Money talks. The riches in elite football are incomprehensible to the vast majority of the public. This isn’t new, considering Trevor Francis was the first million-pound footballer in 1979.

It took until 1996 for the English transfer record to break the £10 million mark. In the 2019/20 season alone, Premier League clubs made 52 signings of £10 million or more.

‘Spending big’ in the transfer window doesn’t mean what it did in years passed.

Little over a decade ago, the league’s transfer record was Manchester City’s signing of Robinho for £32.5 million – such fees are now commonplace. Christian Benteke has moved for £32 million twice.

The Premier League, for the 2017/18 campaign, falls behind only the NFL and Major League Baseball in revenue. It generated almost 50% more than La Liga, the second soccer league on the list, and over three times as much as Serie A and Ligue 1.

Even in the billionaire’s playground of top-level sport, the Premier League is in its own area when it comes to football – only the big three American sports are comparable.

Everything is spending big in England. A bog-standard Premier League transfer dwarves its peer in other top leagues. Outside the top three, there were just 24 La Liga signings over £10 million in 2019/20, Sevilla accounted for 10 of those.

With the windfall of television revenue upon promotion, even teams that were travelling to Rotherham a season ago can splash the cash.

It is, of course, all relative. The Premier League is its own bubble, transfer fees involving Premier League clubs are largely incomparable to non-superclubs in Spain, Germany, France or Italy.


Spending Big Everywhere

As the Robinho and Benteke fees show, pretty much every Premier League club spends big if lined up with the noughties, early 2010s or other European clubs.

The figures seen in the English top flight for unproven or ordinary players are an example of both the bizarre economy clubs operate in and how the fee alone tells us very little.

The quality of the Premier League hasn’t necessarily improved as teams have got richer. The same players are often being signed, just for more ostentatious fees.

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Joelinton and Jefferson Lerma are two that come to mind: these fees are still hefty, particularly for mid-table clubs, but while they may both prove to be grotesque overspends, those sums are no longer a guarantee for team-altering players.

The ‘standard’ (if such a thing exists) Premier League fee has inflated so greatly, and over such a short period, the way transfers are evaluated has struggled to keep up.

The most expensive Premier League transfers only tell part of the story – it is the ordinary, meat-and-two-veg transfers that illustrate the transfer fee explosion.

Premier League clubs have the power to spend, the ability to bully their contemporaries around Europe for players they want. That has led to some less than shrewd decisions.


Getting It Right

Having the financial muscle to pluck players from almost every European club is good in many ways.

When clubs get focussed on one player, however, the selling club can just name their price. It’s no secret that Premier League clubs have the money at their disposal, and it results in increased fees.

Teams like Bournemouth and Newcastle have more players available than them than their La Liga or Bundesliga equivalents. More choice is, again, good.

An endless list of potential signings is a dream, but it brings its own challenges. Every Premier League team can throw money at the problem, usually without long-term repercussions, which leads to misjudged acquisitions.

The amount of money has changed. The basics of squad construction have not. Teams have more data to evaluate players.

Signing the right player – not the most expensive, most exciting or most talked about – remains, and always will remain, the most important factor.


Bordering On Necessity

Spending hundreds of millions doesn’t guarantee success. It should, of course, enhance a team’s chances of lifting silverware and pushing for a title, but there are far too many other variables to guarantee success in the Premier League.

A big transfer window might help the football betting odds, though.

Ultimately, it depends on how we define ‘success’ and ‘spending big’. For many clubs, the post-Ferguson era at Manchester United would be success, and there’s no doubt they’ve spent big.

The two go hand-in-hand; what counts as success changes as a team spends.

There’s no question Sheffield United have been a success story in 2019/20, particularly with their wage budget, but a Europa League spot isn’t what comes to mind with ‘success’ in the Premier League.

Investing hugely in the playing staff should be a floor raiser. United’s wealth means they can only fall so far. Spending eye-watering sums is almost a necessity for traditional measures of success – silverware, league titles – but it doesn’t guarantee anything.

Spending half the money, and investing it well (just compare the fees Chelsea and Liverpool paid for Alvaro Morata and Sadio Mane respectively) is obviously the ideal scenario.

Hurling millions, or even billions, at a squad can help. It should increase player quality, but there’s a difference between spending and spending well.

A team could invest a billion in their squad, though it would be little use if it was poorly coached and unbalanced. Sometimes teams will succeed without ‘spending big’.

Nothing is guaranteed with a record-breaking transfer window, as we are reminded every year when the team with the most exciting summer additions falls into the relegation battle - Queens Park Rangers and Fulham immediately come to mind.

The biggest clubs should see their floor and ceiling raise with investment. Fortune and coaching have too big a role to play to suggest it guarantees success, however.


*Credit for the main photo belongs to Paul Thomas / AP Photo*

Sam is a sports tipster, specialising in the Premier League and Champions League.

He covers most sports, including cricket and Formula One. Sam particularly enjoys those on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean – notably MLB and NBA.

Watching, writing and talking about sports betting takes up most of his time, whether that is for a day out at T20 Finals Day or a long night of basketball.

Having been writing for several years, Sam has been working with 888Sport since 2016, contributing multiple articles per week to the blog.