How much should promoted teams spend on trying to survive?

With the new Premier League season less than a month away, the three promoted clubs appear to be taking radically different approaches to building their squads for the step up in class.


Bournemouth have so far signed just two players, with right-back Ryan Fredericks joining from West Ham and midfielder Joe Rothwell arriving from Blackburn Rovers, both on free transfers.


Manager Scott Parker has warned Cherries supporters not to expect heavy spending in the weeks to come, while Fulham fans have also been left frustrated by the club’s inaction so far.


While Joao Palhinha has joined the Cottagers from Sporting and Andreas Pereira is close to becoming a Fulham player, their squad is much the same as it was last season at the moment.


Nottingham Forest have been the busiest of the trio, bringing in six permanent signings and England goalkeeper Dean Henderson on loan, despite having to create a transfer strategy later in the day having secured their own promotion via the play-offs by triumphing at Wembley.


The different approaches have their own merits, but what does history say is the best path?


Breaking the bank


Perhaps in the post-pandemic world, the days of clubs spending £100 million or more after earning promotion are now in the past. Fulham are seemingly trying to learn lessons from their own expensive failure a few years back, when tens of millions of pounds were lavished on the likes of Jean Michael Seri, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Alfie Mawson and Andre Schurrle.


Heavy spending failed on that occasion as Fulham flopped, but Aston Villa’s decision to lavish Dean Smith’s squad with around £150 million of investment in talent paid off when survival was secured on the last day of the 2019-20 season. Sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch paid the price after many buys like Wesley, Bjorn Engels and Mbwana Samatta failed to shine, though.


Wolves have also shown spending can pay off. Having won the Championship title in 2018, Nuno Espirito Santo got to spend about £100 million on new faces including Willy Boly, Rui Patricio, Joao Moutinho, Adama Traore and Diogo Jota. It worked: they finished in seventh.


Having been criticised for a lack of spending on their last visit to the Premier League, a year ago saw Norwich City add around £40 million of talent. Milot Rashica, Christos Tzolis, Josh Sargent and Dimitrios Giannoulis were among those to arrive but the impact of the overhaul was minimal as the Canaries again struggled to stretch their wings and they suffered the drop once more.


It is worth noting Norwich had lost their star man, Emi Buendia being sold to Villa as they sought to replace Manchester City-bound Jack Grealish, so outgoings are as important as incomings.


Keeping powder dry


With the gap between the top two divisions seemingly widening – more than half of promoted teams over the past four years have been relegated the next season – perhaps saving the cash for a stronger assault on the Premier League a little later can be a smart medium-term strategy.


This was the plan followed by Burnley after their unexpected promotion in Sean Dyche’s first full season in charge back in 2014. A modest amount of cash was made available and the Clarets slipped back to the Championship, but bounced back in style and, still operating on a tight budget, Dyche then established the club in the Premier League. They even qualified for Europe before years of under-investment caught up on them last season and Dyche was sacked.


Expecting a Championship squad to thrive in the Premier League does not often work, though.


A middle ground?


Brentford have become a model club in recent years, with the steady leadership of Thomas Frank seeing the Bees act as a breath of fresh air in the Premier League. Brentford have actually made a profit on transfers in six of the past seven seasons, with smart signings such as Christian Eriksen on a free transfer an indication of how the club tries to work in the market.


But there are questions over if the Bees’ data-driven recruitment model will continue to work in the wake of Brexit, which may restrict the pool of players they can try to sign from abroad.


Perhaps the Brentford blueprint had been inspired by Swansea City, whose first promotion to the Premier League in 2010 was followed by an 11th-place finish under Brendan Rodgers despite low investment in the region of £10 million. Swansea continued to operate with a lot of restraint in the transfer market, with Michu proving a bargain buy at £2 million, and they had a seven-year spell in the top flight before suffering relegation back to the Championship in 2018.


Brighton are another often touted as a model club, with Graham Potter’s net spend since taking charge of the Seagulls standing at around £20 million per year. Smart signings there have been backed by good sales like receiving £50 million for Ben White from Arsenal, funding spending.


Ultimately, it is not necessarily how much promoted clubs spend, but how well they spend it.


Author: Tamara Kim