High-rollers City not yet in the big league

Who is the most expensive signing in the history of the Premier League? 

Correct. Robinho at £32.5 million, signed in September 2008 from Real Madrid and symbolic of the age of excess into which Manchester City had been drawn by the arrival of Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi as a force in English football.

But is he really the costliest player, in relative terms, compared with those blessed -- or otherwise -- with the label previously? City may be the richest club in the world and their spending may have soared past £300 million but, in real terms, they have some way to go before they can be regarded as the biggest spenders in the Premier League.

So say the authors of a fascinating analysis of transfer spending since English football was elevated to a new financial status when the Premier League was born in 1992.

Using an innovative formula that converts transfer fees from any year to current values, Pay As You Play: The True Price of Success in the Premier League Era offers a whole host of data comparing the performances of clubs and managers in relation to expenditure so that judgments can be made over the relative merits of successes achieved in different seasons.

By the Pay As You Play formula, Robinho rates a mere 26th in the list of most expensive signings, well down on the previous record holder, Andriy Shevchenko of Chelsea, whose £30.8 million move from AC Milan in 2006 is reckoned to be worth £53.5 million at today’s values.

In fact, 11 of the top 12 most expensive transfers in Premier League history involve either Chelsea or Manchester United, the exception being Alan Shearer, whose £15 million switch from Blackburn to Newcastle in 1996 would be worth almost £40 million today.

Some of the data simply confirms what we knew anyway, that success tends to come to those with the biggest spending power, although it is interesting nonetheless to note that it is not always the costliest squad in any given year that comes out on top. Indeed, sometimes the biggest spenders do particularly badly, as Newcastle fans know to their painful cost.

Their massive expenditure in the late 90s meant that they twice assembled the most expensive squad in the Premier League but the 1998-99 collection finished only 13th and the 1999-2000 crop just two places higher.

Given the sheer volume of statistics assembled, Pay As You Play might have struggled to entertain the reader and at times the subject matter veers towards academic dryness, particularly in the section headed Competitive Balance.  If there are many football fans familiar with the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index or the Lorenz Curve, for example, they must have been keeping it to themselves.

Elsewhere, however, lead author Paul Tomkins does well to keep the tone bright and engaging and the club sections benefit from ‘expert view’ entries from bloggers and journalists.

Pay As You Play was clearly a mammoth project but it has been undertaken with sufficient care to become a significant work of reference for those involved in football.

Click on the link to buy Pay As You Play: The True Price of Success in the Premier League Era directly from Amazon.

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