First, I would like to thank Zach Slaton not just for creating the various models I used yesterday but also for devoting hours and hours of his time explaining the model to me. Zach (along with Arseblog) also then helped in the editing of the final piece. I know editors rarely get any credit but I felt like it was due considering that I both needed a fact-checker on the piece and that Zach crafted one of the best paragraphs of the article. Zach is a great guy and I can’t recommend you follow his blog on Forbes enough.
Second, we are already planning a follow-up article because of the many questions you all asked yesterday. One thing that I can explain is how it’s possible that three teams can all have a 95% chance of winning the League using the Total Team Value (TTV) model and how it’s possible that a team can spend hugely (Man City) and not win the League.
The thing you have to remember is that this is a correlative model. We typically associate spending money with cause: I own a car because I spent the money to buy it. In football we do the same thing and you will often hear people say things like “Chelsea bought the Premier League”. Which may be true, but since I wasn’t there to see the title actually purchased from Richard Scudamore’s cold, dead, fingers I can’t say that it was.
What I can say, however, is that spending astronomical amounts of money correlates with title-winning teams. Let’s go back to the car-buying analogy. Is it possible to spend Yugo money and get a Porsche? I’ve seen it done so, I’m going to say yes. But if you want to get that Porsche, your odds increase with the more money you are willing to spend.
Now, in the case of the Premier League title, Arsenal are looking at trying to buy a Bugatti Veyron while spending the money it would take to buy a Porsche. Can it be done? Sure. It’s been done. Twice in 20 years.
I initially thought that no team had ever won the Premier League title and spent less than 3rd place on Total Team Value but Zach corrected me on Twitter about that. Most people’s initial reaction is to guess it was Blackburn Rovers who won the League without being in the top three in spend but they were 2nd in TTV when they won in 1994/1995 and came in first the very next year. It was actually Manchester United’s 1995/1996 and 1996/1997 teams who pulled off the feat coming in 6th in TTV in 1995/1996 and 5th in 1996/1997.
Becks, Giggs, Scholes, Neville, Brown, and Butt all came through United’s academy at the same time and formed the core of those title-winning sides and for those who remember the 90s you’ll recall that those two title winning sides were referred to as Manchester United’s “Golden Generation”. In a sense, Man U’s Golden Generation vindicates Arsene Wenger vision. Keeping a core of six young players together, battle-forged, and ready to compete has proven to work, once. But Fergie is asked semi-annually when his next Golden Generation is due and he keeps insisting that it’s just around the corner. And unlike Arsenal, while Fergie waits for that second Golden Generation, United are spending huge to keep their title hopes alive year in and year out.
There’s a lot more to say on this topic but suffice it to say that there are differences between Arsenal’s academy in 2012 and Man U’s academy circa 1996: spending in the League has changed drastically; player power is a wave that has all but washed away the power of managers and academies; and Arsenal don’t pursue academy players in the same way that United did.
I’ll leave you with this thought. 18/20 of the Premier League titles have been won by teams who were in the top three in TTV. The other two were won by the 6th and 5th most expensive teams. Even if we don’t account for the insane changes brought about by the arms race between Chelsea, Man U, and Man City — and the fact that the disparity between 6th place in TTV and 1st place in TTV in 1995 and 6th place and 1st place in 2012 is much bigger — we can still say that 90% of the time, a top spending team has won the League trophy.
Spending the money correlates strongly with winning the title but it’s not causal. Therefore, spending XX amount doesn’t guarantee a title nor does spending YY amount mean that it’s impossible to win the tile. It’s all about the odds. If you want to get a Bugatti Veyron, the odds get better the closer you get to the retail price.