By Tim Todd, Chief Transfermarkt Analyst
In the summer of 1996, Newcastle were the biggest spenders in the Premier League, buying Alan Shearer for £15m. In fact, from 1996/97 to 2002/03 there were six different teams who topped the transfer spend list. That all changed in the summer of 2003/04 when Roman Abramovich “parked Russian tanks on our lawn and started firing £50 notes at us” as Arsenal’s legendary chairman David Dein once said.
For the next four seasons Chelsea were the top spenders: firing out £293m from Abramovich’s tanks. Jose Mourinho inherited a team which had spent £117m buying such illuminaries as Duff, Crespo, Veron, Mutu, Scott Parker, Wayne Bridge, Joe Cole, and Glen Johnson. Yeah, I only gave the British players first names, you’ll get over it.
Mourinho saw the state of that team and went on a spending spree of his own, plunking down £175m over the next three seasons on transfers. The result of Abramovich’s net spend (£293m) under the first Mourinho era was two League titles, an FA cup, 2 League cups, and a Community Shield. For those of you counting, that’s £100m per major trophy or £50m per trophy if you count the Charity Shield, and counting the Community Shield is very charitable indeed.
I wonder if Mourinho saw the writing on the wall before he left Chelsea because the season he left, Man City spent £60m on players and took over the mantle from Chelsea as top spenders. City would emulate Chelsea’s model to a T: buying whoever they could in the first season (ROBINHO!) and paying whatever they had to pay to get him in the door just to signal intent. And from there City spent £462m over the next five seasons. For the money they spent, they won 2 League titles, 1 FA Cup, 1 League Cup, and 1 Community Shield. Just the major titles cost City £142m each and even if we include the League cup and Charity Shield (it’s not a trophy, folks) that takes their total spend per trophy to £92m.
All totaled, through the Abramovich era (from 2003/04-present) Chelsea has spent £498m but admittedly all of that spending has paid off in a lot of trophies: 4 League titles, 4 FA Cups, the most disgraceful Champions League trophy ever, and a Europa League title. That’s 10 majors at a cost of about £50m each. That’s not bad, folks.
Man City has been by far and away the most wasteful club in football history. Since they started spending money on transfers in 2007/08 they have never once turned a profit in the transfer market and have spent £619m on transfers. And they have only won 3 major trophies. That’s £200m per major trophy.
Manchester United are the surprise big spenders of the last 4 years, taking over from City after Financial Fair Play rules limited the amount that City could just throw away on players. Sir Alex Ferguson went out with a bang and spent £43m in his final season at United winning them their last major trophy in the process. Since 2012/2013, however, United have spent lavishly, throwing down £257m and topping all the transfer records since. But, United only have the one major trophy to show for their spending, meaning that trophy cost them £257m.
Fergie was the most successful manager in terms of total trophy haul. Which you already knew unless you just started watching football five minutes ago. Just counting from the Wenger era (1996/97) to his retirement two seasons ago Fergie won 14 major trophies with Man U which includes two Champions League titles, something Wenger and Mourinho haven’t done yet with an English club. Fergie wasn’t exactly thrifty but he also wasn’t overly profligate. He spent the most money of the three managers, £247m, but the trophy returns, winning 25 titles, more than makes up for his outlay.
As for Arsenal, I like to go back to the summer of 1996/97 to track Wenger’s spending. The reason I do that is because according to legend, Wenger told David Dein to buy Patrick Vieira that summer so, I credit Wenger with that transfer season even if he wasn’t actually the boss.
Throughout Arsene’s entire history with the Arsenal, he has spent just £113m. From 1996/97-2005/06 Wenger spent “lavishly” by his standards and plonked down £58m. In that time frame, he won 3 Premier League titles and 4 FA Cups. That’s 7 major trophies at a bargain cost of £8m each.
Wenger then went through a period of selling from 2006/07-2012/13 and generated a net profit of£43m. It’s no surprise, then, that in that time Arsenal made it to two League Cup finals and ended runner’s up both times*.
But since 2013/14 Wenger has been given a large chunk of money to spend on players and in the last three seasons has spent £98m. If you’re paying attention, you’ll note that Wenger has only spent £113m in his career, with £98m of that coming in the last three years! In the time that Wenger has spent £100m, he has won 2 major trophies: back-to-back FA Cups at a cost of about £50m each.
Jose Mourinho urged reporters to get out a calculator and look at the last three years. Then, he said, you’ll see some interesting results. He’s right, Arsenal have long been associated with frugality and Chelsea with extravagance so it’s kind of ironic that Arsenal have spent the third most money in the transfer market over the last three years and Chelsea have basically broke even! If you rank the top six teams (average Premier League finish) by net transfer spend over the last 3 years it looks like this:
1st: Man United £214m
2nd: Man City £142m
3rd: The Arsenal £98m
4th: Liverpool £80m
5th: Chelsea £6m
6th: Tottenham -£16m
Jose is right, Chelsea have been very astute in the transfer market over the last two years. They managed to dupe PSG into giving them £35m for David Lulz, Everton into giving them £25m for Lulzkaku, £22m for Andre Schurrlulz, and got a clearly desperate David Moyes to stump up £31m for Juan Mata-lulz. In fact, Chelsea might be able to break even in the transfer market for quite some time. They have a massive stockpile of players out on loan around the world and at any point could cash in on those players if needed.**
But as usual, Jose is also wrong and is twisting facts to his liking. Chelsea have spent an incredible £569m on transfers during the Wenger era, making them the second most profligate spenders over the last 20 years.
1st: Man City £673m
2nd: Chelsea £569m
3rd: United £462m
4th: Liverpool £326m
5th: Tottenhams £206m
6th: Arsenal £113m
Moreover, Mourinho himself has outspent Arsene Wenger by nearly double and hasn’t won Chelsea as many trophies as Arsene Wenger has for Arsenal. Mourinho’s transfer cost per major trophy while at Chelsea is almost £50m. Wenger’s cost per major is just £13m. Even if we count the little ticky-tacky trophies like the Charity Shield and the League Cup, Wenger has 14 trophies for Arsenal and Mourinho just 8 for Chelsea.
The facts are, if you get a calculator, you will see some interesting results, just like Jose predicted. You will see that Jose Mourinho has spent almost twice as much money as Arsene Wenger and has less than half of the silverware to show for it.
**It’s also important to note that I’m including this transfer window in my calculations and I have no doubt that Chelsea will spend the £20m they have earned in transfer profits so far this season, which will change their net spend over three seasons.
*Once to Chelsea in Wenger’s first Cesc season and the last one to Birmingham City in Cesc’s last season. Birmingham City didn’t outspend Arsenal but Arsenal’s threadbare and injured squad were missing key players in that match. Players who would have made a difference.
(All transfer data from TransferMarkt.co.uk)