One of the arguments trotted out to defend the high transfer fees paid for some players last summer—right after the one about how British players with Premier League experience would take less time to settle and because of this pay back the higher fees with a better chance of returning to the Champions League—was that the players coming in would be on lower wages than the men they were replacing. The fees might seem high at first glance, then, but the total cost to the club would be less over the longer term.
If that was indeed the intent, then something has gone rather wrong: The average weekly wage paid out to first team players at Liverpool Football Club has risen 6% this season to over £80,000. This takes Liverpool from being the institution with the 20th highest wage bill in global sport to number 18 on the list. While well behind Manchester City (3), Chelsea (4), and Manchester United (11), and slightly back of Arsenal (16), this still makes Liverpool the fifth most costly side in the Premier League by salary.
After Liverpool, in fact, another English club doesn't make the list until Aston Villa in 41st place. Of sides ahead of them in the table today, Tottenham rank 51st, Newcastle 127th, and Everton 108th in wages paid. Fulham, who are now level on points, are 104th. Whether or not this played a role in Damien Comolli's recent dismissal, it's damning to learn that Liverpool is in fact shelling out 6% more to its players this season compared to last in addition to the heavy fees paid for many of those new signings in the summer and yet the club remains on pace for their worst finish in over half a century.
League results may have improved slightly in recent weeks—at least relative to what they were a month ago—but regardless of cost the bigger picture isn't all that pretty. At the begining of March, the club had managed only 0.8 points per game in the previous ten games, while the form since the second half of the season began in January sat at 0.73 points per game. It meant the club stood 19th in the table in the second half and was on relegation form.
Now, Liverpool have managed to raise their form to an even point per game over the past ten matches, with their second-half form rising to 0.88 points per game as a result. The second half form remains in the relegation zone, only moving the club up to 18th from 19th, but at least their form over the past ten matches is slightly above that—over the entire season, a point per game would see Liverpool in 17th place today. On only that most recent form, Liverpool would be 0.03 points per game back of Aston Villa—another side under-performing heavily compared to the wages they pay.
So there has at least been some minor improvement in the league in recent weeks, though it's very much a relative thing as over a season that improvement would still see the club's performance at a level far closer to relegation than to the top four. It's also worth noting that following last night's disinterested loss to Fulham, Liverpool now need all six points from their remaining two league matches against Chelsea and Swansea to avoid their worst finish in the top flight since relegation in 1954.
As problematic as league performance is even separated from wages paid, what's most damning about where the club currently finds itself is that the outlay on players—with the numbers taken from the start of the 2011-12 season, when all summer transfers but Raul Meireles' had been completed—has actually gone up. As such, it isn't a situation that can be blamed on past regimes and their Joe Coles. For years, Rafa Benitez wildly outperformed his spend in the league table, with European dominance thrown into the mix. Since 2009-10, however, the club's results have plummeted past something resembling a fair return to the embarrassing place they now stand.
Two things are clear here: Liverpool are wildly overpaying many of their current players based on return on the pitch, and bringing in the likes of Carroll, Downing, and Adam has in fact done the opposite of reducing the wages paid to the average Liverpool player. What also seems apparent is that if Liverpool want to have a legitimate chance of competing near the top of the league and in Europe, then there isn't just a clear need to spend smarter on players—they also plain need to spend more. The financial numbers make the degree to which Liverpool has misspent in the transfer market over the past year and a half all the more clear, but they also make it clear that even with smarter spending the current outlay isn't anywhere near enough to compete with the top sides in England.