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

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport -

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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Awaited: Kai Havertz is ex­pected to be­come Chelsea’s lat­est sign­ing of a busy sum­mer

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