Chapter I – Buying Big: The Giants March On
The total cost of Premier League’s top 10 most expensive transfers has been steadily – though not constantly – increasing over the last 17 years. By the end of 2001/02 season, it has barely exceeded the £160 million mark; this year, even though the 2017/18 transfer window is still far from closed, the signings of Romelu Lukaku and Álvaro Morata (with clauses) alone have brought the expenditures to £145 million. Adjusted for inflation, those two players alone cost about £93.5 million – slightly more that’s been splashed on the combined services of Juan Veron, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robbie Keane back in 2001.
Another thing that changed over the years is the club’s participation in big buys. Each of the first two 2010s seasons has seen no less than eight different teams spending heavily. This changed drastically in July 2003, when Chelsea chairman Ken Bates has sold 51% of club shares to the Muscovite persona non grata, Roman Abramovich. The exiled Russian oligarch did not hesitate to invest over £2 billion during his first 10 years in London and roughly 32% of that fortune (£642m) was put into new signings. As a result of such persistence, even relatively forgotten midfielders like Scott Parker or Jirí Jarosík made the ‘top 10’ list.
From Prague, through Moscow, to London: In 2003, Jarosík’s career was at it’s peak.
Understandably, Chelsea and Manchester City have dominated the chart of huge signings, bringing 41 and 33 of those to the table, respectively. The combined number of 74 players means that the Stamford Bridge and Etihad powerhouses have claimed 43.5% of of the top tens since 2001/02. Add Manchester United’s 30 representatives into the mix and the resulting triumvirate’s shares go up to a staggering 61.1%. Compared with that, the contributions of Liverpool (20 players), Arsenal (10 players) or Tottenham (10 players) are all looking like a heavily restrained way of treating summer breaks.
Interestingly enough, the 2007-08 global financial crisis has hardly delayed the growth of the English spending spree. Even during the worst global depression since 1930, the transfer market grew, timely fuelled by the injection of money from 2008 Manchester City takeover. Roughly at the same time, the pound sterling’s buying power dipped, reaching it’s 28-years low in December 2008. In the real world, this decline ruined lives; in the world of Premier League, it didn’t matter. And it certainly didn’t stop Real Madrid from accepting £36.5 million for Robinho or Standard Liège from cashing in £18.5 million for Marouane Fellaini.
Sigh… If only money could buy good fortune for the domestic talents…
Chapter II – Buying British: The Pandora’s Box Opens
The record-breaking 2016 TV deal has severely influenced another chart, which is the list of top 10 priciest English footballers since 2010. Without the newest additions of Sterling, Stones, Walker, Keane and Pickford, it would’ve been inhabited by the likes of Darren Bent, Joe Cole, Calum Chambers, Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones, creating much, much bleaker impression of where English footballing talent ends up in the modern era. Let’s take a look…
Bent broke Aston Villa’s transfer record in January 2011, well past his footballing peak. That’s about all – he’ll be forever remembered in Birmingham as the forward who cost AVFC £27,000 per each and every single touch he’s made in the purple kit.
Cole was a teenage sensation, bamboozling players like David Beckham or Sol Campbell during his first trainings with Three Lions. He ended up as a solid Chelsea regular for few seasons, before hamstring injuries ruined his Liverpool career around the age of 30.
Chambers joined Arsenal for a fee fifteen times higher than his valuation. Then, Héctor Bellerín happened and hijacked his 2-months older colleague’s starting spot. Last year, Calum’s been seen at Rivacre Park, trying in vain to save Boro from relegation.
Welbeck, the Manchester United product, got kicked out of Old Trafford despite displaying serious potential. Since then, he moved to Arsenal and produced a fair share of very good performances – that is, whenever he wasn’t injured.
Jones got tons of praise from José Mourinho last summer. This summer, he saw his manager spending a small fortune on yet another centre-back. Chances are, the former Blackburn man will only be remembered for his crawling header against Arsenal.
Phil Jones always rated effectiveness over gracefulness.
Those are the runner-ups – and what about players who made the list?
Stewart Downing was dragged to Anfield by Kenny Dalglish in an attempt to bolster the crossing department. Two years and 20 million pounds later, he’d leave Liverpool with the reputation of a player who couldn’t even cross the road, let alone a ball into the box.
Luke Shaw landed in Manchester as the heir to Patrice Evra’s throne. A broken leg in an UCL game against PSV Eindhoven has effectively ended that dream. Today, the highly rated Southampton youngster has completely dropped out of MU’s pecking order. He’s only 22…
Big Andy Carroll once got presented at Liverpool alongside Luis Suárez. Now, the Uruguayan keeps banging goals for Barcelona while his towering friend has all kinds of ligaments screwed up at West Ham. Permanently. With an occasional break for a wondergoal:
That leaves only two lads who escaped terrible fate.
Adam Lallana had to overcome a lot at Liverpool. Signed as yet another Southampton arrival in a post-Suárez era, when Reds’ squad swelled with new players, the lad displayed more consistency than any other player from Anfield and finally reached his own purple patch last season, with 8 goals and 7 assists to his name.
James Milner, the long-lasting Mr Dependable for Manchester City, would eventually join Lallana at Merseyside, bringing his exceptional penalty-taking qualities with him. When Jürgen Klopp’s experiments with Alberto Moreno failed and Joe Gomez got injured, JM took over the left-back duties and never relinquished those.
That’s only two out of ten – all of them bought for far more than their market value would indicate. Today, the same transfer logic applies to already-accomplished Walker, Pickford and Keane. Will they have better starts at Everton than Sterling and Stones had at City?
Chapter III – Buying Bingo: The Success Grows Slowly
Although crazy amounts of money are generally helpful in terms of achieving the final success, the progression of transfer costs for the starting XIs which actually got to lift the Premier League trophy is moderate, at best. While the total price of top 10 seasonal transfers grew by nearly £200 million in the past seven years, the actual money paid for just eleven, nailed-in starters from trophy-lifting squads increased by just £50 million – and there was an astonishing setback in that slow growth too.
Leicester. The team that came out of nowhere and conquered the hearts of neutrals as well as all charts of cost-effectiveness that ever existed in sports statistics. Without a single +£10 million signing in their squad and with an entire team sheet cheaper than Cesc Fàbregas, they’ve won it all. Good fixtures and the unpredictable results from the opposition helped, but there was something extraordinary about this team of rejects led by a former factory worker upfront and a Ligue 2 winger behind him.
That ‘something’ is further supported by numbers. The entire Foxes’ back four cost four times less than what Chelsea gave to PSG in order to re-sign David Luiz. Together, they picked up 15 clean sheets – only one less than the Brazilian gifted to his new-old club. Meanwhile, each of Jamie Vardy’s 24 league goals cost just £43,750 – as opposed to £1.8m for Agüero’s EPL output in 2014 or £1.6m for Diego Costa’s domestic heroics last season. For decades (eons?) to come, such success will likely remain untouchable in terms of it’s cost-efficiency.
Jamie Vardy. If cloning was legal, you could buy 30 of those for the price of one Diego Costa.
Of course such modesty and it’s combination with outstanding success is more of an exception than a rule. Foxes have learnt it the hard way last season, when their summer payments went as high as £77 million, only leading the team to an opening defeat at Hull and the subsequent bottom-half finish. The consolation prize was their decent Champions League run, but it didn’t stop Claudio Ranieri from getting sacked or Riyad Mahrez from demanding a way out. In short: things went from crazy back to normal.
This year, however, they might not be so placid. Should Manchester City take the tile with Ederson, Walker, Mendy, De Bruyne and Sané starting regularly, those five players alone would take the sheer worth of their XI to £231 million. Should it be Manchester United with Pogba, Lukaku, Bailly, Matić and Mkhitaryan – this quintet would amount to £267 million. Chelsea’s Morata, Bakayoko, Rüdiger, Kanté and David Luiz might come together at the modest £194 million, but even that is just £24 million shy of their 2016/17 winning teamsheet. For the three heavy-hitters, the price of success is inflating fast.
For those whose title odds aren’t looking nearly as hot, it a bit different. As we speak, the predicted Arsenal lineup for 2017/18 campaign costs £227 million. Liverpool’s eleven is rated at exactly £200 million while the two-time runner-ups Tottenham are at just £90 million, highlighting the bargains Daniel Levy and Mauricio Pochettino have made so far. It’s actually borderline hilarious: assuming all Spurs starters are on the pitch and their bench consists of Vorm, Wimmer, Davies, Sissoko, N’Koudou, Son and Janssen – the fees paid for the seven benchwarmers would exceed the payments for the starting eleven!
With two EPL silver medals under their belts, the White Hart Lane hosts are now England’s best shot at scaling down the money rule. Though it’s not a big chance: this summer, they refrained from making a single signing and they’ll soon be hosting their home matches at Wembley, due to the construction works at WHL. So unless something extraordinary happens – it seems we’re all stuck in the kingdom of billionaires all over again.