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It has taken four years and almost £1 billion to transform Manchester City into a team with the Barclays Premier League trophy within their grasp. Should they finish the job with victory over Queens Park Rangers on Sunday, many people, not least from the other side of town, will accuse them of having “bought” the title, and, broadly speaking, they will be right.http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/sport/foo ... 411183.ece
But there is nothing new in that. In fact, no team in the Premier League era have done what Roberto Mancini’s team are trying to do — gone from being also-rans to becoming champions of England — without at least a semblance of the kind of “accelerated recruitment strategy” that City have been working on since Sheikh Mansour bought the club in September 2008.
In City’s case, admittedly, it has been fairly extreme. Four years ago, managed by Sven-Göran Eriksson and owned by Thaksin Shinawatra, they finished ninth in the Premier League, their season ending with an abject 8-1 defeat by Middlesbrough. In the first season of Mansour’s ownership they finished tenth, then fifth, then third and finally — after an extraordinary turnover of players, including the purchase of bona-fide superstars such as Yaya Touré, David Silva and Sergio Agüero, all of them lured by wages far beyond the budget of their nearest rivals — they are in a position to secure the league title.
The mistake would be to think that “buying” the Premier League title is a phenomenon unique to City, or indeed Blackburn Rovers or Chelsea, respectively the beneficiaries of the largesse of Jack Walker in 1995 and Roman Abramovich in 2005.
When United became champions of England in 1993, their breakthrough after a 26-year wait followed an outlay of more than £15 million over the previous four years — a paltry sum by today’s standards, but enough to be described in one newspaper in 1989 as “flagrantly attempting to buy the title that has eluded them for 22 years” and for Alex Ferguson to be disparaged, very prematurely, as “the biggest exponent of cheque-book football in even Old Trafford’s profligate history”.
Ferguson’s acquisitions in the run-up to the title triumph were some of the best in the modern history of the English game — Denis Irwin for £625,000 in 1990, Peter Schmeichel for the same fee a year later, Eric Cantona for £1.2 million in 1992 — but these were the players, along with Paul Parker and Andrei Kanchelskis, who were added to the foundations laid at considerable cost.
Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes had been signed earlier, but the 1989 splurge on five England internationals — Neil Webb, Mike Phelan, Paul Ince, Danny Wallace and Gary Pallister, who cost a British record sum of £2.3 million — was seen at the time as extraordinary, prompting Ferguson to rail: “I don’t like this idea of ‘Moneybags Fergie’.”
A desire to analyse spending in the modern history of English football formed the basis for Pay As You Play: The True Price of Success in the Premier League Era. Written and rigorously researched by Paul Tomkins and Graeme Riley, the book presents a series of statistical models to compare spending across two decades.
Central to their findings is the Transfer Price Index (TPI), which uses analysis of average spending costs in each particular season to convert every deal to “modern money”, meaning that, for example, Alan Shearer’s £3.6 million move to Blackburn Rovers in 1992 comes out at £24 million and his £15 million transfer to Newcastle United four years later at £39.7 million. The most expensive deal in Premier League history is considered to be Chelsea’s £30.8 million purchase of Andriy Shevchenko, which the TPI calculates to be equivalent to £53.5 million.
Blackburn’s expenditure before their 1995 title success is well documented, but beyond the stellar trio of Tim Flowers, Chris Sutton and Shearer, their purchases were at the lower-middle end of the market. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the research is that, using the inflation-added TPI, United’s 1995 squad is only slightly cheaper than Blackburn’s, while Liverpool’s is more expensive still.
Even Arsenal’s 1998 triumph, which owed much to Arsène Wenger’s coaching talent and to the veteran players he inherited, followed three years of big spending — David Platt for £4.75 million, Dennis Bergkamp for £7.5 million, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira for £3.5 million apiece, Marc Overmars for £7 million. Using the TPI formula, they had the most expensive squad and most expensive starting XI that season — again ahead of an underachieving Liverpool and then United.
Chelsea’s expenditure after the Abramovich takeover in 2003 was on another level entirely — even the purchases of Ricardo Carvalho, Damien Duff and Didier Drogba were worth £36.1 million, £34.4 million and £43.7 million according to the TPI. Then there were players such as Juan Sébastian Veron and Adrian Mutu, who were signed at great expense in 2003 and surplus to requirements by the time José Mourinho pitched up the following season.
City have bought the right to come within three points of the title, but so did United, so did Blackburn, so did Arsenal and so did Chelsea. Liverpool have spent heavily through the two decades, but have now endured 22 years of misery. City’s wait, dating back to 1968, is twice as long as Liverpool’s. They have spent at an extraordinary rate to reach this point. But, seriously, how else were they to do it?