Does transfer expenditure affect league positions?

A Billion Dollars

Clubs spend loads of money during transfer windows, but do they reap the rewards?

It’s no secret that football today largely revolves around money. It is a multi-billion pound business, after all. Whether you are discussing £60 tickets, £100 shirts, £1,500 season tickets, £100,000 weekly wages, £20 million prize money, £85m transfers, or a five-year total transfer expenditure of £3b, vast - somewhat ludicrous - sums feature heavily within the football sphere.

Teams are under pressure to bring in the best players every season. The best players, it’s thought, will bring success. But, like everything else in football, the very best cost the largest amounts of money.

Therefore, the amount of money a club spend on transfers should largely dictate their league position come the end of the season. However, his rule isn’t fool-proof.

Often teams spend big, hoping - and even praying - that their investment will catapult them towards glory. However, as we can see in the table below, this isn’t always the case.

Sometimes a large transfer spending can cost you not only cash, but your pride, job and, in the very worst cases, your existence in the football league (for example, Rangers and Portsmouth).

Let’s look then at how important transfer expenditure is to a team’s league finish, and whether or not specific clubs can justify splashing out such astronomical cash.

Below is a table detailing each Premier League clubs' transfer expenditure accumulated over the last five years. It is ordered by 'Purchased Gross' – or, in other words, 'Amount Spent' - as although one might choose to look at 'Net Spend' (purchases minus sales), this article looks at purchased firepower and whether or not that has a bearing on a club's final season standing.

Also included are 'Sold' (transfer amounts received), 'Net' (purchases minus sales) and 'Purchased Per Season' (average transfer spend over five years) for those who are interested.

#Spend last 5 YearsLeague Finish 13/14Positions earned/lostPurchased GrossSoldNetPurchased Per Season
1 Manchester City 1 0 £640,650,000 £160,700,000 £479,950,000 £128,130,000
2 Chelsea 3 -1 £436,459,000 £154,200,000 £282,259,000 £87,291,800
3 Tottenham 6 -3 £310,900,000 £313,050,000 -£2,150,000 £62,180,000
4 Liverpool 2 2 £309,950,000 £220,550,000 £89,400,000 £61,990,000
5 Manchester United 7 -2 £267,550,000 £128,800,000 £138,750,000 £53,510,000
6 Arsenal 4 2 £188,275,000 £192,400,000 -£4,125,000 £37,655,000
7 Aston Villa 15 -8 £179,600,000 £93,600,000 £86,000,000 £35,920,000
8 Sunderland 14 -6 £159,630,000 £109,700,000 £49,930,000 £31,926,000
9 Stoke City 9 0 £99,825,000 £8,650,000 £91,175,000 £19,965,000
10 Newcastle 10 0 £93,150,000 £138,150,000 -£45,000,000 £18,630,000
11 West Ham 13 -2 £85,350,000 £54,800,000 £30,550,000 £17,070,000
12 Southampton 8 4 £75,350,000 £16,350,000 £59,000,000 £15,070,000
13 Everton 5 8 £63,500,500 £75,816,000 -£12,315,500 £12,700,100
14 Fulham 19 -5 £62,980,000 £39,700,000 £23,280,000 £12,596,000
15 Hull City 16 -1 £56,525,000 £8,750,000 £47,775,000 £11,305,000
16 Cardiff City 20 -4 £53,695,000 £16,225,000 £37,470,000 £10,739,000
17 West Bromwich Albion 17 0 £50,745,000 £36,019,000 £14,726,000 £10,149,000
18 Swansea 12 6 £48,605,000 £29,860,000 £18,745,000 £9,721,000
19 Norwich City 18 1 £22,750,000 £1,100,000 £21,650,000 £4,550,000
20 Crystal Palace 11 9 £21,700,000 £9,750,000 £11,950,000 £4,340,000

* figures taken from

The first column indicates a side's ranking as per money spent, with the third column signalling their final league position and the fourth column representing how many positions they’ve gained/dropped (+ = gained, - = dropped), and - relatively speaking of course - whether their individual spending was justified.

Manchester City top both seasonal performance and transfer spending tables. You would expect the team that spend the most to obtain the most number of points, therefore Pellegrini had a successful debut campaign for the Citizens. As the sum in question is so gigantic, anything except championship victory would have probably cost him his job.

Other sides finishing in perhaps the position they should finish, if not the absolute minimum requirement, were Stoke City, Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion. They would have hoped for more, but actually landed relative to their transfer spend.

The commendable overachievers were Crystal Palace, Everton and Swansea City, all finishing way beyond the position their expenditure indicated they might. If Swansea had hung on to manager Michael Laudrup, perhaps they would have improved on that result.

The lowly underachievers were Aston Villa, Sunderland and relegated Fulham, who all spent big hoping for success, but struggled throughout the season. The Villans and the Black Cats will get another chance to learn their lesson, whereas the Cottagers' punishment was severe and could reverberate long into their future.

In conclusion, a team’s transfer spending does largely dictate their aspirational potential, although it’s down to clubs to purchase astutely, managers to organise intelligently, and players to prove their value. Or, as Fulham experienced this season, not justifying your spending can cost you dearly.

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