I wanted to write a blog about the declining financial muscle of
English clubs, because it felt to me that in recent years the Premier League has
struggled to compete in the transfer market.
This summer in particular has seen plenty of big-money transfers
within the division - Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Jordan Henderson - but
relatively few major imports.
When I checked the facts, however, my hunch was blown out of the
water. The numbers told a story of unfettered economic might and spending on an
In the last 10 seasons, the Premier League's net transfer spend
has been a colossal £2.3bn - more than double the next largest.
Nine out of the last 10 years, England has topped the net spend
league among Europe's 'big five' leagues.
The one exception - 2009/10 - is largely explained by Cristiano
Ronaldo's record-breaking sale to Real Madrid.
Each league's net spend equates to the value of players
imported. It does not include, say, Jordan Henderson's move as that represents
a £20m debit against Liverpool, and a £20m credit for Sunderland - so it has no
impact on the overall bottom line.
So what the £2.3bn ought to mean is that, in the last decade
or so, the Premier League has improved exponentially thanks to the arrival of
billions of pounds worth of new players.
It is staggering stuff. Every year, hundreds of millions of pounds are poured into new recruits.
With such huge financial power, we should be wiping the floor with everybody, but we aren't. If we
are spending so heavily, why aren't English clubs better?
Despite the massive spending, two trends remain.
1-English clubs still win less than their fair share of
Champions Leagues (just three out of 21 since their return to European
competition in 1990) and UEFA Cup/Europa Leagues (only one since 1990).
2-Top stars continue to seek moves away from the Premier League
- Carlos Tevez and Cesc Fabregas are both desperate to follow Cristiano Ronaldo
How can this be? Despite so much money flowing, it seems top
players just do not want to be in England.
Are our clubs spending unwisely? Are teams' tactics letting them
down? Do players simply come here for a big payday?
Of course there have been some poor signings. Chelsea spent £32m
on Andriy Shevchenko and got nothing back. Man City spent £17m on Roque Santa
Cruz and can't find a buyer at any price.
But the biggest factor is simply that there are more clubs
In Spain, the market is completely dominated by Real Madrid and
Barcelona, with smaller players like Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla
making small contributions.
Since 2002, Real Madrid alone represent over half of Spain's net
spend - £550m of just over £1bn.
Over here, everybody is splashing out. Since 2003, all but three
current Premier League sides have spent more than they have recouped (the
exceptions: Norwich, Newcastle and Blackburn).
Not only have Chelsea and Machester City been on an epic splurge
(A combined £750m), Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United, Aston Villa and
Sunderland all have a net spend over £50m. Fifteen clubs have spent more than
The consequence is that, even if the Premier League cannot quite
conquer Europe, it is much more competitive.
Spain's concentration of talent at the top has resulted in an
SPL-style gulf between second and third places (21 and 25 the past two
Top players do not want to move to La Liga, they want to move to Real Madrid or Barcelona - it is a situation that makes that pair immensely powerful, but does not indicate strength in the league as a whole.
The Liga season will start with two title contenders - the
Premier League with at least four (depending on how frisky Liverpool and
Tottenham are feeling) - and even those in the middle of the pack are spending
like drunken sailors.
No wonder English clubs are accused of financial doping.
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