Loss of market confidence wrecks stars’ summer deals
Neymar peers stoically across the Paris rooftops pondering the meaning of it all. Ditto Paul Pogba in Manchester, albeit rooftops through a rain-flecked window. In Milan, Alexis Sanchez opens a letter informing him of the start date for pre-season training at Carrington, as sad piano music plays in the background. Harry Kane refreshes the Premier League standings, sighs, and wonders if this is where he expected to be as he prepares to turn 27 this month.
An orchestra of tiny violins for the multi-millionaire footballers who envisaged that this might be their summer, and politicked, suggested or just hinted that they could be somewhere else by the time the window closed. In the new Covid world, it was only yesterday that the Premier League finally got around to agreeing its window dates, closing on Oct 5 with two extra weeks to hoover up Football League signings on the cheap.
What the window will bring is another matter, and some of the game’s most coveted players are being forced to reassess what they once thought was naturally theirs.
This is a different market now, cast in the shadow of player wage deferrals at some clubs, and cuts at others. Tottenham Hotspur have taken advantage of a government loan to the tune of £175million. You have to suspect that they and many of their Premier League peers would sell if they were to be tempted with an offer worthy of consideration. Even the great blast-furnace of Manchester United’s financial operation is not unaffected. The club’s debts have grown to £429million in its most recent accounts with no prospect that they can sensibly divest themselves of Sanchez’s costs.
Kane’s remark during an interview early in lockdown in March that he could offer no guarantees about staying at Spurs forever might just register as the last major transfer play of an era when transfers of that scale seemed possible. Now, as the out-ofcontract legions of the Football League prepare themselves for mass trial games, like so many villagers pursuing a single rolling cheese, the message seems to be reaching those in elite football’s upper echelons. The money and the market confidence which once made them tradable assets are not currently in evidence and who knows when they might be back.
Pogba, who spent most of last summer weaponising Mino Raiola against his current employers, is now, remarkably, looking at the possibility of a new contract at Old Trafford. At Manchester City, the question of the Sergio Aguero succession is simplified somewhat with no obvious destination for the striker this summer. PierreEmerick Aubameyang looks closer to signing a new contract at Arsenal than he has done at any point in the last two years. Is there a market for Kane that would generate the value that would satisfy Daniel Levy? Is there one for Wilfried Zaha?
The ambitions of two of the great disrupters of the European market: Real Madrid and Barcelona, have been drastically scaled back. It has been a while since Erling Haaland’s head has been photo-shopped on to the donor body of a Real Madrid player for the benefit of illustrating whichever transfer development is being reported in the Spanish media that week. All year, Madrid have supposedly been in pursuit of the Norwegian prodigy as well as Donny van de Beek, and failing that there is always the latest Kylian Mbappe scheme. Even the levels of credulity usually required to entertain those kinds of stories have been exhausted.
At Barcelona, the end of the financial year, on June 30, prompted the swap deal with Juventus of Arthur for Miralem Pjanic to allow both clubs to book a profit. The prospect of Barcelona re-signing Lautaro
Martinez from Inter Milan or Neymar from Paris St-Germain for big fees sound fanciful. There are reports of possible swap deals, which are sensible in principle but generally about as common at top of the game as the proverbial rockinghorse excreta. Perhaps swap deals are the future in these uncertain cash-poor times, and certainly they would make for a much more interesting strategic challenge than just throwing money, borrowed or otherwise, at a problem.
Of course, the established clubs all fear those with the wealthiest owners.
As we await the full story from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the death of whatever it was Uefa called financial fair play in a Swiss office this month now means that City are presumably free to spend what they wish.
In the light of the verdict, PSG may well feel the same. A buyer’s market one suspects, and so it will be interesting to see who, if any, can command fees and contracts.
Jadon Sancho is the lead contender in that regard, homegrown for a Premier League club and young enough at 20 potentially to earn back his fee in a post-Covid world. There are other young Englishmen, too, for whom an argument can be made, including Ben Chilwell and James Maddison, both 23. Yet for all that, valuations are hard to ascertain. What is Jack Grealish worth these days and who might pay it? For all the data and preparation that go into them, most transfers require a significant leap of confidence. The giant hunches that power the market are sustained by a confidence that no bad investment is too costly to undo.
Football is different now: more cautious, less flush and still unsure when supporters will be back in stadiums. There are some, for instance, who will tell you that with one year left on his contract, a £45million fee from Bayern Munich for Leroy Sane was a fabulous deal for City, and others who will argue the opposite. Such is life in a skittish market.
What a footballer is worth, even those among the biggest names, is no longer a question that can easily be answered.
Paul Pogba is now, remarkably, looking at the possibility of a new contract at United
United U-turn: Paul Pogba could sign a new deal