Does spending more and more on transfers actually work in the Premier League?.

By Tony Attwood

Given the amount of time the media spends reporting transfers, one might think that spending money on players guarantees success.   But it turns out this might not be so.

Football Observatory has once again created a directory of the 100 most valuable players in European football, 41 of whom are in the Premier League.

Looking at the seven clubs from 2021/2 that qualified for Europe what we see is this in terms of these top players…

  • Manchester City: 13 players out of 41.
  • Liverpool: 5 players out of 41.
  • Chelsea: 6 players out of 41
  • Tottenham Hotspur: 5 players out of 41
  • Arsenal: 4 players out of 41
  • Manchester United: 5 players out of 41
  • West Ham United: 1 player out of 41.

Everton and Crystal Palace also had one player each on the list.

This does show the wide gap not just between the top six and the rest of the league but also between Manchester City, and the rest of the league.   Their ability to spend anything they wish, without being questioned in terms of the old “financial fair play” system, shows how limited the value of FFP has been.

Arsenal’s players on the list are

  • Saka:  €100.2m
  • Emile Smith Rowe: €62.3m
  • Martin Odegaard: €57.8m
  • Aaron Ramsdale: €51.2m

Of those four, only two players cost the club anything.   Odegaard will have cost €57.8m once the add ons are paid, which is the actual value of him quoted by Football Observatory. Ramsdale cost €35.14.

So we have €274.20m worth of players picked up for €92.94.m  Which is not only interesting in itself, but also interesting in relation to the way the media treat Arsenal as a transfer machine which is useless and out of control, always missing the good deal, and best available players, and always paying over the odds for duds.

Getting €274.20 worth of players for €92.94 was obviously very helpful at a time when the club let go Ozil (cost 49.8m) and Aubameyang (cost €67.2m) for nothing.   

We can also note that only three of the top 41 players play for teams outside the big six which in turn shows the gap between the top six clubs in the Premier League and the rest.

What we can also see is just how totally Manchester City have on occasion been able to by-pass any restrictions on how much they spend on transfers in picking up around one third of the most valuable players in the Premier League all for themselves

One other interesting approach is to see how much each squad has cost.  The list below comes from TransferMarkt and shows clubs sorted by purchase value (excluding players who are loaned out).

In the table below the purchase value shows the total of all the fees the club has spent on its present squad, while the market value shows the TransferMarkt estimated value of the squad in the market today.

One would expect the difference between the two (the “difference” column) to be positive because the cost of players is rising all the time, although this has to be taken against the negative pressure of players getting older, getting injured and losing form.

In this regard Liverpool have been the most effective operators in the transfer market and Newcastle the least, although of course much depends on each club’s position in the buying cycle.  A club like Arsenal which is undergoing wholesale reform of the squad finds its “difference” depressed.

The “Value for Money” (Vfm) column at the end shows the difference between the clubs’ league position and its position in the transfer expenditure market.   Thus Manchester United spent the second largest amount of money but came sixth in the league, giving them a Vfm of -4.

The biggest winners have been Tottenham who were the tenth highest spenders but who came fourth in the league, while the big losers were Everton with a megaspend that took them to 16th in the league, and Aston Villa who also spent big and came 14th.

# Club Market value Purchase value Difference Lge pos Vfm
1 £863.37m £-23.85m 1 0
2 £696.83m £3.89m 6 -4
3 £782.46m £197.64m 3 0
4 £834.75m £283.10m 2 +2
5 £468.90m £35.37m 5 0
6 £380.48m £60.84m 16 -10
7 £463.32m £146.69m 8 -1
8 £261.36m £-25.07m 11 -3
9 £417.96m £146.10m 14 -5
10 £533.03m £271.89m 4 +6

What this table shows most of all is how effective club purchasing has been over time if we work on the widespread belief that transfers are the key to taking a club up the table.   The spending can work (as Tottenham has shown) but it is not the panacea that the media like to pretend.  The total of the value for money column is -15, which shows that overall, the more that is spent, the lower one goes.

A club needs the right manager and the right support team, and some luck, in order to make spending on players work.  The norm is for it not to work.


8 Replies to “Does spending more and more on transfers actually work in the Premier League?.”

  1. A lot of times am baffled by Untold. The headline questions whether spending works in PL then goes ahead to attach a table where 5 of the top spending teams are in top 6 positions. Of course question marks arise with Man-U who seems not to be getting value for money. But lest we forget they were 2nd the previous season. This season they’ve experienced managerial upheavals and one has to question credentials with Ragnick. Tottenham equally seems to have nicked higher value for money but they were never really a bad team. The likes of Kane and Son if bought would eclipse most teams above them.
    I agree with the last statement but I don’t think it’s a hypothesis that needs to be qualified. Most people would agree spending has to accompanied by the right structure and people in place. City still need Guardiola to be consistent despite their expenditure. Which brings me to even more reasons why am baffled. Untold has continually claimed the hypothesis that changing managers doesn’t work. If having the right manager is key, how then would you expect a club to arrive at the right candidate? Mourinho seems to be an antithesis of previous records, Arteta seems to justify trusting in potential. So what’s the right formula. I don’t think there is any. Even with expenditure. You buy Pepe, Lukaku and they flop. Buy Ramsdale and Ordegaard and the Value rockets. Saka, Foden, Mount show that gems can equally be gotten with zero expenditure. But one thing we can observe is that for Liverpool and City to get above the rest they had to go big. City with overall expenditure, Liverpool with signature acquisitions.
    I think the tragedy would be sitting around waiting for things to happen. If you have good players play them. If not go buy. If you have a good manager stick with him, if not get another one. But until you have a formula that works, you have to keep trying. A lot of times that includes spending money, more so if you want to challenge for the top.

  2. Jack, I am sorry I have not made it clear, and maybe it needs a new article for me to try and explain my thesis. But in simple terms, I feel that most commentators, from radio pundits through to bloggers and the people who write the daily transfer rumours for the newspapers to publish on line, take it as a simple assumption that transfers and managerial changes are the solution when things are going wrong.
    My thesis is that transfers and managerial changes don’t work in terms of improving the club’s performance more often than they do and thus the whole emphasis is misleading.
    But there is worse, because by emphasising transfers and demands for managerial change, when a club holds back from these highly speculative ventures, the club is blamed for being too slow, not serious about winning etc, when in fact the club is, in my view, doing exactly the right thing by not buying or by not changing the manager.
    There is one final point to this, and that is that when a player comes in for a big fee or with big publicity he is expected to be a game changer at once. But that is often not the case (Henry and Bergkamp are two perfect examples). However because of the big publicity and expectation that changing players is the main way forward, some fans and much of the media then turn on the manager, which means that the advent of a transfer results in angry fans, a player under performing and general turmoil.
    Hope that explains my view a little.

  3. @Tony. I appreciate your clarification. A lot of times your articles are in reply to some publication or general discussion which may dictate tone. Nuance can easily get lost. But point taken.

  4. Jack, I do appreciate your comment, as it reminds me that although I know what I am talking about (or at least think I do) that is not to say that everyone else remembers the point as it has developed over time. I’ll very much try and keep that in mind.

  5. Tony
    I think your theory has borne out over time. Promoting from the academy also helps the numbers. The business Arsenal do in this window can either cement the commitment to youth and the Academy or undermine it. Edu and Arteta seem committed and here’s the chance to prove it. I’m of the opinion that big name signings in midfield and forward are not necessarily the answer to scoring more and upping the goal difference. These type of players demand the ball. I for one would like to see more chances for Martinelli and Saka, not fewer. As for midfield, this offense ticks over when Odegaard has the ball. Therefor, rule #1, the offense goes through him every time it can be played out. Too many times the holding players try to dictate play with little to show for it. Let the creative players create. I thought Nketiah showed enough this season to be given the striker position. Add another making sure it’s someone willing to work within the system. As a group, Odegaard, Saka, Martinelli, Smith Rowe and Nketiah should score enough for the top places. A new player to bang in a few can only add to the project. Just, please, don’t bring in anyone on his last contract looking for a payday for himself and his agent. I’m looking at you Willian. I realise AFC actually agreed to this without a gun to their heads, but please.

  6. The table actually spells it out pretty well in the Vfm column. Liverpool are clearly spending their money far more efficiently than City, which is the only way they can compete. I’m surprised at the figures for Spurs, do they include N’Dombele ? I suppose when someone like Kane comes through the youth set up its a big boost. Its not really that spending doesn’t work, its that you need to make your money go further than the competition, which Liverpool do. Youth development, quality scouting, being able to sell on players for good prices, they are all part of the solution.

  7. I agree with Jack’s position on how to move a team forward, I suppose very few people would disagree, it seems commonsensical. so Tony, in just one comment Jack seems to have done what you haven’t been able to do in almost a hundred posts, Tony can you just tell us your blueprint for growing a winning team? Leave what the media or blogetta’s or pundits or AAAs say, just tell us your own

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