Last season’s Champions League final was a sign. The outcome of European football’s summer negotiating window – which ended earlier this week – was another. The continent’s old guard is in retreat, and in its place a new, money-rich elite has fully arrived.
In a market battered by the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic, only teams backed by the world’s super-rich have been able to trade freely this year, swelling their already well-stocked rosters with the cream of the game’s talent. On the other hand, many traditional heavyweights in the game have struggled to make sales to balance books weighed down by losses and inflated debt.
Chelsea, Champions League winners backed by a Russian oligarch, spent $ 135m to oust Romelu Lukaku from last season’s Italian champion Inter Milan, whose finances were not in a position to deny a record club. The other Champions League finalist, Manchester City, is owned by the brother of the UAE’s ruling family. He was able to easily reach a British record of £ 100million ($ 138million) to sign Jack Grealish, a highly skilled attacking midfielder from Aston Villa, not because he particularly needed him, but because that he could. City would have broken that record again weeks later if Tottenham hadn’t resisted their openings for England captain Harry Kane.
In France, Paris Saint-Germain, owned by Qatari leaders, made the most eye-catching signings. After Real Madrid told captain Sergio Ramos he couldn’t meet his demands for a new contract, PSG said they most certainly could. Other elite players deprived of their new contracts with their old clubs – Italian European Championship-winning goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Netherlands captain Georginio Wijnaldum – also came on board, before PSG did. The biggest signing of all: the acquisition of Lionel Messi from Barcelona, by far the greatest example of the evolution of the game.
PSG then underlined its power in a deal that did not take place. Real Madrid, the most successful team in European history, and used to doing what they want for so long, have discovered the hard way that PSG play by different rules. Real Madrid have made two official offers, the second for what would have been the second highest amount ever paid for a player, as they sought to extricate 22-year-old French striker Kylian Mbappé from PSG. reply. It challenged football orthodoxy, in which clubs typically try to cash in on players like Mbappé entering the final year of their contract, rather than losing them for free in a year.
“It’s not a smart move, but it’s a show of power,” said Rodri Baster, founder of Promoesport, one of Spain’s biggest player agencies. “PSG have clearly shown that money is not a problem for them. If I was in the situation of the boss of PSG, I would do the same. If I have enough money and don’t need more, I would punch the table like he did and say no.
The result is that PSG have one of the most formidable attacking lines ever assembled, adding Messi and keeping Mbappé and pairing the two with Neymar, the player who became the world’s most expensive signing when PSG took him. recruited for $ 263 million. in 2017.
As for Barcelona, they have spent months participating in the biggest clearance sale in their own history. Paralyzed by a financial crisis, with losses for this year expected to exceed $ 500 million, team management tried to offload the players as if they were replenishing the water from a sinking liner. The most vivid example of the chaos that engulfed the club came on the last day: Barcelona allowed Antoine Griezmann to join his former club, Atlético Madrid, on loan. Barely two years ago, he paid Spanish title rivals Atlético $ 140 million for Griezmann.
Italy’s most successful team, Juventus, needed curious methods to recruit Manuel Locatelli, a midfielder who signaled his arrival on the world stage with a series of impressive performances at Euro 2020. La Juventus pay nothing to his former club Sassuolo during the first two years of his contract, and it is only from the third year that he will start paying part of the fees, which could reach $ 44 million.
The biggest sign that Juventus needed to tighten their belts, however, came in the final days of the transfer market when Cristiano Ronaldo, the star Portuguese striker who traded the accolade of the world’s best player for Messi for a much of the last decade, was transferred to his former club Manchester United for € 15million ($ 18million). Juventus had paid € 100million for him three years earlier.
“In my opinion, this is a market where the priority has been to solve the financial problems rather than the sporting criteria,” said Baster, the agent.
Manchester United have been able to withstand the impact of the pandemic better than most. Thanks to the size of the Premier League television contract and its own very lucrative business operation, the team owned by the billionaire Glazer family were spending freely: Ronaldo capped the climax of a spending summer that reached over $ 170 million. Arsenal, another Premier League side with a wealthy owner, Los Angeles Rams and Denver Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke, pledged more than $ 200 million on largely young talent in the latest effort to overhaul what has been an underperforming list.
Spending in England was out of proportion to what almost any club in other leagues could handle. According to accounting firm Deloitte, Premier League teams’ net spend of $ 776 million this year was 10 times that of Italy and Spain, where the main focus was on selling, whatever. ‘or the price.
The strength of the Premier League was perhaps best underscored by this: three newly promoted teams from the Second Division Championship – Brentford, Norwich and Watford – spent more than the three biggest clubs in La Liga, Real Madrid, Barcelona. and Atlético.
“All indicators show a trend towards a concentration of spending by the richest clubs, in particular the richest Premier League,” wrote the CIES Football Observatory, a football think tank, in a report published after the closing of the trading window on Monday.
“The dependence of a growing number of clubs, even in the richest leagues, on transfer income highlights the weakness of the current economic system of professional football,” he added.