Premier League Transfer Tax (Part 1)

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After several successive failures and disappointments from the German Bundesliga into the Premier League, the term ‘Bundesliga Tax’ has been making the rounds. The premise? That players from the Bundesliga traditionally perform worse upon arriving to the Premier League, unable to cope with the demands of the league for whatever rhyme or reason.

It’s easy to use the eye test and conclude that players like Jadon Sancho and Timo Werner haven’t lived up to the hype. In a recent video, Tifo Football suggested that this phenomenon doesn’t just apply to Bundesliga clubs, but a range of leagues around the world. So with that, we aim to use data from the 2021-22 season to determine whether or not ‘Bundesliga Tax’ is a real phenomenon, and what leagues Premier League clubs should prioritize in sending their scouts to this summer. Here is our analysis of what we’re dubbing ‘EPL Transfer Tax’.

In Part 1, we examine the top seven sides in the league based on points during the 2021-22 campaign, drawing conclusions around the business that ‘Top 7’ clubs conducted prior to the start of last season. In turn, this could inform decision making ahead of the 2022-23 season, and potentially the wider future at hand.

METHODOLOGY

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We analyzed all signings made in the summer prior to the start of the 2021-22 Premier League season, in addition to all signings made after the league kicked off, across all twenty clubs. This included both loans and permanent transfers, extending to loans from 2020-21 that became permanent deals in 2021-22 (such as in the case of Mateta and Odegaard). In cases where players were signed in 2020-21, but were then loaned back to other clubs without making a single Premier League appearance until 2021-22, we again included those names in our data (such as in the case of Sarr). We then analyzed statistical ratings of players during Premier League matches from four different sources – FotMob, WhoScored?, SofaScore, and our own ‘Role Continuity Evaluation System‘.

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We utilized FotMob, Sofascore and WhoScored? within our search due to their relative reliability in assessing players based purely on statistical metrics in a variety of categories, and the slight differences in how they evaluate performance. However, our Role Continuity System is the only one that takes into account a player’s position and role, and the relative facets of the player’s game that may be more relevant than others. As an example of illustrating the importance of this, FotMob and WhoScored are notoriously low on goalkeepers, as they don’t tend to involve themselves in the statistical metrics that are used to assess their overall performance.

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We use statistics when evaluating players in our ‘Role Continuity Evaluation System’, but concomitantly utilize the ‘eye test’ in assessing decision making processes, IQ, and the more difficult to quantify off-the-ball metrics – particularly those that are integral to a player’s role within their team. This is to say that our system provides its own unique advantages, but inherently creates biases, which we aim to balance out by providing three other sources of ‘Player Ratings’.

In order to be included in our dataset, players had to make a minimum of 1 appearance in the Premier League this season. While 1 Premier League appearance tells us very little, it still paints a relatively clear picture as to that player’s level of success at their new club. However, due to the small sample size of their ‘AVG Rating’, we eliminated all players to make less than 3 Premier League appearances in the final ‘Tax’ conclusions – when comparing the relative successes of players moving from different leagues.

LIMITATIONS

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While we aim to shed light on the relative ‘taxes’ of different leagues in correspondence to the Premier League, we recognize that this study has a few key limitations.

Firstly, the data is limited in that it does not take into account any metric on a per 90 basis. Statistical scores on all four platforms generally favour players that accumulate more minutes on a football pitch, and don’t always take into account the limited minutes of substitutes in particular. However, in other ways, this is a strength. Players that accumulate more minutes generally play a more integral role to their team’s success or lack thereof, and therefore should be given greater attention.

Secondly, the study is limited in that it does not make reference to how a player performed in any previous campaign (such as the season before). We therefore have not attempted to draw any conclusions as to whether or not a player has seen an improvement or dip in form following their move. Instead, our aim is to illustrate the relative success stories of players moving from different leagues around the world, and identify which leagues have generally seen more success stories than others.

Finally, while our ‘Player Evaluation System’ takes into account a player’s role, it fails to account for the club’s masterplan for that player. Some players are brought in to be superstars and start every week, while others are added to the mix for the long-term health of a club. Back-up goalkeepers for example will have lower scores across the board. This doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on the leagues in which those players arrive from, but their own inability to be better than someone else already at the club.

With that, let’s analyze the top seven sides in the league from 2021-22, and identify who made the smartest signings, and where those successful signings were most likely to arrive from.

ARSENAL

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ARSENAL (6)TMSFOTMOBWHOSCOSOFAAVGPrevious League
Martin Ødegaard*7.337.226.917.017.12La Liga / EPL
Takehiro Tomiyasu7.107.046.836.896.97Serie A
Ben White7.017.016.786.936.93Premier League
Aaron Ramsdale7.136.696.656.926.85Premier League
Albert Sambi Lokonga6.666.906.516.936.75Belgian Pro League
Nuno Tavares6.696.746.426.636.62Primeira Liga
Team Average6.87

Arsenal made six signings in 2021-22, most notably in re-signing Martin Ødegaard, who excelled in a variety of different roles for the Gunners across the season. Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White and Aaron Ramsdale all proved to be success stories without ever lighting the league on fire, while Albert Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares will be expected to grow into their roles over time. When you take out the two players brought in to be rotation options, Arsenal absolutely nailed their summer signings, and rank appropriately against the other top seven sides.

CHELSEA

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CHELSEA (3)TMSFOTMOBWHOSCOSOFAAVGPrevious League
Malang Sarr*6.757.346.766.906.94Ligue 1*
Romelu Lukaku6.896.956.836.976.91Serie A
Saul Niguez6.526.686.496.716.60La Liga
Team Average6.82

Malang Sarr comes out as the surprise leader of Chelsea’s transfers for 2021-22, despite not even actually being a 2021-22 signing. Since it was the Frenchman’s first season at the club (after a loan spell with FC Porto last season), we included the defender in our scope. Romelu Lukaku and Saul Niguez were relatively unsuccessful in their moves across the pond, leaving Chelsea with one of the lowest aggregate scores.

LIVERPOOL

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LIVERPOOL (2)TMSFOTMOBWHOSCOSOFAAVGPrevious League
Luis Diaz7.677.607.447.237.49Primeira Liga
Ibrahima Konaté6.997.226.896.997.02German Bundesliga
Team Average7.25

Liverpool quite possibly had the best run of transfers in 2021-22 of top seven teams, making two simple but perfect moves for lesser known, cheaper options. Luis Diaz performed admirably in his first season in the Premier League, whilst Ibrahima Konaté battled the lines well between the Champions League and his intermixed Premier League encounters. Having arrived from Portugal, Diaz vastly outperformed expectations. In some ways, the same could be said of Konaté, who showcased that ‘Bundesliga Tax’ may not necessarily exist for defenders (this is something we posited back when we assessed Manchester United’s future centre-back options). All ends up, it was a useful window for the Reds, and one that nearly contributed to a quadruple.

MANCHESTER CITY

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MANCHESTER CITY (1)TMSFOTMOBWHOSCOSOFAAVGPrevious League
Jack Grealish7.327.567.177.077.28Premier League
Team Average7.28

Slightly skewed in our data, Manchester City made just a single summer signing in 2021-22, and in many ways, it was a signing that paid off. Jack Grealish didn’t set the league on fire in the manner that many expected of a player worth £100m, but he continued as a key chance creator for his team, faring well on all four rating systems. Guardiola’s team don’t illustrate much for our analysis except another example of a player successfully moving from one Premier League club to another, something exemplified by Arsenal already.

MANCHESTER UNITED

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MANCHESTER UNITED (3)TMSFOTMOBWHOSCOSOFAAVGPrevious League
Cristiano Ronaldo7.377.377.117.267.28Serie A
Raphaël Varane6.717.086.786.976.89La Liga
Jadon Sancho6.907.036.666.816.85German Bundesliga
Team Average7.00

Much has been made of United’s poor summer leading up to the 2021-22 season, but statistically speaking, the players they brought in were not devastatingly terrible. They evidently could have strengthened in other areas, and even Ronaldo had his issues. But even though the signing of Ronaldo may have disrupted some of the team’s harmony and what they had been working toward, the Portuguese legend simultaneously pulled United out of the wolves in 2021-22, and now ups his team’s average yet again. He provides a useful example of a player moving from Serie A successfully, something that can’t necessarily be said of either Varane or Sancho after their moves from La Liga and the Bundesliga respectively.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

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TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (5)TMSFOTMOBWHOSCOSOFAAVGPrevious League
Dejan Kulusevski7.627.447.197.217.37Serie A
Rodrigo Bentancur7.367.457.247.247.32Serie A
Cristian Romero 6.997.286.927.157.09Serie A
Emerson Royal6.917.166.876.886.96La Liga
Bryan Gil6.216.436.156.706.37La Liga
Team Average7.02

Tottenham made five signings across the 2021-22 campaign, to varying levels of success. Kulusevski and Bentancur became instant hits in the Conte era, whilst Christian Romero and Emerson Royal had their ups and downs. Romero can be regarded as a success that should only grow into his role at Spurs, but the La Liga signings of Emerson Royal and Bryan Gil may very well fall even deeper out favour in 2022-23. From the data, Tottenham’s signings only provide more credence to the argument for Serie A being the place to scout ahead of the 2022-23 season.

WEST HAM UNITED

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WEST HAM UNITED (4)TMSFOTMOBWHOSCOREDSOFAAVGPrevious League
Kurt Zouma6.766.786.746.956.81Premier League
Alphonse Areola6.506.516.566.706.57Premier League
Nikola Vlasic6.296.376.226.526.35Russian Premier League
Alex Kral6.006.006.006.006.00Russian Premier League
Team Average6.43

On paper, West Ham United had an atrocious summer transfer window in 2021-22. They made four signings prior to the season – none of which ended up being successful by any stretch of the imagination. Despite that, David Moyes’ team fought their way to a 7th placed finish, relying on the steady recruitment they had done in seasons prior with the likes of Tomas Soucek, Vladimir Coufal and Said Benrahma. Again, having made just 1 appearance each, Kral and Areola were excluded from our final ‘Tax’ conclusions. Despite achieving success in lower leagues in the past, the Russian Premier League may not be a place the Hammers look to sign players from any time in the near future.

team rankings

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TEAMAVG SCORE# PLAYERS
Manchester City7.281
Liverpool7.252
Tottenham Hotspur7.025
Manchester United7.003
Arsenal6.876
Chelsea6.823
West Ham United6.434

Of clubs to make more than three signings, Tottenham Hotspur fared the best in adding fresh faces to their squad. City and Liverpool achieved success within small sample sizes, whilst Arsenal also managed to find a place for all six of their signings to make an impact. Chelsea and West Ham can consider last season as one to forget when it comes to their transfer business, with neither making strides to improve their squad in tangible ways. United also found themselves treading water backwards, and will be hoping for a better summer in 2022-23.

LESS IS MORE?

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When it comes to signing new players, our data illustrates that less may be more. It becomes more difficult to appropriately integrate several new faces into a team, and give each their own opportunity to shine in a team. This may especially be the case when considering sides building up a case to challenge for the Premier League title. City made just 1 signing between winning the title in 2020-21 and reclaiming the crown in 2021-22, whilst Liverpool added just two new faces in their title charge across the season. Meanwhile, United and Chelsea struggled in adding strikers that had the potential to change their entire playing philosophies, whilst West Ham favoured players signed in previous windows. Further, rotation options like Bryan Gil and Nuno Tavares naturally worsened the scores of clubs like Tottenham and Arsenal within our dataset.

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This may be a flawed argument given the nature of how scores are accumulated, but it’s quite possible that sides looking to expand upon their horizons from one season to the next should focus less on finding back-ups, and more on finding one or two out-and-out starters. Rotation options can then emerge from the players already existing in the squad, as new players challenge for places rather than slipping under the radar. So with that, let’s finally examine where the Premier League’s top seven sides should look to sign players ahead of 2022-23.

WHERE TO SIGN PLAYERS?

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Our data shows that Serie A is the best place to sign “Premier League ready” footballers, with the Premier League itself remaining a sound option. Players signed from competitions below ‘Europe’s top five leagues’ may be more likely to be signed as rotation players or ones for the future, thus naturally accumulating lower scores on our search. But following our argument that clubs should generally be looking for less rotation options and more out-and-out starters, the risk of signing players from leagues below the level of a European top five league remains a risky premise, particularly for this set of clubs. As we’ll see later on, there are some exemptions to this argument, most notably Crystal Palace’s success in dipping into the EFL Championship, and Liverpool’s bombastic signing of Diaz. But by in large, players signed from leagues like the Belgian Pro Division and Russian Premier League remain unready for the challenge of England’s top flight.

1. SERIE A

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SERIE A (6)TMSFOTMOBWHOSCOSOFAAVG
Dejan Kulusevski7.627.447.197.217.37
Rodrigo Bentancur7.367.457.247.247.32
Cristiano Ronaldo7.377.377.117.267.28
Cristian Romero 6.997.286.927.157.09
Takehiro Tomiyasu7.107.046.836.896.97
Romelu Lukaku6.896.956.836.976.91
Total Average7.15

Of the six signings from Serie A to the Premier League in 2021-22, five proved to be success stories. Oddly enough, the only one that didn’t quite pan out happened to be the most expensive – Chelsea’s signing of Romelu Lukaku. Positively, even he scored 8 goals across the campaign, and we would likely be talking about him in a different light had he been signed for a non-astronomical fee like the others.

Stylistically, the Serie A and Premier League compare closely in trends, with regards to a variety of in-possession and out-of-possession traits. The Bundesliga remains a fast-paced, high pressing, high transition league, whilst La Liga remains slightly slower in tempo. Serie A and Premier League both provide a happy medium between the two spectrums, and this is perhaps why players from Italy’s top flight have been the most ready to make the jump into top seven sides this season. It may even be the case that top Italian teams are more willing to part ways with their superstars than the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, given their prominence on the world stage.

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It’s also worth noting that four of the six Serie A signings came into their clubs before their 24th birthday. With the youngest being the now 22-year-old Dejan Kulusevski, it’s possible that this batch of Serie A signings were all at a perfect age for bringing joy to the Premier League. This could potentially elucidate the peak age to sign players to the Prem, particularly for the top clubs. But nevertheless, it’s impressive that five of the six signings from Italy’s top flight (among the league’s top seven teams) ended as relative success stories.

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Antonio Conte has already dipped into the Serie A market in securing the signature of Ivan Perisic, but perhaps a club like Manchester United or Chelsea could utilize this knowledge in their recruitment of a new central midfielder or centre-back this summer.

2. PRIMEIRA LIGA

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PRIMEIRA LIGA (2)TMSFOTMOBWHOSCOSOFAAVG
Luis Diaz7.677.607.447.237.49
Nuno Tavares6.696.746.426.636.62
Total Average7.05

It’s a small sample size, but players from the Primeira Liga also found themselves toward a decent time in 2021-22. Both Luis Diaz and Nuno Tavares can be considered relative successes for what they were brought in to accomplish. Tavares will hope to improve upon his 2021-22 campaign next season as he grows into the Gunners’ set-up, but if it gets any better for Luis Diaz, something might end up on fire. The Colombian winger was electric for Liverpool after moving in January, and the Reds will be hoping the same will come true for their latest addition of Darwin Nunez.

3. PREMIER LEAGUE

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PREMIER LEAGUETMSFOTMOBWHOSCOSOFAAVG
Jack Grealish7.327.567.177.077.28
Martin Ødegaard*7.337.226.917.017.12
Ben White7.017.016.786.936.93
Aaron Ramsdale7.136.696.656.926.85
Kurt Zouma6.766.786.746.956.81
Total Average7.00

To little surprise, the Premier League also happens to be an excellent place to sign Premier League ready footballers. All of the names listed above were regular starters for their teams in 2021-22, even if none completely set the league on fire. Ødegaard could be considered the most successful of all, however, he already had his debut season with the Gunners back in 2020-21. By that token, the likes of White, Ramsdale and Grealish may only improve in their sophomore seasons at their new clubs.

Considering the relative age effect, White, Ødegaard and Ramsdale are all between the age of 23 and 24, again suggesting a noteworthy finding from our data. It may be best for top six sides of the future to scan for capable Premier League players of the 22-24 age bracket, so long as they fit the billing as likely starters in their first season at the club.

4. GERMAN BUNDESLIGA

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GERMAN BUNDESLIGA (2)TMSFOTMOBWHOSCOSOFAAVG
Ibrahima Konaté6.997.226.896.997.02
Jadon Sancho6.907.036.666.816.85
Total Average6.94

Another case of a small sample size, but the Bundesliga ranks fourth in our data search for the Premier League’s top seven clubs. Both Ibrahima Konaté and Jadon Sancho had their moments, even if neither fully convinced as consistent starters for their teams. It’s fair to say that the pair of players will be hoping for the Ødegaard effect to transpire in their second campaigns, where they can go on to play a more transformative role in 2022-23. But so far, lucrative fees aside, ‘Bundesliga Tax’ isn’t exactly as prevalent as it may seem. In fact, La Liga’s even worse.

THE REST

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RANKLEAGUETOP PLAYERAVG SCORE# ELIG. PLAYERS
5Ligue 1Malang Sarr* (6.94)6.941
6La LigaMartin Ødegaard* (7.11)6.795
7Belgian Pro LeagueAlbert Sambi Lokonga (6.75)6.751
8Russian Premier LeagueNikola Vlasic (6.35)6.351

Despite the talent bursting through the league every step of the way, Ligue 1 remains a relatively untapped market for the biggest sides in England. Top seven clubs have shown a lack of willingness to move for the likes of Bruno Guimaraes or Boubacar Kamara in the last year, despite their obvious readiness to feature for clubs of greater power than Newcastle or Villa. We expect Ligue 1 to move ahead of the Bundesliga as we continue our analysis into the mid-table and relegation-threatened teams. But for now, only Malang Sarr serves as a representation for France’s top flight.

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Scarily, La Liga may have a deadlier ‘tax’ than the Bundesliga, after the likes of Emerson, Bryan Gil, and Saul Niguez failed to adapt in 2021-22. When you take Ødegaard out of the equation, the results come out even meeker. Perhaps this speaks more toward recruitment of La Liga talents than anything else, or the relative difficulty of signing players from the top Spanish clubs in comparison to the top Italian ones. Nevertheless, perhaps ‘La Liga Tax’ should be the phrase of choice instead. Other than Ødegaard, no player moving from a La Liga team to a Premier League one set the stage alight, and the Arsenal man already had a season to work out the kinks beforehand.

CONCLUSION

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The Bundesliga Tax may be a real thing, but it’s perhaps fairer to say that most players struggle to adapt to the nature of the Premier League, regardless of where they’re arriving from. Notably, players between the age of 22 and 24 performed the best after being signed by a team within the Premier League’s top seven clubs. When arriving from Serie A, they were more likely to achieve success, possibly due to the slight but natural similarities between the two leagues in playing style. Players signed to be rotation options were far less likely to achieve success within our analysis, potentially illustrating the necessity for big sides to focus their energies on improving upon their starting eleven, rather than their bench. Finally, while the two ‘Bundesliga’ players to enter top seven teams this season fail to provide a strong enough sample, the notion of ‘Bundesliga Tax’ may very well be more applicable to La Liga, and other leagues below the Premier League’s level.

Don’t miss out on Part 2, set to be released by the end of the week!


So there it is! A dialogue about the concept of ‘Bundesliga Tax’ and our attempt to measure the relative ‘Tax’ for each league when players arrive into the Prem. Be sure to check out more of our Tactical Analyses, Transfer Market Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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