How Managers, Transfers and Money Can Transform Football Club Performance

man holding football money raining downThere are so many variables that can affect a football club’s performance, both on the pitch and off and it depends on how you look at it.

Now, fundamentally, a football club is a business and as a result, everything starts at the top, as it does (it could be argued) with any business. Having a strong owner and executive committee in place means that everything can fundamentally look after itself.

Fundamentally though, the main product of a football club, that essentially affects the growth and performance of the entity as a whole, is on-the-pitch results. However, if you have a team that is getting good results, though the team behind the scenes does not possess the knowledge or expertise, then this could be short-lived because the main components who are achieving the results (players and by extension coaches and manager), could leave.

What on-the-pitch results do fundamentally is contribute to revenue growth, which helps to then transform the football club (business) into a brand, which every great business around the world does, regardless of industry.

Of course, understanding how various factors influence football club performance can also help with betting.  If you can spot the teams that are going to better or worse than expected before the bookies do you can gain an advantage.  Here we present a series of case studies looking at the affects of managers, finances and transfers on team performance to give you some insights.

Case study 1 – Managers

pep guardiola at barcelonaAn example of a football club turned into a global brand over the last decade is the great Barcelona team whose identity was established from their highly successful and fabled ‘La Masia’ academy. Under coach Pep Guardiola, who emerged from the very fabric of the club and who was promoted from youth team coach to the role of first-team coach, Barcelona began to gradually build a global brand.

Aided by Lionel Messi (who became a superstar and essentially an asset of the club/brand), in addition to quality, well-developed players who had come through La Masia, Barcelona evolved into one of the best ‘football sides’ in the history of the sport.

As a result, this contributed to huge commercial success off the pitch, in addition to attracting fans from around the world to games which also added to their balance sheet. For many football clubs that reach this level, it is important to understand their main asset or key component of this success and with this particular Barcelona entity, the underlying distinction was arguably Guardiola, who imparted his vision on this squad.

Guardiola was appointed as manager of Barcelona for the 2008/09 season and his impact was immediate. He sold Ronaldinho and Deco and identified Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Messi to build his new team around, which led to them winning the treble.

In previous manager, Frank Rijkaard’s final season, Barcelona by comparison finished third in La Liga and reached the semi-final of both the Copa del Rey and Champions League.

Under Guardiola, Barcelona went on to create somewhat of a footballing dynasty and it swiftly became obvious that Guardiola was the main proponent of their success. The club won three consecutive La Liga titles, two Champions League, two Copa del Rey’s, two UEFA Supercup’s, two Supercopa de Espana’s (Spanish equivalent of the Community Shield) and two FIFA Club World Cups. They achieved all of this playing Guardiola’s highly refined brand of ‘Tiki Taka’ football, which stamped their identity on world football.

Since Guardiola left the club, Barcelona have struggled to repeat the success and despite the players being older, successive coaches failed to convincingly replicate Guardiola’s success until the 2014/15 season when Luis Enrique took over as manager.

Under Enrique, the club arguably returned to its best, when the game-changing signings of both Neymar and Luis Suarez joined to form possibly the best attacking trio that the game has seen, alongside Messi. Winning the treble once again in emphatic style, which was followed by another La Liga title a season later.

Since we have witnessed a slow decline at the club which saw them abandon their strategy of developing academy players and instead adopting an almost scattergun approach to recruitment, with square pegs filling round holes vacated by Xavi, Iniesta and Neymar. An ageing Suarez, an over-reliance on Messi and identifying the wrong signings led to them struggling to compete with rivals Real Madrid who enjoyed a period of European dominance.

Case study 2 – Managers

manchester united shirt sponored by sharp worn by ryan giggs
edwin.11, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another example of a manager who made a significant difference to on and off-pitch performance of a football club is Sir Alex Ferguson, who was central to Manchester United emerging from the wilderness to become one of the major global forces of football.

When Ferguson was hired as manager of the Red Devils in 1986, the club was very much considered average, indeed, the Scotsman’s first game in charge was a 2-0 defeat against Oxford United. Many people forget that it took Ferguson six years to win his first league title; the newly formed Premier League.

In a similar fashion to Guardiola at Barcelona, some 16 years later, Ferguson’s policy was very much the same; utilising a core of academy players, with a sprinkling of astute signings. What followed was a period of dominance that has never since been repeated in English football throughout the nineties which saw them go on to win a further five Premier League titles during that decade, along with three FA Cups, the latest coming in their incredible treble winning 1998/1999 treble campaign.

By this point, United had become a commercial force off the field, though fundamentally, it was the football that Ferguson had implemented, having built one of the best squads of that generation and even more impressively, with a strong British core.

During the 2000s, Ferguson built yet another successful team; his ability to identify players clearly making him one of the savviest managers in the world. However, the club’s ability to buy players had only become possible due to the staggering commercial success that they had achieved throughout the nineties, which attracted tv deals and lucrative sponsorship agreements.

In the Premier League, the 2000s were even more competitive for football clubs – a number of factors playing a part in this, which made the club’s success even more impressive. They won six more Premier League titles during that decade, in addition to one FA Cup, three League Cup’s and another Champions League. During this decade, Ferguson built yet another squad, which saw him end his Manchester United career with a final Premier League title in 2012/13 before he retired.

Case study 3 – Finances

people standing on different sized piles of moneyOne example that undoubtedly stands out, essentially put the foundations in place for a change to the sport as we knew it. In 2003, Chelsea, who had never won the Premier League were sensationally taken over by Russian oligarch billionaire Roman Abramovich which caused a major shakeup and triggered an almost domino effect, with regards to finances in the game.

Almost overnight, Chelsea went from a club on the periphery of the then UEFA Cup and Champions League every season to genuine contenders for the Premier League title. During that summer, the Blues went on a lavish spending spree.

It led to them bringing in 13 new players (two goalkeepers on free transfers), many of which could be considered ‘stars’ such as Hernan Crespo, Claude Makelele, Adrian Mutu, Damian Duff and Joe Cole, with existing manager Claudio Ranieri tasked with getting the most out of them. At the time, Chelsea’s £153 million outlay on players was considered unprecedented (big clubs now easily spend far more), with individual fees for those still being sizeable, for the time.

What is important to remember, is that clubs at that time were in less of a position to negotiate higher prices for their players, due to much less money being available to clubs during that era; perhaps indicated by a very prolific Crespo being bought for nearly £24 million. In today’s market in the same circumstances, it could be argued that circa £60 million would be regarded as a more realistic price for the player.

Prior to Abramovich completing his takeover of the club, Chelsea had last tasted silverware success in the 1999/2000 season when they won the FA Cup and prior to that in the 1996/97 campaign.

Despite the takeover and huge expectations from fans, manager Ranieri was perhaps unlucky to be competing with Arsenal’s ‘Invincible’s who famously went unbeaten to win the Premier League.

It all changed the following season. Jose Mourinho demonstrated that having the right manager can make all the difference. Fresh off the back of a dramatic Champions League final win with Porto, the Portuguese made an instant impact.

Bringing in two players from former club; centre back Ricardo Carvalho and right-back Paulo Ferreira, in addition to goalkeeper Petr Cech, winger Arjen Robben and centre forward Didier Drogba, this more settled approach to recruitment, as well as Mourinho’s aura and knowledge delivered them a first Premier League title plus the League Cup.

They followed this up a season later by winning the domestic double and Community Shield, with Mourinho cementing himself in Chelsea folklore.

During Abramovich’s reign, he has developed a reputation for getting rid of managers for not delivering silverware within a year, though this has made sure that the club stays competitive. Since the Russian took over, Chelsea have won 20 trophies as you can see below.

Chelsea performance under Roman Abramovich

SeasonPremier LeagueFA CupLeague CupChampions LeagueEuropa LeagueEuropean Super CupCommunity ShieldClub World Cup
2003/042nd5th RoundQuarter-finalsSemi-finals
2004/05Winners5th RoundWinnersSemi-finalsWinners
2005/06WinnersSemi-finals3rd RoundLast 16Winners
2007/082nd6th RoundRunners-upRunners-upRunners-up
2008/093rdWinners4th RoundSemi-finalsWinners
2009/10WinnersWinners5th RoundLast 16Winners
2010/112nd4th Round3rd RoundQuarter-finalsRunners-up
2012/133rdSemi-finalsSemi-finalsGroup StageWinnersWinnersRunners-upRunners-up
2013/143rd5th Round5th RoundRunners-up
2014/15Winners4th RoundWinnersLast 16
2015/1610th6th Round4th RoundRound of 16Runners-up
2016/17WinnersRunners-up4th Round
2017/185thWinnersSemi-finalsRound of 16Runners-up
2018/193rd5th RoundRunners-upWinners
2019/204thRunners-up4th RoundLast 16Runners-up
2020/214thRunners-up4th RoundWinners

Case study 4 – Finances

money growing in handFollowing on from Chelsea, the next club to come out of nowhere was Manchester City. Between 1998 and 2000, the club achieved successive promotions from the English third tier to reach the Premier League and despite being relegated, they returned at the first attempt as champions.

This marked the beginning of an exciting journey for the club, which was also their last season at their previous stadium Maine Road. City achieved relative stability during the following five seasons, even qualifying for Europe in the first campaign back in the top flight.

It was 2008 when shockwaves were sent through the Premier League, with the Abu Dhabi Group completing a takeover that was by comparison, even more, significant than Abramovich at Chelsea five years previously.

The season prior to their takeover, City finished in 9th, however, that did not stop them from being able to attract top players and in a similar light to Chelsea’s first transfer window under Abramovich, they bought 10 players, the most dramatic being Brazilian Robinho on deadline day from Real Madrid for £38.7 million. In total, the club outlayed 141.62 million on signings.

Despite this though, they could only manage 10th placed finish in the Premier League. The following summer, in an almost identical fashion to Chelsea, it appeared that they had learned their lesson in the transfer market. A more targeted approach saw them bring in quality over quantity.

Six key signings of proven Premier League quality improved them drastically. Adding Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz brought goals galore, while recruiting Joleon Lescott and Kolo Toure at centre back were very astute signings, plus Gareth Barry gave them the balance they sorely needed and a young Adam Johnson offered promise out wide.

Astonishingly, they spent nearly £10 million less than a year previously (£132.57 million) and finished their campaign in fifth. The following transfer window, was arguably a game-changer, in which seven more players come through the door, most notably Edin Dzeko, Yaya Toure and David Silva, as the club spent £165.24 million to finish third and qualify for the Champions League for the first time.

It seemed that the club finally cracked it in the transfer window for the 2011/12 season, when manager Roberto Mancini, who had been there since December 2009, brought in just four players; Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Stefan Savic for £81.9 million. They went on to dramatically win the Premier League in the final three minutes of the season for the first time in their history.

For Manchester City, after four years of building, this marked a turning point in how the club became to be viewed globally. The signing and by extension, the performances of Aguero, effectively won them many fans the world over, however, City had also been cementing foundations off the pitch to help acquire supporters, by establishing affiliate clubs in a number of different territories around the world.

In the years that followed, City have effectively overtaken a number of clubs in the Premier League and even European coefficients and since 2012 have been considered title favourites, even supplanting fierce rivals Manchester United. Below, we take a look at how the club has performed since its takeover.

SeasonPremier LeagueFA CupLeague CupChampions LeagueEuropa LeagueCommunity Shield
2008/0910th3rd Round2nd RoundQuarter-finals
2009/105th5th RoundSemi-finals
2010/113rdWinners3rd RoundLast 16
2011/12Winners3rd RoundSemi-finalsGroup StageLast 16Runners-up
2012/132ndRunners-up3rd RoundGroup StageWinners
2013/14Winners6th RoundWinnersLast 16
2014/152nd4th Round4th RoundLast 16Runners-up
2015/164th5th RoundWinnersSemi-finals
2016/173rdSemi-finals4th RoundLast 16
2017/18Winners5th RoundWinnersQuarter-finals

Case study 5 – Finances

french footballUntil 2011, the French football league; Ligue 1 was very much considered as one of the lesser competitions in Europe, though the standard of football was still regarded as being at a good level. Up until that point, some great talents had actually emerged from the French league, however, when it came to attracting big-name players, this was often a struggle.

This all changed as we entered a new decade, when (up until that point), an average performing PSG were sensationally taken over by the Qatari Sports Investment group (QSI). It was a similar nation-state-esque deal to Abu Dhabi Group that took control of Manchester City, with an equivalent bottom-less pit of resources made available to the French capital club.

Their status on the European stage though, meant that they struggled to attract star players in the transfer window that followed; the highest-profile being Javier Pastore from Palermo for £37.80 million. Nine other faces came through the door as the club spent £96.39 million.

Despite this, it still didn’t deliver them silverware, though (in French football standards at the time), it was a significant improvement on their previous fourth-placed finish, coming second in the league to Montpellier.

Having been able to convince renowned manager Carlo Ancelotti to step into the role during the summer of 2012, this led to a higher profile transfer window, with a number of star names joining. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi were three of six signings in a £135.90 million spending spree, plus mega-star David Beckham on a free transfer, who helped to raise the profile of the club. Their summer activity delivered the club the title, while they also reached the Champions League quarter-finals.

By this point, PSG had established more of a global presence, with Ibrahimovic becoming the main man, though the 2013 summer transfer window marked the arrival of imposing centre forward Edinson Cavani in a £58.05 million deal. Yohan Cabaye, Lucas Digne and Marquinhos all followed with the club investing £122.31 million.

It led to another league title, plus a domestic cup victory, while they also reached the Champions League quarter-finals again. In the seasons that followed, the club’s stature on the global stage grew, as they increased their fanbase and agreed more lucrative sponsorship deals, made possible by the players they were able to attract, due to their performances on the pitch.

In excess of £500 billion was spent over the next seven years, with megabucks signings Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and sensationally, Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos on free transfers (the latter two consequential deals of the COVID-19 pandemic). Despite this outlay over a decade though, there was still one trophy that eluded them; the Champions League. Below, we take a look at how PSG performed since they were taken over by the billions of Qatar.

SeasonLigue 1Coupe de FranceCoupe de la LigueChampions LeagueTrophee de Champions
2011/122ndQuarter-finalsLast 16Group Stage
2013/14WinnersLast 32WinnersQuarter-finalsWinners
2016/172ndWinnersWinnersLast 16Winners
2017/18WinnersWinnersWinnersLast 16Winners
2018/19WinnersRunners-upQuarter-finalsLast 16Winners
2020/212ndWinnersCompetition DiscontinuedSemi-finalsWinners

Case Study 6 -Transfers

ronaldo playing for portugalTransfers play a key part in deciding how a club performs both on and off the pitch. Two or three marquee signings per season can have a significant effect in terms of silverware which can then raise the profile of a club in the long term. However, the recruitment of a star player is also able to deliver the club an immediate cash injection in merchandise sales even globally and lead to more lucrative sponsorship opportunities. This is also the case if a player is a brand, especially if they have a significant social media following.

Social media has become a hugely valuable tool for football clubs over the last few years, which helps them raise their profile further. It is often the case that when a star player who has a wealth of followers on social media, signs for a club, his new club can receive millions of followers overnight, which leads to even more marketing possibilities.

Over the last two decades, Real Madrid under in and out president Florentino Perez, have adopted what has become the ‘Galactico’ strategy approach to player recruitment, with performance off the pitch, very much a key part of this commercial business tactic.

The advantage that Real Madrid have is that they are backed by the Spanish government and by extension, the associated banks; based on their considerable success during the 20th century when they dominated Europe.

Perez first put this strategy to test in the early 2000s when he built arguably one of the finest squads of that era. It began in 2000, when their policy was to add one marquee signing each year, alongside a sprinkling of useful squad players. In came Luis Figo in controversial circumstances from rivals Barcelona in 2000. One year later, Zinedine Zidane followed from Juventus, while Luiz Ronaldo joined in 2002 from Inter Milan. The club’s last major signing of their first Galactico era was a branding masterstroke when their relentless pursuit of Manchester United’s David Beckham paid off.

These added to the already established superstars of homegrown Raul Gonzalez and Iker Casillas, while Roberto Carlos had signed for the club from Inter Milan in 1996.

Despite this though, during the first Galactico era of Perez, (2000-2006), the club only managed to win two La Liga titles and one Champions League, during a time when Valencia under Rafa Benitez were enjoying a successful spell in Spain.

His successor, Ramon Calderon didn’t fare much better, only winning La Liga twice, while his transfer policy was much more subdued. Upon returning to the helm in 2009, Perez made a significant statement in the transfer window. Bringing in four Galacticos in addition to a collection of squad players, Perez broke the global transfer record in the process to sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United, in addition to Kaka from AC Milan, a prolific Karim Benzema from Lyon and Champions League winner Xabi Alonso from Liverpool.

While they spent over £250 million that summer, the club’s profile was propelled on the global stage once again with Ronaldo becoming a revenue-generating machine for the club, from a commercial standpoint, thanks to his status and also his on-field performances.

However, Guardiola’s Barcelona happened. It meant that Los Blancos would have to wait until the 2011/12 season for their first La Liga title in four years, though they did scoop a Copa del Rey win the previous season. In the years that followed, Perez also added Gareth Bale (breaking his own transfer record in the process), Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez and Raphael Varane among others. This led to four Champions League victories in five years, including three in a row under the stewardship of ex-Galactico Zidane in addition to two league titles and a Copa del Rey.

Undoubtedly, taking into account both Galactico eras under Perez, while each one was exceptional, there is one who stands head and shoulders above the rest, one who appears to live to break records on the pitch; that is of course [Cristiano] Ronaldo. Let’s take a look at his stats and how these translated into success for Real Madrid.

SeasonLa LigaFinishCopa del ReyFinishChampions LeagueFinishSuper CupOutcomeClub World CupFinishSupercopa de EspanaOutcome
09/10P29 G26 A102nd0Last 32P6 G7 A1Last 16
10/11P34 G40 A132ndP8 G7 A1WinnersP12 G6 A4Semi-finals
11/12P38 G46 A12WinnersP5 G3Quarter-finalsP10 G10 A3Semi-finalsP2 G1Runners-up
12/13P34 G34 A112ndP7 G7 A1Runners-upP12 G12 A1Semi-finalsP2 G2Winners
13/14P30 G31 A113rdP6 G3 A1WinnersP11 G17 A5Winners
14/15P35 G48 A172ndP2 G1Last 16P12 G10 A4Semi-finalsP1 G2WinnersP2 G0 A2WinnersP2Runners-up
15/16P36 G35 A112ndRM DQRM DQP12 G16 A4Winners
16/17P29 G25 A6WinnersP2 G1Quarter-finalsP13 G12 A6WinnersWinnersP2 G4Winners
17/18P27 G26 A53rd0Quarter-finalsP13 G15 A5WinnersP1WinnersP2 G2WinnersP1 G1Winners

Key: P = Played, G = Goals, A = Assists, RM = Real Madrid, DQ = Disqualified

What Can We Learn?

celebrities in ads jose mourinho paddy powerInvariably, when it comes to football club performance, especially when considering it as a business entity as a whole, there are so many variables and influences that can contribute to the growth, or even decline.

Some notable examples, that we haven’t mentioned, whereby a club has imploded could be Leeds United, who essentially gambled in the transfer market each summer, effectively risking that they would get into the Champions League every year. This fiscal irresponsibility led to them plummeting down the Premier League table because such factors like injuries had not been considered which saw the club’s ability to acquire points negatively affected.

By not qualifying for Europe, it affected their balance sheet and players had to be almost auctioned off at below-market value, just to keep the club alive. Even having been relegated to the second tier, the club were still in trouble; their lowest point being a further relegation, sale of assets (stadium and training ground) and a deduction of points. A classic example of a club that almost went out of business, due to bad management.

Controversial circumstances can also play a part in how a club is affected on the field, none more so than Chelsea during Mourinho’s second reign. In the opening day of his second season in charge in again, having just won the Premier League title the previous campaign, club doctor Eva Carneiro was the subject of a verbal tirade from Mourinho after she went onto the pitch to attend an injury to Eden Hazard. It meant that the player had to come off the pitch to be treated before going back on.

The media fallout from this saw the player’s (who had a good relationship with Carneiro) react negatively to Mourinho and essentially stopped playing for him, after his treatment of the physio. It led to a decline in results; a classic example of player mutiny on the pitch and eventually Mourinho was dismissed for the second time under Abramovich.

New stadiums can also be a factor, as evidenced by Arsenal who moved from their intimate home of Highbury to a state of the art structure, which was heavily criticised for not having an atmosphere that no doubt contributed to the club’s decline in results.

It would be easy just to pick one factor that affects a club’s performance, both on and off the pitch, though, essentially like any business, it starts at the top and filters down.