A quote I’ve recently taken to repeating at every opportunity is from legendary college football coach Bear Bryant:
“Have a plan, follow the plan, you’ll be surprised at how successful you’ll be. Most people don’t have a plan, that is why it is easy to beat most folks”
But what is a plan in football?
It is pretty obvious that the clubs who win things usually have the most money, which enables them to get the best players, and best coaches.
If you have the ability to spend like the elite you can join the elite. Every club who has sustainably spent at elite levels has joined the group. This season’s Champions League semi-finals contained Chelsea, PSG, and Manchester City who all followed this model.
One of the main criticisms of the proposed European Super League was that it would crush the dreams of teams that thought that they could join the elite one day.
Whilst there are many clubs with aspirations to join the elite they don’t have unlimited funds to “brute force” their way in. It is very easy to increase spending, the Premier League is home to many clubs who thought the following was a plan.
- Increase spending for a few years.
- Qualify for Europe.
- Attract better players.
- Get back into Europe and increase revenues that allow permanent increase in spending to elite levels.
Most of these plans failed after Step 1.
Spending an extra £100m on fees and wages is great fun. The fans love it. You get positive media coverage. Positivity often leads to a short term improvement in results.
The problem is even £500m injected to a mid table Premier League club over a 5 year period doesn’t bridge the spending gap to the elite.
It is like turning up to a race against Formula 1 cars in an Aston Martin rather than a Ford Focus. You’ll be faster than you were for sure, you’ll get some admiring glances, but you aren’t going to win the race.
Let’s look at the maths behind these statements.
How much does it actually cost to go from a mid table team to an elite team In a typical top level league.
6 elite teams
8 average teams
6 poor team
Elite teams are 0.5xG better than average teams
Average teams are 0xG better than average teams
Poor teams are 0.5xG worse than average teams
Elite plays 38 fixtures:
10 against other elite teams (0xG difference)
16 against average teams (+0.5 xG difference)
12 against poor teams (+1xG)
Average plays 38 fixtures:
12 against elite teams (-0.5 xG)
14 against average teams (0xG)
12 against poor teams (+0.5 xG)
Poor plays 38 fixtures
12 against elite (-1 xG)
16 against average (-0.5 xG)
10 against poor (0 xG)
Poor = 0.75xG per game
Average 1.25 xG per game
Elite = 1.75xG per game
Elite vs Poor = 2.14 vs 0.63
Elite vs Average = 1.76 vs 0.99
Same level = 1.36 vs 1.36
Poor vs Average = 0.9 x 1.79
Expected points total over 38 game season
Elite = 25.68 (from poor) + 28.16 (from average) + 13.6 (same level) = 67 points
Average = 11.88 (from elite) + 19.04 (from average) + 21.48 (from poor) = 52 points
Poor = 7.56 (from elite) + 14.4 (from average) + 13.6 (from poor) = 36 points
If we look at those points totals we see they match up very closely with the 4-6th, 10-12th and 16th-18th position places in a typical Premier League season.
@SwissRamble has compiled the latest available Premier League wages.
If we average the elite/average/poor teams we see annual average wages of:
Elite = £266m
Average = £124m
Poor = £85m
In other words whilst increasing your spend by £40m should be enough to take a Premier League team from the bottom end to midtable reaching the top 6 from midtable takes on average another £140m each and every year on wages to achieve.
The irony of it all is that many Premier League teams who have “had a go” at bridging the gap would almost certainly now be a lot closer to the elite if they had spent the money in a more strategic way.
In other words, if they had had a plan, rather than just a dream.
How you gonna make a dream come true?
I don’t think you should get all your strategic advice from 1950s musicals but South Pacific has some quite pertinent lyrics in the song Happy Talk.
You’ve got to have a dream,
If you don’t have a dream,
How you gonna make a dream come true?
You need a vision and a methodology.
Take our theoretical mid-table Premier League club.
Their vision is to join the elite of the Champions League.
They can spend £140m extra a year on wages and try to bridge the gap that way. But if they can’t?
What is a football team and why do they succeed on the pitch?
It is a collection of very good football players, coached by very good coaches.
The elite clubs tend to have very diverse squads of the best players from around the world, signed for high prices, and coached by elite level Head Coaches with “proven” success elsewhere before they took the job at the elite club.
This is the typical way elite clubs are set up. They recruit only the best, and usually for high fees and high wages.
The lobster and caviar approach of getting the best ingredients prepared by a top chef.
This doesn’t mean it is the only way to succeed.
Many of these previous blogs have highlighted the teams who have done things differently. The Red Bull model, the Atalanta model. What they all share is they have found a combination of unusual playing styles, alternative sources of players, and player and coach development.
Unusual ingredients, prepared well.
Turning a mid table club into a permanent member of the elite is likely to cost at least £140m a year.
Great recruitment and managerial hires can get you close (Leicester City), but it is easy to increase spending significantly for zero gain.
£140m is a ludicrously large sum of money to spend on trying to outcompete rival clubs for the same players, there are better uses.
Invest that money into the key areas:
Grow the size of your player pool – see the “buy the vineyards” blog.
Create pathways and capture the value along the way – club networks
Train the best coaches and give them chances and responsibility early.
Develop a unique style of play.