Investigating whether there is a link between transfer spend & PL position

In Depth

We already know there is a correlation between spend on wages and league position, but the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Leicester City and West Brom have proved in recent years you do not necessarily need to splash out on transfer fees to achieve success.

Generally speaking, the more a club spends on wages, the higher up the table they finish, which is unsurprising given the best players tend to get paid the most money.

But what about spending on actual transfer fees? Chelsea and Manchester City are famous examples in England of clubs who have enjoyed greater success on the back of heavy investment in the transfer market, but how much of a correlation is there between transfer spend and finishing position?

We looked back at the last three seasons of the Premier League to compare each club’s transfer spend against their final position…


2016-17 clubs ranked by transfer spend (actual finishing position)

1. Man City – £181.05m (3rd) -2
2. Man Utd – £157.25m (6th) -4
3. Chelsea – £112.88m (1st) +2
4. Arsenal – £96.05m (5th) -1
5. Crystal Palace – £87.21m (14th) -9
6. Leicester City – £77.44m (12th) -6
7. Everton – £73.02m (7th) No change
8. West Ham – £70.98m (11th) -3
9. Tottenham – £70.31m (2nd) +7
10. Liverpool – £67.92m (4th) +6
11.  Southampton – £58.57m (8th) +3
12. Watford – £58.46m (17th) -5
13. Swansea City – £49.47m (15th) -2
14. Middlesbrough – £44.75m (19th) -5
15. Burnley – £38.76m (16th) -1
16. Bournemouth – £34.59m (9th) +7
17. Hull City – £34m (18th) -1
18. Sunderland £33.92m (20th) -2
19. Stoke City – £32.76m (13th) +6
20. West Brom – £32.22m (10th) +10


2015-16 clubs ranked by transfer spend (actual finishing position)

1. Man City – £154.4m (4th) -3
2. Man Utd – £115.3m (5th) -3
3. Liverpool – £93.1m (8th) -5
4. Chelsea  – £76.8m (10th) -6
5. Newcastle United – £76.3m (18th) -13
6. Watford – £61.8m (13th) -7
7. Aston Villa – £54.4m (20th) -13
8. Tottenham – £53.4m (3rd) +5
9. Southampton – £45.7m (6th) +3
10. Bournemouth – £41.2m (16th) -6
11. Sunderland – £40.3m (17th) -6
12. Stoke City – £39.6m (9th) +3
13. West Ham – £38.3m (7th) +6
14. Leicester City – £36.6m (1st) +13
15. Norwich City – £36.1 (19th) -4
16. Everton – £32.1m (11th) +5
17. West Brom – £31.5m (14th) +2
18. Crystal Palace – £25.3m (15th) +2
19. Swansea City – £18.1m (12th) +6
20. Arsenal – £18m (2nd) +18


2014-15 clubs ranked by transfer spend (actual finishing position)

1. Man Utd – £153.1m (4th) -3
2. Liverpool – £116.8m (6th) -4
3. Chelsea – £114.7m (1st) +2
4. Arsenal – £91.8m (3rd) +1
5. Man City – £82.5m (2nd) +3
6. Southampton – £67.9m (7th) -1
7. Hull City – £42.2m (18th) -11
8. Tottenham – £39.2m (5th) +3
9. Newcastle United – £37.8m (15th) -6
11= QPR – £36.5m (20th) -9
11= West Ham – £36.5m (12th) -1
12. Swansea City – £34.85m (8th) +4
13. Everton – £32.8m (11th) +2
14. West Brom – £20.35m (13th) +1
15. Leicester City – £20m (14th) +1
16. Crystal Palace – £17.59m (10th) +6
17. Sunderland – £12m (16th) +1
18. Burnley – £11m (19th) -1
19. Aston Villa – £10.1m (17th) +2
20. Stoke City – £3m (9th) +11


One thing that becomes immediately apparent is the rapid increase in riches among the teams.

Last season, every club in the division spent over £30million on transfers. Two seasons prior to that, seven clubs spent well below that mark, with Stoke spending only a tenth of that figure.

With the largely random patches of red and green, it would be incredibly difficult to argue there is a clear correlation between transfer spend and league position. The biggest spenders in the previous three seasons have finished third, fourth and fourth, while the three lowest spenders finished tenth, second and ninth.

Though teams are often written off on the back of spending very little, it’s quite clear a summer of relative frugality does not condemn a club to a season of struggle. Tottenham, Bournemouth and West Brom in particular proved that in 2016-17, and there is unlikely to ever be a better example of a team exceeding expectations than Leicester City the year before.

• • • •

READ: The predictions from 14 media sources for the 2017-18 PL season

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It is interesting to note that of the clubs to have both overachieved and underachieved at different points over the last three terms, they have tended to do better when they have spent less on signing new players.

Crystal Palace, for instance, outperformed what their spend would suggest in both 2014-15 and 2015-16 before massively underwhelming last term, having spent the fifth most in the division.

Liverpool are also a good example, finishing a disappointing sixth and eighth, despite being among the top three spenders in England, only to perform above expectation in Jurgen Klopp’s first full season in charge when they were only the tenth biggest spenders.

Rather than suggest a direct link between transfer spend and league position, it may instead point to the issue of whether a club can sign too many players in a single window or season.

• • • •

READ: Investigating Arsene Wenger’s claim that over three signings is too many

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As ever, the fascination and excitement which comes with signing new players and your club spending big transfer fees is unlikely to subside any time soon, but it’s important to remember that it does not necessarily guarantee success.

As Johan Cruyff once said: “Why couldn’t you beat a richer club? I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.”


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