland with -6.  Manchester United and Leicester City have also spent badly (or so it seems so far) and are five places lower than they should be if money equalled points in the league table.  They both have -5.

Clubs at the top end of the improvement list are in brown.  Clubs at the bottom end of the under achievement list are in blue.

Team P W D L F A GD Pts Spend Lge pos £ pos Relative
Man City 9 6 2 1 20 9 11 20 £174m 1 1 0
Arsenal 9 6 2 1 19 9 10 20 £91m 2 4 +2
Liverpool 9 6 2 1 20 11 9 20 £70m 3 6 +3
Chelsea 9 6 1 2 19 9 10 19 £123m 4 3 -1
Tottenham 9 5 4 0 13 4 9 19 £70m 5 5 0
Everton 9 4 3 2 13 8 5 15 £49m 6 10 -4
Man Utd 9 4 2 3 13 12 1 14 £149m 7 2 -5
Southampton 9 3 4 2 11 8 3 13 £44m 8 11 +3
Watford 9 3 3 3 13 13 0 12 £53m 9 9 0
Bournemouth 9 3 3 3 12 12 0 12 £40m 10 13 +3
Crystal Palace 9 3 2 4 12 12 0 11 £55m 11 8 -3
Leicester 9 3 2 4 11 15 -4 11 £67m 12 7 -5
West Brom 9 2 4 3 10 10 0 10 £22m 13 16 +3
Burnley 9 3 1 5 8 13 -5 10 £22m 14 17 +3
West Ham 9 3 1 5 10 17 -7 10 £44m 15 12 -3
Stoke 9 2 3 4 9 16 -7 9 £18m 16 20 +4
Middlesbrough 9 1 4 4 7 11 -4 7 £21m 17 18 +1
Hull 9 2 1 6 8 22 -14 7 £19m 18 19 +1
Swansea 9 1 2 6 8 15 -7 5 £32m 19 15 -4
Sunderland 9 0 2 7 6 16 -10 2 £27m 20 14 -6

Looked at from a different point of view, this is how the table should look if there was a direct relationship between summer spending and league position.  The league according to Spend Position.

Spend position Club Spend League position
1 Manchester Airport £174m 1
2 Manchester United £149m 7
3 Chelsea £123m 4
4 Arsenal £91m 2
5 Tottenham Hotspur £70m 5
6 Liverpool! £70m 3
7 Leicester City £67m 12
8 Crystal Palace £55m 11
9 Watford £53m 9
10 Everton £49m 6

Clearly this year so far there is some link between the amount spent and the position in the league. The link is best shown by the fact that eight of the top ten spenders are in the top ten league positions.  But as always the link is not perfect and as Leicester, Sunderland and Man U have found, spending isn’t everything.

Leicester’s position might be considerably worse than the table itself suggests, in that they also spent a considerable amount of money in the summer on increasing the wages and contract lengths of their existing players, while at the same time the questions relating to the source and sustainability of their “marketing incomes” remain unclear.

Sunderland look to have fallen into the trap that Newcastle dropped into last year or having a poor team and trying to buy their way up the league with multiple spends.  That is tempting but really doesn’t work in terms of patching together a group of new players into a failing team.

Manchester United’s expenditure, after almost a quarter of the league programme gone looks like an utterly bonkers buying programme from an utterly bonkers manager totally consumed by his personal propaganda.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he blames the club doctor next, and so for the first review of how a team other than Arsenal did in the summer transfer window, I’ve selected Man U.  That piece will follow shortly.

Perhaps the main lesson so far is that spending can help a club, but it is not guaranteed – which of course was exactly the conclusion that we came to last year in following the same analysis.  Spending some money isn’t all there is to it.

Finally we might note that eight PL clubs have new managers this season.

Name Club Appointed Time as manager Lge pos
José Mourinho Manchester United 27 May 2016 149 days 7
Ronald Koeman Everton 14 June 2016 131 days 6
Claude Puel Southampton 30 June 2016 115 days 8
Pep Guardiola Manchester City 1 July 2016 114 days 1
Walter Mazzarri Watford 1 July 2016 114 days 9
Antonio Conte Chelsea 3 July 2016 112 days 4
Mike Phelan Hull City 22 July 2016 93 days 18
David Moyes Sunderland 23 July 2016 92 days 20

The link between changing the manager and club progress thus seems even less automatic than that between spending money and league position.

Recent tales from Untold 

Wenger ponders whether Yaya Sanogo will ever really be good enough for Arsenal. 

Inattentive journalists and pundits totally bemused by the notion of offside

Manipulative, misleading and ill informed: the debate over empty seats at the Ems

Arsenal – Middlesbrough : 0-0 too slow and not precise enough in the passing

Arsène’s birthday message: “It’s not as easy as it looks”. Arsenal v Middlesbrough – the teams and stuff.


16 Replies to “With a quarter of the season gone, how much value have clubs got from their summer transfer spending?”

  1. I’m sorry, Tony, but it’s way too early to draw any conclusions on the last transfer splurge. Clubs invest in players in the expectation of a return over 5 years, or whatever their contract length is – not 9 games.

    Look at transfer spend over the last 24 years and it’s absolutely clear that the most PL titles have been won by the 3 clubs that invested the most in players, namely Man C, Man U and Chelsea.

    It’s also a fact that in the last 7 seasons the PL title has been won mostly by new managers with one or two years service.

    Has there been a paradigm shift this season? Only time will tell.

    I’m sorry, but these articles, devoid of statistically useful information, have become tedious. On the other hand, your recent post on the truth behind empty seats at the Club was superb. Please could we have more of the latter?

  2. Tony

    Interesting read.

    Couple of points

    What if a team buys a really expensive dud ? This would mean little influence on league positon

    What if a team buys a diamond cheaply ? Could have more influence than an expensive dud

    What is the strength of the side a new player is being added to ?

    Our signings:

    Holding. Excited by him. Bargain. Year on loan to a PL side next season like chambers. Kos successor ?

    Mustafi. Expensive for a CB. So far worth any money spent.

    Xhaka. Younger than Pogba and will prove to be a top signing. Needs to avoid silly cards and hasn’t quite got used to the intensity of the league. Has though had many promising performances.

    Lucas. One good game and some useful cameos. Need and want to see more of him.

  3. Spending huge money is one way of improving a team. Others include

    Finding bargains

    Promoting young players.

    Coaching and improving these youngsters and the players you already have.

    Having a footballing philosophy and ensuring the players adhere to it.

    Specific tactics and tactical planning for each game.

    Injury prevention and recovery.

    Luck 🙂 🙂

  4. The point that tony is trying to make, Robert, is that there is a popular notion promoted by media and consequently fans that if you spend money on expensive players, then you can expect instant results. But the reality is much more complicated than that

  5. Arsenal bought 3 new senior squad players this summer and only Sokodran Mustafi has so far shown a promising defensive potential in the Premier League for us. The rest of Xhaka and Perez have tried whenever they are played but their overall contributions to the team’s campaign efforts in the PL are more or less on the average side.

    With time, but for how long? I hope Xhaka and Perez who had 2 assists in our last Ucl game against Ludogorets, and even Elneny have all not been remarkably impressived in their overall quality of their games for Arsenal. Elneny who came to Arsenal in the last January transfer window has been ordinary in his performances for Arsenal generally. I think he should wake up from his slumber and leave the comfort
    lazy zone for the hardworking zone for Arsenal

    I think we’ve got to be very careful in the ways we drop points in the PL this season. So that we won’t have ourselves to blame at the end of the season. Le Prof MUST find the solution to the teams parking the bus against us particularly in the PL and getting away with a result even at the Ems. This shouldn’t be happening to us if we get our game apt correctly.

    I think the solution to this problem is to have a schemer in our team. Campbell is one but has been loaned out. But we still have Santi Cazorla who is a two footed schemer that can breakdown any parked bus in front of the opponent goal, and create an opening for others to score or score by himself when he was at the top of his fitness and his game. But right now Santiago Cazorla is not at the top of the quality of his game after he returned from his big knee injury. I hope he’ll soon recover his two footed top quality game for Arsenal.

    Has Le Prof made a mistake by allowing Joe Campbell out on loan? Joe is one schemer who can take on defenders and breaks through them and make a good pass to any of his mates in the box to attempt scoring or attempt scoring by himself. Why didn’t Le Prof sign a top quality schemer in the last summer window when he knew Cazorla wouldn’t be at the top level of his game due to the big knee injury he had. And he was going to send Campbell on loan? I am not querying Le Prof. But If there be a top Under 21 top drawer schemer at our academy school who can be relied upon to take on parked bus in front of the opponent’s goal or in their eighteen yard and breaks though it or break it down, let Prof please draft such a top quality schemer from his Under 21 squad into his senior squad if he has one for the sole purpose of breaking through parked bus by teams playing against us when necessary.

  6. I feel Tony’s article also takes on the media obsession with the transfer market, as if that were the only factor in club success.

  7. I think Mourinho has beat AW once again this week-end
    Does someone have a stat about the fastest goal against Arsenal since AW has arrived ?
    Chelsea scored the 1-0 after 30 seconds…
    Is this another area where Mourinho is better ?!?!

  8. Robert, as Saadman pointed out coming to my defence, and Pat also mentioned, the context is the idea of immediate benefits.

    The original research which I cited in this strand showed that if you take big value player transfers only, in rough and ready figures 25% of those players make a huge difference to the team straight off, a further 50% make that contribution over two to four years, and 25% never do.

    Further, last year we had the spectacle of Leicester, who spent modestly winning the league, so I am interested in what happened to their spending, and the result.

    I should have made it more clear – this is part of a long running series here.

  9. Fun fact:
    Arsenal have lost just once in their last 25 games in all competitions (including friendlies). It was the 4-3 defeat to Liverpool in August.
    Quite impressive! The mood around here doesn’t reflect it.

  10. @Sammy

    Mourinho has lost 13 out of last 27 in the league. Still, he is considered to be a Messiah to some people.

    Speaking of our defeats, I do have a problem with our record at home. Five out of seven defeats in 2016 took place at our own home. I guess our home crowd should repeat the atmosphere from the Chelaea game more often.

  11. OT: Just seen a report that Sissoko has been charged by the FA for his elbow on Arter. About time the Tinies started to be held to account for throwing their toys out the pram.

  12. Robert, you’re correct that buying players is about the long term. But unfortunately we have a large group of internet supporters that don’t understand that. They think buying players = ‘we’ll win the league this year’, rather than the actuality which is that if they’re quality players then they’ll make the squad better over the next few years when they finally hit their stride (most likely late in the season or their 2nd season – but only very occasionally from the start of the 1st season). So you’re right but not in the context the report was meant for.

    Even in this context it’s not really a true reflection of costs as salary is a very large portion for some players. Ibra may have been free but his salary appears to be over £10m a year (a bit like when we got Sol).
    He may be their top scorer and there’s little doubt that on his day he’s ultra special, but we’re already seeing that when it’s not his day he can’t be bothered and becomes a passenger.

  13. In the first quarter of the season , we are joint top on points in the EPL , in with a shout in the other two competitions and the injured list is gradually improving .

    And as Sammy say , only one loss in 25 games ….and there is moaning ? Strange.

    No complaints from me !
    Up the Gunners !

  14. ‘ With trust even silence is understood . Without trust every word is misunderstood . Trust is the soul of relationships .’

  15. ‘Sometimes I turn to God . Sometimes I turn to wine . Either way I’m being guided by a spirit.’

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