The transfer market doesn’t always repay spending sprees with success

CHELSEA’s latest spending spree has taken them to £ 3 billion since the Premier League started, an open wallet strategy that has confused a lot of people by its kid in a sweet shop approach. The club has generated a net spend of £ 483.6 million, an enormous commitment on the part of Chelsea’s new owners. In total, 22 players have arrived at Stamford Bridge.

It remains to be seen if Chelsea’s bold attempt at rebirth pays off. A mass influx of players doesn’t necessarily work, certainly not in the short term as the management try to work out their best team and the appropriate tactics for a sizeable group of new players. They also need the right manager/coach, and one has to assume that Todd Boehly has decided Graham Potter is the man to take them forward. But with such a big squad now fighting over dressing room pegs, it will take time to blend the talent at his disposal.

It’s not the first time Chelsea have been on a bulk-buying programme, when Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, they spent £ 121 million on 14 players, some of which – like Juan Sebastián Verón and Adrian Mutu – were clearly bad buys. Over the course of the last 19 years, Chelsea have had to endure some misjudged acquisitions, such as Andriy Shevchenko, Deco, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Mateja Kežman, Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and even Fernando Torres. The difference between Chelsea and many of their rivals is that they have been able to afford the odd mistake.

Clubs have always been accused of being spendthrifts. In the 1920s and 1930s, Arsenal were known as the “Bank of England” club as they repeatedly bought big, notably when they signed David Jack (£10,647 from Bolton), Alex James (£8,750 Preston) and Bryn Jones (£14,000 Wolves). Arsenal could indulge themselves in the market in those days because, quite simply, they were very successful. In 1930, Chelsea tried to combat the Gunners and went on a campaign of hiring big names to draw big attendances to Stamford Bridge, and they signed Hughie Gallacher, Alex Jackson and Alec Cheyne, three crowd-pullers. Despite the £ 25,000 paid out, it didn’t make Chelsea successful.

In the early 1950s, Sunderland also earned themselves the tag of big spenders. They signed the charismatic Len Shackleton in 1948 for a record £ 20,050 from Newcastle United and in 1950, paid £ 30,000 for Aston Villa’s Trevor Ford. By today’s standards, such extravagance is small beer, but in austerity Britain, paying such fees was seen as somewhat outlandish. Sunderland scored plenty of goals – Ford and Shackleton netted 22 apiece in 1951-52, but they never won silverware.

Some of the most successful sides have not been created overnight but as the result of patient team-building. But, generally, a team was put together over a two or three year period, Leeds United’s 1969 league title winning side was mostly built in 1962 and 1963 as Don Revie introduced home-grown talent to his team. Derby County’s 1972 champions came together between 1967 and 1970 and triumphant Nottingham Forest in 1978 were constructed in their first season in the first division after promotion with the signing of Peter Shilton, Kenny Burns, Archie Gemmill and David Needham.

In 1979, Manchester City went on a bold and some might say foolhardy spree with Malcolm Allison back at the club for his second spell in charge. Allison may have been an innovative coach, but his best days were behind him when he returned to Maine Road. A larger-than-life figure, accessorised with big cigars, Champagne and expensive clothing, Allison seemed to believe that splashing the cash was also part of the act. He paid an incredible £ 750,000 for an unknown 21 year-old striker, Michael Robinson of Preston North End. He had earlier bought Steve Mackenzie, a 17 year-old midfielder from Crystal Palace for £ 250,000, a player who had yet to make his Football League debut. In September 1979, City paid £ 1.4 million for Wolves’ Steve Daley, a disastrous move that underlined the extravagance of Allison’s team building (pictured). Another £ 1 million signing arrived in March 1980 in Kevin Reeves.

While this extraordinary period looks tame compared to the behaviour of clubs today, it was bound to end in tears. City in recent years have had periods of high spending, such as 2017-18 when they bought £ 267 million of players, recouping £ 68 million in the market, and £ 143 million in 2020-21.

Liverpool were never renowned for over-spending and had a reputation for seeking undiscovered talent in the lower divisions – players like Kevin Keegan, Ray Clemence and Alec Lindsay, all of whom came from small clubs and ended up winning caps for England. But in 1987-88, Liverpool threw caution to the wind and signed two of the most sought after players in British football, John Barnes and Peter Beardsey, for a combined amount approaching £ 3 million. They had already spent over £ 1 million earlier in 1987 on John Aldridge and Nigel Spackman and also added £ 825,000 Ray Houghton to their squad. Liverpool built a new team that was exciting, virtually unbeatable, but ultimately, expensive. If it was a spree, it yielded immediate profits.

Manchester United went on a campaign of rebuilding in 1989-90 with mixed results, buying Mike Phelan, Neil Webb, Gary Pallister, Paul Ince, Danny Wallace and Denis Irwin for a combined amount of almost £ 9 million. United won the FA Cup, but were way down the table and didn’t win the first of many league titles in the 1990s until 1993.

In more recent times, Tottenham spent heavily following the departure of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for £ 85 million, buying seven players who were largely unsuccessful. Aside from Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela, the other players barely made 200 Premier appearances between them.

Everton also failed to make the best of their outlay between 2016 and 2018 when they paid out around £ 240 million, receiving £ 165 million in sales. Some players fared well, such as goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who was signed for £ 25 million from Sunderland, and Burnley’s Michael Keane, who also cost £ 25 million, but others, such as Davy Klaassen from Ajax and Turkish striker Cenk Tosun, had mixed experiences.

In the modern game, clubs have specialist recruitment staff and for most, players are signed after careful assessment, with data playing a huge part in the process. This also raises questions about mass buying and the vast sums involved. It would seem far easier to make mistakes amid so much player traffic. History tells us that spending sprees have pitfalls, so how much risk are Chelsea taking on at the moment?

Still waiting – the clubs that have had little to sing about

EVERTON fans won’t need reminding that they are going through a tough time this season and their recent FA Cup defeat at Manchester United meant the rest of the campaign will be all about preserving their Premier League status.

Everton’s followers have waited 28 years for a glimpse of silverware. It was 1995 when they last won a major prize, beating Manchester United at the old Wembley stadium. Although they have been part of the Premier League since it started, in recent years life has been quite precarious.

For most clubs, winning a trophy is an unlikely event, but success is also measured by promotion to a higher level. Only 43 clubs have won major honours, 49 of the 92 have never won silverware but every single club has, at some stage, won promotion. Of those that have won pieces of objet d’art in the past, Bradford City and Barnsley have been waiting for 112 and 111 years respectively to add to their haul. Sheffield United, Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City will all be celebrating the centenary of their last major triumph.

Everton’s 28-year stretch is the longest in their history without a prize for the cabinet. The previous longest barren spell was 24 years between 1939 and 1963, although the club was promoted in 1954 back to the first division. Everton’s run is notable because, for a long time, they were one of English football’s blue riband clubs.

Ipswich Town are another club who are enduring a long, painful period without some form of success. Now playing in League One, they have not won a trophy since 1981 and last enjoyed promotion in 2000. If they don’t go up this season – they are currently third in the table – it will be 23 years without a glimpse of bunting.

Tottenham’s lack of silverware is well documented and fans from rivals like Arsenal and Chelsea taunt Spurs for their lack of the killer touch.

Their last prize was the EFL Cup in 2008 and if they don’t break their duck this season, it will be 15 years since their last hurrah. Tottenham’s trophies down the years have usually come in clusters: 1961 – 1967, five; 1971 – 1973, three; 1981 – 1984, three. They’ve won just three cups in 30 years, a record that wouldn’t be tolerated at some clubs.

  Last success – years agoSource/CompetitionYear
1Everton28FA Cup1995
2Ipswich Town23Promotion2000
3Carlisle United17Promotion2006
 Colchester United17Promotion2006
5Derby County16Promotion2007
 Walsall16Promotion2007
7Tottenham Hotspur15EFL Cup2008
 Stoke City15Promotion2008
9Birmingham City12EFL Cup2011
 Stevenage12Promotion2011
11West Ham United11Promotion2012
 Southampton11Promotion2012
 Reading11Promotion2012
 Sheffield Wednesday11Promotion2012
 Crawley Town11Promotion2012
16Crystal Palace10Promotion2013
 Swansea City10EFL Cup2013
 Gillingham10Promotion2013
 Bradford City10Promotion2013
 Mansfield Town10Promotion2013
 Newport10Promotion2013
     

For Everton, Tottenham, Newcastle United (last trophy 1969) and West Ham (1980 FA Cup), desolate periods without success become all the more galling in this age of winner takes all. In fact, of the 60 domestic competitions over the past 20 years, 88% have been won by just six clubs (Manchester City 14, Chelsea 13, Manchester United 12, Arsenal 7, Liverpool 6, Tottenham 1). On top of that, Chelsea (4), Liverpool (2) and Manchester United (2), have won eight European trophies since 2003.

Of the 92 clubs in the EFL and Premier, 53 have experienced some form of success within five years, while another 24 have waited for between six and 10 years. Only two, Everton and Ipswich, have gone beyond 20 years. How long will they have to wait?

Traditionally, Everton have had to wait an average of around eight or nine years between trophies, but the current gap of 28 years has taken that average to around 10 years. Of the current big six clubs, Liverpool and Manchester United have an average of less than four years, Arsenal five years and Chelsea six. Manchester City’s average between trophies is currently nine years, but each season that passes changes that situation.