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Rafa Or Fergie: Who Spends More In The Transfer Market


In March 2009, Rafa Benitez and Sir Alex Ferguson got into a war of words about how much money they had spent in the transfer market.

“They [Liverpool] are well ahead of us in spending in the last five years,” Ferguson, the United manager, said, insisting that Liverpool had outspent United by £24 million during Benítez’s 5½-year tenure.

“Check the figures,” Benítez said.

So, we decided to heed Rafa’s advice and took a look at the numbers thanks to the help of football web site, Transfer League. The findings were quite revealing.

Let’s look at the numbers since the Premier League was founded in the 1992-93 season up until the end of the 2008-2009 season:


The table is ranked from the highest to the lowest by net spend — taking into consideration the amount of money the club has spent minus the amount of money the club has received from transfer sales.

No surprise, but Chelsea is top of the list having spent more than half a billion pounds — approximately £147 million more than the closest big spender Manchester United, who spent £391 million since 1992. The Red Devils spent more than Liverpool but, importantly, generated more money for the club in players sold. Liverpool, by netting £2 million more than Manchester United, finished in second place.

Of the clubs featured in the above chart, West Ham United is the only one to generate a profit in the transfer market earning the club £24 million over 17 years.

More importantly, let’s take a look at the 2004-2009 season to see how Rafael Benitez and Fergie did. Remember Benitez became Liverpool manager in 2004.


As you can see, Chelsea leads the pack in terms of net spend — just under a quarter of a billion dollars. Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool, meanwhile, spent approximately £40 million more than Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. Based on the number of trophies either club has won since 2004, Manchester United is the obvious winner and have spent less money to boot.

Liverpool have earned more money from transfer sales than Manchester United during these past five years. But note that the above figures do not include the $131 million transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid.

Interestingly, Tottenham Hotspur have spent more than Liverpool and Manchester United during the past five years. And to think they were perilously close to relegation under Juande Ramos at one point this past season.

While West Ham United earned a profit from 1992 to 2009 in the transfer market, they haven’t earned a profit between 2004 and 2009. That badge of honour goes to Blackburn Rovers who made a £190,000 profit.

While the Benitez v Ferguson war of words is far from over, at least we have evidence above that shows that Benitez is definitely the bigger spender of the two. But, of course, we now have this summer’s transfer market to deal with so it’s quite possible that the numbers may change quite significantly.

There are tons more interesting observations that could be made from the above numbers. What strikes you as interesting?

Thanks to reader Tokyo Toffeeman for the tip.

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  1. Dave

    September 29, 2010 at 7:43 am

    Even more comical is how they’ve started this season…….

    Even with all the niggling, the basic fact is, using approx figures, United and Liverpool have spent similar amounts and only one team has reaped the rewards. Arsenal are exactly where you’d expect them to be in terms of spend and next year when they become debt free they could be a real force! A damn fine model for any club to be run by.

  2. that didn't work out too well did it

    August 16, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    “Until Manchester United find a replacement for Ronaldo, I don’t think anyone would argue that Liverpool currently have the stronger first XI.”

    Shame that in the season following this statement, one that apparently noone could argue with, Liverpool finished 7th and Utd (still struggling to find a CR7 replacement) 2nd with some 22 points separating the two. OUCH!

  3. gary the red

    February 9, 2010 at 7:56 am

    another thing is that man utd sold one player for 80 million in ronaldo.

  4. paul

    July 30, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    does it take into account other clauses in the transfer fees? incentives if you will. keanes fee would rise if he scores certain amount of goals or something . . .

    love the bias in everyones comments haha

  5. allen

    June 20, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    fergie is idiot because wasting money for Berbatov and let Tevez down.. how many goals berbatov score this season?? out of scoring leader list.. ronaldo is not a striker but scorew more than him.. Gerrard is a midfielder but score many goals.. fergie totally idiot..

  6. Richardr

    June 20, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    There are very few differences between the Transfer league website and the various Liverpool websites. The main one is the cost of Torres, which the Transfer League has as £26.5m, with Garcia going the other way for £4m making a net £22.5m between the two. The Liverpool websites, and that Times article, reduce the net payment to £16.2m (£20.2m less the £4m). The £26.5m was as widely reported at the time, although journalists do tend to copy each other.

    To just look at the cost of the current squad, even if it is correctly calculated, ignores a lot of factors, one being the turnover of squad needed to get there, especially if that turnover is at a loss, e.g. Keene.

    • Ian B

      June 29, 2009 at 8:58 pm

      I pointed out the error to, but they never changed it. I gave supporting documented evidence but all to no avail.

      Even Torres stated he cost 20.2mill and that the Garcia deal was a separate deal altogether. Benitez has also stated this.

      I think that may have a nice little agenda …. run by a ManU fan perchance!!!

  7. DaveMo

    June 19, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Nice article, Gaffer. Liverpool fans will quibble with the conclusions and accuse you of having an outcome in mind before you set out, but those of us that read regularly know you don’t have an agenda (except maybe where Swansea is concerned). Fact is, transfer expenditures are not 100% verifiable, and media reports are as fair and impartial a way of assigning a value as anyone will find.

    I love all the L’pool fans above saying it’s not apples-to-apples as Rafa had to rebuild from a very poor side when he arrived, whereas SAF only had to make incremental additions to an already fantastic side. Seems to me that Rafa – with the number of changes he makes every year – has rebuilt from a poor side several times over by now. …of course, I do have an agenda – like poking at some Liverpool friends of mine. Cheers!

  8. Jose Mac

    June 19, 2009 at 8:55 am

    Provided United sell Ronaldo & Campbell for the reported amounts their net spend since Benitez arrived will be almost 0. While I agree that this doesn’t represent the full picture it’s important to recognise that Ferguson has completely reshaped the side & squad from pre-Benitez. That starting XI would have read Howard, G Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Fortune, Keane, P Neville, Solskjaer, Giggs, RVN. Only Ferdinand could be called a regular starter from that era in the present era.

    The Paul Tomkins article is fairly irrelevant if only because it completely ignores the longitudinal value of players. For example Ferdinand may have cost £29.1m but he’s entering his 8th season in a United jersey. Ferguson has bought and sold (for profit) one player within the time since Benitez took over (Heinze), whereas if I’m not mistaken Benitez reached 20 with Keane (with Voronin, Pennant & Arbeloa likely to follow suit).

    If Benitez wants to continue his current transfer policy of buying short term nondescript players and replace them three years later down the line with more average players then that’s his prerogative. But entering his 6th season I think he should have focused on players with some longitudinal value before now : last summer he spent £40m on Ngog, Cavalieri, Riera, Keane, Dossena & one or two youth transfers – what are the odds of him buying more players to replace them within two years from now?

  9. LI Matt

    June 17, 2009 at 4:06 am

    What strikes you as interesting?

    I found it interesting that you took the predictable swipe at Spurs’ spending, while not having a word to say about Manchester City.

    City rank higher than Spurs in both tables, and have three relegations and no trophies to show for it.

  10. daniel

    June 16, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Rafa’s total spend, of which he’s recouped half from sales, wouldn’t be enough to buy Man Utd’s current squad for what they paid.

    Benitez has done a very good job overall, whichever way you look at it. Until Manchester United find a replacement for Ronaldo, I don’t think anyone would argue that Liverpool currently have the stronger first XI.

    There are some slightly different numbers here:

    Total gross spend: £191.309m
    Total recouped: £109.51m
    Total net spend: £81.799m

  11. Mohamed

    June 16, 2009 at 11:56 am

    When Benitez came in he had to tailor the squad to what he wanted. Every manager does that when they come in to a club. On the other hand Ferguson already had a squad that he had been tailoring for years. Also the Liverpool squad at the time was not close to the quality of the United squad, so comparnig like for like is not accurate.

    To me this article is rather biased with a predetermine agenda to prove.

  12. vinnie

    June 16, 2009 at 11:22 am

    oh also, need to take into account of inflation in players’ price to be fair. 10M pound 20 years ago is a british record, whereas an above average english player cost way more than 10M pound this time round

  13. vinnie

    June 16, 2009 at 11:19 am

    i just found out that what i said was the same as tomkins’ after reading that link, my bad

  14. Tyson

    June 16, 2009 at 11:18 am

    I think you did a great job with this article given the nature of the subject.

    There are 2 things that are always contentious in football and that is transfer fees and what happens in the changing rooms. The best we can come to is a fairly close comparison but we will never have the real information at hand.

    Sometimes we have to compromise and try and get some basic information to make our point and thats what this article achieves. Your not 100% correct but you do have the right idea.

    To top it off if you look at the transfer market and compare the two you get the idea they are not very far apart in spending.

    Even if you were to say the two spend the same amount or even United spent more the results really speak for themselves.

    If you spend several million more than your opposition and they win nothing while your successful numerous types you may have spent more but you spent more wisely.

    I’d say Ferguson is better at selling and buying from the results he has achieved though. We will have to see who he buys in the coming season. With a warchest of a hundred million or more and huge changes going on at Old Trafford there isn’t much doubt who will be spending the most out of the two in the coming transfer season.

  15. vinnie

    June 16, 2009 at 11:07 am

    “What Benitez has spent building a team from scratch to challenge for the premier league title, is similar to the amount Ferguson has spent topping up already championship winning squad with half a dozen £20 million+ players. Nani and Hargreaves are £20 million flops, but Ferguson can get away with it.”

    totally agree

    first things first, i have to admit SAF is good with the market and rarely buys big flops, most obvious i can think of is veron. i dont think the comparison is fair, gaffer. i’m not saying that benitez’s “fact” is 100% correct but you can’t compare two managers’ spending over the 17 years or 5 years.

    firstly, it took SAF years and a lot of money to build a winning squad, i’m not sure how much, you can research on it if you want to. He does not have to spend as much after having a core system in place. Liverpool has 4 managers over the last 17 years, every change of manager means a whole lot more spending. You can’t compare the spending for the last 5 years either since rafa has to build a team from scratch whereas SAF has the luxury of having a solid foundation built over the years.

    as a liverpool fan, i have to respect SAF’s work over the years, i still don’t understand why the spanish waiter would argue such a trivial issue even if he got his facts right.

    you should at least find the average spending if you can get the accurate figure at all.

  16. Phil McThomas

    June 16, 2009 at 10:34 am

    The numbers for Boro look about right (however they can’t spell Middlesb’o’rough properly which makes it all a bit suspect!)

  17. Daniel

    June 16, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Rory, think about it and you’ll come to a different conclusion.

    What Benitez has spent building a team from scratch to challenge for the premier league title, is similar to the amount Ferguson has spent topping up already championship winning squad with half a dozen £20 million+ players. Nani and Hargreaves are £20 million flops, but Ferguson can get away with it.

    Rafa’s stepping stone approach to transfers has worked well, and guiding his team to two Champions league finals and an FA Cup has helped pay for it.

  18. Rory

    June 16, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Jerry I think they will include the Johnson money but they also consider the Crouch money received when talking net. Just because Rafa spends £5m on 8 mediocre players while Ferguson spends £20 on one good player, it doesn’t mean Rafa spends less, just worse

  19. misha

    June 16, 2009 at 9:27 am

    have you consider doing your own research instead, mate?

    • The Gaffer

      June 16, 2009 at 9:51 am

      But what source materials would you recommend? It’s been pointed out that a lot of the exact transfer fees are not public knowledge.

      The Gaffer

  20. Matt

    June 16, 2009 at 8:53 am

    As the man above states, if you use the transfer league website as your sole source for information then you a complete idiot. I thought you said you was going to take time to write better researched articles Gaffer?

    This article might help you out.

    • The Gaffer

      June 16, 2009 at 8:58 am

      Hmm… I wasn’t aware of the article by Paul Tomkins, but I’ll take a closer look and get back to you. The controversy continues!

      In the meantime, does anyone know of a better source for transfer numbers than Transfer League?

      The Gaffer

  21. Jerry

    June 16, 2009 at 8:43 am

    Good God, not that stupid Transfer League Website. That thing has more holes than a sieve. It even says in the disclaimer on it’s home page – ” It can never be 100% accurate because in some instances clubs do not release the details of transfers and we rely on media reports for the details. For “some instances” they should really say – “virtually all instances”.

    I guarantee, for example, that they will quote todays transfer of Glen Johnson to Liverpool at the full price of 17-19M, and won’t take into account money owed by Portsmouth from the Peter Crouch deal. That’s just one example. There are dozens of others for all Premiership teams.

    The source of information for this article is suspect at best.

    • DaveMo

      June 19, 2009 at 2:38 pm

      The 11M Crouch transfer to Portsmouth would have been included in the “sold” column for 2008. You can’t also now net it from the 17-19M Liverpool will pay for Glen Johnson.

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