“Has English football gone mad?”
With Manchester United set to smash through the £100 million barrier with their deal to bring back Paul Pogba, and Manchester City considering spending £50 million on a relatively unproven John Stones, the sentiment is frequently expressed by journalists and fans.
No doubt, similar questions about the game’s financial sanity were asked 20 years ago when Newcastle spent £15 million to bring favourite son Alan Shearer back to the northeast from Blackburn.
Of all the transfer deals I can remember, it was the Shearer one that stood out and made me think: How much?!?
It seemed an incredible amount of money for Newcastle to spend on a single player in 1996. By contrast, huge fees paid by Real Madrid, for example for Gareth Bale, have always seemed more understandable given the vast wealth and global reach of the Spanish club.
This got me wondering, how expensive was Shearer for Newcastle at the time? Adjusted for inflation, £15 million would now be £25.4 million. But more, my question was how big a deal was Shearer for Newcastle at the time, compared to its total revenue as a football club back in the very early days of the TV boom?
For the 1996/97 season, Newcastle’s revenue, according to club accounts filed with Companies House, was £28.97 million. The deal for Shearer, at £15 million, was equivalent to 51.77 percent of the club’s total revenue.
Newcastle’s total revenue, according to the last accounts, now stand at £128.8 million. If you fired up the time machine and did the same deal today, Newcastle would be spending £66.8 million on Alan Shearer.
As Newcastle fans will be painfully aware, Mike Ashley is more likely to offer his Sports Direct slaves permanent contracts than spend that much on a footballer.
Using the same 51.77 percent figure, this would be equivalent of Manchester United spending £204 million on Pogba, or Manchester City spending £182 million on Stones.
For Spurs, it would be the equivalent of spending £101.5 million on a player. Can you imagine Daniel Levy sanctioning that?
This in turn got me wondering, who is Tottenham’s Shearer? While Erik Lamela is the club’s record signing, at £30 million (£25.8m plus clauses), who was the most expensive Spurs player, relative to the club’s revenue at the time?
I dug out some data* and created the following chart.
As you can see, the most expensive, at the time, and by quite some margin, was Sergei Rebrov. His £11 million move from Dinamo Kiev was equivalent to nearly 23 percent of the club’s annual revenue that year.
Rebrov is followed by Les Ferdinand (19.4 percent) and Chris Armstrong (18 percent). In fourth is Lamela.
When I first thought about this, my guess was Darren Bent, but his transfer was funded by one of the biggest jumps in revenue (with a new TV deal kicking in), so he is only in fifth place on the all-time list. I daresay Sandra Redknapp would have been higher.
Of course, this is just a snapshot and not to be taken too seriously. As a club that has been run for a profit, rather than as a plaything, what Spurs spend is a reflection of what has been received.
But nonetheless, as a snapshot, it is an interesting one. Some of those names — Fazio, Bentley, Reid, Vega and Rebrov himself — are a reminder of what a massive crapshoot the transfer market is. Which is why spending an amount equivalent to 51.77 percent of your revenue is a crazy idea, and one unlikely to be repeated any time soon.
English football may well have gone mad, but it went mad a long time ago. If anything it has become a little more sane, but as the numbers get bigger, it just doesn’t seem that way.
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*Revenue data from Companies House. Transfer data from @ztranche