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February 2021

Who spends the most, and who gets the most from player sales?

By Tony Attwood

Some figures have been released by CIES Football Observatory concerning transfer expenditure over recent years.  Unfortunately as I have found before, the CIES figures are not complete and have a rather strange basis for their analysis – in this case they only record purchases between clubs in the top five leagues.

Also because the figures only show the top 20 clubs in Europe for both player expenditure and player income, two of the six top clubs listed for expenditure are not also listed in terms of income.

To try and complete the tables I have used Transfer Market’s figures for the two missing elements in the resultant table that can be evolved for six Premier League clubs – in this case filling in the income from sales for Manchester United and for Arsenal.

All figures are in Euros but the Manchester United and Arsenal income sales, and thus the final net expenditure figures for these clubs need to be treated with a certain level of caution because they come from a different source.

However they have been checked, and they are probably as close as one can get given the way the CIES data was gathered.

Club 2010/16 spend 2010/16 income Net expenditure  % of Man City net expend
Manchester City €1024m €247m €777m 100%
Chelsea €871m €358m €513m 66%
Manchester United €841m €184m* €657m 84%
Liverpool €663m €442m €221m 28%
Arsenal €466m €192m* €274m 35%
Tottenham Hotspur €457m  €369m €88m 11%

As we have seen in recent years, Tottenham’s net expenditure is considerably lower than other clubs – indeed up to a year ago Tottenham boasted that it was making a profit on its sales year by year.

And I thought I would add the final column – something I have not seen in such analyses before, because the numbers are hard to take in by themselves.

What the final column shows is that Manchester City have a net outlay of around three times as much as Arsenal, just under four times as much as Liverpool, and nine times as much as Tottenham.  The disparity seen in this way, is huge.

Looking at the figures from CIES (not the completed figures here) the Daily Mail launches its review with the headline

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“Liverpool are the ultimate selling club after raking in £384m in transfers” which is a rather interesting take.

This figure is explained to some degree by the sale of a few top players – Andy Carroll for £50m, Luis Saurez for £65m and Raheem Sterling for £35m – good money if you can get it, but interestingly spread out across  the whole period measured from 2010 onwards.

Tottenham were obviously in the same line of business as they got £30m for Luka Modric, and £91.8m for Gareth Bale.

Arsenal’s big sales were Samir Nasri £22m, Cesc Fábregas £35m, Robin Van Persie £22m.

Now the phrase “selling club” has always been a pejorative term in football, but it need not be, especially when the sale looks to have been at a ludicrously high price.   It is hard to see that Barcelona really got a £35m player in Fábregas, although they then did manage to sell him on for £30m to Chelsea – so yes they got a player for a few years that met their PR requirements, and played a fair number of games – all for £5m – a good deal.

But one may also question whether Barcelona spent £15m wisely in buying Thomas Vermaelen.  Or indeed in spending the same amount on Alex Song.

Of course sales like this can only happen occasionally.  The chances of Tottenham funding another spending spree from the sale of a second Gareth Bale seems slight, as do the chances of Liverpool pulling another trick along the lines of selling Andy Carroll for £50m.

With Liverpool you could argue that the purchase and sale of Carroll and Suarez were masterstrokes, both bringing in huge profits.  With Tottenham, the purchase of Bale for £10m from Southampton might appear like a master stroke, were it not for what the club did in spending the money they got upon selling him.

Basing a club’s finances on selling on top players can therefore work, but it is risky; quite simply what happens if you don’t find one?  However it is what Liverpool and Tottenham have done ahead of stadium developments.

A better ploy perhaps is to build up an academy process that pushes players through to the first team, or sells them on with suitable sell-on fees built into the contract.   And this last point reveals the flaw in the figures above.   Income from sell-on contracts doesn’t count in these figures, as far as I can see.

David Bentley was the ultimate sell-on contract, with each subsequent sale bringing in more and more money to Arsenal.  I am told (but of course don’t have access to the books to prove it) that Arsenal did the same sort of trick with the sale of Adebayor.  Benik Afobe, it is said, also carried the same baggage, going quickly from Wolverhampton (who paid £2m) on to Bournemouth for £10m.   Not all of that £8m profit ended up in the coffers of Wolverhampton.

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6 comments to Who spends the most, and who gets the most from player sales?

  • insideright

    Actually it was Torres that Liverpool sold for £50m – using £35m of it to buy Carroll who they fairly quickly farmed out for a great deal less.

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    Under Le Prof’s watch at Arsenal, Arsenal were once a selling club to enabled them meet certain financial obligation they got into. But they have since stopped being a selling club that they once were are since they are no longer under pressure to meet the financial obligation, but meet it at ease.

    Save if any Gunner insist of forcing his way out of the club which some former Gunners likeThierry O’henry, Patrick Veira, Samir Nasir, Sesc Fabrigas, Alex Song and Van Persie all did by forcing their ways out of Arsenal at one time or the other. And as if this forcing of one’s way out of Arsenal is not enough, this season, Sergy Gnabry has also followed suit as if he’s compelled to join the past bandwagon of leavers. However, Arsenal do on their own accord sell any Gunner who can’t make the Arsenal grade. e.g. Benik Afobe and Isaac Hayden who were recently sold to some clubs.

    But as of now, I for one cannot see Arsenal willing to sell any of their current players on the list of their current 25 man team squad. Save if anyone of them insisted on forcing his way out of the club, a situation that is highly unlikely to happen going by Arsenal willingness to keep their current players at the club as they continue to offer them improved contract deals along with better wages like the one Bellerin has recently secured. And they also extend the contract deals of some Gunners at the club by a year who they feel his service is still valuable to the club.

    Our hopes as Arsenal fans & supporters are, 2 of our topmost Gunners of, Ozil and Sanchez will agree to the new improved contract extension deal offers offered to them which have been lying on the table at Arsenal for them to sign. And I implore them to sign these new contract extension deals with the minimum delays.

  • Gord

    OT: About a player who cost nothing

    McCormack is better than Owen and Lineker combined!

    Joshua McCormack was named to the bench for Rochdale’s 2-1 win over Hartlepool in the Checkatrade Trophy game (yesterday I believe to those in the UK).

    McCormack never cost a penny, but has near infinite worth.

    Young Joshua was diagnosed with brain cancer a while ago, and told not too long ago, it is terminal. He is 5 years old.

    His name is on the gamesheet as a substitute, even though he was not well enough to attend the game.

    The story is in many places, not hard to find.

  • Andy Mack

    As insideright says, you’ve confused Torres with Carroll

  • Andy Mack

    Unfortunately picking future stars also involves some serious luck.
    Youngsters like JET and Aneke (and 30 others just from our own academy) should have made the jump to PL stars on talent alone but haven’t for whatever reason.
    Guys like Afobe and Hayden could well become top players but we just couldn’t give them the game-time that they needed. Really sad, but a reflection of the way PL football has gone…
    Whereas Bale needed a club that would keep him for 2 years despite him being not being on the winning side all that time… If Levy had been offered his money back after 12-18 months he’d probably have taken it. But he wasn’t so he hit the jackpot financially, even if it was possibly at the cost of winning silverware 😀

  • Robido

    You are quite right to point out that the mail have taken the data out of context as it clearly shows it as being the income received from sales to other clubs in the “big 5” leagues on which CIES concentrate their analyses.

    The income table would appear to be derived from the spending of the big 5 leagues to look at how the money is recycled within this bloc and largely within the top buyer teams. It does not purport to be total sales income and it states that it is only looking at the 2/3 of the income that is from within. Even so whilst accepting the ringfenced incomes do not represent the total they may reflect relative positions (or they may not).

    Also as you indicate it is not clear if this is restricted to just the initial fee or add ons. (There may also be some adjustment that should be made in discounted cash flow terms as to when the money was spent insofar as today’s Euro is not the same “value” as in 2010.)

    If looking at player incomes should hidden virtual sales, i.e. loans be included.

    It would seem that the research team have the resource and capability to provide a more complete balance analysis which could prove enlightening on a local and pan European basis? Is it something UA could tap into.