As January draws to a close so too does a record breaking football transfer window in England. As the English Premier League (EPL) hits a record spend for the January transfer window its worth noting that in total four foreign-owned clubs spent 80% of the record £225 million with £120 million of that passing between domestic clubs. The most notable transfers were those of Fernando Torres (£50 million), Andy Carroll (£35 million), Luis Suarez (£23 million) and David Luis (£21 million). But is this all just panic buying or are clubs trying to get the late bargains in the January sales? Either way, can you buy your way to the Premiership title or is that a myth all too long repelled by some of the most longstanding managers in the EPL namely Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson. Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho would argue otherwise. If you look at the table below showing Chelsea’s net spend under Abramovich it’s clear to see the comparison with that and their relevant league position.

Year Net Spend Final League Position
2003 £111.3 4th
2004 £95.8 2nd
2005 £27.9 1st
2006 £36.2 1st
2007 £12.0 2nd
2008 £28.2 2nd
2009 £15.2 3rd
2010 £15.2 1st
2011 £71.5

       Clearly Chelsea’s most successful years under Abramovich have been in the years following a significant amount of transfer activity and where the net spend has been significantly higher than most other years. Further analysis of the table below which highlights the net spend of all Premiership clubs since 1992, the year the English Premier League was formed, suggests that buying your way to the top is as much of a myth as loyal footballers in this day and age.   The table is a stark reality to those ardent Liverpool fans who claim that their fiercest rivals, Manchester United, have merely bought their way to the title and with the same funds Liverpool too would enjoy the kind of success that United have under the influence of Ferguson and the corporations millions. The reality however suggests totally different. Perhaps as expected Chelsea top the list having a net spend £366 million since the formation of the Premier League with only 3 titles to show for it spending on average £20 million a season to bring in this success at a cost of £122 million per title. Arsenal fare a lot better and if you scan your eyes down the list you’ll find them mid-table with an average spend of £1.8 million per season over the last 19 years but having won EPL the same number of times as Chelsea it means their outlaw per title is approximately 10 times less than Chelsea at just under £11 million per title. The only other teams to have won the EPL are Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers. Blackburn Rovers net spend is £2.8 million pounds at an average of £0.1 million per season but as they’ve seen their success waver of late we’ll unceremoniously ignore them for now, apologies Rovers fans. That brings us to Manchester United, the most successful club in the Premierships history and if Shiv’s assessment in last week’s FiO proves to be correct a record 19th top flight title will make them the most successful club England. So, have they bought their way to the top or not? Since this is an OR blog it would not be complete without the omission of a few outliers namely the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo for a world record £80, this is sure to be skewing their net spend although it could be argued that doing good business cannot be categorised as skewing the results as the net spend is the total money spent on players minus the total money received from selling players. With that in mind what is actually interesting is that if you look at the total spent then they are almost joint second with Liverpool in that respect at around £415 million, the differentiator between United and Liverpool though is the money from sold players which helps bring net spend down to £140 Million – less than Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Tottenham. Considering only one of those clubs has one the EPL it suggests that money is not the only solution to winning the EPL. United have spent on average £7.7 million per season but having won 11 out of the 18 Premier League titles they can surely put end to the claims that they’ve bought big as each of their titles comes at a net cost of £13 million per title. Keeping in mind that Chelsea and Arsenal both had a net spend per title of £11 million but even by combining their titles they are still 5 titles short of United. If we look at the following chart which shows average spend per season since formation of the Premier League in 1992 versus average league position then it further highlights the importance of buying wisely not just buying itself. There are 2 key clusters there. The “big spenders” – namely Chelsea and Manchester City and then there are the “top performers” – namely those who have averaged a top 5 position since 1992 ie: Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Aston Villa. Only Chelsea have won the league of the “big spenders” and only Arsenal and United of the “top performers”. All this seems to point to one thing – you can buy your way to the top and you can even buy your way to the title but what it seems is almost impossible to do is buy your to actually staying there and doing it again and again. It is the consistency that not even money can buy. So before we all jump on the bandwagon that without money you cannot be successful in the EPL lets just thing what all our beloved clubs would do if they were given the type of money they say they are having to do without.