Be it in Germany before or England now, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have a history of squaring off with the deepest respect for the other. So, when Klopp last week stated that Manchester City, the English football club that Guardiola manages, operated in a “fantasy land" and had endless resources to buy players, it was an awkward interlude in a mutual admiration society. Guardiola bristled at the “fantasy land" suggestion, accepting a spending spree at the beginning of his City tenure but denying the presence of pockets without a bottom.

As the English Premier League (EPL) kicks off a new season on Friday, the question of who spends how much money on players is an interesting sub-text in Klopp’s Liverpool versus Guardiola’s City. That rivalry will unfold over the season. For now, the question remains, did Klopp have a point when he called out City as an inhabitant of “fantasy land", along with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG)?

Data shows Klopp does have a point. Klopp joined Liverpool in October 2015. Guardiola joined Manchester City in July 2016. For the five-year period beginning 2015-16, the 909 million euros spent by Manchester City to buy new players is the third-most among European clubs. Only Spanish club Barcelona (935 million euros) and Italian club Juventus (921 million euros) are marginally ahead of City.

Relative to most football clubs, Klopp’s Liverpool have been big spenders. But among the footballing elite, Liverpool have been a notch below. Liverpool’s gross spend on new players during this period was 563 million euros, which is 38% less than City’s. It’s also lower than the other three clubs that Klopp placed in the same damning sentence as City.

In three of these five years, including two presided over by Guardiola, Manchester City have spent more than 200 million euros each. That’s more than any other club. Barcelona and PSG has two such years in this five-year block. Liverpool, by comparison, had none.

Clubs don’t just buy players. They also sell players. So, a more accurate assessment of how much a club really spent on new players is the net transfer spending: the difference between what a club spent to buy new players and what it earned on the players it sold off.

City flaunts its money muscle—one it is now having to defend—yet again. Each of the eight clubs, across five countries, we looked at is a net spender on transfers: they spent more money than they earned. None more so than City: in this period, its net transfer spending was 627 million euros. It was followed by Manchester United, its cross-town rival, with 556 million euros. As for Liverpool, its net transfer spending was the lowest among these eight clubs: at 121 million euros, it was about 81% less than that of City.

A year-wise break up again shows how City’s net transfer spending was front-loaded, as Guardiola rightly said. Liverpool, by comparison, have had three years when they have actually profited from player transfers, notably in 2017-18 when they finally acceded to Philippe Coutinho’s request to move to Barcelona.

Liverpool used the resultant surplus to make pricey, marquee signings to plug two key gaps: notably defender Virgil van Dijk (85 million euros) and goalkeeper Alisson (62.5 million euros). For Liverpool, in terms of transfer spending, these were exceptions.

We looked at player purchases for these eight clubs above 10 million euros—a level where a player is likely to get good game time. Only 16% of the new players signed by Liverpool in the last five years cost it above 50 million euros, while 58% cost 20-50 million euros.

By comparison, Manchester City have not made signings of above 100 million euros—as five other clubs have done—but it is the most prolific in the 50-100 million euros band. Some of its purchases in this band are Kevin de Bruyne, Rodri, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker.

In several of its purchases in the last five years, City has not held back in paying a premium to obtain a player. Transfermarkt assigns a market value to a player. We looked at the market value of the player at the time of transfer and compared it with what a club paid.

For Liverpool, there was only one instance where it paid a significant premium, that too for a pricey signing (van Dijk). By comparison, there are a greater number of instances in the case of City and United where they paid a premium for pricey signings. Or, what Jurgen Klopp calls, “fantasy land".

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