The title of the article most likely won’t shock anyone. It’s sort of the “elephant in the room” that mainly fans of smaller market teams tend to bring up to reference the top-of-the-table teams. Whether it’s hatred, jealousy, or a mixture of the two; it’s safe to say there’s a tough time arguing that if an oil tycoon took over say Cardiff City, that hundreds of millions of dollars spent wouldn’t put them in the top 5 of the league within a year or two. Is it fair? No. But life isn’t fair. Not every team can be backed by billionaires with relatively unlimited funds. For the sake of curiosity and because I found this website fascinating, I took a look at the last 18 years of the Barclay’s Premier League.
Throughout this post, I will be referencing this website discovered by our very own kvenezia. It’s a comprehensive summary of the transfers in and out of each English club since the mid-90’s, showing money received and paid for each player.
Let’s start with some quick Premier League facts.
Since ’95/’96, only FOUR DIFFERENT clubs have won the Premier League title (United, City, Chelsea, and Arsenal). Compare that number to the number of different NFL Super Bowl Champions over the past 18 years – which is 11 different teams. Only six teams won more than once and only one team (Patriots) won three times.
Since ’95/’96, only THREE OTHER clubs have finished second or third (Liverpool, Newcastle, and Leeds). That makes the same 7 clubs either first, second, or third for the last 18 years…and it’s 7 only because Leeds finished 3rd one season.
Now, what is to blame for such a discrepancy in parity between the two of the most popular sport’s leagues in the world? The NFL has a playoff system for the top 12 teams which could explain for some of the parity since even good teams can have a bad day and lose prior to winning the championship. In my opinion, the reason has more to do with the NFL salary cap providing a [relatively] level playing field, at least financially. This was the purpose of Financial Fair Play implemented by UEFA in 2009; however, through weak penalties and even weaker enforcement, it hasn’t made much of an impact to date.
As for the premise of the post, how exactly can money buy titles? The first example is Chelsea FC.
In 2003, Chelsea was purchased by a Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. From 1995 until Abramovich took over in 2003, Chelsea had £8m net spending on player transfers each season and had only finished as high as third in the table only one season. The first year Abramovich was in charge, Chelsea had a net spending tab of £153m. Followed by £47m the next and £91m the year after. The spending spree took Chelsea from a club of mediocrity to a title challenger in a matter of one transfer window. Chelsea would finish second to Arsenal in ’03/’04 and go on to win the title for only the second and third times in club history the next two seasons culminating in their fourth title in ’08/’09. Prior to the takeover, Chelsea had only won one title in ’54/’55.
Example number two is the most recent: Manchester City.
In 2008, Manchester City was purchased by an Abu Dhabi based investment group where the club suddenly found itself backed by billions of dollars overnight. City spent a net average of £6m the 13 seasons prior to the takeover and had not even cracked the top 3 in the table. Following the takeover, City now spend a net average of £80m and are not afraid to splash £100+ each season. It took only 2 seasons before City finished third and ultimately won the title in dramatic fashion in ’11/’12 for only their third title in history and first since ’67/’68.
There are clubs that do spend and have not won titles. Aston Villa, for example, has spent a net of £166m the past 18 seasons only to see them consistently finish mid table and hasn’t finished higher than 6th since ’96/’97. Liverpool is also a big spender who is title-less since the late ’80’s. They have had some success finishing second twice in the past 18 seasons and third a number of times. They have spent money, but rather poorly as of late with questionable purchases of Stewart Downing for £20m who was sold for £6m two years later, Alberto Aquilani for £17m who was sold for £3m two years later and unthinkably £35m for Andy Carroll who was discarded for £15m three seasons later. Those types of transfers will set any club back. However, their £23m purchase of Luis Suarez three seasons ago seems like a bargain price today.
Everton is the most overachieving club in the Premier League (along with Arsenal but we’ll get to them next). Having spent only a net of £22m over the past 20 seasons, they have consistently been pushing for a top 6 position while finishing in the top half of the table despite a transfer market profit five years running and a wage bill that is only 10th highest in the league.
Arsenal seem to be the anomaly of the league. They have seen success under Arsene Wenger despite his relatively strict transfer budget. Over the last 18 seasons, Arsenal has only spent a net of £63m, which averages out to $3.5m per season. Arsene Wenger knows how to buy low and sell high (against supporter’s wishes sometimes). Some notable profits from Wenger over the past 10 years include buying Van Persie for £2.7m and selling him for £22m; Alex Song purchased for £1m and sold for £15m; Adebayor bought for £7m and sold for £25m; and Cesc Fabregas was brought in for free as a youngster and sold for £35m. That’s not to say he hasn’t had some mistakes along the way (Arshavin for £15m), but they are few and far between and usually only a minor player that didn’t quite pan out (Squillaci/Denilson/Gervinho).
Arsenal boast the fourth highest wage bill in the league, yet are the only club to post a profit the last two seasons while remaining in Champion’s League action every year. Yes, they haven’t won a trophy since winning the title in ’03/’04, but with a club record fee for Ozil this past summer, Arsenal have already ended the spending drought and are concentrated on ending the trophy drought as well. Can Arsenal “buy” a title this year? Possibly, but not in the same way Manchester City and Chelsea bought their way into Premier League relevancy.
Disclaimer: There was really no point to this article other than providing some interesting facts related to transfer spending and league success.