The European Football Summer Transfer Window so Far
At the time of writing, the majority of European football markets have approximately 4 weeks remaining in what has been a historic and memorable transfer window. For clubs, players, fans and football agents, as well as the typical media frenzies and relentless rumour mills, the unprecedented activity of the Saudi Arabian market attracting some of Europe’s biggest stars and an array of wealthy owners willing to spend heavily on bringing in top talents has made for a unique window thus far.
Many more high-profile rumours and transfers are expected over the next few weeks which we will review once the windows across the continent are shut. For now, this blog will assess everything we have seen so far, particularly from the perspective of a football agent operating across the markets, and identify key factors affecting the nature of activity in the window.
A General Overview
Very interestingly, there have been different layers to the transfer window this summer so far. On the top layer, the biggest clubs and leagues across the European continent have generally been very active. There has been expansive expenditure from clubs seeking to improve their squads and compete for the top European trophies in the 2023/24 season. The market has been fairly fast-paced, the usual rumour mill has been inundated with various Saudi Pro-League targets and some of the top talents in Europe such as Jude Bellignham and Kylian Mbappe have been dominating the headlines.
Beneath this, the market has been a lot slower-moving. Clubs in the second tiers of European football and below have not been as active in general, compared to how we have seen in the past. Although the section below explains why this might be, it is a particularly fascinating factor for agents to consider when pursuing opportunities for clients in these leagues. It may be a frustrating situation but patience and identifying the right kind of opportunities has become particularly important.
One other window to consider before we delve into the European windows is the mid-season window for Major League Soccer in the United States. This has been another major influence on the business and media coverage of the transfer market across Europe as similarly to Saudi Arabia, the MLS, durings its one-month-long window, was linked with some major stars in the sport. The addition of some big names such as Sergio Busquets, Jordia Alba, and of course Lionel Messi to Inter Miami demonstrated that the MLS will be a factor to be accounted for during future summer windows in Europe. The MLS mid-season window closed at the beginning of August but based upon the activity we saw during its opening, we can expect that the extended off-season window in winter will be particularly proactive and the league will continue to grow and compete with European clubs.
The stark differences between spending and activity in the lower clubs and higher clubs may be a reflection of how clubs are faring now the restrictions and uncertainty of the Coronavirus pandemic has passed. Clubs across Europe have been able to take stock and analyse exactly where they stand financially after the damaging impact of the pandemic caused extensive economic difficulties. The economic situations of European clubs emerging from the pandemic have impacted the money available for top transfers and have affected the transfer strategies of many clubs.
The net spending of clubs in second tiers and below of major European football countries has been restricted. This is because, on the whole, these clubs were worst affected by the economic downfall caused by the pandemic. We have seen during this window that clubs at these levels are, more than ever, designing the transfer window approach around seeking the best free agent talents or paying lower transfer fees for younger players in the hope of developing them and perhaps looking to sell them for profit in the future. This has placed a great demand on the hierarchy of these clubs to strategise and formulate the best approach to a transfer window that can improve their current squad whilst also living within their financial means.
Despite experiencing losses from fan attendance during the pandemic, the top clubs will always be financially secure as their biggest sources of revenue come from broadcasting rights and lucrative sponsorship deals. Even in the 2022/23 season, only two years after the COVID-19 pandemic, English Premier League clubs spent a total of £2.8billion. This was a new record, extravagantly surpassing the previous league record of £1.9billion in the 2017/18 season.
The English Premier League is perhaps the best way to gauge the top end of the European summer transfer market. So far this window, Premier League clubs have already spent over £1.5billion with approximately a month still remaining for this figure to rise. Compared with the money generated from players being sold by Premier League clubs, this figure appears even higher, with the league currently sitting on a balance sheet of over an £800million loss. This averages out as each club spending around £35million more than they generate from sales.
Let’s take a look at the top European leagues and their total balances so far in this summer window. We have also included the Saudi Pro-League spending as this has been a significant and unprecedented factor affecting business in this window:
|League||2023 Summer Window Spending|
|English Premier League||€1,659,990,000|
|Spanish La Liga||€281,100,000|
|Italian Serie A||€571,145,000|
|France Ligue 1||€493,940,000|
|Portuguese Liga Portugal||€111,885,000|
Importantly, some of these figures are skewed by large anomalies that don’t reflect the general pattern of investment into transfers of the majority of clubs in the league but are deceivingly increased by a small handful on large transfers. For example, the €105million transfer of Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund to Real Madrid is over a third of the entire La Liga expenditure so far this summer.
Another significant statistic so far this window is of course, Saudi Arabia, which has been perhaps the most discussed new market in the daily football news over the last few months with seemingly every top European talent linked with a move to the new league. This figure of €442m expenditure so far this year is made all the more extraordinary when compared with the spending of the league over the past seasons which was just €43m in 2022, €92m in 2021, and €67m in 2020. It is also very likely that this figure will continue to rise in the coming weeks.
We mention the Saudi Pro-League here as the collateral impact it has had on the European summer transfer window can not be underestimated. Due to the large salaries and transfer fees that clubs in the Saudi League are able to pay, it has placed increased pressure on European clubs struggling to compete with such lucrative financial opportunities. This has meant that many top talents that would ordinarily have moved to European clubs, have been lost from the market and not been part of a club’s expenditure this summer. Players of the likes of Ruben Neves, Fabinho, Riyad Mahrez, Allan Saint-Maximin, Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly were linked with moves to top European clubs and, in an ordinary window, may have moved there. However, in this incredible 2023 summer window, these players will now ply their trade in Saudi Arabia. This has therefore had a profound effect on the expenditure, business and transfer strategies of the top European clubs who we must also consider are restricted in the extent to which they can compete with Saudi Arabia due to the UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations.
Another interesting component of each summer transfer window is the ebbs and flows of different clubs and their proactivity in a market. This summer window has been much the same with different clubs being more active and expansive in their transactions than they have themselves before, and more so than their competition. For example, in the Premier League, this summer window so far has seen Arsenal spend well above their usual strategy, bringing in Declan Rice, Kai Havertz from London-rivals Chelsea, and Jurrien Timber for approximately €230million. This is already €100million above their spending last summer and is likely to rise further. This may be a reflection of their positive 2022/23 season performance and a willingness to push on.
On the other side of the spectrum, West Ham suffered a poor league performance last season and despite winning the Euro Conference League to salvage their season, their expenditure on transfers in the summer window remains non-existent. This is a stark contrast to the €182million spent by the club in the same window last year. These changes in expenditure and a willingness to be active in the market is something that players and their agents ought to be aware of as it shows which opportunities may be the most likely and the best way of approaching each one.
As with these differences in expenditure, it is important to be aware of the strategy and approaches of different clubs when monitoring the transfer window for clients as an agent. It can undermine the professionalism of an agent if they lack understanding of how a club is operating in a particular window. For example, clubs that are having known financial difficulties, in top league or in lower tiers, will not appreciate being offered players for fees well outside of the ceiling of what they can afford. Contrastingly, an agent approaching such a club with an enticing opportunity to sign a free agent that will bolster their current squad, is more likely to be able to find a deal for their client and build a relationship with the club for the future.
The Effect of New Regulations
The 2023/24 season is the second year of implementing FIFA’s recent loan regulations. This season, clubs will only be allowed a maximum of 7 players over 21 years of age to go out on loan, one less than was permitted in 2022/23. This has meant that some clubs that previously adopted an extensive loan system for their large squads are having to adapt. Particularly in lower leagues, this has meant that the window has been a little slower than usual, particularly when looking for loans. Agents must consider these regulations when looking for loan opportunities for their clients. If their client is over 21, it is not professional and demonstrates a lack of research if they offer the client to a club that has already filled their maximum loan capacity.
Another major set of regulations that have been formulated since the 2022 summer window is the new FIFA Football Agent Regulations. The date for full implementation is after the conclusion of the 2023 summer window and so this will be the final transfer window before the full effects are felt. Commissions in this window for agents can still be as they have negotiated before and will mostly be around 10% of a player’s total gross contract. The new FFAR, as we have discussed in our previous blogs, has made amendments to these commission payments that agents can receive from transactions and it will soon be limited to 3% if the player’s total remuneration is above $200,000 or 5% if it is under this value. This is something that will change the financial details of transfers of players between clubs and agents should be aware of how this may impact their business and the opportunities presented to clients. However, it should not be a motivating factor in trying to prematurely force deals to be completed in this window for the sake of being able to claim a higher commission.
The Next Month
In our blog following the conclusion of this summer window, we will provide an overall review of the market. However, we predict that the next few weeks leading up to the end of the window across the European continent will follow a similar pattern to previous seasons although they may materialise in a slightly different form.
It is common that towards the end of the window and after the first couple of gameweeks, there is a growing sense of urgency from clubs. Some players may pick up early injuries in games and clubs will quickly be able to identify the weakest areas of their squad that needs improving before the end of the window in order to compete for the season. Agents should be monitoring the early performances of clubs and players as well as identifying areas where a club may be looking to strengthen or replace injured players.
As it nears deadline day in different European transfer markets, it is likely that we will see many deals pushed over the line. The heightened pressurised environment causes opportunities to arise unexpectedly and things can move very quickly. We can expect the Saudi Pro-League to remain particularly active during these weeks and have an effect on the squads of European clubs, many of whom will seek to urgently replace their losses before the window closes. Top clubs will remain willing to spend large sums of money on bringing in top talents. On the other hand, we also expect the loan market to accelerate and registration of free agents to increase as clubs become more hurried in their search to improve their squads.
It is important for agents to note the closing date of different transfer windows across the European continent and beyond and particularly the influential impact they will have on the market and the opportunities it could create. For example, the windows in Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia continue for around two weeks beyond the majority of European markets. During this extended period, clubs in European markets that may not have been able to sell on players they wished to during other European windows will now focus on offloading these players in the markets that are still open. For example, in Turkey this two week period in September provides an opportunity for clubs and ordinarily a large quantity of transactions are done during this time. Agents and selling clubs need to be aware of this as the lack of leverage and competition for players will mean clubs in Turkey will be pursuing their targets for lower financial costs. It is certainly a market worth following over the coming weeks until its closure.
Summary In summary, this summer transfer window in Europe has perhaps been greatest affected by the unprecedented activity of the Saudi Pro-League. Nevertheless, we are seeing large amounts of activity across Europe’s top leagues. With increased economic predictability and stability on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs are now in a position to be able to invest sensibly and understand their own financial limits. For agents, this window has been volatile and unprecedented in many ways, although there have been many opportunities for clients to find new clubs and it has been vital to continue to monitor the market. The remaining few weeks of the window will tell us more about how exactly the summer transfer window of 2023 is unique to any window that has come before it.