“An ingenious and intelligent look beneath the surface to reveal what the headlines too often don’t tell us. Fascinating.”
Jonathan Wilson Columnist for The Guardian and Sports Illustrated, Author of “Inverting The Pyramid”
“For years we’ve judged football and football people without the analytical tools to do it properly. Finally a book that attempts to do so intelligently. Hopefully a harbinger of more to come!”
Gabriele Marcotti BBC, ITV, The Times, Wall Street Journal, Sunday Herald, La Stampa, Sports Illustrated & Corriere dello Sport
“If you really want to know what has happened to the Premier League over its 18-year history, and why so many people have become disgusted by its rapacity and selfishness, I urge you to seek out a copy of Pay As You Play. … [Football analysis] is best left to the professionals, like the admirable Mr Tomkins.”
John Sinnott, Senior broadcast journalist at BBC Sport Interactive
“Another triumph of impeccable research, Pay As You Play brings much-needed factual insight to a discussion previously dominated by half-truths”
Oliver Kay, The Times
The Irish News – Full Review
WE’VE all had that conversation with a much older person. The one where they tell you that they were able to go to go to the cinema, purchase popcorn, get fish and chips afterwards, then buy a new car to drive home to the house that cost them sixpence – and still have change out of half a crown.
After repeated attempts, I gave up trying to get the point across that a pound (or half-crown) way back then was worth far more than a pound now (and that’s even before the banks lost most of our money).
Inflation is the key factor – and now it’s being brought into football debate.
For too long, clubs/ managers were judged on the simplistic basis of just adding up the transfer fees they paid out. In recent years, though, some have started to think about net spending, taking into account the money recouped from player sales. The correlation between wage bills and league position has also been shown to be strong: basically, the more you pay, the higher you finish.
Author and online columnist Paul Tomkins has been a major advocate of those concepts. Now he, along with another author and statistician, Graeme Riley, and Gary Fulcher, have produced a fascinating book called ‘Pay as you Play’ (subtitled `The true price of success in the Premier League era’; published by Gprf Publishing).
The main idea is to calculate `football inflation’, converting fees throughout the Premier League era into `2010 money’, with massive research having gone into their Transfer Price Index (see http://transferpriceindex.com).
Although previous books by Tomkins have been solely about Liverpool FC, `Pay as you Play’ assesses all 43 clubs that have ever been in the Premier League, with detailed statistics for all and contributions on each one from fanzine editors, bloggers, and experts including Oliver Kay, Gabriele Marcotti, and Jonathan Wilson.
You may have your doubts. Let me allay some of them. Three Liverpool fans devise a system that can help assess and analyse which manager achieved the most with the money available to him. You’d have quite a few guesses before coming up with the answer: Sam Allardyce. Arguably, that is.
‘Pound for point’, certain managers may punch above their weight, but there is clear evidence that the higher the points tally, the more expensive each point becomes to earn/ win/ buy. Allardyce, despite his recent claims, might not win trophies at a big club, a theory discussed in a chapter entitled `The Newcastle effect’.
An easier query now: Which manager has won three English Premier League titles despite not having one of the two most expensive sides that season? No, not Arsene Wenger at Arsenal (although he has done that once). The somewhat surprising answer is Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson (in 1995/6, 1996/7, and 2000/1).
Indeed, for all Wenger’s wizardry with money, the `Pay as you Play’ conclusion is that he had the second most valuable team when he won his first title in 1998 (only costing less than Newcastle United) and the most costly of all when he won his second in 2002. He’d also had the most expensive team in 2000/1 – when they finished 10 points behind Manchester United.
Astonishingly, Newcastle were again in the top two of most expensive teams in that campaign. Indeed, absolutely amazingly, such was the Magpies’ desire for silverware that they splashed the cash to this incredible extent: for eight, yes EIGHT, consecutive seasons, from 1996/7 to 2003/4 inclusive they had one of the two most expensive teams in the top flight. And what reward did the Geordies get for all that outlay over that period? One second spot. One third. And a couple of fourths. There were a couple of 13ths in there too.
The much-maligned Toon Army obviously had every right to cry, mutiny, and wage war on those in charge of their club. Newcastle did finish second on one other occasion, in 1995/6 – but even then that was with the third most expensive team.
Back to Arsenal, and only in 2004 did the Gunners really over-achieve, at least in terms of collecting silverware, winning Wenger’s third title with the team ranked only the fourth most expensive.
Credit to Arsenal, that was the last season a club outside the top two in terms of team value actually won the league. And since then, Wenger’s men have almost always (apart from 2005/6) finished higher than their team value suggested they should.
As for Ferguson, he has spent plenty of money, but there can be no denying that his teams are often worth more than the sum of their parts. He may have `bought’ some titles, but he’s earned a few others with his managerial ability.
While we’re on the subject of football ‘facts’, the authors conclude that former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez was much more canny in the transfer market than popular perception would have you believe; indeed that he was almost as good as Wenger in terms of the ‘true’ value of players bought and sold.
This column only skims the surface of `Pay as you Play’. Other concepts considered are which matters more, the cost of the squad or of the team fielded.
They look at the cost of players in relation to their age, nationality, and position, and how many trainees break through at clubs.
One conclusion on `competitive balance’ is that the Premier League has become increasingly predictable, with finishing position linked ever more closely to wealth.
Football’s financial playing field was never level but mega-rich clubs have skewed it so much it’s become an impossible slope for all but the very wealthiest to climb to the top. Their calculations suggest that Chelsea or Manchester City should take the title this season.
Of course there will be quibbles with their methodology, which necessarily involve some guesswork as to the current value of players, albeit educated guesswork.
In future, perhaps they should factor in wage bills, although accurate figures can be hard to obtain beyond the big clubs, especially in the past. Besides, as a rough rule of thumb, the more expensive the squad, the higher the wage bill. Of course, there are exceptions, such as Allardyce’s policy at Bolton of picking up players on free transfers, then paying them big wages.
The authors freely (or at least inexpensively) acknowledge that their work will not – and should not – ‘settle’ any arguments; in fact it should instigate many more.
But if it achieves anything at all by bringing some more intelligence to football punditry and debate, then it’s worth every penny – now and in the future.