D espite previous incarnations of the all-consuming circus that is football’s summer Transfer Window, it is not unreasonable to suggest that this summer saw the most emphatic new developments in its recent history: £1.4bn spent by Premier League clubs; last year’s transfer record broken twice, and a dismantling of established norms. This recent window will be remembered as a significant departure from those proceeding it, which serves to worry as well as enthral.
The amounts of money being spent, already in stratospheric realms, has reached almost unsavoury amounts – even for football. Paris Saint-Germain, backed by the financial juggernaut Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, are the most obvious offenders in this respect. They paid the €222 million release clause to sign Brazilian forward Neymar from Barcelona, obliterating the previous €105m record Manchester United paid for Paul Pogba. They then signed teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe from Monaco on ‘loan’ with a £166m buy option at the end of the season, making a mockery of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play regulations. PSG’s expenditure represented a surging financial tide to lift all boats – nowhere was this more evident than the huge fees paid by Premier League clubs to sign somewhat ordinary players. Manchester City spent £133m on three fullbacks, including £26m on their proposed backup Danilo.
“true valutations seems completely obselete”
Away from the top sides, each with huge financial backing from commercial revenues and overseas owners, even the middling Premier League sides joined in with the chaos. Brighton, Bournemouth, Burnley, Everton, Huddersfield and Watford all broke their single-player transfer records for money that, five years ago, would have been adequate to buy players from the fringes of Europe’s best squads. True valuations of these players now seem completely obsolete. The huge sums of money in the Premier League is not so much of a problem in isolation, but worrying when considering its effect on the behaviour of other clubs in Europe.
Neymar’s departure meant Barcelona had to find a replacement; those in possession of Europe’s elite band of footballers immediately saw the huge fee they had received for Neymar, and adjusted their asking prices accordingly. 20-year-old Ousmane Dembélé, after an impressive season at Borussia Dortmund, moved to Barcelona for £94.5m, an extortionate sum for an exciting prospect with only one season of top-flight footballing experience. Though pessimistic, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Dortmund ramped up his asking price beyond any sensible realms because they knew Barcelona’s need for a replacement, and the amount of money they had just earned from Neymar’s sale.
Clubs inflating their prices were only part of their new role in this summer’s window; a more interesting aspect of their behaviour was their unwavering power over their players. Clubs ranging in stature and financial power, from Southampton to Liverpool to Arsenal, withstood bids for their top players from other Premier League clubs. These in-demand players: Virgil Van Dyke, Phillipe Coutinho and Alexis Sanchez respectively, all made it clear of their desire to leave. Clubs came in with substantial offers for them but their clubs stood firm. Barcelona, before finalising the Dembélé deal, offered more than £116m for Coutinho. Liverpool could have taken that money and reinforced the weaker areas of their squad, particularly in their defence, but instead held firm – rightly or wrongly. Players’ influence over their transfer activity only extended so far, and this looks to continue with the next round of negotiations for the Premier League’s TV rights deal imminent. Clubs will further benefit from these revenues and, when other clubs come looking for their top players who themselves want to move, they will not have to succumb to money’s power and the security it apparently.
“THE BEST YOUNG TALENTS ARE REINFORCING AN EXISTING TREND”
However, the imperious power of Premier League clubs did not extend entirely across Europe. Some of Europe’s top players were linked with English clubs over the summer, but instead signed with others in Europe’s elite. Manchester City missed out on Youri Tielemans (moving to Monaco) and Dani Alves (to PSG); and rumours did not materialise into transfers for Chelsea’s enquiries about James Rodríguez (loaned to Bayern Munich) and Leonardo Bonucci (to AC Milan). Combined with the dominance of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern in the Champions League, this looks like a worrying trend for the Premier League. Continually marketing itself as the world’s best league, England’s top flight can no longer claim this definitively. The competitiveness and entertainment eclipse any, but the quality of the Bundesliga and La Liga look more impressive. Some of the best young talent in Europe are choosing to reinforce an existing trend: only 5 of FIFA’s 2017 shortlist of the World’s best 24 footballers play in the Premier League.
If this progression continues, guessing how next summer’s Transfer Window will go looks an impossible task. Gone are the days of players, and the transfer fees their clubs demand, solely dictating where they move to. Clubs’ financial power has become so huge that they are no longer subject to the demands of either their disgruntled players or the other clubs looking to sign them. This, combined with the ostentatious fees being paid for even the most ordinary of players, looks set to remain for the near future. This should worry clubs all over the football landscape, as well as the fans that partly fund, and yet do not benefit greatly from the chaos.