The summer transfer window has come to a close and with it an end to months of speculation. This year it wasn’t just the destination of our favourite stars that was widely discussed, it was if Financial Fair Play (FFP) would alter spending habits. Now that the dust has settled we can see if FFP had any effect on the window.
On the face of it one would be forgiven for believing that FFP has had little effect on clubs. Before we jump to that conclusion we need to look at factors that affect the net spend of individual leagues. The English Premier League managed to spend a combined total of £630M on new players. To offset this outlay clubs are dipping into their newly topped-up television deal fund, believed to be worth around £500M for the clubs this year. In the past I have been critical of FFP and believe the rewards on offer in the game negate sensible business approaches from clubs. This has been highlighted once again at the close of the transfer window.
Manchester City spent £102M in the transfer window in the hope to regain the Premier League title and have a decent Champions League campaign. They have the wealthy owner to bankroll such an outlay but it is optimistic to assume they will comply with FFP at their current rate of losses. Their sponsorship deal with Etihad is still under review, if that is deemed unfit they would find themselves in a difficult position. It must be said that despite the seemingly high spend they do have an eye on FFP. Clever deals to sell Tevez – a high wage earner, close to the end of his contract – and loaning out Gareth Barry to reduce the wage bill further, along with ten other players leaving, displays an awareness they must comply. More on compliance later.
Staying with England for now, Tottenham Hotspur top the spending charts with a sizable spend of £107M. This is covered by the world record fee received for Gareth Bale, so when you consider they have approximately £25M extra with the new TV money, they’ve refreshed their squad free-of-charge. Newcomers Southampton and Cardiff both spent £34M, placing them sixth place in the spending table. This is an example that clubs will spend – perhaps more than they should be comfortable with when you consider their previous season income – in order to stay in the rich land of the Premier League. Avoiding relegation brings riches comparable to a top four finish for the “big” clubs.
A club hoping to rejoin the top four is Liverpool. They have outlaid a not-to-be-sniffed-at £49M. However, this has been a club spreading their money wisely. Whilst they lack the traditional marquee signing, they have successfully strengthened their squad and kept FFP in mind. Where needed faces have been released or loaned but they’re taking a prudent approach that is showing signs it will improve them. Arsenal did make a marquee signing, a whooping £42.4M for Mesut Ozil. All summer they threatened to spend big and did so in style. They have managed the repayments of their new stadium in recent years to the detriment of their transfer policy. It seems those lean days are over. Expect them to go hunting for a striker again in January, knowing they can spend and comply with FFP.
Manchester United have been the focus of much ridicule and criticism following a transfer window that saw them fail to capture their major targets and ending up with Marouane Fellaini at a price higher than his former buy-out clause. David Moyes would have had insider knowledge of this clause, having just come from Everton himself, but Manchester United’s slow manoeuvres in the market meant their first choice targets weren’t acquired and Fellaini was signed out of desperation to do some business. Had they really wanted him it stands to reason they’d have met his buy-out clause earlier in the summer.
What is most shocking about Manchester United’s activity is how they appear most aware of FFP and thus most reluctant to spend. This is shocking because out of all the clubs in the Premier League we’re led to believe they most easily meet the requirements. But they refused to increase their offer for Ander Herrera by a mere €6M to trigger his release clause. They twice submitted the same bid for Leighton Baines, believed to be £12M. It’s quite ironic that a concern people have with FFP is that it’ll create a status quo, that the big clubs remain big as others can’t compete financially, yet at the end of the summer window the team believed to be biggest of them all spent so little in comparison to its rivals.
Earlier I mentioned FFP compliance and when considering the spending involved with Paris St Germain and Monaco it seems they have, and will, be taking a different approach to the new rules. PSG have a tie-in with the Qatari Tourist Board. Whilst not described as an outright sponsorship, but partnership, that earns the club €125M a year. It’s difficult to see UEFA approving such a deal as income when they’ve spent so much time investigating legitimate sponsorship deals. But PSG must be confident as they spent €84.4M in the last window alone. If that sounds high, and based on dodgy ground, then spare a thought for AS Monaco. Last season they were in the second tier with an average attendance over just over 4,000. This year they have a net transfer spend of €160M. They must be banking on FFP being successfully challenged on the basis it restricts competition. It’d be a sweet moment if Platini’s initiative to haul in English Premier League spending is undone by the two French clubs.
The English Premier League and the aforementioned French clubs aside, there is evidence that FFP is starting to dictate the transfer market. The top flight in both Spain and Italy saw revenue from transfers exceed expenditure. The same is true for their second tiers, along with the English Championship, and a host of other European leagues like the Dutch and Portuguese. In fact, it’s only the French top tier (thanks to PSG and Monaco) and the German Bundesliga that finished the transfer window in the red. And considering that the essence of FFP is based around the German model it’s safe to assume they are spending within their means. Everyone else across Europe is spending with greater caution.
Everyone except the English Premier League, but it goes to show that if there’s money available clubs will spend it. They have to if their rivals do. The transfer system as we know it won’t be dramatically altered in light of FFP, the big transfers will still occur. But overall a more level-headed business approach is coming into play. And even with the EPL’s massive expenditure this summer it could be argued that the major signings took place elsewhere. The English Premier League is becoming the most expensive league without having the highest level of talent. But it is still the most exciting, so it seems fitting it’s the one that has the most summer transfer activity, because watching clubs throw cash around can be fun.