Premier League – Position Relative to Wage Bill

It’s quite an established fact in football that, generally speaking, teams league position follows the clubs’ wage bills. The clubs with more resources win more games, get more points and finish higher in the league. There are always exceptions but they are exceptions and the general rule is this alignment between player wages and league position.

Here is the Premier League ranked by clubs’ wage bills for the 2016/2017 season, updated mid January, during transfer window. So, not 100% accurate but certainly indicative.

Rank Club Wage Bill
1 Manchester City £225m
2 Manchester United £220.8m
3 Chelsea £218m
4 Arsenal £200.5m
5 Liverpool £165.6m
6 Tottenham Hotspur £121.2m
7 Everton £83m
8 West Ham United £79.8m
9 Stoke City £75.9m
10 Sunderland £68.3m
11 Leicester City £66m
12 West Bromwich Albion £65m
13 Southampton £63.6m
14 Swansea City £59m
15 Crystal Palace £55m
16 Watford £41m
17 Bournemouth £34m
18 Middlesbrough £34m
19 Burnley £33m
20 Hull City £25m

These positions should be where a club can expect to finish. If they finish higher they have over-achieved; lower and they have under-achieved. Although it’s never quite that simple. Another club over-achieving makes it appear that others are under-achieving and vice versa. It’s not all within a club’s control.

Looking at the current table today, 7th March 2017, most teams seem on course to finish within one or two positions of their wage bill rank. The notable exceptions are possible over-achievers Tottenham and Burnley and under-achievers Sunderland, Leicester and Manchester United. Though with a good or bad run it could all change.

We’re constantly looking at the table and teams’ positions – if they’re in the top 4 or bottom 3 and how many points off these but it doesn’t actually make a lot of sense. Yes 2 clubs may have played the same number of games but they haven’t played the same opponents. Even half way through the season they haven’t played the same home and away opponents. We can only really judge at the end of the season when all the games have been played.

When you look at teams and managers’ finishing positions in these terms it can change your perspective. Arsenal get a lot of media criticism for finishing 4th with Arsène Wenger and settling for that but he’s consistently hitting his target, which is arguably better for a club than boom and bust, up and down. Roberto Martinez had a tough time with Everton but his achievement of keeping Wigan Athletic in the Premier League for as long as he did was quite incredible. Wigan were a long way below any other side at the bottom in terms of wages and yet he got them to 17th or higher year on year before they eventually couldn’t compete any longer.

In these terms Burnley and Sean Dyche look like the true winners in 2016/2017 to me.