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June 2021

Does a player acquired as a big-money transfer perform well in the first season? A look at recent history.

Does a player acquired as a big-money transfer perform well in the first season? Let’s look at recent history.

By Zuruvi


There is school of thought shared by some Arsenal fans here on this Forum that says that big-money transfers don’t work in the first or second seasons after the transfer has taken place.

This point of view is based on study done by someone that I don’t know and I have not been able to see the report so I can assess which players were analysed as being successful or failures in their first, second or third year.

I would also want to see who the manager that bought that player was. If the manager is Harry Redknapp at QPR paying £20 million to bring Chris Samba from Russia to QPR, I wouldn’t really respect the findings. Such a finding would only confirm that poor signing don’t work.

But if the research says Thierry Henry didn’t perform well in his first season, I wouldn’t agree that this is evidence that big-cash signings don’t work because (firstly) Thierry wasn’t really a big-money signing and (secondly) Thierry was bought a young player (about 20 years old) who Wenger knew had potential to be great central striker. Wenger used the first year or 18 months to convert Thierry from a good winger into a very good striker and later into a world-class striker.

Regardless, I respect the opinion of those Arsenal fans who say that transfers don’t work in the first year. My view is that high-value transfers generally work that is why Chelsea was transformed from a mediocre London team to a top Premiership team, and that is why Man City transformed overnight from a team that had perennial relegation to a top Premiership team.

It is simply because they had high value transfers. Both Chelsea and Man City didn’t take more 2 seasons to become Premiership Champions from the date when their Super Rich Owners bought each of the clubs. Why? Because both clubs bought high-value and highly skilled players.

So fellow Gunners, I am not yet convinced by the view that the overwhelming majority of high-value players don’t perform well in the first and 2nd season mainly because I have not seen the list of players that were included in that survey and which players were regarded as good-performers and bad performers in their first season.

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I remember Robert Pires being a very good player when he arrived in his first season. I also remember that Robert Pires was improved into a truly world-class player in the 2nd and 3rd season by Arsene Wenger. Sanchez was a good player in his first season, and he has improved in his 2nd season. I have done my own little study of the recent biggest transfers by the Premier League clubs and assessed how they performed in their first season. The results are below.

Let us look at 11 of the biggest transfers of this current season (2016-17). If we confine our assessment to the current season performance we might be fairer and more accurate because our memory is still fresh and the player performances are still very clear in our minds.

The objective of a big money transfer is to improve your team during the contract period (which is normally 4 years). So when I ask for Arsenal to buy a quality player I don’t necessarily expect him to hit the ground being world-class. I don’t mind if he takes 6 months or 12 months to show his true skill level. I know that quality generally rises to the top.

I also know that average quality (maybe a player like Theo Walcott or Welbeck) will improve but not become a great player. I definitely know that low quality like Bendtner and Almunia will never rise to the top no matter if you keep them at Arsenal for 8 years and give them the best training in the best facilities and even make them train every day with top talents like Vieira, Pires, Fabregas and Thierry!!!

Let us now assess if each of the big-money transfers for 2016 actually improved their teams in their first season at that club (or if only 25% managed to do that):

  1. Paul Pogba – £89m plus a supposed £40m paid to his agent:

Whilst I am not a big fan of Paul Pogba and Man Utd I think Pogba improved the Man Utd midfield but I certainly don’t think he is worth anything above £50m. Juventus saw Mourinho and Man United coming and knew they could get a premium high price from a club that was desperate.

Any player who cost as much as Pogba cost should be playing like Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo or even like N’golo Kante. Pogba certainly isn’t living up to the expectation of his price tag and the ridiculous hype the Man Utd, the media and Pogba himself portray regarding his personality and hair-styles.

My verdict is that Pogba is a good, young player who could improve further in the years ahead. Pogba easily fits into any Man Utd fan’s selection of who should be in their First Team. That’s enough evidence to show that he is better than the player he replaced in the team.

After the first season, was this “Big-Ticket-Buy” a great acquisition for his team in terms of performance and impact? Probably YES (but only idiots would overpay to this extent!!!)

  1. John Stones – £50m

Has Stones improved the Man City defence in his first season at the club? Not really. I think Man City overpaid for Stones. He is a good player but not worth £50m. Many City fans would not regard Stones as someone who significantly improved the team. Stones has had a good but not great season. At his age I think he will continue to improve.

After the first season, was this “Big-Ticket-Buy” a great acquisition for his team in terms of performance and impact? Maybe YES maybe NO.

  1. Leroy Sane – £40m

Man City bought this superb talent from Schalke. What a player! What a talent! This young player has been outstanding. He has definitely improved the Man City team and squad. Leroy Sane has potential to improve even further.

After the first season, was this “Big-Ticket-Buy” a great acquisition for his team in terms of performance and impact? YES.

  1. Saido Mane – £35m

What a great little player. Great talent. Hard worker. Mane has definitely improved Liverpool. Mane at his age could improve further in the next year or two. Every Liverpool fan would certainly choose Mane as one of the first names on their team sheet.

After the first season, was this “Big-Ticket-Buy” a great acquisition for his team in terms of performance and impact? Obviously YES.

  1. Shkodran Mustafi – £34m

Mustafi has had a good season at Arsenal. He has improved the Arsenal defence. He is much better than Gabriel but not as good as the Kosc. Money well spent. Most Arsenal fans would have Mustafi as one of the starting eleven.

After the first season, was this “Big-Ticket-Buy” a great acquisition for his team in terms of performance and impact? Definitely YES.

  1. Michy Batshuayi – £33m

Batshuayi has had a mixed season. He is not regarded as first eleven player by most Chelsea fans. I suspect he wasn’t bought to replace Diego Costa or Eden Hazard but as a promising talent for the future. The boy is talented but he certainly hasn’t improved the Chelsea team in my opinion (although he did score the winning goal that earned Chelsea the Premier League title.

After the first season, was this “Big-Ticket-Buy” a great acquisition for his team in terms of performance and impact? Maybe YES maybe NO.

  1. N’golo Kante – £32m

Chelsea paid about £32m to take Kante from Leicester.

What a player!!! What a player!! What a player! In his first season in the Premier League he was in my opinion the reason why Leicester won the League title. I have my suspicions on why he wasn’t crowned the Footballer of The Year. The suspicion being that the media made a lot of song and dance about Vardy because he was English and it made for a “lovely” story that someone from the lower English leagues had risen to the very top. The football writers therefore chose Vardy. Mahrez also received accolades from the players because of his unbelievable skills and beautiful goals.

This year the little man once again led another team dressed in blue to the league title. Kante was by far the best player in the this year’s title-winning Chelsea team.

After the first season, was this “Big-Ticket-Buy” a great acquisition for his team in terms of performance and impact? Most definitely YES.

  1. Eric Bially – £32m

Another Man Utd player that I don’t really rate. I however think Bailly has had a decent season. My Man Utd supporting friends (unfortunately I chose my friends poorly!) tell me that he has improved Man Utd. They say that Man Utd suffered mid-season during the period when he was injured. I think Bailly cost £32m simply because everyone in football knows that Mourinho and Man Utd both regularly overpay for any player (even if they are the only ones trying to buy that player).

After the first season, was this “Big-Ticket-Buy” a great acquisition for his team in terms of performance and impact? YES.

  1. Christian Benteke – £30m

Not my favourite type of player but no one can argue that Crystal Palace have been richly rewarded by their decision to spend big on bringing Benteke from Liverpool for some £30m. Many would agree that without Benteke and his crucial goals during this first season at Crystal Palace, Fat Sam and Crystal Palace would most probably be sitting in the list of relegated teams right now.

After the first season, was this “Big-Ticket-Buy” a great acquisition for his team in terms of performance and impact? YES.

  1. David Luiz – £30m

David Luiz has been a very good defender for Chelsea. All Chelsea fans would certainly agree that David Luiz has excelled in the new “Back Three plus Two Wingbacks” formation that Arsenal triggered Chelsea into adopting (after Arsenal has convincingly walloped Chelsea 3-0 earlier in the season). Great player. Great season. He certainly improved the Chelsea team.

After the first season, was this “Big-Ticket-Buy” a great acquisition for his team in terms of performance and impact? Definitely YES.

  1. Granit Xhaka – £30m

Xhaka has had an average season for Arsenal. His passing statistics are very good but his defensive play is Scholes-like. Has Xhaka made the Arsenal midfield better? Probably not. Has Xhaka made the Arsenal midfield worse? Probably not. There is are mixed feelings as regards Xhaka from Arsenal fans. Some say, he isn’t worth the £30-odd-millions we paid, we should have gone for N’golo Kante instead for similar money. Other fans say give him another season and he will shine. My view is that Xhaka started off rather poorly but he has improved a lot as the season progressed.

After the first season, was this “Big-Ticket-Buy” a great acquisition for his team in terms of performance and impact? Maybe YES maybe NO.

Based on the above analysis I think the Big-Money Transfers have (as a group) overwhelmingly improved their respective teams in their first season at the clubs. More than 70% of the above players have performed well in their first season at their clubs.

I think all these players mentioned above have the potential to improve further in the next one or two seasons.

The big danger of looking at a player’s performance 4 or 5 years after the transfer is that you will judge his first season against his 3rd or 4th season. If a player is continuously improving (as most young players do) you could think his first season was a disaster yet he may indeed have been a success in that first season.

Therefore, if Leroy Sane or Saido Mane begin playing like Messi next season, it doesn’t mean that he had a bad season this year. It simply means the player has improved in subsequent years.

PS: I am not saying that Arsenal should have bought Pogba or David Luiz or Benteke. My position is that the Arsenal Board should provide Wenger with the resources that will enable him to buy players of the quality that Arsenal really needs. Our super-rich owners should invest in the club instead of relying on fans to pay for everything. Other super-rich owners (such as at Chelsea, Spurs and Man City) invest in their clubs.

I am not saying that Arsenal should just have a team filled with expensive players. In my view Walcott, Giroud, Ramsey, Welbeck, and players of similar quality should be our reserves and not our first picks in the big matches. We need midfielders who dominate games and score goals, lots of goals. We need a central striker who is clinical who converts many half-chances, and who hardly ever misses when he gets a good chance.

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10 comments to Does a player acquired as a big-money transfer perform well in the first season? A look at recent history.

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    That central striker who is clinical and converts half chances will be difficult for Arsenal to sign even if they manage to find one. He will be very costly to sign as his selling club will demand very above the odds price for him and Arsenal hardly pay above the odds price for a player they want to sign. Save once in the case of Ozil when they paid above the odds price to sign him.

  • Norman14

    Lets assume for a moment, that Arsenal decie to sell both Alexis and Mesut for a combine £90 million.

    How many players would come into the club, and have only average first seasons?

    Isn’t the easier option to keep what we have and pay them accordingly?

    Just saying 😉

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    Let’s take into cognizance that the end has justified the means for Man Utd as Z. Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and H. Mkhitaryan goals who Mourinho signed delivered the EFL Cup, Europa League Cup and a Champions League group stage qualification to Man Utd this last season. How I wish Le Prof and Arsenal had in the last 13 seasons been doing this kind of productive signings. The signings that would have seen Arsenal win the PL titles many times in the last 13 seasons?

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    I will not subscribe to the thinking that the forwards Giroud & Walcott in particular, and the midfielder Ramsey should be in the reserve and not regulars in the first team. Marks us, the most difficult job to perform in the team is the scoring of goals. And we should remember that the fingers of the hand are not equalled but very necessary they are all there if the hand is to be very efficient. Giroud scored 12 PL goals and moreover despite being slow, he’s a top scorer in all competions and Walcott had 10 making 22 in total by these 2 Gunners this last season and this tally is good. If Sanchez 24 PL goals are added to the 22, that’d a combined total of 46 Pl goals by 3 Gunners this last season. And when Ramsey returned from the sidelines and regained full match fitness, he contributed in making some assists. I think the wingbacks of: the Ox, Monreal, Gibbs & Bellerin, and all the centrebacks, the midfielders: Coquelin, Xhaka & Elneny, the forward Welbeck and the playmaker Ozil have individually and combinely let Arsenal down as their individual goals tally is not significant to see Arsenal challenged for the title.

  • Gunz

    “Xhaka has had an average season for Arsenal.”
    And the statistics say?
    The question to ask is. Why has Xhaka had an average season for Arsenal? Is he treated fairly by the PGMOL+MSM?

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    I believe if Le Prof stays on as the Gunners boss next season has some fine tuning to do in his current first team squad if Arsenal are to successfully challenged for the Gooners most sort after PL title win next season in my layman view.

    First and foremost, a top quality upgrade to the slow BFG and the medium quality Paulista and Gibbs MUST be sort for and found internally( within the rank and file of the current overall Arsenal squad) or from the transfer market to adequately upgrade his first team defence-line next season. The replacements for the perennial injury crisis Cazorla and the lackluster Elneny must be sort for either within the current Arsenal teams or from the external. While one or two forwards inclusion added to the current forwards of: Giroud, Walcott, Ozil & Sanchez that will included Eddy Nketiah and that £50-60m rated top quality striker who ticked all the boxes MUST be signed in the summer to vastly improved the Gunners striking power next season. And of course, Le Prof MUST do all within his powers at Arsenal to keep Sanchez and Ozil at Arsenal.

  • emex

    Fully agree with you zuruvi, perhaps Tony would show us a link to his own survey where he made the conclusion that expensive players don’t work in their first seasons.
    Nb: even if they actually don’t work in the first seasons, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be bought for what they’ll give from their 2nd season upwards

  • Emex, it wasn’t my research, I was quoting other research. I don’t have the link to it now but I will go back and republish it when I have time – bit of a rush today.

    We do have a real problem on Untold in that we have published so many articles in the 9+ years we’ve been going that of course many people don’t go back and read the origin of any particular piece. But to summarise the second year issue, the media and many bloggetta commentators have become highly critical of players in their first year and demanded they be dropped, and used this as a criticism of the manager. Thus at a time of perceived crisis buying players in when some will not do well in the first year only heightens the tension, if it is seen as being the prime way of solving the perceived crisis. In short buying players can make matters worse, even when they are excellent players.

  • porter

    They can make matters worse and they can improve things. Entering the transfer market is a gamble but one you have to take to freshen things and go forward.

  • Polo

    @ Zuruvi, another well written article. I think whether a player is successful or not depends on whether they are suitable for a particular league.

    I believe many players coming from other leagues to the EPL seem to struggle because the EPL is more physically demanding and the referee in the EPL prefer the match to be gladiatorial than technical like in La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, and Ligue 1. Players like Di Maria, Falcao, Memphis Depay, caudrado, Dzeko, and Bravo are excellent players in other leagues but struggle in the EPL. Some players do well in their first season but then struggle in the seasons after such as Payet. Some who struggle in their first season but did well in the next season such as Pedro.

    What I’m trying say is some players who do extremely well in one league does not mean they will do the same in another league, therefore we as fans need to be mindful of that. I agree that if Arsenal were to buy an already developed player than we should buy from top tier clubs such as Bayern Munich, Barca, Real Madrid, and Juventus. If Arsenal is seeking players who are considered potentials but not developed than we should look at second tier clubs such as Shalke, Roma, Seville, Dortmund and Bayern Leverkussen.