January Transfer Spending: Make Or Break For Relegation Threatened Teams?

The January transfer window gives teams a chance to improve their squad in the middle of the season and this is no more important than it is for those who sit in the relegation zone. But just how easy is it to change your season around by spending money? Does it work and if so how much do you need to change your team? This article will be looking at how much money is spent by clubs who sit in the bottom three on 1st January, how many players they bring in and then how this has affected them in the second half of the season to see if they managed to get out of the relegation zone.

Spend spend spend?
You might expect that in the January transfer window it is the teams in the bottom three which would be the most active as they look to save their season and avoid relegation, so just how much of all the money spent in January last season came from those in the relegation zone?

Almost a quarter is the answer to that question. 23.3% of all the money spent in the 2015/16 January transfer window by Premier League clubs is from just three teams. This is a huge amount when you consider that it comes from just 15% of the teams in the league and those teams (normally) are the clubs with smaller budgets/spending power.

So how much money does this actually translate to? The graph below shows the amounts spent in the Premier League as a whole and how much was spent by the bottom three clubs each season for the past five years;

The total amounts spent rises season-on-season, reflecting the ever-increasing sums of money in the game. Between 12/13 and 14/15 the amounts did not rise much and were pretty consistent until the 15/16 season when we saw another large rise with the total spend increasing by 65%, whilst the amounts spent by the bottom three clubs more than doubled, going from £20.30m to £44.56m. You can see that there has been an incline in both lines, but the % of the total amount is what has changed the most with the bottom three clubs contributing to just 14.5% in the 11/12 season rising to 23.3% in 15/16. All of last season’s expenditure came from two clubs; Newcastle United who spent £29m and Sunderland who spent £15.5m. Aston Villa, the other team in the relegation zone on 1st January last year, spent nothing.

Teams in the bottom three obviously feel the need to spend large amounts of money in January in order to avoid relegation, so let’s see how much is spent by clubs who end up avoiding relegation compared to those relegated;

The previous two seasons have shown up results as you might expect, with surviving teams spending more money than those relegated, but in the 12/13 and 13/14 seasons the opposite was true with the surviving clubs spending on average less than £3m whilst the relegated teams were shelling out £11m+.

So we have seen that spending more money in January by no means guarantees survival, but in three of the last five years, teams who spend more in the winter window have lived to fight another season in the Premier League. The next question becomes, does more money spent necessarily mean you have made huge changes to your team? Do teams spend big on one player or try to bring in four or five to make a difference? The line graph below shows how many players were brought in by both relegated and surviving clubs who were in the bottom three on 1st January;

Here we see an opposite trend to the expenditure graph, whereby up until the last two seasons, it was the relegated teams who were making the most personnel changes in January. But last season especially, it was the surviving teams who brought in three times more players than the relegated teams. Sunderland, the only team who managed to go from the relegation zone on 1st January to safety at the end of the season, brought in six players whilst Newcastle United brought in just two (despite spending twice as much than Sunderland) and Aston Villa zero.

Do points equal positions?
When entering the new year in the drop zone with half the season already gone, the main aim for clubs in this position is to avoid relegation, but there have been seasons whereby a team climbs significantly higher and gains a lot of places, so is there a relationship between what a club does in the January market and how many spaces they climb up the division? Below is a table which shows the expenditure, the % of the total divisions income and the amount of positions gained by the bottom three clubs in the second half of the season;

Once again it seems that the amounts spent do not translate into places. Last season has been the worst by far when compared to the preceding five seasons, as it saw the most money spent, the highest divisional percentage and the fewest places gained.

Positions can also be largely based on other teams’ performances though, so really the only thing in your control is the points you gain. When we see how many points are earned by the surviving teams compared to the relegated teams, we finally see a trend that is consistent over the past five seasons;

Of course, surviving teams are always going to earn more points in the second half of the season than those who were relegated, but the difference is quite considerable. In the 15/16 season it was nearly twice as many with the surviving team (Sunderland) earning 27 points whereas the two relegated teams (Newcastle United and Aston Villa) gained an average 14.5 points (Newcastle United got 20 and Aston Villa just 9). This was a similar story the season before when Crystal Palace went from 18th and 16 points on 1st January to 10th and 48 points at the end of the season and Leicester City went from 20th and 13 points to 14th and 41 points.

This graph goes to show how important the business end of the season can be and that a team can make or break their season by what they do in January. The surviving teams have seen 60%+ of their points come in the second half of the season whereas relegated teams are closer to 50%.

A season of two halves
So after all this info on expenditure, players and points, it all comes down to one thing; did the team manage to avoid the drop come the end of the season? When we look at the past five seasons, although there wasn’t a season where all three of the bottom clubs on 1st January went on to be relegated, it does seem that at least one and more often than not, two of them are relegated;

Last season, two teams couldn’t manage to change their fortunes around in the second half and they each showed opposite ends of the spectrum. Newcastle United spent nearly £30m in January but stayed in 18th, whilst Aston Villa spent nothing and stayed 20th. Did Newcastle United just waste money? Could Aston Villa have survived if they had spent money?

It seems as though there is little correlation between the amount of money spent in January and being able to get out the relegation zone by the end of the season. Below is a table which shows each of the teams in the relegation zone on 1st January per season, how much money they spent and their finishing position;

We can see as previously mentioned that it is more about being astute and bringing in the right players, rather than the most expensive, as last season Newcastle spent twice as much as the other two teams combined but were still relegated, whereas in the 13/14 season, West Ham United spent just half a million but managed to climb from 20th on 1st January to finish the season in 14th. In 12/13 QPR were 20th and tried to change their fortunes by spending just under £20m in January, only to remain in 20th and be relegated to the Championship. In four out of the last five seasons, the team who spent the most in January were still in the relegation zone come the end of the season. However, on only two occasions in the past five seasons has the team which has spent the least, avoided the drop. This reiterates the points made above that although you do need to spend some money, it is more about where this is spent rather than the amount that is spent.