All stats from Transfermarkt unless otherwise stated.
When the summer transfer window closed, clubs in the Premier League had spent a total of £1.3 billion, per Transfermarkt.
Let that sink in for a second. £1.3 billion. A Futurism article in 2014 claimed that the human brain cannot comprehend the number, one billion, in its raw form. It’s not possible.
And yet, this is the fifth transfer window in a row in which clubs have spent more than £1bn. Spending continues unchecked at the top-flight.
It feels slightly remiss to be writing this in a week in which Bury Football Club has ceased to exist due to a lack of funds, while Bolton Wanderers, a club formerly of the Premier League and one who reached the last-16 of the UEFA Cup just 11 years ago, were only saved by a last-minute reprieve.
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And yet, the spending has to be examined. How much have clubs spent since 2010/11? How much does the average player cost?
The answer, genuinely, is astonishing.
In 2010/11, the most expensive deal saw Yaya Toure move to Manchester City from FC Barcelona for £27m. The total money spent by clubs in the top-flight was £385.2m on 104 players. The average cost of a Premier League player that summer was £3.7m.
Since then, the cost has, for want of a better phrase, rocketed.
In 2011/12, clubs spent £487.9m, with Sergio Aguero the most expensive acquisition at a fee of £36m. A total of 119 players transferred that summer, at an average of £4.1m.
Then something happened.
In 2014/15, 140 players were bought at a total cost of £949.8m. To look back on that window is to see a litany of stars coming to the Premier League to varying degrees of success: Chelsea bought Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas for a combined £63.9m; Arsenal spent £38.2m on Alexis Sanchez; Everton spent £31.8m on Romelu Lukaku; Liverpool bought Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Lazar Markovic for fees over £20m; Manchester City spent over £40m on Eliaquim Mangala; Manchester United spent £67.5m on Angel Di Maria and a combined £66.1m on Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera; even Southampton spent over £20m on Sadio Mane.
The average of that window rocketed to an average of £6.7m.
And then the billion-pound dam broke. It was inevitable, really. Perhaps the bubble will burst eventually, perhaps it will all come crashing down around us, but it hasn’t happened yet, and 15/16 was the first window in which the mark was passed.
A total of 136 players were transferred at an average of £7.9m – more than double the average in 2010/11. Manchester City spent over £40m on three players – Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Otamendi – in the same window, while Manchester United spent over £30m on Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin and Anthony Martial. Judging teams by their recruitment is tough but, well, that speaks for itself, really.
Liverpool, too, spent over £30m on both Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke. Only four clubs went the entire window without spending over £10m on one player: Norwich City, Watford, Swansea City and Leicester City. The Foxes did spend £8.1m on one little-known Frenchman, though: N’Golo Kante. With the diminutive, combative, relentless and stoic enforcer dominating elite midfielders on a weekly basis, the Foxes went on to win the title in one of the greatest sporting miracles ever witnessed the season after. Bargain of the century, anyone?
As if in response to that underdog triumph, spending increased to £1.2bn in 2016/17 – an average of £10.1m from 121 transfers.
The list of transfers that summer, really, is quite staggering.
Leicester, having been so frugal the season before, lavished over £65m on the likes of Islam Slimani, Ahmed Musa and Nampalys Mendy. Arsenal spent almost £80m on Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi (stop laughing). Spurs spent £74m on Moussa Sissoko, Vincent Janssen, Victor Wanyama and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou. Manchester City splashed over £160m on the likes of John Stones (cagoule and all), Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan.
Manchester United then broke the world transfer record as they re-signed Paul Pogba for £94.5m in a deal that encapsulated the perpetually rising lunacy of the market.
Southampton and West Ham both spent over £40m. Liverpool splashed £71.9m on the likes of Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum. Chelsea bought Kante, Michy Batshuayi, David Luiz, Marcos Alonso and Eduardo for nearly £120m.
Only Middlesbrough failed to spend £10m on a single player.
And then, in 2017/18, spending hit the zenith of £1.4bn, still the highest spend in one summer transfer window in Premier League history. The average rose to £12m for a Premier League player, over three times the initial average of 2010/11.
Chelsea frittered away nearly £60m on Alvaro Morata, Spurs spent over £80m on the likes of Davinson Sanchez and Serge Aurier and Manchester City broke the £200m barrier on their own, buying the likes of Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva. Manchester United spent over £75m on Romelu Lukaku and Liverpool spent £37m on Mohamed Salah. In retrospect, that looks like terrific business.
It may have decreased in 18/19 – £1.2bn was spent at an average of £11.6m on 110 players – but it is creeping up again.
In 2019/20, in which even Spurs splashed over £50m on Tanguy Ndombele, the average now stands at £14m after £1.3bn was lavished on just 97 players.
Premier League clubs are not alone in this. The world record transfer was conducted between PSG and Barcelona when the former bought Neymar for over £200m.
But the numbers, when written down, are stark and the average cost of a single player, as illustrated in the graph above, looks set to continue to rise.
Since the start of 2010/11’s summer transfer window, £9.4bn has been spent on football players by Premier League clubs. The total average price of a Premier League player in that time is £7.7m.
To say that it cannot continue is flippant and, well, wrong.
Premier League football operates in its own microbubble, an island to itself, one which operates on its own terms independently from the rest of the financial world.
Nowhere else can one see such rampant expenditure. And yet it is the source of debate and speculation and, ultimately, feeds a thriving industry. Without the transfers, this article wouldn’t exist.
Maybe, at the end of the day, that would be a good thing. These numbers are sobering in the context of the events of the past week.
Trickle-down economics is clearly not, and never has been a thing, but spare a thought for Bury Football Club – now deceased – the next time your club splashes their flagrant wealth.
And maybe, just maybe, we should all despair.