To Buy English Or To Buy Foreign: A Transfer Market Discussion


Why aren't some Premier League clubs buying English players? Why are some clubs choosing to invest in foreign talent rather than local? Today on the blog Amit Singh discusses the issue.


This January, as always, we have seen a flurry of transfer activity. One emerging trend appears to be the reluctance of some clubs, particularly the 'bigger' clubs to buy British. Newcastle for example have seemed to sign exclusively from Ligue 1, France. Arsenal have also been signing players from abroad for some time, conversely a strategy previously criticised by Alan Pardew.

Why Aren't Premier League Clubs Buying British?

Especially in the last few years the prospect of buying British has become an increasingly expensive one. Spurs, and more recently Liverpool, have looked to buy British in recent seasons, with mixed results. Daniel Levy brought in a number of English stars under Jol, Ramos and Redknapp. The successes are clear; Defoe, Dawson, Bale, Lennon, Walker and Parker, who are all current stars for Spurs and who were all bought for fairly cheap.

However; at the more expensive end of the spectrum Spurs signed Jermaine Jenas, Allan Hutton and David Bentley, all of whom are on big wages and cannot find new clubs. Bentley was nearly £15 million, whilst Hutton was the league's most expensive full-back costing £9 million. The reason side's do not buy British is that there is perceived to be less value for money buying British stars. Liverpool’s transfer policy under Dalglish will also have likely put teams off buying British, given the cost of signings and lack of success.

British player’s prices have soared in recent seasons as a result of new quotas imposed by UEFA. Imminent quotas have meant that attracting British stars is a necessity for Premier League sides, especially sides competing in Europe. This has created a situation where smaller clubs, who want to hold onto their home grown talent, know they can demand big transfer fees for British players, in the knowledge that 'bigger' clubs have to buy them. Chelsea for example have Ross Turnbull on their books, despite an obvious lack of quality (with respect) and despite the fact Chelsea could easily afford a more reliable and experienced number 2 goalkeeper.

Newcastle versus Liverpool transfer spending

A good case study is to compare Newcastle, who have adopted a strategy of buying from abroad, with Liverpool, who adopted a strategy of buying British under Kenny Dalglish.

The last three seasons in particular have seen Newcastle buy foreign and sell British. In this period Newcastle have signed 16 foreign players. In fact, five players signed by Newcastle in this current window have been French, with one further signing from Switzerland.  The total cost of these 6 players was under £20 million, Liverpool on the other hand spent £12 million alone signing English forward Danny Sturridge. Below is a review of the transfer activity of both clubs for the 2011/12 season:

 Foreign Players SignedBritish Players SignedNet SpendLeague FInish
Newcastle 8 0 £11,600,000 5th
Liverpool 4 5 £35,350,000 8th

This also does not take into account the £35 million Liverpool paid to Newcastle for Andy Carroll the previous season. Liverpool clearly over spent on Jordan Henderson, Stuart Downing and Charlie Adam, whilst Newcastle got good value for money in Cabaye, Ba and Cisse. In fact, Cisse and Ba scored a total of 29 league goals last season for a combined fee of £10 million, whilst Carroll scored just four goals. The difference in value for money is quite staggering.

Even in the summer we saw Liverpool spend £15 million on Joe Allen, who whilst being a good player, cost three times more than Cabaye, who won the Ligue 1 title with Lillie before signing for Newcastle. Newcastle's model is clearly based around buying better value for money stars abroad, rather than being overcharged in the domestic model. Last season this was clearly successful, although this season they are faltering, but a revival seems imminent given the quality in signings.


There is a tendency for clubs to look abroad for cheaper targets. Arsenal have done this for some time, whilst Newcastle have been most overt in pursuing this strategy in the last few seasons. That being said, clubs are still keen to buy young 'home grown talent,' Chelsea for example spent almost £10 million on Victor Moses in the summer, whilst Manchester United have been buying young English players for the last couple of seasons, most recently in Wilfred Zaha from Palace. We might thus see a trend in teams looking to poach young British talent, with more established stars staying put due to their high transfer fees.

The model adopted by Liverpool under Dalglish was potentially the most extreme example of such transfer activity, spending a huge amount of money on over-rated English stars. The £35 million for Andy Carroll being the pinnacle of this. Bigger, better financed sides like Chelsea, United and City will always look out for British players to meet quotas, something that might explain City's pursuit of Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair in the summer, despite fans wanting higher profile signings, but smaller teams will probably look abroad in order to compete, something Newcastle did very successfully last season.



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