What makes a successful blockbuster signing in the Premier League?
With Jadon Sancho on his way to Manchester United and many other big-money signings rumoured to be in the pipeline this summer, we’ve looked at the most expensive Premier League transfers in recent years to work out what successful signings have in common.
We’ve run the rule over the 10 most expensive captures by Premier League clubs in each position, giving us 110 players in total.
These have been analysed using six criteria: position, age, nationality, selling club, big league experience and Champions League pedigree.
We’ve defined a successful blockbuster signing as one who went on to play in at least two thirds of their new club’s league matches in the three seasons following their move.
This gives players a fair opportunity to justify their price tag and doesn’t overly penalise a few injuries here and there.
What do the best Premier League transfers have in common?
The failure of Kepa Arrizabalaga to live up to his huge fee at Chelsea is a rare blip in the record of big goalkeeper signings, which have tended to work out well.
Hugo Lloris, Ederson and Alisson have all thrived at top Premier League clubs but new signings made to the defences in front of them have found it harder to adapt.
Full-back, in particular, has been a difficult position for big-spending clubs to fill: for every Kyle Walker there are four players like Benjamin Mendy and Juan Cuadrado who have struggled to establish themselves after a big move to the English top flight.
Should clubs invest in youth or put faith in experience?
When looking at the age of signings, there’s no obvious winner in the youth versus experience debate.
A 21-year-old Romelu Lukaku shone at Everton, as did a 28-year-old Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Arsenal, but some ages have proven to be consistently unlucky.
Andy Carroll and Michy Batshuayi are just two examples of 22-year-old signings who failed to deliver value for money while 27 has also been a difficult age for Premier League arrivals as demonstrated by forgettable spells endured by the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mamadou Sakho.
Which nations have produced the best footballers?
Turning to nationality, we found it’s not just German cars that have a reputation for reliability.
Leroy Sane and Mesut Ozil are examples of how German footballers have often justified their premium price tags.
Spaniards have also proven to be a relatively safe bet, evidenced by Fernando Torres’ impact at Liverpool and David de Gea’s start to life at Manchester United.
Signing English players for big money has been more hit and miss, however, as Danny Drinkwater’s move to Chelsea and Liverpool’s acquisition of Glen Johnson spring to mind.
Furthermore, few expensive Portuguese signings have turned out anywhere near as well as Cristiano Ronaldo, with Manchester United having far less luck with Diogo Dalot and Nani.
The nationality of the selling club can also be a useful predictor of success and again Germany has usually been a safe choice.
Signing players from the Bundesliga or France’s Ligue 1 has paid off handsomely for the Premier League’s big spenders, with more than seven in every 10 expensive signings becoming first-team regulars.
The German top flight has given us the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Son Heung-min and Roberto Firmino while French clubs have nurtured Premier League legends such as Eden Hazard, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien.
Italy may be European champions but shopping in their domestic league has proven to be more miss than hit, with Andriy Shevchenko and Juan Sebastian Veron notable examples of players who failed to meet expectations.
Looking beyond the ‘big five’ European leagues has been even riskier: just ask Manchester City fans about Eliaquim Mangala or Liverpool supporters about Lazar Markovic.
Does big game experience matter?
The amount of matches that a new signing had already played in one of the ‘big five’ European leagues has undoubtedly influenced their ability to make the grade in the Premier League.
Two thirds of those who arrived at their new club with at least 100 such appearances under their belt went on to establish themselves successfully.
For those who had played fewer matches at a comparable level, it was close to 50/50 while players arriving with no previous experience of a major league were twice as likely to fail as they were to succeed.
Whether a player has been regularly tested in the Champions League has also had a bearing on their ability to thrive after a big Premier League move.
Those with less than a group stage’s worth of Champions League appearances fared less well than those with more minutes in Europe’s biggest club competition.
For example, Pedro and Alexis Sanchez did well at their respective London clubs thanks to their European adventures with Barcelona whereas Liverpool flops Alberto Moreno and Christian Benteke didn’t have that level of experience to draw upon.
Sancho to shine
We can compare any player against these six factors to estimate how successful they would be if a Premier League club were to purchase them.
One of the more promising signings is one that’s already been confirmed: Manchester United’s long-running pursuit of Sancho.
Sancho’s age and the fact he’s been playing in Germany are both on his side, plus his time at Dortmund has given him plenty of experience of a demanding domestic competition and the Champions League.
His Englishness counts against him slightly and wingers aren’t often successful when they move to a Premier League club for big money but overall the data suggests he has a 67% chance of repaying United’s investment.
Signing Kane is worth the pain
Another Englishman who could make even bigger waves if he moves clubs is national team captain Harry Kane.
Tottenham’s star striker believes he has a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that allows him to leave the club this summer and Manchester City are keen for him to replace the departing Sergio Aguero.
If City can convince Daniel Levy to sell his prized asset then the data suggests they should make the move happen and you can follow the Harry Kane transfer odds with Ladbrokes.
The main point of concern is Kane’s age, as 27 has proven unlucky in the past, but he is likely to have turned a much more favourable 28 by the time a deal is done.
Konate can do it
Liverpool’s title defence was undone by a raft of injuries to their centre-backs last season, so it was no surprise to see them snap up Ibramina Konate to add some much-needed depth this summer.
While Konate’s relative lack of experience in a top league introduces an element of risk, and 22-year-olds have tended to struggle, he still has a better than 50/50 chance of making the grade according to the data.
The Bundesliga is a reliable talent producer and Leipzig have already blooded him in the Champions League.
Denzel Dumfries’ all-action performances for the Netherlands at Euro 2020 will surely have set a few transfer radars pinging but any Premier League clubs looking to pluck the right-back from PSV could end up getting their fingers burned.
Full-backs have struggled to live up to their price tag more than players in any other position and his lack of top-level experience is a further source of uncertainty.
Therefore, if the rumours of Everton’s interest are correct, perhaps it would be better for Rafa Benitez to let another club take the risk unless there are no other viable options.
Second time lucky for Sanches?
While Portugal were unable to defend their European title this summer, the performance of their younger players will have provided plenty of hope for the future.
Midfielder Renato Sanches arguably shone the brightest as he continued his impressive rehabilitation following disappointing spells at Bayern Munich and in the Premier League with Swansea.
Ligue 1 – where he currently plies his trade with Lille – has provided plenty of Premier League stars and Sanches has already racked up plenty of Champions League minutes to go with his international experience.
While Portuguese players haven’t always delivered the goods in England, he looks capable of bucking that trend if Liverpool or Tottenham were to step up their interest.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication