Does spending money on new players take a club up the league? The eastern experience

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By Tony Attwood

I have been arguing for some time that just as changing managers is not a guaranteed recipe for taking a club up the league, nor is buying lots of players.  In fact figures presented here recently show that the six clubs that spent the most during last summer are all either doing much the same as before, or are now doing worse than last season.

And so in a moment with nothing better to do, I thought that rather than just focus on Arsenal and the other clubs that in the past have habitually ended up in the top six, I might look at another club just to see if it applies there as well.  Have they spent lots, and then got nothing out of that expenditure?

I’ve chosen West Ham for this example, not least because they are in the highly unusual position of paying less than cost for the ground in which they play their home games.  My thinking being that if any club in the premier league can make a success of their situation it ought to be West Ham.   They were effectively given their ground by Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London, and the running costs of the ground mean that WHU are in effect financed by the taxpayers of London.

Reading through the accounts of West Ham United (in the vain hope that they might finally have thought it worth apologising to the nation for the way they got their stadium for next to nothing, and just pay £2.5m a year rent) I was struck by the comment therein that says,

“In the last four years the club has spent £214.4m net on new players.”

And yet despite this, West Ham are currently down around the dead men in the Premier League.  So at first sight it looks like our premise – that spending money on new players generally takes a club down rather than up the league table, is once more shown to be true, just as it is for Arsenal and other clubs.

Club P W D L F A GD Pts
15 Brighton and Hove Albion 24 6 7 11 27 34 -7 25
16 Aston Villa 24 7 4 13 31 45 -14 25
17 West Ham United 23 6 5 12 27 38 -11 23
18 AFC Bournemouth 24 6 5 13 23 37 -14 23
19 Watford 24 5 8 11 21 36 -15 23
20 Norwich City 24 4 5 15 24 47 -23 17

On the basis of their current position long term security in the PL is not assured.  And this ought to be worrying because prior to this season an official statement put out by the club as part of its financial reporting said,

“For the 2019-20 season, the board remains determined to maximise the club’s prospects of retaining Premier League status by continuing to make an investment in the playing squad with a further net £35.8m being invested during the summer transfer window under the guidance of Manuel Pellegrini. We now believe we have one of the strongest squads and management teams in the Premier League but will always look to continue to invest and build on this strong squad base.”

In short WHU, like other clubs, have invested money in new players, found it hasn’t work and now fancy doing the same again.  The old definition of insanity you might recall.

The table below shows the results in recent years, and I have followed the previously adopted nomenclature for the WHU ground of the “Taxpayers’ Stadium”, largely because as a UK tax payer I am doing my bit to pay for it and I like my contribution to WHU’s well-being to be recognised.  It might only be a penny a year, but it’s my penny.

Since joining the PL the WHU record has been

Season P W D L F A Pts Pos FAC LgC Ground/Europe Manager Net summer spend
2014–15 38 12 11 15 44 47 47 12th R5 R2 Upton Pk Allerdyce £20m
2015–16 38 16 14 8 65 51 62 7th QF R3 Upton Pk; Europa 3QR* Bilic June 2015 £35m
2016–17 38 12 9 17 47 64 45 11th R3 QF Tax payers (A) Europa play off** £29.1m
2017–18 38 10 12 16 48 68 42 13th R4 QF Tax payers (A) Moyes Nov 2017 £16.5m
2018–19 38 15 7 16 52 55 52 10th R4 R4 Tax payers (A) Pellegrini May 2018 £79.5m
2019-20 23 6 5 12 27 38 23 17th R4 R4 Tax payers (A) Moyes Dec 2019 £21m

*WHU entered the Europa League having finished top of the Fair Play Table

** WHU entered the Europa League having finished 7th in the PL the previous season.

(A) Technically known as the London Stadium, the current WHU ground was built for the London Olympics but with no plan in place as to what would happen to the ground thereafter which was hardly WHU’s fault.  It was in essence gifted to WHU rather than be left without a use.   Lyn Garner, London Legacy Development Corporation chief executive, said in relation to the ground that  “high operating costs” and “a lack of commercialisation” meant they were facing “losses for the next 97 years”.

A campaign to force Boris Johnson to pay the difference between the cost of the stadium and the income from West Ham out of his own salary has sadly not had any success.

I can’t get my figures for the money spent on new players up to the £214m quoted – although the figures shown in the table above are net expenditure.  But whether one takes the £214m or the lower cost from the figures above, the fact is they have spent a lot of money on players, had a large stadium which they are not having to pay a realistic rent for, and have no stadium debt of the type that Mr Wenger had to manage at Arsenal after the move to their new stadium.

And they are struggling against relegation.

Here again I think one can say that spending money on players does not guarantee a move up the league table.  Indeed spending money on players is more likely to take a club down the table than bring the club up.

6 Replies to “Does spending money on new players take a club up the league? The eastern experience”

  1. Your argument that spending money takes a team down rather than up has been debunked so many times that I’m surprised you persist with it.

    Rather than restating the main arguments against your theory, what are we to draw from your conclusion? That a club should not look to buying players to succeed?

    Arsenal has spent in the summer but has fallen down the league. Leaving the Emery factor aside, does that mean that the squad is weaker because we bought, say, Pepe and Tierney (and maybe kept Monreal and the guy we sold to Everton)? In my opinion it is stronger with these additions. But by your logic, it would have been better to keep the money in the bank.

    I can only think you’re persisting with this absurd argument because it generates comments, because surely you cannot believe it.

  2. Well done, there’s a lot of truth in that. In my humble opinion, the coach and general dressing room vibe are much more important than enormously expensive players. What’s the point in having them if you cannot get them to play as a team and fight for the team?

  3. Congratulations to Arsenal Women’s Team on their 2-1 win over Man City.

    Hope you beat Chelsea and win the finals. We are cheering for you.

  4. Congratulations to Arsenal in beating Man$ity to make it to the Continental Cup Final against Chel$ea!


    OT: The All Time Leading Scorer in Football is Canadian!

    Christine Sinclair got 2 goals from 6 shots, as Canada outshot St. Kitts and Nevis 31:2 in Olympic Qualifying. She now has 185 goals for Canada. She has scored 11 goals in the Olympics, has scored in 5 different world cups, and holds the NCAA record of most goals in a season (39).

    I think Miedema has something to aim for. 🙂

  5. Maddison is in the news for Leicester, complaining about Leicester’s loss to AVilla in League Cup play:

    However the Football Association may decide that Maddison’s comments warrants a charge relating to their ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ rule and he could face disciplinary action.

    The (sweet) FA could do this. But reading the writeup of the game, it is entirely possible that the person that needs to be charged is the referee, for it is PGMO that is bringing the game into disrepute. Dancing Mike Dean was the PGMO twit in charge.

  6. @Gord as well as Sinclair has done, the standards of football she plays in might be very different to that Meidema plays in. They are both classy goal scorers.

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