Why does high spending on transfers send a club down the table

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by Tony Attwood

In the earlier piece today I returned to the theme of spending money on transfers, and what the top spenders of last summer have got for their expenditure.

In effect if all that spending was based on the expectation that the clubs in question would be higher up the league than now, then clearly they were disappointed when looking at the league table:

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
1 Liverpool 21 20 1 0 50 14 36 61
2 Manchester City 22 15 2 5 62 25 37 47
3 Leicester City 22 14 3 5 47 21 26 45
4 Chelsea 22 12 3 7 39 29 10 39
5 Manchester United 22 9 7 6 36 25 11 34
6 Sheffield United 22 8 8 6 24 21 3 32
7 Wolverhampton Wanderers 22 7 10 5 31 28 3 31
8 Tottenham Hotspur 22 8 6 8 36 31 5 30
9 Crystal Palace 22 7 8 7 20 24 -4 29
10 Arsenal 22 6 10 6 29 31 -2 28
11 Everton 22 8 4 10 25 32 -7 28
12 Southampton 22 8 4 10 27 39 -12 28
13 Newcastle United 22 7 5 10 21 34 -13 26
14 Brighton and Hove Albion 22 6 6 10 25 30 -5 24
15 Burnley 22 7 3 12 24 37 -13 24
16 West Ham United 21 6 4 11 25 33 -8 22
17 Watford 22 5 7 10 20 34 -14 22
18 Aston Villa 22 6 3 13 28 43 -15 21
19 AFC Bournemouth 22 5 5 12 20 35 -15 20
20 Norwich City 22 3 5 14 22 45 -23 14

Of course we can’t ever know what the expectations were, but we might take a guess that

Manchester United having spent £148m would have thought that they would be comfortably in the top four by now.   I suspect they didn’t expect to be heading for the title but still, they surely couldn’t have thought that they would be outside the top four looking at another Europa season next year.

Aston Villa spent £144.5m in what I suspect was an effort to secure midtable security and as we can see they are lurking in the relegation zone.  Going down having spent all that summer money, and having committed to the salaries that come with such expenditure, would be a financial disaster for the club from which it may find it hard to recover.

Arsenal’s aim is clearly to recover the Champions League money rather than remain in the Europa, but the way things stand they are not going to get either.  Of course changing the manager was not on the cards – Mr Emery had a two year contract and was allowed to develop the squad as he wished, so we have a lot of his chosen players in the squad, and a lot of money has been used up paying off his team of coaches.

Manchester City are the focal point of the earth-wide City Group of clubs, and the expectation is that they would be champions not just last season but every season.  To have a club that has not ever won the Premier League way out in front of them is not the plan at all, and they must be wondering what they got for their £134.8m on top of everything else they already had.

The club has notoriously threatened to sue Uefa in every court in Europe if it dares investigate their finances any further, but that all seems rather a side-issue if their attempt at eternal league dominance is not brought to fruition.

Everton spent £118.5m in an effort to get into the Europa League, and are currently 11th.  Last season they finished 8th, and they must have thought that amount of money was simply an investment in the future.  Instead it has turned into a loss with no return at all.   And they still have a new stadium to finance.

Tottenham Hotspur spent £101.5m with the clear aim of securing their Champions League future and all the wealth that brings.  Instead they currently find themselves having bypassed the Europa places and are now outside of the European places altogether.

So what has gone wrong for these spending clubs?

I suspect it is a mixture of factors, which I’ll briefly set out below.

1: Instability in the squad

Bring in a number of new players at once and the balance of the squad gets changed.  Change the manager and everything goes up in the air.   That, in essence, is the Tottenham problem.

2: Uncertainty

During the build up to any managerial change uncertainty creeps into the squad.  Likewise, when there is endless chatter about moving the manager on, just a year after he came into the job the uncertainty increases.   Then if he buys lots of players and they are not at once a success, the whole thing gets worse.  That is Arsenal’s problem.

3: Expectations are raised

The media loves to talk up transfers because a) it is the cheapest sort of article to write (requiring no funding other than the journalists’ alcohol bill) and everyone else is doing it, so it looks like the norm.

But some supporters still believe the stories about transfers, and so they can get excited about incoming players – until the same journalists who talked the players up in the first place, now talk them down.

4: Players take a while to settle in. 

Just because the new players are no good now, that doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future.  Henry, Bergkamp, Pires all took a while to settle down – a whole season settling in, is not uncommon.  But egged on by the journalists and bloggers fans now expect players to deliver on day one.

5: It is guesswork forced on a club by media

The way the media works, many fans actually believe that their club is about to buy its way out of trouble.  This rarely happens, because it is often very hard to see just how a player will fit into a new team

What else could be done?

There are three alternatives – nurturing a club’s youth players and bringing them through more quickly (Arsenal have now moved over to this approach somewhat), developing existing players (this is very difficult for Arsenal because of the remourceless attacks by fans and the media on players like Xhaka, the players lose confidence) and evolving the tactics of the club.

This last approach was the Wenger way, and he was the absolute master of it.  But the fans turned on Wenger, and anything that looks like a return to Wengerianism is likely to result in another media-led fan revolt.

The fact is that until we can start admitting that spending more and more on players that quite often we, the average fans, have never heard of, only works in the hands of genius managers like Mr Wenger, we’re probably not going to get out of this crsis.


13 Replies to “Why does high spending on transfers send a club down the table”

  1. I suspect that high transfer fees do actually contribute to better results but only if there are other things in place such as a continuity in players, coaches, and tactics…assuming the coaches in place, the players bought and tactics are good, of course.

    I’ve always thought were I to have an unlimited budget (like Man C), I would start with an evaluation of the people who manage the clubs, buy the players and manage them. I suspect there are a fair number of skookum managers and coaches in the football league but they do not get the opportunities to develop and be seen in the Premier League. The FA should really be paying more attention the value added contributions of these men and women.

  2. OT: Arsenal Women

    As mentioned earlier, their game against Chel$ea at Meadow Park is SOLD OUT. Guamxckcnjn94e8u94tnnjvfoijre has an article on this story. Montemurro is quoted in that article as saying that the women need to be consistently selling out Meadow Park, before they start playing games at the Emirates.



    Tabea Kemme has decided to retire.


    Islington Gazette also had an article about this, and they say that she has a position in some police force (in Islington?).

    Here is the link to the latest injury news for the women.


  3. Tony

    “Why does high spending on transfers send a club down the table”

    It doesn’t.

    I agree with you on many things Tony but on this we differ.

    As I have pointed out many times, spending big over a prolonged period is the ONLY way to win the Premier league, with the honoury exception of Liecster City, only big spenders, no MEGA spenders, have won the PL, since our last title back in 2004.

    I’m going to use two team as an example of exactly how misleading it is to take a single season, or even just a couple of seasons of big spending, as an indicator of what money can achieve or not as the case may be, and those teams are Liverpool and Man City.

    Bellow I will list Liverpools seasons 2013/14 to 2019/20 and Man Citys seasons 2006/07 to 2011/12, followed by their spend, and then their finishing position.


    Year: 2013/14

    Spend: £49 Million

    Poss: 2nd

    Year: 2014/15

    Spend: £117 Million

    Poss: 6th

    So Liverpool increased their outlay nearly 3 fold and dropped 4 places. So obviously big spending doesn’t work ? Wrong. Big spending for just one season doesn’t work, big spending maintained over a few years always does, eventually, as I will demonstrate.


    £82 Mil


    So still not working.


    £68 Mil


    The money is starting to take effect.


    £155 Mil

    4th again.

    Or is it?


    £161 Mil


    Yep it seems it is.

    So that’s an average spend of over £100 Million per season over the last 5 seasons. But then we have this.


    £4.8 Mil

    1st ?

    So a measly £4.8 Million spent to climb from 2nd to 1st. So it’s true, it’s got nothing to do with money?

    Well that’s what it looks like if you just take one seasons spending in isolation. But that is, as I keep saying, very misleading, because I suggest the reason Liverpool have ascended to the title from a low of 8th has much more to do with the previous 5 seasons mega £500 Million spend than 2019’s measly £4.8 Million.

    And MANCHESTER CITY had a similar pathway between seasons 2008/07 and 2011/12.


    £2.4 Mil



    £45 Mil


    The spending starts, the assent begins.


    £122 Mil


    A place dropped. So again, in isolation it looks like big spending doesn’t work. A trebling of the previous seasons spending results in a drop of one place similar to what happened to Liverpool in season 2014/15.

    But as I keep saying it’s not about taking seasons in isolation, it’s about consistent spending over years.

    Over the next 3 seasons City continued spending an average of over £100 Million per season and finished 5th, 3rd and finally, following a spend of £520 Million over 5 seasons, 1st. Sound familiar:


    2014/15 to 2019/20 5 seasons

    Spend: £550 Million

    Rose from 6th to 1st


    2006/07 to 2011/12 5 seasons

    Spend: £520 Million

    Rose from 14th to 1st

    So an almost identical Gross spending of over £100 Million per season each.

    Yes, Man Utd have also spent somewhere near that without a title to their name, but all that proves is that in the toughest league in the World, up against possibly the best 2 managers in the World, you cannot afford to employ 2nd rate managers or has beens.

    But one thing I do know is, if they do want to challange City and Liverpool they certainly wont do it by NOT spending big, and nor will we, or Spurs, or anyone else.

    So despite what you say Tony, big, and I mean BIG spending, is how you win the Premier League. In fact, somewhere in the region of £100 Million per season, and as United have shown, even that is no guarantee if you get duff managers.

  4. @Nitram,

    there is an element that is not mentionned : stability in the manager/managing team position(s). This element can save millions as we have seen with Wenger, Ferguson, Klopp. Guardiola is an outlier there, he’s only had teams with unlimited funds and superstars, never had to build from ground up, and I doubt he’d get results without all the outlays. I trust Arteta more in this regard. Which brings us to countless pieces from Tony about how a manager change does not necessarily mean better results in the following months.

    So stability in outlays and stability in the managerial position are key. Then, if a team has a Messi or a Ronaldo, this element does change the equation massively. Such a player by himself means a league title is probable : very good players will want to join the team, his talent will raise the overall quality, good coaches will want to come yet the star carries games by himself, this all creates a positive vortex that in itself is worth lots of points at the end of the year. And looking at CL results… the winner mostly has a galacatical star in his ranks.

    In this regard the PL or european football are no different then the NFL, the NBA, the MLB. You have a superstar, it changes everything. If you don’t, you need a very stable team of ‘normal’ stars, you have a chance

  5. Chris

    You make some good points.

    Yes there are other factors outside of the money that can have an impact, such as Manchester United failing to get their manger right, which seems to be behind why they haven’t managed to turn their £500 Million in to a title, although it’s worth mentioning, they have still managed a 2nd place and won 3 trophies.

    Not good enough for them I know but still better than those that haven’t spent £500 Million (with the honourable exception of Liecster again of course)

    “Guardiola is an outlier there, he’s only had teams with unlimited funds and superstars, never had to build from ground up, and I doubt he’d get results without all the outlays.”

    Exactly. Despite his obvious talent as a manager, what would he of won had he ever had to operate on a restricted budget, or heaven forbid a zero nett spend?

    So yes, as you say there are other factors that come in to play, but the biggest factor, by a long long way, is money, and lots and lots of it.

  6. Tony and Chris

    If the headline of the article said:


    I would agree with it’s thesis, but it doesn’t.

    It says:


    Which infers ‘high spending’ per se ‘always’ sends a club down the table, which as I have demonstrated, is clearly not the case.

    Yes, short term high spending rarely reaps rewards and may even be followed by a drop down the table.

    But as far as I can deduce that isn’t what the article is trying to show. The article is trying to show that high spending, in whatever form, is not the answer to winning the title when quite clearly it is, if maintained over a period of years.

    Around £100 Million a year for 5 years seems about par for the course.

  7. Nitram, the article doesn’t look at a number of years high spending, but it does have the virtue of taking six clubs. Not six clubs I chose, but the top six spenders, so there is some virtue in the example and the headline.

    Beyond that there is a fundamental problem with the notion that transferring in players can take the club up the league, because multiple clubs are using the same method to try and obtain the same benefit – higher places in the league. Although they could all move up a bit as a result of high spending, in the end this will stop because there can only be one winner of the title.

    When all clubs are trying to use the same method to achieve a goal that only one of them can achieve, then clearly the majority will fail. If on the other hand one of the clubs used a different method, it might succeed – we don’t know.

    Five continuous years of high spending on transfers might do it – but not if six clubs are all trying it.

  8. @Nitram

    Not so sure about Leicester’s “honourable” achievement. I seem to remember a lot of unfairly won penalties and selective blindness applied to their defensive over-zealousness. Similar to Liverpool this season.

  9. The necessary but not (necessarily) sufficient cliche plays well here. Big spending is necessary for success, but not always sufficient. Success and investment in the squad will be closely related over time. There will be exceptions and anomalies, but that relationship will hold.

    What would we make of a big club that says ‘all our competition is spending big, and only 1 can win the title, so let’s not spend big and find a different way to win”. We’d think they’re nuts.

    In reality all clubs spend as much as they can afford on squad investment. That really tells us all we need to know.

  10. The key of spending is not high spending but smart spending. Managers should buy players that fits into his system, not just good individual players. There are also low profile players who can provide leadership and presence which makes his teammates better. That also means that expensive players might do well for themselves but not for the team. Many variables to consider. The problem is football has become a brand which makes the players a trend. Galaticos for example. Arsene Wenger’s invincibles are still cheaper than Kloop’s potential invincibles even after currency conversion of periods. And with owners who don’t have financial responsibility, it will be broken.

  11. Tony

    “the article doesn’t look at a number of years high spending, but it does have the virtue of taking six clubs. Not six clubs I chose, but the top six spenders, so there is some virtue in the example and the headline”

    It does indeed look at the top six spenders, but as you say, only regarding one year, and that is at the crux of this. I don’t think anyone disagrees that just one season of high spending is very unlikely to work. As I pointed out, Spurs, Man City and Liverpool actually regressed after a summer of mega spending, but the difference was both Man City and Liverpool continued their mega spending, and eventually reaped the rewards, where as Spurs did not and fell short.

    The problem with the headline is that it doesn’t make the distinction between one season of high spending and consecutive seasons of high spending. If it made that distinction it would have virtue, but as it doesn’t, I still think it is misleading.

    The basis of the headline, and thereafter the article, is to discredit the medias contention that Arsenal (for example because that’s who we care about) must spend more, lots more money, if they want to win the title.

    Now I detest the media with a passion but the sad fact is they are right.

    If Everton, Villa and Spurs continue to spend at what seems to be the requisite rate of around £100 Million per season for the next 4 years, they may well win the Premier league. If Arsenal spend £100 Million per season for the next 4 seasons they may win the tile.

    Now you say quite rightly that “Five continuous years of high spending on transfers might do it – but not if six clubs are all trying it” which is of course true. Even with just the current 3 or 4 doing it, City, Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool, only one can win the league at a time.

    In such a situation it comes down to all the other factors to make that crucial difference, such as the manager, the transfer policy(scouts), the refs, VAR and even a bit of luck. The ones out of the mega spenders that get those ducks in a line will prevail. Liverpool and City have got the managers spot on. Chelsea and Utd Haven’t, as yet. It shows in the table. Liverpool seem to have the referees and VAR in their corner, City much less so. It shows in the table.

    Yes, none of Villa, Spurs, Everton, Arsenal may win the title, even if they do continue to spend at those kind of levels. Of course they may not. That would mean we have 8 clubs mega spending and they cant all win it, obviously. Taking that to it’s logical conclusion, if every club in the PL started mega spending, 3 mega spenders would actually get relegated.

    So yes, even if you do become a mega spender, and even if you do become a serial mega spender, with so many entering the fray, it still may not guarantee you a title, simply because they cant all win it, but one thing is for sure, and this is the point, if you DONT become a serial mega spender, history shows you have an almost ZERO chance of doing it, and we should know, because we had one of the best managers in history trying to do it without mega spending, and even he couldn’t do it.


    None of this means I want a sugar Daddy. I don’t. I still want us to do it using the self sustaining model we were promised 15 years ago. I hope against hope that Arteta can do it, alas I’m afraid I do not believe it to be possible.

    Lets all hope he proves me wrong.

  12. As much as I agree with you Nitram, if the debate is between your POV Vs Tony’s, I have to say your figures show gross spending, which I think gives the impression that Liverpool have far outspent arsenal for example. This I think is misleading. Net spend is the measure I prefer to work with. Liverpool in the pursuit of their objectives seem to have invested in a manager they believe in. Brfore They got the man they believe in, they had tried others who they also trusted with resources but didn’t work out. Now that they have got their man, they have allowed him to build a team that works, they have sold high quality assets for good money and reinvested that money to fund areas of the squad where they have needed to. Because They have got the right man, they have also improved the players on ground, selling some for mega bucks(Suarez,coutinho) far above what they spent. The others they haven’t sold are providing quality in the squad (how much do you think you can buy Trent Alexander Arnold’s or Robertson in today’s market). Leicester has done similar with Kante, Mahrez bringing in big money, and Vardy remaining to provide quality. These teams have reinvested all that money and more on players like VVD and Ndidi who have helped the team.
    Another common thing with these teams (I’ll include Chelsea here) is that they have spent quite a good amount on duds(Carroll,Slimani etc). In my opinion we seem to need a large outlay(man utd too) because we haven’t had the man to build us a few high quality players(assets). We’ve not had a”coutinho we can sell to buy a VVD, or a Kante to sell and buy an Ndidi”.
    So I agree with you, you need to spend to get the team to do the job, but while looking for the guys that can do the job, you need to develop the guys that the other teams will pay for to do the job for them(eg Suarez to Barca)

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