The cost of going nowhere
Problem-solving in football has become synonymous with spending money.
If results aren’t good enough, cheques will be signed for new players and coaching staff, with cheaper and weaker recycled for dearer and perceivably stronger.
But how often is there a benefit to all this cost? Have teams going through these same processes improved or simply gone in circles?
The Premier League may be the wealthiest league in the world, but like any competition it has rich and poor teams. Despite the commonly held belief that wages = wins, 21st Club have previously shown that within these groups, the relationship between each dollar and point is vague at best.
But let’s instead compare teams with themselves, rather than their peer group. If, for example, a club moves from having the 12th-highest wage bill to the 8th-highest from one season to the next, what is the impact on their results?
The answer in the data is clear: the cost, on average, leaves you where you started.
Perhaps the main exception is Manchester City, located in the top right. In the summer of 2009, the club made a quantum leap into the group of rich teams after a bout of near-unprecedented spending, and saw an immediate return of 17 points on their investment.
For others however, the effect of increasing the wage bill relative to the league has had wide-ranging positive and negative effects. Even failing to keep up with wage inflation does not have a predictable impact on performance.
The reason for this non-relationship is simple: without the luxury of being able to spend money on what is clearly a different class of player (as Man City and Chelsea have done before), Premier League clubs have proved highly inefficient at identifying the difference, for example, between a £20,000 per week player and a £30,000 per week player (scale up or down to your league as appropriate). As such, it becomes a lottery between who is getting real value from their wage bill, and who is left planning their next squad overhaul.
Now consider the teams who have really made step-changes in performance in recent seasons. Atlético Madrid, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Southampton, Saint-Étienne. Money may have played a part in their recent successes, but it certainly hasn’t been seen as the magic bullet. Innovation in coaching, player recruitment and youth development have all played significant roles.
Sometimes problems can’t be fixed with a credit card. Often, there’s a cost to going nowhere.