FOOTBALL and austerity have never made for great bedfellows. In 2009, while the rest of the world was drowning in recession, English Premier League clubs spent a record £500million during that summer’s transfer window.
A year later and that figure fell to a miserly £477million.
Recession. What recession?
Countries’ entire financial systems could fall, banks may run out of our money and governments decide the only way to survive these harsh times is by cutting services, pensions and jobs.
However, the owners of big football clubs, and the not-so-big ones as well, across the globe still wouldn’t hesitate to spend tens of millions on fees, wages and, let’s not forget, the agents’ cut, on a single transfer deal.
But almost five years after bankers in America, Iceland and one or two other countries seemingly bankrupted the whole world, it does seem that, at long last, football is feeling the (relative) pinch.
And that includes the leading English clubs who, of course, have a £3.1billion television deal heading their way, starting with the 2013-14 season.
Fifa revealed this week that transfer spending during the first six months of this year was down by more than a third compared to January-June 2011. It’s a not insignificant figure.
“Global financial problems and the impact of Uefa’s fair play regulations” were the reasons given for the fact that total payments between clubs around the world fell by £190million from £372million, from the same period 12 months previously, a decrease of 34 per cent.
These rather startling figures came in Fifa’s mid-year review of the international transfer market that studies trends during the two windows when clubs can buy and sell players.
It counts the money spent from January 1, to June 30, so it excludes, for example, Paris-Saint Germain’s recent outlay of £15.5m for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva’s £35.5m move, both from AC Milan.
No association’s clubs spent more than Russia, which over recent years has become one of the financial powerhouses in European football. Their clubs invested £41.56m; English sides invested £35.78million, but recouped £37.97m.
It is still an awful lot of money, but nowhere near the sums of just a few years ago.
Fifa’s report says: “This could suggest that the effects of the global recession – for instance, distressed corporate sponsors, restrictive bank lending policies and reduced overdraft facilities for clubs – are being felt in the international football transfer market.
“A further factor may be the high concentration of wealth in a relatively small number of associations; any reduction in spending in those few associations could have a disproportionately high impact on aggregate transfer fees worldwide.
“Finally, given the share of the European transfer market, the efforts of those clubs to bring themselves in line with the Uefa Financial Fair Play Regulations before the onset of sanctions for indebted clubs may contribute to a fall-off in transfer compensation rates.”
So the questions begs; is this is the end of record transfer fees being paid out, meaning it could be some time before the £80million paid by Real Madrid for Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured left) three years ago is beaten?
One top agent, based in the North East, admitted to The Journal yesterday that the days when a single phone call could get his player, and therefore himself, a big pay-day have long gone.
He said: “The figures don’t surprise me.
“It’s definitely getting more difficult to do deals, certainly compared to a few years ago.
“The top, top clubs will always have money to spend, but the clubs on a lower scale are beginning to tighten their belts.
“Take League One and League Two. Most are looking for frees or to take a young Premier League player on loan, something I personally think is a good thing.
“Look around the world and you will be hard pressed to find a club which isn’t in debt – and heavily in debt at that. This is something which has needed to be addressed for a while, and is now being seriously dealt with.
“The big money in football now is in Russia, China and the Middle East and then it’s a case of whether a player would swap the Premier League for the riches out there.”
Another factor for the decrease in actual money being spent on fees is that more and more top players are ready to allow their contracts to run down.
Robin van Persie is the perfect example. Rather than sign a long-term agreement with Arsenal this summer, he has threatened to play his last season at the club and then walk away for nothing.
By then the Dutchman will be almost 30, but with no transfer fee, he’d be guaranteed to find a big club willing to pay him millions in a sign-on fee and wages, considering he would be available on a Bosman.
“My biggest concern is that money is disappearing out of football to players and it’s not being reinvested in the game,” said the agent, who didn’t want to be named.
“At least when a player moves from club to club for a fee then the money stays in the game. How do we change this? I honestly have no idea.”