Which Premier League clubs are most addicted to buying and selling players?

Click here to find out which part of the transfer market your club has been shopping in over the past decade.

Everyone loves a transfer window. Fans love it, newspapers love it, Sky Sports News love it. And although they may occasionally deny it, on the whole, so do football clubs up and down the country.

The Premier League is often referred to as the most competitive league in the world, and while the truth of that statement is open to challenge, it is certainly one of the most lucrative and cash rich leagues in the world – thanks in large part to the money clubs generate from TV deals.

Bring these two qualities together – competition and cash – and it’s no surprise that Premier League clubs, and those determined to reach the Premier League, are addicted to trading players.

That’s because transfer windows offer the opportunity for ambitious clubs and managers to reshape their squads, to move out troublesome or inadequate players, and bring in new recruits to improve their team’s fortunes. Of course there are risks – just ask fans of Southampton, or Newcastle – and teams can, from time to time, come out of a window worse than when they go in.

With these factors in mind, looking back over the last ten years, which of the current crop of Premier League sides has indulged most in the buying and selling of players?

First, let’s examine what the data tell us. The chart below sets out all players signed and sold or released for each of the current 20 Premier League clubs.

Chart One: Premier League clubs ranked by the number of player transfers they have completed between 2003 and 2013

all trades

 

(Source: http://www.transfermarkt.com)

So what do these numbers tell us?

Firstly, it shows that all teams competing in the Premier League this season have traded significant numbers of players over the last ten years, with even the most stable of playing squads of Arsenal, Aston Villa and Everton seeing on average a churn of around ten players per season. This is a significant number given that Premier League matchday squads are limited to just 16 players, and since 2010, overall squad numbers have been limited to 25. Of course some of these trades have involved young players not destined for the first team squad immediately, but nevertheless, these numbers emphasise just how powerful the incentives to progress and succeed are, as every year clubs strive to improve their playing squads.

Second, the four clubs that have traded most have each endured a number of traumatic seasons during the period. Leicester City, Sunderland, QPR and West Ham United have all suffered multiple promotions and relegations since 2003, as well as at least one change of owner during the period. Such events almost guarantee more frequent phases of rebuilding required to challenge at the top again, and the sudden clearing out and re-shaping of squads.

By contrast, the most successful clubs during the period –the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea – do not feature at the very top of the most frequent traders.

Third, those clubs at the bottom of the trading charts have tended to be those with the most stable ownerships and management. With the exception of Aston Villa – who nevertheless enjoyed a period of relative stability under Martin O’Neill during the middle of this period – Everton and Manchester United each had just two managers between 2003-2013, and Arsenal just one. There is some sense to this, given that we know most new managers like to put their own stamp on their playing squads upon taking on a new job, but it perhaps also indicates that Director of Football models used across the country to reduce the level of churn within the playing staff are not succeeding in doing so.

Indeed, looking across the period, the number of new managers the current crop of Premier League teams have employed, does appear to have had some impact on the number of trades they have engaged in, as the chart below indicates.

Chart Two: The number of new signings made by current Premier League clubs between 2003 and 2013, versus the number of managers they have appointed.

managers and trades

(Source: http://www.transfermarkt.com)

However, notwithstanding their stability of leadership, it should also be remembered that Everton, Manchester United and Arsenal all began with period with strong squads competing at the top of the Premier League, thus allowing their long serving managers to gradually iterate, rather than be required to revolutionise their side.

Despite these three observations, it is also noticeable that by and large, the majority of clubs have actually engaged in a fairly similar total number of trades, regardless of what their recent history has been. So a club like Southampton, which started the period in the Premier League, sunk as low as League One, and rose back to the top flight by the end of the period, engaged in roughly the same number of trades as Premier League ever presents Manchester City and Liverpool.

This indicates that despite some of the more extreme cases displayed in Chart One, the clear outs and signing sprees associated with relegations and promotions may not be necessarily dissimilar to those required to compete at the top of the Premier League (although both City and Liverpool have undergone changes of ownership during the period).

 

So, given all of this, is it even possible to identify the club currently competing in the Premier League has been most addicted to trading in the last ten years?

Well, based on the numbers alone, it’s Leicester City, with over 250 trades since 2003. But we’ve already described some of the traumatic factors likely to have driven the Foxes transfer behaviour.

Remove those clubs who have undergone several promotions and relegations, and changes of ownership from the equation, and it’s Tottenham Hotspur.

Completing around 220 trades since 2003, Spurs have spent just short of £200m net on transfer fees during this period. Yet the trouble for Spurs’ fans is that barring a handful of European memories that endure from the Redknapp era, it’s difficult to argue the club are significantly further forward today than they were in 2003.

And, as we have seen, that’s most likely to be because all of the teams currently competing in the Premier League, and those looking to be next season, are engaged in a perpetual cycle of buying and selling players, trying to improve and avoid slipping back. In this sense, trading players only reinforces the competitive nature of the Premier League. But as the example of Tottenham reminds us, it is no guarantee of success.

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