Which footballers gave value for money?

When you rank appearances against how much they cost to buy, some players aren't crowd-pleasers

So, let’s take a straw poll here … how do you feel about the wages and transfer fees of leading footballers? Are you (a) ‘the football world has gone crazy’; or (b) a ‘I don’t mind what they earn as long as my team wins’ type of supporter?

Me? I lean towards answer (b) with the caveat that I am extremely jealous of what they earn – even if it is a short career compared with other jobs – as we keep getting told.

It beggars belief when I recall that within my lifetime players have gone from having their wages capped to a scenario where anything goes; from rivalry over who would become the first footballer to be transferred for £1 million to who is worth 100 times that figure – and more!

My mind goes back to 1961 (sadly, it can) when, under the leadership of Fulham player and future TV personality Jimmy Hill, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) called on its members to strike. The aim was to force The Football League and the clubs to abolish the maximum wage which meant players could be paid no more than £20 a week during the season (yes I did say £20 and it was per week, not per minute).

One from the archives – Fulham team group: (back row, l-r) Jim Langley, Roy Bentley (who captained Chelsea to their first title in 1955), George Cohen (World Cup winner in 1966), keeper Tony Macedo, Robin Lawler, Alan Mullery; (front row, l-r) Graham Leggat, Jimmy Hill, John Doherty, Johnny Haynes and Tosh Chamberlain. Fans of the Cottagers can get a framed print of this from Media Storehouse priced at £44.99

This reminds me of a nice old, maybe apocryphal, story involving the first £100-a-week footballer, England captain Johnny Haynes, and his Fulham team-mate Trevor “Tosh” Chamberlain.

The story goes that Haynes was paid the same higher sum 52 weeks of the year, but his team-mates were on one rate when they were playing, but a lower one during the break between seasons.

Chamberlain, apparently, went to see Fulham’s manager to complain about the club’s wage structure. Stumped for an answer, the beleaguered manager blurted out that Haynes earned more because he was a better player. Not good for team morale. To which Chamberlain replied: “Not in the summer he isn’t.” He had a point!

But I digress, the football tickets website has conducted research to work out how much last season’s (2018/19) biggest summer transfers cost their club per appearance. If you think your team bought a turkey, look away now.

To achieve the data, took three steps:

  1. The most expensive summer transfers from each club were identified
  2. Player appearances at each club were extracted using
  3. The estimated fee paid for each player was divided by number of appearances


PlayerClubEstimated transfer feeAppearances – 2018/19 SEASONEach Appearance worth (£)
Ben GibsonBurnley15,000,000115,000,000
FredManchester United52,000,000173,058,823
Riyad MahrezManchester City60,000,000272,222,222
Kepa ArrizabalagaChelsea72,000,000362,000,000
Felipe AndersonWest Ham40,000,000361,111,111
Alireza JahanbakhshBrighton17,100,00019900,000
Jefferson LermaBournemouth25,000,00030833,333
Jannik VestergaardSouthampton18,000,00023782,608
Lucas TorreiraArsenal25,000,00034735,294
Adama TraoreWolves20,000,00029689,655
James MaddisonLeicester24,000,00036666,666
Yoshinori MutoNewcastle10,000,00017588,235
Gerard DeulofeuWatford15,000,00030500,000
Cheikhou KouyateCrystal Palace9,500,00031306,451

Highlights from the research:

Ben Gibson signed for Burnley from Middlesbrough last summer, on a four-year contract, for a joint club-record fee of £15,000,000. However, some suggest Gibson has made a mockery of his price-tag after making just one appearance for The Clarets in 2018/19. Ouch!

Goalkeepers Kepa Arrizabalaga and Alisson top the table with two of the biggest summer transfer fees (for clubs Chelsea and Liverpool, respectively.) In fact, Arrizabalaga’s estimated £72m fee made him the world’s most expensive goalkeeper just weeks after the record had been set by Alisson’s switch to Liverpool. Arrizabalaga’s 36 games in 2018/19 has, therefore, cost Chelsea £2m per appearance, marginally ahead of Alisson’s £1.7m per appearance (he did play two extra games – 38 – after all!). 

With 27 appearances for the Premier League champions last season, dynamic winger Riyad Mahrez is the third most expensive player per appearance. Mahrez joined Man City for an estimated fee of £60m, a breakdown of £2,222,222 per game.

Arguably, Cheikhou Kouyate was best value for money. Cheapest in the table, Crystal Palace bought the midfielder for a rumoured fee of £9.5m and, with 31 appearances in the bag in 2018/19, Kouyate cost just £306,451 per game (not taking into account his wages, of course).

The chart shows just 16 sides because Cardiff, Fulham and Huddersfield were excluded due to relegation and Spurs, of course, had no transfers during the time period.

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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