The price of a good defence
As we reach the last few weeks of the transfer window, the pressure to get deals completed in time can lead to rushed negotiations. How much should you be willing to spend and at what point are you overpaying for a player?
Clubs spend more on a player based on how transformative they expect them to be to their team. Wealthier clubs are obviously able to pay more, but we can compare across clubs of different sizes by looking at what proportion of the club’s revenues a transfer fee represents. As a rule of thumb, clubs generally spend less than 5% of revenues on squad players, 5-12% on players expected to go straight into the first team and 13%+ on star players expected to have a significant impact on results.
Teams pay more for strikers, number 10s and wingers than they do for other positions. Over the three Premier League and Championship seasons between 2015/16 and 2017/18, the average spend on strikers as a percentage of club revenues was 5.7%. By contrast, the average spend on centre-backs was 3.7% and on full-backs just 2.4%. This reflects the low-scoring nature of football and how much harder it is to score goals than to stop the other team from scoring them. Good attacking players have a greater impact on results.
But some clubs do pay more for defenders. More so than any other top-flight club in England, Manchester City have consistently spent significant sums on their defence, paying fees equivalent to 12% of their revenues for Laporte in 2017/18 and 9-10% of revenues on each of Stones, Walker and Mendy in 2016/17. By contrast, Manchester United have paid fees equivalent to only around 5% of revenues on each of their centre-back signings in recent years.
This probably reflects City’s commitment to playing the ball out from the back and their full-backs’ involvement in creating overloads high up the pitch. Because of this style of play, defenders have a greater impact on the team’s performance and so spending a higher proportion of revenues on these positions makes sense.
Whether it is a good move for our club to invest a higher proportion of revenues on defenders depends on the style of football we want to play. For a team intending to pass it out from the back, a ball-playing defender who can contribute to building attacks might be more valuable than someone whose sole job is to stop the opposition from scoring. In the rush towards the end of the window, anchoring the price we’re willing to pay on how transformative we expect the player to be to our team can prevent us from paying over the odds.
Never miss one of our weekly insights. Sign up to our insights mailing list.