Will the transfer market ever be the same?

Monday, 3 August 2020, 8:02
5 mins read

I have said for many years that football needs some level of shake up to bring the game back down to earth and ensure that its sustainability for many years to come.  A global pandemic may have been a bit extreme to get there but will it have the desired changes that are so desperately needed.

Over the course of the next few days on Planet Swans we will look at the longer term effects of the pandemic, the loss of income for clubs and what that could mean going forward particularly for Swansea City but what is applicable to us will be applicable to clubs up and down the English game.

Today, we start by looking at the transfer market, a market that is fuelled by a spend well in excess of £1bn in the UK every year alone.  A market where just over 40 years have gone by since Trevor Francis was made the first £1m footballer and where the British transfer fee paid now stands at £89m for Paul Pogba and Liverpool’s receipt of £105m for Philippe Countinho is the biggest fee received by a British Club.  Both figures of course dwarfed by the supposed £198m that took Neymar to PSG from Barcelona.

For the Swans our transfer records are dominated of course by our time in the Premier League with the £20m we paid (second time around) for Andre Ayew being classed as our record – 1 of 6 transfers over £10m made inbound by the club during this time (Roque Mesa, Wilfried Bony (twice), Sam Clucas and Borja Baston being the others)  And, according to transfermkt our highest inbound signing outside of the Premier League era is Bersant Celina at a little over £3m.

Outbound of course we have the sale of Gylfi Sigurdsson dominating at over £40m with another 10 sales over the £10m barrier.

None of this though really matters in a world where this could all change but I think – particularly when you look at our 6 most expensive transfers inwards – it is difficult to argue just how successful they have been and certainly when you factor in the spend was almost £89 million for those 6 alone, the flaws in the transfer market (or at least in our transfer policy) is plain for everyone to see.

Football has been locked down since the early part of March and, despite comments about potentially re-opening on 1st October when you see the Covid-19 spikes around the country at the moment the logic of putting even 25% capacity into a stadium right now has to be heavily questioned.  I still believe that football will be behind closed doors until January at the earliest which increases the pressure on everyone.

In a normal closed season right now the Swans would be certainly anticipating the sale of Joe Rodon.  And, given his season this time around, they would be hopeful that Andre Ayew’s high wages could be shaved off their wage bill.  But when you think about the impact on football right now where is the money going to come from to make those transfers happen?

Clubs inside the Premier League’s top 6 will survive this.  They will moan about financial hardships and such but gate receipts is such a small part of their overall income they will survive it.  They will also know that their Premier League status is as assured for 21/22 as it is for 20/21 (and well beyond both those years) so they can count on the broadcasting money rolling in.  In short their transfer budgets won’t change but how they spend them may well do – but we will come onto that.

Outside of those clubs it is a different world.  Forget the 19/20 league positions ever club outside that top 6 (the two Manchester Clubs, Liverpool, Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea) know that they are one or two poor transfers away from being less comforted than they are now.   For sides like Leicester and Wolves and their European Football ambitions we know all too well that things can slip away quickly.  Even Sheffield United for all their good football this season will start next more likely to be relegated than repeat their league position of this season.

For those that remain – Southampton, Villa, Brighton, West Ham, Newcastle and all at that level staying in the Premier League is always going to be a fight.  Each has played Championship football in the recent past, each will play Championship football again in the near future.  Staying up involves them spending money and we know (when you read our top 6 transfers in) that spending money does not guarantee success.

Outside of the Premier League the position is much clearer.   In the Championship you have a fraction of the broadcasting deal that Premier League sides get, in Leagues One and Two your income has been taken away to nearly nil.   Some of these clubs will go to the wall in the near future.  It is inevitable.

Factoring in all of that it leads to a total change in the transfer market in my view – some of it will be good but some of it needs to be managed by the football authorities or the rich will get richer.  We know though that the rich getting richer is often what the football authorities want.

The Top 6 clubs as I said will have the same budgets.  They will though, I believe spend them differently.  They will find clubs – particularly those outside of the top flight – not just more willing to sell prized assets but knowing they almost have to to balance the books.  That is likely to push the prices down.  And in the past often that meant clubs could then use the transfer income to buy some new players, that is less likely to happen in the same way – Championship clubs will look more to League One and Two for their purchases with clubs there even more likely to sell on their own prized assets but at lower prices.

The unknown is those clubs in the Premier League but outside the established Top 6.  Their income is strong (broadcasting rights) but heavily impacted by the loss of gate receipts.  Transfer budgets will be smaller which instinctively says they will look for the ‘desperation to sell’ in the Championship but this group also have a ‘desperation to stay up’ mentality which can force them to pay over the odds for players (something we sadly know all too much about)

Is there good news?  I think so to an extent.  As squads in the Premier League get bigger there may be more loans out which can greatly assist Championship clubs.  Brewster, Guehi, Gallagher, Wilmot, Woodman, Surridge were all benefits to us this season and we can see that happening more.  Young, hungry players keen to prove thei can play regular football.  Much better than £16m on Baston or £14.5m on Clucas I am sure everyone can agree.

The one thing I am certain of though is that the transfer fee likely to be received for say Joe Rodon reduced the moment football locked irrespective of which clubs were looking at him.  And the chances of Ayew signing on elsewhere drastically reduced unless he is prepared to take a pay cut to do so.  And that has left a big hole in our financial plans for next season.  But that particular one is for another day.

 

Images courtesy of Getty Images, Athena Picture Agency and Swansea City Football Club.

Phil Sumbler

Been watching the Swans since the very late 1970s and running the Planet Swans website (in all its current and previous guises since the summer of 2001 As it stood JackArmy.net was right at the forefront of some of the activity against Tony Petty back in 2001, breaking many of the stories of the day as fans stood against the actions where the local media failed. Was involved with the Swans Supporters Trust from 2005, for the large part as Chairman before standing down in the summer of 2020.

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