After going down 3-1 to Manchester United at Old Trafford last December, a dispirited Sam Allardyce offered his take on what underpins the ability to succeed in the finance-driven world of modern football. “Where you actually finish in the League depends on the money you’ve spent,” the manager of then relegation-threatened West Ham United said. “It’s a statistical fact, that.”
His theory is accurate to an extent. It’s no coincidence Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Barcelona routinely occupy the upper echelons of their respective competitions while dwarfing their rivals in terms of transfer expenditure. However, with the Premier League campaign over the halfway mark, Allardyce and his industrious side are disproving his simplistic formula. The Hammers are punching well above their weight in seventh-place and within reach of the Champions League qualification spots having spent just £35.15m on signings last summer. That’s less than every other team in the top 10 bar Swansea and Stoke City, and a mere eight percent of the combined outlay of the current top four.
With global brands like Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and the Manchester clubs drawing wealth from lucrative commercial partnerships, broadcast rights and affluent club owners, the rich will almost certainly trump the likes of West Ham in the long run because money talks in modern football. However, has the number of digits in a bank account really become the be all and end all of the beautiful game?
Not entirely. Six-figure deals are becoming increasingly innocuous with every passing transfer window, and grossly inflated wage packets are now a prerequisite for attracting elite talent. But the agony of writing countless cheques to sign and pay players only to fall short of being crowned the best in the country is an ache familiar to many wealthy clubs. Here’s the rundown of the highest spending teams in Europe that haven’t won a domestic league title since 2010. These figures are sourced from transfermarkt.co.uk, and to avoid confusion, this list excludes transfers made during the winter window in process.
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10 Wolfsburg – £165.5m
Inconsistency has crippled Wolfsburg since the club landed its maiden league title on the final day of the 2008-09 Bundesliga campaign. Despite see-sawing between mid-to-lower table finishes over the last five seasons, the Wolves have continued splurging on players in a bid to challenge Bayern Munich at the pinnacle of German football. Derisively known among rival supporters as a ‘plastik club’ due to their sugar daddy connection with the Volkswagen group, Wolfsburg possess the financial muscle to sign world-class talent irrespective of their position on the league table. In fact, Bayern are the only Bundesliga side to have spent more on transfers than the company-owned team since 2010. But investing nearly £50m to acquire key players such as Luiz Gustavo, Ricardo Rodriguez, Ivan Perisic and Kevin De Bruyne is yet to pay off as the Wolves continue hunting for their first piece of silverware in nearly six years.
9 Inter Milan – £203.61m
The ferocity and swiftness of which circumstances can change both on and off the pitch in football never ceases to amaze. Less than half a decade after Jose Mourinho guided Inter Milan to their fifth consecutive Scudetto and become the first Italian side to win the treble, who would have thought the Nerazzurri would be neck-deep in debt and scrambling to qualify for European competition? Since the highly-successful Portuguese left for Real Madrid in May 2010, Inter have hired and fired no fewer than seven managers, causing a flurry of transfer activity each time a new boss takes the reins. Despite drastically chopping and changing playing staff in the last five seasons, Inter have invested steadily yet modestly in the transfer market – the £22m acquisition of Diego Milito is the nearest the club has come to shattering its £40m record deal to buy Christian Vieri in 1999. The cost of purchasing Ronaldo, Roberto Baggio, Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo in years gone by has caught up with Inter and forced them to tighten their purse strings. However, the 2013 takeover by Indonesian media magnate Erick Thohir should gradually ease financial strains on the Italian giants and restore the possibility of signing the best players in the world.
8 Anzhi Makhachkala – £213.84m
Nothing puts a football club on the map quite like cold hard cash. Few outside Russia knew of Anzhi Makhachkala before the President of Dagestan gave local billionaire Suleyman Kerimov a 100% stake in the club in exchange for financial support. The arrival of legendary Brazilian Roberto Carlos, Balazs Dzsudzsak, Yuri Zhirkov, Samuel Eto’o and his record-breaking €20.5m salary within two seasons of the new era widened the eyes of football fans worldwide. However, things started going awry when Guus Hiddink, who joined the club in early 2012, resigned barely a year later before Kerimov drastically reduced the club’s reported £116m annual budget by two thirds. The massive cuts forced Anzhi to sell off more than half a dozen key players including Samuel Eto’o and Willian, while Joao Carlos, Lassana Diarra, Mbark Boussoufa and Oleg Shatov all joined domestic rivals. Anzhi disintegrated after being stripped bare of their world-class talent and were subsequently relegated from the Russian Premier League. The fractured Dagestan club is on track to return to the top-flight next season, but it’s safe to say Kerimov won’t be writing blank cheques for veteran strikers any time soon.
7 Napoli – £216.52m
Given Napoli have been making waves in the upper ranks of the Serie A since 2010, it’s easy to forget the club was demoted to the third division of Italian football after going bankrupt in 2004. A takeover by film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis heralded a new dawn for the once troubled club, as the revived Partenopei surged back to the top-flight within three years. But although a significant boost in transfer funds has seen Napoli routinely qualify for European competition, the club is yet to cap its return to the top with a Scudetto. The Neapolitans last won the Serie A title in 1989-90, back when none other than Diego Maradona led the attack at the Stadio San Paolo. Despite falling short of the league title, Napoli have signed their fair share of top talent while hovering around the upper tiers of the Serie A table. The club sourced around £80m of revenue from the sale of Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi to Paris Saint-Germain between July 2012 and 2013. The earnings were deposited into the transfer kitty before newly appointed Rafael Benitez jumped at the chance to reshape his inherited squad. The Spaniard spent £85m during the 2013-14 campaign, snapping up Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon, and Dries Mertens to bolster the first-team while shattering Napoli’s transfer record with the £32m capture of Gonzalo Higauin. Napoli have the financial stability to compete for the Scudetto and although the club is building a roster close to rivalling that of Juventus, Benitez must ensure the loss of key players doesn’t become a habit.
6 AS Monaco – £225.37m
From top-flight relegation in 2010-11 to Ligue 1 runners-up three seasons later, Monaco have enjoyed one of the most successful takeovers French football has seen thanks to Russian chairman Dmitry Rybolovlev. The billionaire purchased two thirds of the club in December 2011 and following Monaco’s promotion to Ligue 1 the following season, he plunged over £150m into the club’s playing staff in a bid to fight for the club’s first top division title since 2000. The glitzy trio of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho thrusted Monaco towards a second-place finish behind Paris Saint-Germain in 2013-14, suggesting the principality club could rival the big-spending Parisians at the pinnacle of Ligue 1. But Monaco were far less prominent in the following transfer window, making no landmark signings while shipping James Rodriguez to Real Madrid and Falcao to Manchester United, albeit on loan. Yet to recoup the loss of the South Americans, the club could, and may need to, chase another big name sooner rather than later to keep pace with PSG and the other Ligue 1 contenders.
5 Tottenham Hotspur - £239.81m
After Tottenham became the recipients of Gareth Bale’s world-record £85m transfer to Real Madrid in the summer of 2013, inevitably the club was going to spend big to fill the void left by the Welshman. With Andre Villas-Boas at the helm, the north Londoners spent more than £100m to bring record-signing Erik Lamela, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Christian Eriksen, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches and Nacer Chadli to White Hart Lane in preparation for the 2013-14 season. Looking at the high-quality players Spurs have had on the books since the turn of the century, their lack of silverware is disappointing at best. The 2007-08 League Cup is the only trophy the north Londoners have won since 2000, and the last time they clinched the league title was way back in 1960-61 when it was known as the First Division. While many other Premier League clubs have tasted success in exchange for tipping huge funds into transfers, Spurs have qualified for the Champions League just once since 2010 despite forking out nearly £240m on signings during the same period. For all the young talent Mauricio Pochettino has at his disposal, he needs a world-class player to lead his side into the company of Chelsea, Manchester City and the like.
4 AS Roma: £242.74m
A club built on passion and pride, Roma aren’t known to throw around extravagant amounts of cash to land signings. Juan Manuel Iturbe, who cost the Italians around £20m to join from Hellas Verona in July 2014, is the most expensive player Roma have bought since paying a club-record 70 billion lire (roughly £28m) to sign former Argentinian hitman Gabriel Batistuta in 2000. But despite having never shelled out more than £30m for a single player, the Romans tend to bring in multiple first-team signings at once. For example, Kevin Strootman, Mehdi Benatia, Adem Ljajic, Gervinho, Tin Jedvaj and Mattia Destro all arrived at the Stadio Olimpico for a total sum of over £50m during the 2013-14 campaign. Roma’s transfer policy carries a low risk of misspending on luxurious signings but has also failed to consistently bring silverware to the capital in the last couple of decades. The Giallorossi last clinched the Serie A title in 2000-01 and have featured in the Champions League only twice since 2010. However, following a second-place finish last season and European qualification on the horizon this time around, Roma are on track to return to the big time.
3 Arsenal: £259.57m
Criticised for failing to back up his frustratingly conservative transfer policy with trophies, Arsene Wenger seems to have finally shaken his penny-pinching tag. The loss of Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, and Cesc Fabregas remains a painful memory for the Gunners faithful, but one that has been partially healed by the arrivals of record-signing Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. Before purchasing the aforementioned duo, the club went almost a decade with breaking its transfer record ,which was previously held by Jose Antonio Reyes, who cost the Gunners £17.6m in January 2004. But glamorous signings aren’t everything in football and Arsenal fans demand more than big names printed on the back of their replica kits. Patience is wearing thin at the Emirates with only the 2013-14 FA Cup in the trophy cabinet despite the club having spent close to £260m on transfers since 2010. Wenger is unlikely to repeat the ‘invincible’ Premier League season of 2003-04, but he must clinch at least one major trophy before vacating his post or risk tarnishing his legacy.
2 Liverpool: £387.31m
Simply put, a club boasting the global appeal of Liverpool needs a superstar or two. To nab the biggest names usually costs big money and although the club hasn't shied away from paying up to bring top players to Anfield, it hasn’t always gone to plan. The Reds recouped six goals in two seasons from Andy Carroll, who cost a then British transfer record of £36m to sign from Newcastle United in the winter of 2011. In contrast, Liverpool enjoyed the best of Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez before pocketing roughly £120 from their sales to Chelsea and Barcelona respectively. Regardless of their transfer feats, the haunting fact that Anfield hasn't seen a league title lifted in over 25 years weighs heavy on the shoulders of Brendan Rodgers and his players. Having come within touching distance of breaking the drought last season, the Reds will be desperate not to slip up when their next shot at the Premier League crown comes round.
1 Chelsea: £501.06m
On the whole, Chelsea have relished under the ownership of affluent oil tycoon Roman Abramovich. The Blues have contested nearly every title race since the Russian bought the club, so it’s easy to forget 2009-10 was the last time the Premier League crown went to Stamford Bridge. No Chelsea fan would trade the historic Champions League triumph three years back for any other piece of silverware, but some would rightly be concerned the club has spent over half a billion pounds on players since last topping the pile in England. Like Manchester City are now doing on a regular basis, some of the Blues’ transfer activity has raised an eyebrow or two and ruffled a few feathers. A particularly extravagant move by the west London club was the decision to re-sign Nemanja Matic from Benfica at a loss of £20m just two seasons after his departure. The ability to pull off such mind-boggling deals has seen Chelsea build a squad of unmatchable quality. Although some call it depth, Chelsea have also been known to stack their bench with expensive signings they seemingly don’t need. During the last five years, the likes of Mohamed Salah, Victor Moses, Marko Marin, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne have all suffered the utter devastation of becoming a serial bench-warmer following a dream switch to Stamford Bridge. However, squad competition is the motivation behind the very best sides, and with Chelsea on track to break their Premier League drought come May, few Blues are complaining.
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