Thinking about transfers and value

Happy New Year.

It’s that time of year again, when the English Premier League is at its precise halfway point, and the experts start looking forward to the end of the season and speculate on winners and losers.

Since the 2002-03 season, it’s also the time of year for the winter “transfer window”, a late Christmas present of sorts for football agents, and ostensibly an opportunity for those battling at either end of the table to call for reinforcements.

So I thought I’d take a look at what actually happened in the transfer windows since the end of the 2013-14 season, to see what stands out in the five windows since (three summer, two winter).

What I did was to load up each window’s net transfers club by club so that I had a column for each of Summer 16-17, Winter 15-16, Summer 15-16, Winter 14-15 and Summer 14-15. [The Winter 16-17 window has just opened]. Then I accumulated them in reverse chronological order, adding a window at a time. So I had a column for the last two windows, the last 3 windows, the last four windows and all five windows.

My source of the data was Transfermarkt, a really useful site for such things. Here’s the precise tab I used, making the selections I needed to make. And thank you Transfermarkt!

Here’s what my own spreadsheet looked like when I finished:

Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 10.48.52.png

[I haven’t embedded the actual Numbers sheet here. If any of you wants a copy just let me know where to send it to].

Some observations.

  1. There’s the usual “lies, damned lies and statistics” risk to any such exercise. Why did I choose the last five transfer windows rather than the last ten? Why did I choose to use reverse chronological order for the aggregations? Why did I separate the windows rather than go by entire season? Why did I only show net figures? These are all fair questions, every one of my choices introduces some bias and it will show in the results. My reason for making the choices I did was simple. I wanted to be able to figure out for myself: This is what happened under Guardiola, this is what happened under Mourinho, this is what happened under Klopp, this is the Conte timeline, you get my drift. That’s all, no other reason.
  2. The teams in italics are those that have not been present in all the seasons covered. Only 15 teams have been in the Premiership throughout the period under review, with 9 other teams missing out on one or more seasons.
  3. The “rankings” columns to the right only try and rank the 15 “ever-present” teams.
  4. The transfer money laid out was dominated by the two Manchester clubs, that’s to be expected. Arsenal was consistently the nearest to them, also predictable. What was mildly surprising to me was where a team like Sunderland stood when looked at this way.
  5. The last three Premiership winners were Leicester City, Chelsea and Manchester City. Leicester were mid-table as “transfer investors”, while Chelsea were almost bottom. There’s a lot more work to be done before we can understand the real correlation between investment and table position.  What if a team invested really well in soccer academies and then sold a small portion of that investment in the external transfer market, making just a few judicious buys? Looking just at the transfer markets isn’t enough. But it’s a start.
  6. Keeping net spent low is not in itself necessarily a good thing, given where Swansea are right now. Both Newcastle and Sunderland have tried to spend their way out of trouble, with different outcomes, and the promotion/relegation outcomes this year will prove as interesting as ever.
  7. When you look at the current first/second in the league, not much has been spent net by either Conte or Klopp. But maybe football is like the airline industry, it’s easy to make a small fortune. If you start with a large one.

As with anything else, I just wanted to get a little bit more familiar with the topic by actually looking at the data for myself.

While Leicester’s win last year was remarkable, it’s an outlier. The standout team for me in all this has been Southampton. Net £48m up in the past five windows. Net up in every one of the past three summer transfer windows. I want to dig deeper, see how much of that is through youth schemes and how much is based on careful “bargain” purchases from less fashionable markets, whether the approach they are taking will make them into a “feeder” club (which may not be fair on the fans) or whether there is sustainable advantage to be gained.

Much to think about.

In the meantime, happy new year to all of you. Once again, if you want to play with the data, to plug in this January’s winter window data, but don’t want to construct the spreadsheet yourself, just get in touch with me.