Pandemic ‘completely decimating’ transfer market
Most clubs are reluctant to spend in an uncertain climate and agents believe many deals will be loans, writes John Percy
It might not feel like it, given the headlines generated by Manchester City’s possible £500 million move for Lionel Messi and Chelsea’s expected £220 million summer spending splurge, but Covid-19 is leaving a trail of destruction through the transfer market.
There are good reasons for City and Chelsea dodging the storm. City have Abu Dhabi’s huge wealth to bulwark them, and have long coveted Messi as the ultimate fantasy football signing.
Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea, meanwhile, have not spent a penny in two transfer windows due to their Fifa ban, and are cash-rich from the sale of Eden Hazard to Real Madrid last summer. Hence the moves for Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell, with the signing of Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen in the pipeline.
Look further down the food chain, and you will find many even established top-flight clubs resistant to any notion of super-spending in the climate of uncertainty created by the pandemic. Instead, chief executives and prominent agents share the view that the market is now “completely decimated”, and will be for some time.
Fees that clubs are now demanding for players have been almost halved. Swap deals – usually the last resort – are now being openly discussed, despite the various complexities. The structure of payments on transfers will now be staggered more than ever before.
Shrewd scouting, recruitment and data analysis are more important than ever in the pursuit of sensible spending.
The impact is being felt at the very top. Liverpool banked an estimated £175 million from winning the Premier League title last season, with a further £70 million from their Champions League campaign, yet manager Jurgen Klopp is fully aware of the shift in strategy.
“Now, in corona times, you have to think five times before making a transfer because nobody knows what will happen after corona,” he said.
“We always have to pay attention to the financial aspect because we don’t know exactly how much money we will have available. Others seem to deal with it a little more positively when you look at Chelsea.
“There are a lot of interesting players out there, but if someone is interesting for us, I can’t say right now.”
Liverpool are not alone in displaying such caution. Tottenham, poised to miss out on £200 million in revenue up to June next year, have borrowed £175 million from the Bank of England to ease the financial burden. Daniel Levy, the chairman, insists coronavirus has been the “most seriEnglish ous” threat of his 19 years in charge. Even Manchester United’s protracted pursuit of Jadon Sancho appears to be on the back burner, with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward claiming they are not immune from the implications of the pandemic.
Top agents predict many deals will be loans, and could happen towards the end of the window when the realities of this new financial world hit home.
It is not only coronavirus that will come into the thinking of boardrooms up and down the country. Aston Villa are likely to be one club looking to spend, after their narrow escape from relegation on the final day. Their owners, Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, are billionaires and keen to make Villa a force in football but, even then, are restricted by Financial Fair Play rules.
Those regulations prevent clubs from spending significant amounts, though Manchester City’s successful appeal against a two-year ban in July has arguably enforced the view that FFP is dead.
Leicester are also a club facing difficulties. It is understood they missed out on around £40million by failing to qualify for the Champions League and Covid-19 has certainly affected King Power, the club’s owners.
They move into a new £100million training ground later this year and the £50 million sale of Chilwell to Chelsea was required to give manager Brendan Rodgers some scope to reshape his squad.
And what of the impact below the Premier League? Clubs are fighting for their very existence with revenue severely damaged and, in the Championship, the situation is further complicated by the English Football League’s Profitability & Sustainability rules (previously FFP).
The P & S rules have created fear and loathing in the second tier, with clubs at each other’s throats pushing for punishment over the most innocuous of misdemeanours, and coronavirus has only served to increase the problems.
One senior official at a Championship club told The Daily Telegraph: “It’s very quiet and I think clubs are using it [Covid-19] as an excuse not to spend. The money has genuinely gone out of the game.”
In Leagues One and Two, player trading will be minimal. Wages of £800-a-week at some clubs are now being seen as hugely attractive, when previously demands would have been far higher.
The return of fans to stadiums is eagerly awaited and should, in theory, start in October. It is only then that football’s economy will begin to repair itself.
But this will be a long road, and it is fair to say that football transfers may never be the same again.
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