This is Part 2 of a multi-part series. You can read the first part here.
In the first part, we took a look at the transfers to Premier League from Eredivisie. In this part, we will take a look at how Premier League clubs have been recruiting players from La Liga.
La Liga is believed to be one of the best leagues in the world in terms of football talent. My personal belief is that image of the whole league being high-quality is hyped up due to the quality of players in the top three La Liga teams. But that is not to say that some really good talent is not available in the rest of La Liga. In the past, some great players have been found – both among the top three sides, as well as the rest of the league.
This is my attempt at understanding how much of that talent has flown into the Premier League during the current decade – from 2010-11 season to the last season. Unlike in the case of Eredivisie, I managed to get details of loans and free transfers easily this time, so the numbers we are going to talk about include both free transfers, as well as loan deals. But they still exclude players returning from loan to Premier League. Most of the information is sourced from www.transfermarkt.com.
In terms of overall transfer flows, La Liga is a much more prolific supplier of talent to the Premier League than Eredivisie. Over the last seven seasons, 23 Premier League clubs have signed 76 players from the Spanish league.
The distribution over the seasons is very similar to that of the transfers from the Dutch league. After dipping to the lowest (4) in 2011-12, the number of players signed from La Liga peaked in 2013-14 (18), before tapering down to 8 in 2015-16 and then again increasing to 13 in 2016-17. I think this pattern could repeat in the analyses of other leagues as well and for some reason, Premier League clubs were spendthrifts in 2011-12 but were more aggressive shoppers in 2013-14.
Before we head in to the club-wise details, we can take a look at a distribution of the incoming transfers by primary position of the transferred player.
From this graph, it is clear that Premier League clubs have great confidence in La Liga when it comes to buying defenders. Out of the 76, fifteen are central defenders, eight full-backs and seven keepers i.e. 40% of all transfers have been for defense. Twenty have been for attacking positions and the rest for midfield positions. One thing this distribution tells us is that the Premier League clubs shop for a wider variety of positions from La Liga, compared to Eredivisie.
Numbers By Club
In terms of number of transfers from Premier League, Manchester City lead the pack with 10 out of the 76. The current top six in Premier League account for almost 50% of all transfers from La Liga in the last seven seasons, while clubs that have been relegated at least once in the last seven years have recruited 20 players from La Liga. Does this mean that signing La Liga players is a route to ensuring Premier League survival? Perhaps. A more rigorous analysis is required to state that with any confidence but if true, it does lend some support to the “La Liga is the best” theory.
So, how much have the Premier League clubs been paying for this premium talent?
In this aspect, Manchester United lead the way with a price paid of €46 million per their three signings. No doubt this number is inflated due to Angel DI Maria’s transfer before the start of 2014-15 season. But barring Man United, all other teams – even the top six ones have not been paying over the top. They have been behaving like rational spendthrifts and not like the big spenders we would believe them to be. In fact, Liverpool’s average number is only of €6 million – primarily because they have targeted talent at the lower end of La Liga and they have also got three players on loan (zero transfer fees drag down the mean).
Having taken a look at both the overall numbers, as well as numbers by each Premier League club, we can now classify some of the signed players as hits, nearly men, or duds.
A few names pop out straight away. Sergio Aguero, Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Mesut Ozil, Juan Mata, David de Gea, Yaya Toure, Toby Alderweireld and David Silva come to mind as hits. These players have been as influential as they were in their La Liga teams and have led their teams to improved results and silverware. But what strikes me is that La Liga has been supplying more match winners to Premier League than Eredivisie.
In fact, I have kept out some names like Michu, Pedro and Alex Song. If we include them as well, we might be able to create a full XI, just from the hits signed by Premier League teams from their La Liga counterparts.
This list contains signed players who performed decently well or need more time to prove their class. We can start with the three names we did not include above. Add to them names such as Shkodran Mustafi, Eric Bailly, Nolito, Fernando Llorente, Gerard Deulofeu, Alberto Moreno, Rafael van der Vaart, and Joel Robles can be added to this list. Obviously, by definition, this list can be expanded further to include many more names.
Some of the biggest transfers to flop include Angel Di Maria, Filipe Luís, and Roberto Soldado. Add to it names such as Iago Aspas, Nuri Sahin, and Claudio Bravo (last season) and we have a list of duds coming in from La Liga. These players flopped during the chances they got in the Premier League but most of them have gone on to other leagues and played really well. Makes you wonder, whether it is something in the Premier League style of play that converts some really good players into duds.
As I said above, these theories need a more rigorous analysis to validate or invalidate them but one thing is certan. La Liga has been a great source of talent for the Premier League and some of the biggest current players have come from the Spanish league. While richer Premier League clubs have splashed a bit of cash to sign La Liga players, there are examples of clubs like Swansea signing these talents for much lesser amounts.
In part 3 of this series, we will cover another league and how have Premier League clubs signed players from that league.