Uefa report shows English clubs spent 43% of global transfer total last summer
English clubs were responsible for 43 per cent of global transfer activity last summer, according to a Uefa report which lays bare the impact of the pandemic on football.
It underlines the financial muscle of the Premier League at the end of a season in which Manchester City and Chelsea have reached the Champions League final and Manchester United will contest the Europa League final. The Championship was the sixth-biggest spending league in Europe in 2020-21, outstripping the Portuguese, Dutch and Russian first divisions.
With head-spinning figures such as a €7.2 billion loss for Europe’s top-flight clubs since the pandemic began, Uefa concludes that transfer fees and wages “must be reduced to acceptable levels” if the game is to be restored to financial health.
The financial losses are stark, with the absence of fans the greatest blow: 210 million fewer clicks of the turnstile cost clubs across Uefa’s 55 member countries €4bn in revenue, the biggest loss over the period and greater than falls in sponsorship (€2.7bn) and broadcast revenue (€1.4bn).
Those losses in turn affected the transfer market. Spending in the 2020 summer window was down 39 per cent on the previous year, and this January’s winter window was down by 56 per cent on 2020. That the summer total was above that of any year before 2014 was down to English clubs.
The Premier League was by far the biggest spender in 2020-21 with more than €1.8bn traded, €600m more than in the next-largest spender, Serie A. The Championship total was €400m.
Some €558m went between English clubs but deals sending players from Spain, Germany and France to England were also in the top five most valuable transfer “flows”. This is not likely to continue, however, with Uefa predicting immigration changes brought about by Brexit are likely to lead English clubs to look equally at South America and Africa for recruits.
Uefa says reforms to its financial fair play rules are necessary, with controls on costs the key. Ultimately the annual “benchmarking” report concludes that football is “in essence a very stable business”, however, and that despite the pandemic “club revenue streams are fundamentally reliable”.
It does see one existential threat to the game, what it calls the “so-called” European Super League. “A closed breakaway league would destroy value across the whole pyramid,” the report says. “It is only by respecting the pyramid and the principle of promotion and relegation on sporting merit that European football will be able to continue to grow.”
Critics have argued that Uefa’s reforms to the Champions League undermine the values of sporting merit, with teams able to qualify based on historical performance rather than the position in their domestic league from 2024. Uefa sources say these proposals are subject to possible review.
In another jab at the ESL, Uefa challenges claims that the breakaway project would have given three times the money Uefa provides to clubs outside the Champions League. Calculating its future solidarity payments at €28bn compared with the ESL’s €10bn, the report observes: “Needless to say, $10bn is not three times $28bn.”
Uefa celebrates the ESL’s speedy demise and the “unanimous and resounding uproar” that brought it down. Its end may also have been hastened by an absence of expected support from Fifa. According to the New York Times, advisers to the ESL met Fifa representatives while drawing up their plans and were confident the governing body would endorse them only for Fifa to ultimately “express its disapproval” of the project in public.
Fifa says the position of its president, Gianni Infantino, was clear when he told Uefa’s Congress that he strongly disapproved of the ESL.