The Premier League’s Most Costly Deal
The 2016/17 Premier League campaign kicks off on Saturday 13th August in what will surely be billed as one of the most promising seasons to date. The likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham will all harbour varying levels of ambition in challenging for the Premier League title, whilst Leicester City aim to defend their crown after an historic, fairytale success last time out. The addition of new managers, new teams and entirely new dynamics will shape how the season unfolds, bringing with it the potential for more intrigue, drama and excitement.
The one thing that is guaranteed to have an increasingly prominent role in the Premier League, though, is money.
TV Rights and Transfers
The new Premier League TV rights deal will see clubs receive a share of £5.13bn between 2016 and 2019 – a huge 71% increase on the deal that ran from 2013-2016.
As can be deduced from the tables above, Premier League clubs are each expected to make a minimum of £30m on last season’s earnings – even if they finish bottom of the league. The league champions, on the other hand, can expect to make almost £50m more than any club earned in the 2015/16 season from TV rights and prize money. This financial windfall will have huge ramifications for the future of the league and the English game as a whole, with the effects already being noted in the current transfer window.
At the time of writing, almost £400m has been spent by Premier League clubs on transfer deals (according to data from TransferMarkt). This is despite the fact that the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham, Southampton, Everton, Stoke, West Brom, Bournemouth, Sunderland, Burnley and Hull have brought in no more than a single player apiece at the moment – if any at all. Add to the tens of millions that each of these clubs will spend to the continued investment of clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool before the August 31st deadline and it’s almost unquestionable that transfer spending will surpass the £870m record that was set in summer transfer window last year.
To many, this would signify an exciting time for their clubs. The ability to bring in talented new players that would have otherwise been out of their price range is a very attractive prospect. Even the ‘lesser’ clubs in the league are now in a position to offer transfer fees and wages that more prestigious, foreign clubs simply cannot match. This will result in an influx of talent coming to the Premier League from top to bottom, rather than the huge ‘big club’ bias that is evident in Spain, Germany, Italy and France. Whilst this will inevitably make the league more exciting and competitive in the short term, the long-term risks of this financial nonchalance could damage not only the Premier League, but English football at its very roots.
Academy Football: The Beginning of the End
The ability to throw vast sums of money around on new transfers will diminish the already-limited influence that youth academies have at Premier League clubs. Why would an owner/manager willingly gamble on nurturing and developing young players when the ability to simply buy an established player is the much safer, easier alternative? The likes of Nemanja Matic and Kevin De Bruyne returned to the English Premier League for hugely inflated fees after previously being sold abroad and deemed not good enough for the Premiership. Similarly, Paul Pogba is reportedly set to make a sensational return to Manchester United for a world-record fee of over £100m. This is despite the Red Devils receiving less than £1m in compensation for the 23 year old in 2012 when assurances about his future at the club couldn’t be made. In doing this, the Premier League has made it’s values very loud and clear: “we’re not prepared to wait for the finished article.”
Generally speaking, it is clear that the Premier League offers fewer opportunities for domestic players and academy players than other major European Leagues. As such, the number of domestic players reaching the elite level of the game is becoming more and more diluted.
Jamie Vardy netted 24 goals in the 2015/16 season and was integral to Leicester City’s title-winning campaign. He will turn 30 this season after having spent the majority of his career in the lower leagues and not fulfilling his potential sooner. The same can be said of Rickie Lambert, who played in every level of English league football before ending up as the top scoring Englishman in the 2013/14 Premier League campaign at the age of 31. At the other end of the pitch, Leicester City’s Wes Morgan won the Premier League and was named in the 2015/16 Premier League PFA Team of the Year at the age of 32. Despite being named in the Championship PFA Team of the Year on three occasions prior to this, no Premier League club saw fit to buy a player of such obvious quality because he was in a lower league.
Buying from the Continent
It is becoming more and more frequent that domestic, lower league talent is being overlooked in the Premier League. Instead, the preference is to chase instant success by looking overseas for ‘better’, foreign imports who have been given the experience of playing first-team football at a much younger age. In a large number of these cases, a huge contributory factor in their first-team football is the fact that their clubs are not in a financial situation to spend money on new transfers. Before his £32m transfer to Manchester United from Villarreal, Eric Bailly was given his La Liga opportunity by Espanyol after coming through their academy. Similarly, Eden Hazard worked his way up through the Lille ranks from the age of 14 on the way to being given his opportunity in Ligue 1. A £32m transfer to Chelsea followed shortly after.
As of 9th July 2016, only 26% of the money spent on transfers by clubs in the English Premier League was for players already plying their trade in England (ie. Sadio Mane from Southampton to Liverpool, Victor Wanyama from Southampton to Tottenham, Andros Townsend from Newcastle to Crystal Palace etc). German Bundesliga clubs, however, have a 44% retention rate of transfer money spent within the nation. In fact, the Bundesliga only has a net spend of £63m in the transfer window thus far. Italian Serie A clubs only have a net spend of £38m and Spain’s La Liga has only accrued £16m in losses in the current window. French Ligue 1 clubs have actually made a £28m profit. The English Premier League? A huge £234m net loss on transfer dealings with well over a month remaining to continue to sign players. Whilst this is no new trend for the English Premier League to spend far more money than it’s European counterparts, it is yet to yield the expected results. The Premiership has only produced one finalist in the Champions League in the last 5 years (Chelsea’s 2011/12 victory) and England’s only representative to go beyond the Round of 16 in the last two years is Manchester City. Quite frankly, this is pathetic for a league that is routinely billed as “the best in the world”.
A Dying Legacy
As previously touched upon, the importance of academy football in the Premier League is being diminished. With all due respect to Southampton, they are not one of England’s elite clubs. Their academy, however, is responsible for producing some of the best talent in the country over the last decade. The likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Gareth Bale and Luke Shaw have all gone on to play Champions League football after coming through the academy of a club that spent seven consecutive years in The Football League. Is this success despite the absence of Premier League football? Or is it much more likely that this success is actually a product of a club searching for talent from within when they couldn’t rely on external funds? After all, this was during a period at Southampton whereby players were being sold, parts of the stadium were being closed down to reduce costs and they received a point deduction for going into administration.
Southampton aside, English academies rarely see their graduates go on to have careers at the highest level despite having the financial capabilities to produce elite players. The importance of retaining Premier League status at all costs now simply outweighs the risk of investing in youth for Premiership clubs. The ever-increasing money in the Premier League will only exacerbate this situation. Premier League clubs are now following a worrying trend of spending more and more money on buying fish than investing in a fishing rod.
This is having a knock-on effect on English football as a whole. The relative lack of importance of academies and youth football in England means the prestige and incentive for coaches to get involved is decreasing all the time. The 2016/17 season will see only 5 English managers in charge of the 20 Premier League clubs – a 25% domestic bias. Compare this to other European nations and the differences are striking. Spain has a 70% domestic manager bias, Germany 61%, Italy 84% and France 75%. Additional data below sourced from the Guardian and Soccer by the Numbers gives a more revealing look about the current state of coaching in England.
With figures such as these, it’s hardly surprising that the English national team consistently fails to deliver on the major international stage. In fact, I very accurately predicted England’s early Euro 2016 exit/manner of exit and was scarily spot-on when going on a foul mouthed rant at Roy Hodgson about how I knew he’d mess up England’s tournament.
Moreover, appointing an available, qualified and credible manager to succeed Roy Hodgson becomes an even harder task when the demand for an Englishman in charge is greater than ever. And if the national standard has fallen so dramatically in just a little over two decades, how long do we have before the damage becomes irreversible?
So whilst the new TV rights deal and other excessive sources of money coming to the Premier League seems like a win-win situation, it’s anything but. Yes, there will be the initial optimism and buzz that this is an opportunity for clubs to buy a brighter future, but recent history and trends actually suggest that this could be considered dealing with the devil. One only has to look at the likes of Qatar and China to see that the soul of the game is slowly being corrupted. Wherever the money goes, mercenaries will follow.
The rush of excitement that comes when signing new players is fleeting. It’s easy to spend tens of millions when there’s a fairly good chance that it will be recuperated in a matter of 12 months. But the integrity and the future of the game is a much more permanent ideology that has much longer-term implications.
If you enjoyed this article, Kain Watson regularly writes on his own brand new football blog The Dugout. He’d bloody love you to follow it.