Manchester City, 2008. Tottenham Hotspur, 2013. Liverpool, 2014. Everton, 2017. West Ham United, 2018? There has been a common trend in recent years of clubs spending significant amounts of money on brand new players, augmenting the expectations of fans, before mediocrity ensues and a poor season is endured.
Ultimately, the players don’t live up to the hype. The team does not perform to the standard expected of them. The exciting new manager is often sacked before Christmas. What exactly goes wrong?
Of course, it is undeniable that money does breed success in football. The six richest clubs in the Premier League are the six teams that make up the well established ‘big six’. However, the way that teams go about spending their riches is what leads to a season of misfortune and frustration. Look at Manchester City’s current all-star squad.
The team was not amassed over the course of one or two seasons; players have been accumulated over the course of the last ten years, starting with Vincent Kompany in that ill-fated 2008 transfer window, and most recently, Riyad Mahrez joining this summer. Signing five or six new players with the intention of launching them straight into the first team squad is a tactic that seldom works in the Premier League – a division we talk about as being the most demanding, both physically and tactically, in the world. Players take time to adapt. Signing umpteen new players and automatically expecting a vast improvement from the previous season is a naive and unreasonable strategy.
Examining the aforementioned teams and their corresponding transfer windows, the evidence is there for all to see that this ploy simply does not work. Of course, if a team were to spend hundreds of millions on Messi, Kante, Ramos and De Gea, it might, but when Manchester City were spending £60 million on Robinho and Jo combined (remember this is ten years ago, before mass transfer fee inflation), it was never really going to work. Add another £35 million for Wayne Bridge, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Craig Bellamy, plus a few other incomers; Manchester City’s total expenditure almost surpassed £150 million. Nowadays, nobody would bat an eyelid at such numbers, but ten years ago this was unprecedented. Under Mark Hughes, City would finish tenth in the league, and not win a single game in the two domestic cup competitions. Hughes survived the season, but was sacked before Christmas the following campaign after another summer transfer window of spending ridiculous sums of money on average players and one-season wonders.
The same happened with Spurs in 2013, when they tried to replace Gareth Bale with multiple new players; Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Vlad Chiriches and Etienne Capoue were meant to build on Spurs’ promising foundations. They finished sixth in the league and were knocked out at the third round of the FA Cup. To be fair to Spurs, they did sign Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen that same window, who have both grown into top-quality players. Liverpool did a ‘Spurs’ the following season, aiming to replace Luis Suarez with a flurry of mediocrity. Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic led the long line of Liverpool flops. After finishing second with Suarez, they then finished sixth without him, despite spending £140 million on new signings. Just last season Everton did the exact same thing, replacing Romelu Lukaku with £150 million worth of new players, yet not one of them was a decent striker. It is unsurprising that Ronald Koeman was sacked before Christmas.
Are West Ham the latest to fail to buck the trend? A summer outlay of close to £100 million on, let’s face it; average players, plus the addition of an exciting new manager who will look to play attacking football are two of the main ingredients for an underwhelming season. The Hammers won’t get relegated this season; their squad is too good for that and will most likely improve as the campaign goes on. In their most recent Premier League outing against Wolves, another team that has spent a lot on numerous players albeit in a different way, West Ham started seven of their new summer signings. It is ludicrous to expect that any team can operate to its optimum immediately, especially when seven of the starting XI have only been at the club for a matter of weeks. Regardless of the opposition, neither the fans nor Manuel Pellegrini should anticipate instantaneous success when this West Ham side is in its infancy.
For a club that wants to develop and push towards the top six: like West Ham, like Everton, it is going to take a few seasons. Look at the way Liverpool have progressed under Jürgen Klopp. They haven’t signed five or six decent players each transfer window to be thrust straight into the starting XI, they have signed three or four. Players need time to adapt in the Premier League, irrespective of their transfer fee. Andy Robertson, costing a mere £8 million was given a few months to find his feet at the club before cementing a regular starting berth in Klopp’s side. Fabinho, Liverpool’s £40 million summer arrival, hasn’t played a single minute in the Reds’ first four league games. When he does make his Premier League debut, the pressure will be off; giving him the best opportunity to impress. In comparison to West Ham, all of their latest recruits have been put under immense pressure to deliver. Some are already being written off as flops. The toxic environment in which they are playing cannot be beneficial to the players at all.
Whilst I am not completely writing off West Ham’s season, the early warning signs are already visible. It will take a significant amount of time for each of their summer signings to adapt to the difficult nature of the Premier League. Furthermore, all of the players; new or old, will require time to adapt to Pellegrini’s style of play, a far cry from how football was played at the London Stadium under David Moyes.
Teams that are well financially backed and are looking to make progress up the table should adopt a long-term approach. Signing two or three proven players of high quality is far more advantageous than signing seven or eight who will not cut the mustard in the Premier League.