Pay As You Play – Introduction & Chapter One

Pay As You Play – Introduction & Chapter One
November 30, 2010 Paul Tomkins


One of the more interesting theories associated with football is that success can be ‘bought’; that it’s almost off-the-peg, waiting to be snapped up by any willing buyer who’ll meet the asking price. Often intended to be dismissive – and disregarding the success of others is what football fans do best – the claim was made of Blackburn Rovers in the ‘90s, and, more recently, has been directed at Chelsea. The latest club apparently intent on ‘buying’ success is Manchester City. But is there really a price that can be put on certain levels of achievement, be it avoiding relegation, qualifying for the Champions League or landing the Premier League title? Just what role does money play in the modern English game? And which clubs of the past 18 years have punched above or below their weight?

Competitive balance is essential in sport in order to keep results unpredictable – and therefore the audience engaged. But has the way the game has been structured since 1992 – both in the English league and with the changes to the old European Cup – caused too much disparity? Is there now a lack of competitive balance in the Premier League? And is the problem growing worse?

* * *

It was from a curiosity about converting old transfer fees into present-day money that this project was devised. That curiosity led to questions about what kind of value for money clubs were getting for their transfer outlay. Did the big spenders really have it all their own way?

Much has been made of the correlation between wages and success in football, but what about the role played by transfer spending? While some clubs have excelled with a policy of picking up out-of-contract, highly-rated players on Bosman ‘free’ transfers – in the process handing them relatively big wages – most transfers do not involve this kind of discount.

One of the problems with analysing success in relation to wages is that a pay packet can radically alter further down the line, upon signing a new contract, whereas a transfer fee remains constant; even potential add-ons are known in advance. As author and journalist Gabriele Marcotti told us: “What tends to happen is that, because successful teams tend to be successful (and cash-rich), year-on-year their wages tend to be higher, creating a chicken and egg situation. In other words, wages are as much a reflection of past performance as they are an estimate of future performance.”

Neither method is perfect – some clubs will always perform better or worse than expected, for a whole host of unpredictable reasons – but as we will outline in this book, we feel that we’ve found the strongest-ever link between transfer spending and success.

* * *

So, what makes one player cost £23.7m and another 25 worn tracksuits and a half-eaten packet of chocolate digestives? Many factors go into deciding a transfer fee. But ultimately, any player is only worth what the buying club are willing to pay, and what the selling club are happy to accept. Precedents are often used for comparison – Ade Akinbiyi cost £5m, therefore my player, even with two broken legs and acute blindness, is worth more – but it seems there’s always someone brave (or stupid) enough to go against the generally perceived market value and offer a king’s ransom for a right royal turnip.

One of the enduring problems with comparing managers (and clubs) across the eras is how inflation distorts their dealings in the transfer market. After all, when Nottingham Forest’s Brian Clough paid £1m for Trevor Francis in 1979, he was doing much the same as Manchester City did 29 years later when purchasing Brazilian star Robinho from Real Madrid: agreeing to pay more money for one player than any English club had ever done. Only now, that figure had risen to £32.5m.

There is almost infinitely more money in the game now. Decidedly different from standard inflation, where the price of everything tends to rise at a steady rate, there is ‘football inflation’, which reflects the driving financial forces of increased TV revenue and, more recently, the influx of billionaire owners who don’t have a need to balance the books. (Of course, this may change with the introduction of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Rules in 2012, after which clubs will be expected to stick to spending only the money they earn, but to date, their outlay has gone largely unchecked.)

This project came about when Graeme Riley contacted me after reading my own method of comparing players across the eras: the Relative Transfer System (RTS). RTS was devised for my book Dynasty: 50 Years of Shankly’s Liverpool, as a way of comparing the signings of Bill Shankly with those of his seven successors as Liverpool manager up until 2009. For this, I set every record-breaking English transfer at 100%; Francis and Robinho were therefore both ‘100%’ transfers. Anyone who cost half of that current-day record would have a 50% value, and so on. So, in 1979, £500,000 was 50%, whereas in 2009, £16.25m was 50%.

But I made it clear that it wasn’t without its flaws; not least how a big anomalous transfer can occur, raising the bar, at a time when the mid-range transfers might be of a lower average value. It was with this flaw in mind that Graeme, Head of Tax, Treasury and Risk at a large corporation by day and author of several mind-bendingly replete statistical books on European football by night, suggested looking at another way to solve the problem.

And with this he came up with the idea of the Transfer Price Index. He ran his idea by me, I made a few suggestions, and with the help of fellow football fanatic Gordon Fawcett, we researched and double-checked every single transfer fee in the new satellite TV era, in order to create a database with thousands of entries, each with its own list of figures, relating to things such as age, nationality, position, number of appearances and any eventual sell-on fee.

(Quick note: a pet peeve of mine is when people treat football history as commencing in 1992. However, for this project, we needed to make the data manageable. And the aim had to be to see how – if at all – the Premier League has changed clubs’ ability to challenge for the title, for European places and to avoid relegation. To do this, it is acceptable to look at those first years – when the money had yet to really kick in – and compare them to the later seasons.)

Of course, it’s important to stress that determining a definitive transfer fee for any given player is often far from straightforward. Some clubs do their best to cloud the information, and ‘undisclosed’ can start a thousand arguments raging; and that’s before getting onto part-exchanges and the increasingly common additional bonus clauses (£100,000 upon making 50 appearances, £50,000 for winning an international cap, £10,000 with every radical change of hairstyle), not to mention people using different exchange rates for deals originally listed in euros.

But even though we searched only trusted sources (often the Rothmans/Sky Football Yearbook), it is impossible to be 100% accurate – and as such, at times we had to rely on other people’s educated guesses. However, we feel that the majority of fees will be between 97-100% correct, with most bang on the money. (Fans and/or associated ‘experts’ of all 43 clubs were invited to look at the data we had, in order to point out anything they saw as inaccurate, as well as contributing their thoughts to the chapter on their respective club.)

Once we had every transfer between 1992 and the end of the 2009/10 season on record, the Transfer Price Index could be created, to monitor inflation throughout the Premier League era. And once we had the season-on-season rises (and at times, falls) of the TPI, all sorts of interesting comparisons could be made, because now, all transfers – be they from 1992, 1999 or 2007 – could be converted to present-day prices: the Current Transfer Purchase Price (CTPP). Therefore, in current terms, Chris Sutton cost Blackburn £18.9m in 1994 (£5m at the time), while Stan Collymore cost Liverpool £22.2m (£8.5m) in 1995. To add insult to injury, Ade Akinbiyi’s £5m transfer to Leicester City in 2000/01 now equates to £8.9m.

With this in mind, squads of any Premier League season could be compared not just against those of the same year, but against those of any year. If the playing field wasn’t levelled in this way, then of course teams would now be far more expensive than they were 10 or fifteen years ago. By applying TPI, we can see that some of the squads from the ‘90s actually rank as more expensive than those of fairly big-spending clubs of more recent years. On top of converting the fees to modern-day money, we also looked at the overall price of each squad, to see who had amassed the most costly collections, as well as the price of every starting XI fielded in the past 18 years, to see how much of each club’s ‘investments’ made it onto the pitch during a campaign (it’s one thing paying lots of money for players, but what if all your big buys were out injured?).

We could see which teams spent the largest percentages of the overall Premier League outlay over the course of each 12-month period, in both gross and net terms, along with who had the costliest average side over the 38 (or 42) games, and examine how that affected their league position. The spending of individual managers could also be studied, to see who paid their way to success, and who punched well above their financial weight. Some of the results are as expected; others are very surprising.

It’s fair to say that when managers buy players they often sell others at the same time. Gross spends are usually misleading, but even a net figure doesn’t explain the all-important starting point; after all, Carlo Ancelotti hasn’t yet spent that much at Chelsea in comparison with José Mourinho because he inherited a side that was already a well-oiled machine, with a deep squad behind it; whereas other managers have taken over at clubs and been unable to see the dead wood for the dying trees.

A new method of comparing players’ values

In everyday life, most people are familiar with the concept of the Retail Price Index (RPI) as a measure of inflation. A basket of goods is identified and every month the same items are checked to see what the value would be if these were to be purchased. The difference between the current value and that from the previous month is calculated and termed the RPI. By comparing the value this month with the corresponding value for the same month last year, we obtain the annual RPI.

The same methodology applies to the TPI, except that the “basket” contains every single footballer bought and sold each season, rather than grocery produce (although a few rotten eggs remain.)

Inflation, 1992-2010

Before getting on to who spent what, and the success or failure to which this expenditure led thereafter, it’s important to establish the overall spending pattern of the past 18 years, and to understand how that determines the Transfer Price Index.

On the whole, transfer prices have risen dramatically during the 18 full Premier League seasons to date. Twelve seasons have seen an increase, six a decrease.

Overall, since 1992, the average cost of a player has risen 565%, although at one point (2009) that figure was as high as 751%.

Important Notes and Small Print

Current Transfer Purchase Price (CTPP)

One of the benefits of looking at the cost of a team by converting all fees to the current price (CTPP) is that it reduces the artificial benefit of clubs that include expensive buys made many years earlier. For example, if a club purchased a whole XI of £3m players in the 20-25 age range in 1992, then five years down the line the team, if successful and still together, will retrospectively seem relatively cheap; after all, a side that cost £33m suddenly doesn’t look expensive considering that, in 1996, Alan Shearer alone moved for £15m. But in 1992, when this fictional team was (astutely) assembled, £3m was a lot of money. By 1997, that £33m XI equated to closer to £100m, given that the average price of a transfer trebled in the intervening five years. It’s not a case of punishing that side or its manager for the foresight, simply pointing out that, at the time of the deals, the club would have been spending serious amounts of money; and of course, once a big club signs a player for a fee approaching or breaking the transfer record of the day, it removes him from the market and keeps other clubs from buying him.


For the purposes of this project, two key values were calculated for each club in any given season: the cost of the squad as a whole (excluding any youngsters who never featured, unless they cost more than nominal fees), and the average cost of the starting XI. This latter figure is hereby referred to as the ‘£XI’. All prices for the £XIs are converted to CTPP. The £XI figure is the club’s ‘utilisation’ over the course of a season.

Sq£’ is the cost of a club’s squad, adjusted to current-day prices.

When the term ‘genuine profit’ is used, it refers to a sale where the amount received is in excess of the fee originally paid when inflation is taken into account. So if a club buys a player for £1m, and sells him for £1.1m five years later, that would not represent a genuine profit if there was significant inflation.

Cost per game and appearances all relate only to the Premier League. While cup success is discussed at various points, this is primarily a league-based study.

Transfers and Trainees

The first time a player appears for a club, his status is assessed. Generally, this is classed as a transfer (for a value or on a “Bosman”), a loan, a trialist or a youth player from the academy (trainee).

Transfers can be for cash, (part-) exchange or undisclosed. In this last case, unless a very reliable estimate can be found, the existence of the transfer is acknowledged, but is not used in calculating the TPI – as this would give a false value. We are effectively removing them from the numerator (value) and the denominator (number of transfers) for the calculation. In cases where several players were acquired as part of the same transfer, the fee is divided equally amongst the players, unless otherwise stated.

Transfer values are taken from a number of sources – these will be made available on the Transfer Price Index website. For players purchased when the team was playing in a lower division, the transfer value is noted with the letter ‘d’ preceding the fee, but is not used in calculating TPI. (Players signed before the Premier League was formed are marked with a capital ‘D’; their inclusion is purely in the analysis of £XIs and does not contribute to the inflation calculation.)

Example of Calculation

To refer back to an earlier example, Stan Collymore cost Liverpool £8.5m in July 1995. The average transfer price in 1995/96 was £1.59m and by 2008/09 it was £5.35m, giving a price inflation of 236%. This suggests that the equivalent transfer in 2008/09 would have cost £28.5m. A year later, however, Collymore’s ‘current-day price’ had dropped to £22.2m, due to a decrease in the average value of transfers as the credit crunch struck. As such, players’ current-day values will rise or fall each year depending on that season’s rate of inflation.

One interesting quirk is that, due to a drop of approximately 22% in the value of transfers between 1995 and 1997 (i.e. deflation), Collymore actually cost Villa more at £7m than he had cost Liverpool two years earlier at £8.5m. (Taking the average transfer fee at three points in time may make this easier to follow. In the season he was signed by Liverpool, the average fee was £1.5m. In the season he was sold to Aston Villa, the average fee was down to £1.17m. And in 2009/10 the average was £3.96m.)

Small Print

None of the work within this book is intended to definitively prove anything, especially when findings are taken in isolation or removed from their context. It is simply intended to be a very good indication of what has been spent, courtesy of our attempts to analyse the data. It may help settle a few arguments, but in all likelihood, it may well start a few too.
While some of this book involves in-depth, technical explanations of the concepts – especially early on, to set the scene – the aim has been to make it as readable and enjoyable as possible, without ‘dumbing down’. We trust your intelligence.
Should you know for a fact that a particular transfer fee is incorrect, please email Corrections can then be made to the database, and for further editions of this book.

Part One: The Price of Success

Chapter One: The Rising Cost

One way of judging a club and its manager’s performance is by looking at how many pounds had to be spent for each Premier League point won.

Excluding wages, there are two key valuations that can be studied: first, how much (on average) the XI cost over the course of the season (£XI); and second, the overall cost of the squad.

However, while the ability to choose from a large, expensive squad is a luxury (which we will come to later), it’s harder to determine what role that plays than it is to understand the effect of the £XI. The increasing importance of substitutes also plays a role, but for the purposes of ‘utilisation’ in this book, the starting XI is the prime consideration. (Including substitutes opens up a whole new area of confusion. How long did they play? How do you differentiate between a half-time introduction and one used to wind down the clock in the 93rd minute?)

On average, over the course of the Premier League’s 18-year history, it has cost £854,323 to win each point. In other words, if the average cost of an £XI over 38 games is £854,323, it will, in theory, win just a single point. If that average cost is £8.5m, it will win 10 points. And to get 50 points, it would need an £XI of £42.7m.

However, this does not take into account the difference between the early and later days of the league, nor does it factor in the different expense needed at opposing ends of the table in order to meet specific goals.

From the data, it is clear that points are harder (and therefore costlier) to win the further up the table you go. Even the worst Premier League side – Derby County in 2007/08 – managed 11 points. Teams costing as much as £68m (Roy Hodgson/Brian Kidd’s Blackburn Rovers in 1999) have been relegated; but teams averaging as little as £8m – or in other words, a team that should have won just 10 points – racked up 52 (Ipswich Town, albeit in the first year of the new league, before the financial impact of the expanding riches had been felt). In 2002, both Southampton and Bolton reached the hallowed 40-point mark with XIs costing £14m and £11.7m respectively. It seems that you can be relatively expensive and fall into the relegation zone – as did Newcastle’s £63m £XI in 2009 – but you cannot be relatively cheap and succeed at the sharp end of the table. At least, not any more.

An average ‘price of attainment’ can be calculated by grouping the points tallies of each team into distinct categories, and working out the mean cost of those teams. The categories used here are as follows: 11-39 points; 40-49 points; 50-59 points; 60-69 points; 70-79 points; 80-89 points; and 90+ points. (All 42-game seasons taken as pro rata to 38-games.)

Obviously more clubs have had 50-59 point seasons than 95-point ones; for that reason, at the top end of the scale the sample data is limited. There’s only been one 95-point season since 1992, and that team – José Mourinho’s Chelsea – won points at an average cost of £2,054,349. In other words, the £XI was £195.1m (dividing that by the 95 points won reveals the cost per point). On only five other occasions has a team racked up 90 points or more, and the overall average of those six figures is £1,591,665.

So from this limited data, we could take £1,591,665 as the average cost per point to break the 90-point barrier between 1992 and 2010.

However, then there’s the change in spending patterns over the course of the league to take into account, and the difference in pre- and post-millennial figures. This is clearly visible in the 80-89 point range. Prior to 2000/01, five teams had registered a total in that bracket – Manchester United three times and Blackburn twice, racking up 85.4 points on average – and the average cost per point was £902,743. However, since then, 16 teams have registered a total in the 80-89 point range (Manchester United six times, Chelsea four times, and Arsenal and Liverpool three times each), and the average cost per point has almost doubled, at £1,621,812 – even though the average points worked out slightly lower, at 84, than the mean.

The same pattern can be seen in the other points ranges. As mentioned, in the ‘90s the average cost per point between 80 and 89 was £902,743; come down to the 70-79 point range and it falls to £887,988 – not a steep drop, but a drop all the same. Nineteen teams registered a total in this range – including Norwich City and Nottingham Forest – at an overall average of 74.5 points. Come forward to the new millennium, and to date, the tallies of just eleven teams have fallen between 70 and 79 (again, the overall average is 74.5 points). However, the cost per point for the same level of achievement has now risen from £887,988 10 years earlier to £1,341,221.

So the same pattern is clearly visible in both sets of points ranges: it costs a lot of money to get 80+ points, and not quite as much to get 70+, with the figures in both cases rising sharply since the end of the 1990s.

The cheapest cost per point in the 70+ range dates back to the Premier League’s inaugural season: a mere £211,998, courtesy of Mike Walker’s Norwich City (72 points); a true shoestring budget. The cheapest between 2001 and 2010 in the same point range is the £797,545 for Arsenal’s 72 points in 2008/09. And of the eleven totals in this range, only one other is below £1m per point: also Arsenal, a year later, at £864,868. Spurs finally broke into the top four in the same season (2009/10), although their 70 points worked out at £1,119,580 each; even so, it’s still more than £200,000 a point below the 2001-2010 average (but equally, at ‘just’ 70 points, almost five points below the mean of 74.5; more on this later).

The same pattern continues in the 60-69 point range. Up until the end of 1999/2000, 22 teams fell between these two totals (at an average of 63.8 points). Incredibly – at least when looking back from a present-day perspective – three times Queens Park Rangers found themselves in this bracket. And from 2001 to 2010, a further 26 teams, at an average of 64.2 points, qualify; including Ipswich Town, possibly the last ‘unfashionable’ (/tractor-related) club to gain such an impressive tally (66 points in 2001). The average cost per point in the old millennium was £878,718 – again, a minimal decrease from the higher points bracket that decade – compared with the new millennium figure of £1,101,117; another significant and fairly evenly spaced reduction from the higher points bracket.

This confirms that, on the whole, money was needed in the ‘90s to reach the higher levels, but not serious amounts. To some degree, a meritocracy still existed. In contrast to the current landscape, in the first few years of the league there was a lot more ‘cross pollination’, with a mixture of wealthy and spendthrift clubs side by side throughout the league, all the way up to 3rd place. (The top two was still reserved for the wealthy elite: from 1993 to 2000, it consisted of two from Manchester United, Blackburn, Newcastle and Arsenal.)

Come forward a few years, and 90+ points ‘cost’ in excess of £2m per point; to get 80 points averaged £1.6m per point; to get 70 points averaged £1.3m per point; and to get 60 points averaged £1.1m per point.

In this past decade, only four of the 26 teams to register 60+ points have an average ‘point cost’ below £700,000: Ipswich (£331,339) in 2001, Everton (£446,392 in 2005) and on two occasions Blackburn Rovers: £571,592 in 2003 under the much-maligned (and at Liverpool and Newcastle, financially disastrous) Graeme Souness, and £423,764 three years later, under Mark Hughes. No fewer than 16 of the 26 teams ‘paid’ in excess of £1m per point.

And so it continues, down into the 50+ point range. In total, 52 teams from the ‘90s rank in this bracket, and 42 from the 2000s. The ‘90s cost per point works out at £687,047 (54.2 points won on average); the new decade’s cost per point weighs in at £730,654 (53.4 points).

So, does the pattern continue in the 40-49 point range? In a word, no. It actually reverses between the two decades. In the first nine Premier League seasons, 44 teams posted such a tally; 55 from 2001 onwards. But in the earlier decade the average cost of a point in this range was £866,905 (43.85); compared with £753,084 (44.5) in more recent times.

So in the ‘90s, to get between 40 and 90 points cost an average of between £866,905 and £902,743 – an incredibly narrow range of expense (with the bizarre exception the 50-59 point grouping, which, at £687,047, was actually significantly less expensive than the teams who only registered 40-49).

The 40-49 point reveals a more expensive cost per point in the ‘90s than in the ‘00s. Clearly, you could spend more money in the previous decade and still find yourself caught in the mire; with less of a spread of resources, even the cheaper sides were not financially adrift. The same applies with what is traditionally the relegation zone: below 40 points. Between 1992 and the end of 1999/00, the average cost per point was £761,397. Come forward to 2000/01 onwards, and it drops to £654,734.

The trends in cost per point can be clearly seen in the graphs below. The first graph shows the overall cost per point, which on the whole has risen since 1992/93.

However, the next graph clearly shows how the average cost per point has grown markedly more expensive in the higher echelons of the league in more recent years.

The most expensive cost per point in the past 18 years belongs to Chelsea in 2006/07: £3,075,503, upon finishing as runners-up to Manchester United. Only one other club has a cost in excess of £2.5m – again, Chelsea, a year earlier. But of the top nine ranking figures, only two clubs feature. Chelsea and Manchester United? Actually, no. It’s a northern United all right, but not the one you’d expect. It’s Newcastle.

The 2010/11 season will be revealing – Manchester City will certainly close the gap for this unwanted honour (although if they win the league, they won’t care what people think; they could probably afford to pay £4m or £5m per point if it would guarantee them success). Last year, City’s total of over £1.8m per point ranks as the Premier League’s 19th-highest to date; but as they were the summer of 2010’s big spenders, that figure will more than likely increase.

The cheapest cost per point in a single season – and the second-cheapest – belongs to Sam Allardyce’s Bolton. He remains the only manager to go below the £100,000 mark; between 2003 and 2005, Wanderers’ figures were £82,256 and £81,710. His style may not have pleased the purists, but in terms of getting results on a shoestring budget, it was a real achievement. His assistant at the time, Phil Brown, either contributed significant ideas toward that success, learned from Allardyce, or it was a bit of both: his Hull City also make the top 10 for cheapest cost per point.

The Rest of the Book…

Part One includes:

• 2010 Money and the Transfer Price Index – i.e. football inflation

• Genuine profit – i.e. profit made on a player after inflation taken into account

• Cost per point – how much each club’s XI cost each season, divided by points won

• Managers and clubs punching above and below their weight. Who are the best and worst?

• ‘The Newcastle Effect’ – the difference between small and big club management

• Squad Cost vs XI – what has more effect on success?

• Competitive balance in the Premier League era; how ‘fair’ is the league?

• Cost of players in relation to age, position and nationality.

• A look at the number of trainees graduating into the senior sides

• ‘Dead Dreams’ – a look at Leeds United and Portsmouth’s financial implosions

Part Two: takes a look at all 43 clubs to play in the top flight between 1992 and 2010. Included in each section, following an overview and a statistical breakdown (of the team and its managers), are the views of an ‘expert’ on that particular club. These include Gabriele Marcotti, Jonathan Wilson, Oliver Kay, Daniel Taylor, John Ashdown, Nick Szczepanik and Anthony Clavane; plus fanzine editors and highly-regarded bloggers, such as Zonal Marking, Equaliser Blog and Swiss Ramble.

Example of ‘Expert View’

Anthony Clavane, Sunday Mirror / author of “Promised Land: The Reinvention of Leeds United”

Leeds United should have been the team of the noughties. Top of the Premiership on the first day of 2000, 3rd at the end of the season and Uefa Cup semi-finalists. I remember Nelson Mandela opening the new Millennium Square, introduced by Leeds captain Lucas Radebe. Mandela called The Chief his “hero”. For both the city and its football team, the only way was up.

And then came The Fall. An Asian student was beaten up outside a nightclub. Criminal charges were pressed against two stars – Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate – and the club began to unravel. ‘Bowyergate’ was a contributory factor, but the real reason the mighty Whites suffered one of the most spectacular meltdowns in footballing history was the board’s infamous “living the dream” strategy.

During the course of the decade, Leeds went from threatening to win the Champions League – losing the semi-final to Valencia in 2002 – to threatening to win the old third division. They disappeared from the spotlight in a decade when the Premier League conquered the globe. When broadcast contracts, transfer budgets and wages all reached galactic levels. When the top flight attracted some of the best footballers on the planet. David O’Leary’s babies: the team that never was.

Looking at Leeds’ top 20 signings, from Rio Ferdinand (£32m in today’s money) to Dom Matteo (£8.5m), you have to ask the question: “What if?” What if there had been no spend, spend, spend? Critics claim that they bought success, but they reached the Champions League quarter-final without Ferdinand. Thorp Arch, their acclaimed, and envied, conveyor-belt of home-grown talent, had produced the likes of Woodgate, Alan Smith, Paul Robinson and Harry Kewell. It went on to produce the likes of Aaron Lennon, James Milner and Fabian Delph. United worked their way up the table with a fairly inexpensive team. And, whisper it softly, they were quite liked. At one stage, the babies were the darlings of the media.

As a fan, I didn’t complain when they had six top-class strikers on their books. Of course, I didn’t know chairman Peter Ridsdale’s profligate regime had taken out a £60m bond, gambling recklessly on continuing Champions League qualification. And I was kept in the dark about Publicity Pete’s goldfish. The policy of speculating to accumulate unravelled because the team finished 5th in 2002, missing out on the elite tournament.

After finishing in the top five for five consecutive years, Leeds imploded. The only way was down. Devoured from within by a toxic combination of excessive debt and bitter in-fighting, they suffered two relegations, went into administration and plummeted, like a stone in the well, until they hit rock bottom. Separated from the golden umbilical cord of the TV largesse, they were locked into a dive; a fast-moving, downward vortex in which losses and high wages fed debts, which in turn produced yet more losses and yet more debts. At the end of the noughties, they were indeed the footballing story of our times. But for all the wrong reasons.

Part Three looks in detail at all 18 seasons – the big transfers, the trends in spending, and any external financial factors, such as new TV deals.

Part Four is primarily a look at the major managers of the Premier League era, with a full breakdown of their transfer activity, and a look at what percentage of their own spending was recouped in sales. It also contains the Conclusions section, and finally, a list of the 200 most expensive transfers in 2010 money.

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