I had an invited article on RTÉ Brainstorm yesterday. The focus of the piece is the English Premier League transfer window. The piece can be found here and an abridged version of the text is below.
For almost 12 weeks – nearly a week before a ball was kicked at Euro 2020 – the English Premier League transfer window has been open. The window allows clubs to buy, sell and loan players in order to prepare for the long season ahead. As is normal during a summer break with a major international competition, a flurry of deals in the last two weeks of the window is almost standard practice.
This summer’s Premier League window has been dominated by certain names. Kane. Grealish. Varane. Lukaku. Sancho. Further afield, Paris St Germain made international headlines by capturing a number of marquee players, including Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Lionel Messi from Barcelona.
As one of the greatest players of all time, Messi’s move took many by surprise and captures aspects of the modern game so well. Technically unattached as his Barcelona contract had expired, the Argentina captain was free to negotiate a contract with any club.
Football players can thank Jean Marc Bosman for this. The Belgian player was responsible for the 1995 European Court of Justice ruling in the case of Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association ASBL vs Jean-Marc Bosman. This paved the way for free movement once contracts expired.
Messi’s arrival in Paris means Barcelona received no transfer fee. This is not because Messi did not have a value but rather because Barcelona no longer held his registration. Had Messi been under contract, he would likely have cost PSG something similar to the fee they paid to capture Neymar from Barcelona in 2017.
Harry Kane’s situation is almost the opposite. Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy appears to be holding firm despite Man City’s bids for the Spurs captain, who has three years left on his contract. Reports suggest Man City have bid in excess of £100 million for Kane but Levy is refusing to allow the club’s top goal scorer to leave.
Most view this as the price to buy the player, or as some proxy of the players value to the team or business. The transfer fee is rather the compensation paid to the selling club in order to break a player’s contract. A player’s value is therefore intrinsically linked to the number of years left of their contract. If Harry Kane had just one year left on his contract, Man City would probably only bid half the amount for the exact same player. They might bid even less, or wait a year and take the player for free.
In the modern game, signing a new contract is no longer always a signal that a player is committing to a club. Rather, it could be an attempt to protect the value of the asset to the club or involve the insertion of a release clause so a player can move on in the near future.
With time running out in this year’s window, we can expect plenty of activity in the days ahead. And while the focus of the window is always on the superstar players and biggest deals, 180 players were made unemployed this summer by Premier League clubs. Crystal Palace alone released 22 players, 12 of which were considered “senior” players. Most will reach agreements with other clubs in the Premier League or Championship, but some will probably continue looking for work into September and beyond.
By Saturday morning, as many other industries and labour markets continue to grapple with the pandemic, football’s transfer activity will have continued apace. It is estimated that the 20 Premier League clubs will have spent about £1 billion this summer. This includes the breaking of the British transfer record by an English club and the most expensive English player ever.
This, despite a huge drop in revenue during the 2020/21 season due to a collapse in matchday activity, demonstrates the wealth of these clubs and their owners. And don’t forget, it is only 4 months until the January transfer window opens. Hundreds of millions of pounds will again be no doubt spent in order to make sure next May is a cause for celebration; be that survival, European football, the Champions League or maybe even the Premier League title.