Sunday, 26 December 2010

Review - Pay As You Play

Pay As You Play by Paul Tomkins, Graeme Riley and Gary Fulcher.
Gprf Publishing. £10.99 Out now

IT’S an age-old pub game; comparing teams from different eras in an attempt to determine which was best.

Of course, these days that seems much harder with the huge rise in the influence of money on football compared to even 20 years ago.

Pay As You Play is a brave attempt to bridge that gap through the use of an innovative new system – the Transfer Price Index.  The authors have converted every Premier League transfer into modern-day prices allowing for ‘Transfer Inflation’ meaning teams from each season can be accurately assessed against each other.

So, for example, Michael Owen's £17m transfer to Newcastle United in 2005 is worth £31m in today’s money, whereas the £2.25m spent on Ruel Fox in 1993 is worth £13.4m today.

The book is split into four parts.  First is an in-depth explanation of the system and some general conclusions.  Here the authors outline which managers have been the most and least successful in terms of the cost in transfer fees of each point won by their teams.

The most successful?  Step forward ‘Big’ Sam Allardyce who worked wonders at Bolton Wanderers.  By contrast, and perhaps surprisingly, the least successful was Sir Bobby Robson, largely because he inherited a costly but dysfunctional squad at Newcastle.

Top performer: Big Sam Allardyce

We also discover the 1997/98 Newcastle team which won just 44 points cost an astonishing £5.8m per point to do so – the most expensive cost per point in the Premier League to date.

However, Sunderland fans can wipe the smug grin from their faces – the Black Cats team which got relegated in 2003 with just 19 points was the 10th most expensive per point since the Premier League began.  They cost a mighty £4.2m a point, just £0.1m less than Chelsea's 2005 champions.  Ouch!

Newcastle and their chronic under-achievement is a theme it’s hard to escape from.  Four times the club had the most costly squad and in three seasons they had the highest gross spend.  There’s even a chapter focusing on ‘The Newcastle Effect’ – and some words of advice for established managers offered the St James’ Park hotseat; “Do not, under any circumstance, manage Newcastle United. Run away, run far, far away”.

The other sections include a look at the spending records of all 42 teams that have been in the Premier League; an overview of each Premier League season and a look at the main managers including Ferguson, Wenger and Mourinho among others.

Pay As You Play certainly provides an interesting insight into football transfer spending, confirming some things you thought you knew and offering a different perspective on others, and it has the potential - if it’s up-dated annually - to become as essential as the Football Yearbook.

If you’re a football nerd like me, it will sit snugly between your copies of Moneyball and Inverting the Pyramid.