Clubs that spend big will reap the rewards.
IF YOU want to know how good a team should be, you will need to know how much their players cost. Part of the answer to that question can be obtained by totting up transfer fees.
Authors Paul Tomkins, Graeme Riley and Gary Fulcher did just that in a detailed and highly illuminating book called Pay As You Play.
They calculated the average transfer cost of the starting XIs of each team in every season of the Premier League from its inception in 1992-93 all the way through to 2009-10, adjusting figures for inflation so that meaningful comparisons could be made more easily.
My own analysis of their figures supports the contention that there is a strong general relationship between transfer expenditure and achievement.
For the ten most recent seasons - 2000-01 to 2009-10 - I took the average transfer costs of the starting XIs for all teams and put them into groups: up to PS10m in one group, between PS11m and PS20m in another group, and so on. Then I calculated the average finishing position of the teams in each group.
I have illustrated my findings in the graph alongside.
The data wriggles about a little bit, as real data will always do, but there is an underlying trend that is unmistakable. The more a team paid in transfer fees the higher in the table they were likely to finish.
More specifically, the relationship between these two things traced a curve rather than a straight line. It was what statisticians call a power relationship. Put simply, this means that the transfer costs of teams at the top of the table compared to teams in the middle of the table were greater proportionately than the transfer costs of teams in the middle of the table compared to teams at the bottom of the table.
At the top of the table the average transfer cost for each additional point acquired was greater - in fact, much, much greater - than it was at the bottom of the table.
When betting, it is helpful to know where a team ought to finish. If you are trying to assess a team for betting purposes, there are two things you need to do. The first is to form an idea of what should be expected from them. The second is to ask yourself whether in recent times their performances have been better or worse than you would have expected from them - and, if so, whether in future it is reasonable to anticipate their performances remaining abnormal.
Another part of a player's cost to a club is, of course, wages. In July I published an article and graph suggesting that there is also a strong general relationship between wage expenditure and achievement.
In recent blogs on the Pay As You Play website there have been attempts to combine transfer fees and wages to produce an estimate of Premier League clubs' total player costs. Neither part of such calculations is ever going to be without its difficulties.
The biggest problem in using wages as a guide to future expectations for a team is that we will not get the information we need most until after the games we are interested in have been played. We will not get precise figures for a club's wages in this season until they have filed accounts for their current financial period, which will be sometime during next season. The earliest we could use that data would be in projections for 2014-15, by which time it would be two seasons out of date.
One of the problems in using transfer fees to form expectations for a team is that, by definition, these do not include players for whom no transfer fee was paid - players signed on a free transfer from another club or groomed from an early age within that club.
Sam Allardyce's Bolton, for instance, overachieved when measured on wages, but they overachieved even more spectacularly when measured on transfer fees, and I suspect this is because Allardyce at Bolton was particularly astute in signing players on free transfers. No fees were paid for Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Fernando Hierro, Ivan Campo, Stelios Giannakopoulos, Bruno N'Gotty or Kevin Davies, but they didn't play for no wages.
It is enough, I think, for us to be aware of the unavoidable imperfections in all attempts to quantify implied player worth. We should make the best use of them that we can.
In practice, ordinary bettors like us should be able to form a reasonable impression of the relative costs of different teams, from which we can develop expectations. All we have to do then is to try to figure out whether they will be able to meet those expectations.
Read Kevin Pullein in the Racing Post
BIG SPENDING BRINGS BIG SUCCESS: (usually)