The football transfer window closed on 31st August after one of the strangest and cheapest windows in Premier League history. Apart from the eye catching £100m spent by Manchester City on Jack Grealish and Chelsea’s £97.5 million fee for Romelu Lukaku, most clubs showed an unusual degree of spending restraint after reduced ticket sales due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The finances of some of Europe’s finest clubs have suffered greatly. Increased financial strain has corresponded with a renewed interest in nurturing existing talent, rather than looking elsewhere. Mid-market deals – where youngsters are signed for low teen figures – have been few and far between this year, a definite reflection of the pandemic’s impact on club spending.
A report by Deloitte found the number of transfers valued at £10m-£25m fell by 13% from last year. It’s worth noting how improvements in academies have lessened the blow caused by Brexit, which prevents English sides from signing players in Europe under the age of 18.
But £1.1 billion – the total spent overall and £400 million down from 2019 – still isn’t everyday money. Even the best players lose value over time. Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Manchester United for £12.8 million pales in comparison to the £105 million figure paid by Juventus for the Portuguese superstar.
The deal came with an interesting backstory.While Ronaldo’s agent was trying to entice Manchester City, Sir Alex Ferguson intervened, phoning Ronaldo, and encouraging him to make a sensational return to Old Trafford. City had their heart set on Harry Kane but after Tottenham turned down a £150 million bid, the England striker chose to remain in North London.
This transfer window showcased the importance of financial strength in ‘making or breaking’ a team, confirming that: money equals power. Barcelona’s Antoine Griezmann moved on loan to his former team, Atlético Madrid, on a season long loan with an optional €40m fee to make it permanent. Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest footballer on the planet, moved to PSG on a free transfer, joining fellow titans Mbappe and Neymar.
The final days of any transfer window tends to be comparable with the final scene of a television drama. But this time it was tragic. At Messi’s final press conference before leaving Barça, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner cried as he recounted how, “my new contract was done. All done…at the last minute, with everything with La Liga, it couldn’t happen.”.
Given the weight of dominance of Europe’s richest clubs, many of England’s smaller clubs have fared better than expected. In keeping Kane, Spurs have managed to hold onto their star striker. In rejecting tempting offers from PSG, Everton still have Richarlison. Aston Villa reinvested the Grealish money in bringing in three highly talented replacements, which arguably leaves them in a stronger overall position. Norwich signed four highly rated players on loan deals, including Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour.
Football is action packed, enormously unpredictable and full of high stakes. And yet we haven’t even started on the game itself.