What if I told you that Chelsea spent £1.7bn on players between 2000/2001 and 2010/2011. Would that surprise you?
Would it surprise you if I told you that City spent £664.5m since the Sheik’s takeover and that Chelsea have effectively matched them in that arms race, spending £624.7m in the same period? For those of you not quick with math, that’s nearly £1.3bn between the two of them. In that same period, Arsenal spent just £311m, Man U £390m, and Liverpool £355m.
What if I told you that Arsenal’s average spending on salaries and transfers since the move from Highbury to the Emirates is almost exactly the promised £30m per annum? And that despite that increase by Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City effectively spend double the amount on players salary and transfers than the Gunners?
It’s all true, at least according to the data published by the Telegraph on September 1st 2012 in their Interactive Graphic titled Premier League transfer and wage spending from the 2000/01 season to 2011/12.
There are problems with that chart. Not the least of which is the presentation. Each of the bars in that chart have no relation to the numbers that they represent and are instead a linear function of ranking among the peers of that season in each category, stacked on top of one another. It’s just whack-a-doodle.
But the numbers themselves are actually interesting because taken out of the presentation they paint a damning picture of football finances in the Premier League and give some clues as to why Arsenal seem so eager for Financial Fair Play to go into effect.
Before I go forward, let me just say that quibblers abound. It’s the internet age and everyone seems to have not only their own opinions but now days everyone seems to have their own set of facts. For example, Arsenal’s salary numbers in that Telegraph graphic are taken directly from the Arsenal annual report. Which some people have a problem with, I know, because Arsenal’s annual report conflates player and staff salary. But, the fact is that no data set I choose would ever be agreed upon because there are too many people with agendas associated with the Arsenal right now. That’s a fact fact or maybe it’s just one of my own facts, I’m not quite sure.
I am sure that I have no agenda. I looked at the data in that chart and thought, “huh, that’s interesting.” Then spent 30 minutes staring at the numbers and stroking my beard in contemplation. I’m still agog at this data. I didn’t at any point think “huh, this bolsters my arguments” because I didn’t have any arguments. I looked at the data and let the arguments flow from them, not the other way around.
So, let the quibbling begin over how the data in that chart is wrong. You can argue over a few million pounds here and there, if that’s what you’re into, but the broader point is that Man City and Chelsea are spending massive, outrageous, sums of money on player transfers and salaries. Which I think everyone can agree to.
Taking the data from the Telegraph article, I created this chart of what each season’s (between 2000/2001 and 2010/2011) player salary and transfer spending added together looks like for Arsenal, Man U, Man City, Chelsea, and Liverpool.
Let me get a couple of quibble-points out of the way right now: Man City were relegated in 2001/2002 so they get a zero there because the Telegraph data I used for this article didn’t cover them that year; the figure used by the Telegraph are in £s for the year that they were spent, so yeah, there’s been inflation; there’s also been artificial inflation in the market place of player transfers and salary, yep; and yes, the delta of salary spend and predicting League outcomes shows a very strong correlation. None of those are my point.
My points are simply that according to the Telegraph data, it looks like Chelsea and Man City are effectively each paying double what Arsenal are able to pay for players. In that case, no amount of salary re-negotiations, shirt sponsorships, or ticket price increases will ever see Arsenal match them in outlay. However, Arsenal could get closer to Man U, who had a total player spend of just £35m more than Arsenal in 2010/2011. I also suspect that the enormous player spend by Chelsea and City is why Arsenal hang their hat on Financial Fair Play: Arsenal can’t double their outlay on players, so they have to hope that somehow UEFA will drag Chelsea’s and City’s spending down to a their level. And my final point is “HA HA! LIVERPOOL” which I won’t be covering because, seriously, HA HA LIVERPOOL!
The Telegraph’s data shows that Arsenal spent £131.2m on player transfers and salaries in 2010/2011. In the same season, Chelsea spent £276.8m and City spent the most with £290m. Man U, however, won the League that season and “only” spent £166.45m. The year on averages since Sheik Mansour took over City are staggering, £220m per year by City and £208m by Chelsea versus the £103m Arsenal spent and the £130m Man U spent on average per year. Sorry but the gap between Arsenal and Man City is never going to be bridged. £159m additional spend in a single season might be available but I don’t see any way that Arsenal can spend an additional £117m per year going forward.
That said, Arsenal did bump up their spending on players when they moved to the Emirates, according to this Telegraph data. The pre-Emirates per annum spending average was £66.42m and the post-Emirates average is £98.07m per annum. That’s a £31.65m per year on average increase in player spending. I recall some promises to that effect when the stadium was being built and there are now promises being made that once the stadium is paid off and sponsorships renegotiated Arsenal will be spending even more on players. If I was a betting man, I would guess that number will be close to +£30m per year.
But £117m additional per year? There are no foreseeable methods to achieve that. Still, an additional spend of £30m per year would put Arsenal equal to Man U’s spend over those three years.
This has to be why Arsenal are so eager to see Financial Fair Play implemented. Since the club can never compete in an artificial market with player’s salaries and transfer fees bursting through every conceivable ceiling because of the Sheikhigarchy of City and Chelsea, combined with the fact that no amount of reworking the salary structure or extra advertising hoardings will add an additional £110m to spend on players, they must be hoping that UEFA can push Chelsea and City down to Arsenal’s level.
In the mean time, there is a model of spending with a proven track record of success on the field. A model which doesn’t require that the club get massive cash injections from a rich owner, which doesn’t spend obscene amounts (relative definition here) of money on players, and which only shows a modest increase on player spending of around £30m per year. That’s the Man U model.
With Arsenal’s board stating that they are changing the salary structure at the club and new deals with Adidas on the horizon, I wonder if that model’s future isn’t too far off?
Since some people conflate the words “Man U model” and “debt loaded onto the club by owners in a takeover” I want to be very clear: I am not suggesting that Kroenke loads Arsenal with debt. In fact, the word debt never once appeared in the article because it’s not an article about debt. “The Man U model” I am referring to is: spend some money on players, but don’t bother trying to compete with City and Chelsea pound for pound and instead maximize return on your spend. I’m saying that instead of spending £200m a year, spend £130m and get the maximum return on that money, like United do. In short, spend £30m more per year than Arsenal currently do, fix the wage problems that prevent Arsenal from paying top, top dollar, and get back on to winning. That’s it.