LIVERPOOL’s 2019-20 champions cost the club around half a billion pounds in transfer fees, less than the amount paid to assemble Manchester City’s team in 2018-19, but still making the reds the second most expensive side to win the Premier League.
Long gone are the days when clubs developed talent for their first teams – the romantic notion that a modern day “Busby Babes” can be created is misguided. When Manchester United won the league in 1957, almost all of their principal squad was brought through their famed youth system. Even as recently as the early 1990s, United could point to their youngsters being the backbone of their team. It’s no longer possible.
Liverpool and Manchester City have set a new benchmark in terms of how much money it takes to win the Premier, outspending past champions like Chelsea, Leicester City, Arsenal and Manchester United. In 2004-05, possibly year zero for inflated investment in football clubs, Chelsea’s title-winning squad cost £ 150 million which translates to around £ 225 million in today’s money. At the time, that was the most monied squad ever in English football and cost some £ 90 million more than Arsenal’s 2003-04 invincibles.
Liverpool’s squad of 2019-20 would probably have cost around £ 300 million in 2005, around double Chelsea’s 2005 squad. Their title winners were assembled over a five-year period, with 13 of the 17 most used players bought since Jürgen Klopp arrived at Anfield. Of the 17, only Trent Alexander-Arnold could be considered home grown and only the talented full back and the experienced James Milner were not acquired by a fee.
Manchester City’s 2018-19 champions cost over £ 660 million. City have spent heavily over the past eight years, but their first Premier win in 2011-12 was with a squad that cost less than £ 300 million, around half of the transfer cost for their 2018-29 team.
There are two factors involved in spiralling transfer fees. Firstly there’s inflation. For example, City’s £286 million of 2012 equates to approximately £ 340 million in 2020. Secondly, there’s transfer market behaviour with fees being forced up all the time – a symptom of the corporatisation of football, the growth of intermediary use and the rise of football capitalisation, as well as supply and demand.
With clubs now dependent on player trading as a vital source of income – Ajax, Benfica and Porto are among Europe’s top stepping stone clubs – this is another reason why higher fees mean higher profits. Liverpool made £ 45 million on the disposal of player registrations in 2018-19 and a year earlier, £ 124 million.
While Manchester City are the highest spenders in England, Paris Saint-Germain’s Ligue 1 winners of 2019-20 have spent around € 750 million on their squad, of which over € 400 million represented the fees paid for Kylian Mbappé and Neymar.
Italian champions-elect Juventus are also huge spenders, their 2019-20 regular squad costing almost € 500 million, while Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga winners come in at around € 325 million.
Unsurprisingly, the Spanish duo, Real Madrid and Barcelona, continue to flex their wallets in the market. Real’s current squad was bought for € 600 million, while Barcelona’s 2019-20 roster cost just under that figure.
It is noticeable that all big club squads have very few, if any, home-reared players and equally, you seldom find a player born in the city of their club. While Liverpool’s current squad has just two players who were born in Liverpool (Trent Alexander-Arnold and Curtis Jones), it’s a bit of a myth that the past saw the club field local lads that would die for the scouse nation. In 1965-66, only four members of the squad – Ian Callaghan, Gerry Byrne, Tommy Smith and Chris Lawler – were Liverpool-born, although a few more were from the region. In 1976-77, there were twice that amount but by 1990, the club’s last title, had four once more even though Liverpool had become more ambitious in the market. Going way back, Liverpool’s 1923 championship winners had three scousers in the squad, and in 1906, there were two – Jack Cox and Jack Parkinson.
Liverpool’s financial strength in the transfer market is a sure sign the club has moved up a gear from the period when they were chasing the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United. When they won the Champions League in 2005, their squad had cost them less than £ 75 million, which would be around £113 million in 2020. For the record, in 2005, Liverpool’s revenues amounted to £ 12.4 million but by 2018-19, income had risen to £ 533 million.
However, Liverpool’s transfer expenditure of around £ 460 million over the past five seasons is still less than Manchester City (£ 786m), Chelsea (£670m) and Manchester United (£ 652m), but ahead of Arsenal (£ 422m) and Tottenham (£346m). Liverpool have clearly bought better than most of their rivals – certainly Chelsea and Manchester United have not had better value for money – and they have had greater stability during this period than most. Klopp took over at Anfield in October 2015, but in that period, Chelsea have had five men in charge (Mourinho, Hiddink, Conte, Sarri and Lampard), Manchester United have had three (Van Gaal, Mourinho and Solksjaer), Arsenal have had three (Wenger, Emery and Arteta) and Tottenham and Manchester City have had two apiece.
Liverpool are now very competitive, although they will be disappointed that they missed out on Leipzig’s Timo Werner, who preferred to join Chelsea.
It is possible that Liverpool and Manchester City have the two most coveted managers in the world, as well as the two best squads in England. Their ability, coupled with financial clout and consistency, creates a strong argument to suggest we are entering an era where Liverpool and City can create a duopoly that restricts other clubs from challenging for the top honours. We’ve seen it before, but somehow, this currently feels like the start of an axis to rival Real-Barca in Spain, in each of the past two seasons, the media have been quick to proclaim City and Liverpool were “best ever” Premier sides. Clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United feared for their position at the top table when Chelsea and City were catapulted into pole position through inflated investment. We have since seen Chelsea’s impetus fade a little, we have seen a decline at United and Arsenal, and Tottenham are now paying their mortgage so may plateau for a while. City have the resources and Liverpool have come through the mist to be very strong on and off the pitch. These things are cyclical – even the wealthiest clubs have lean spells – but we are seeing something of a sea change – on the banks of the river Mersey.