The English Premier League transfer window, a window that never simply closes but rather “slams shut,” came to an end Thursday as the country’s leading clubs splashed out £1.41 billion ($1.7 billion) during the shopping bonanza — including £170m ($205 million) on the final day alone.
Just a day before Liverpool kicks off the new Premier League season against Norwich at Anfield Friday night, clubs were desperately trying to bolster their options in a last-ditch attempt to strengthen their chances of success and, for many, survival.
Driven by rolling news channels, an insatiable appetite for transfer rumors, deadline day itself has arguably become one of the most entertaining days in the football calendar.
Since the latest transfer window opened on May 16 for domestic deals, 11 clubs have smashed their own transfer records, according to the Deloitte Sports Business Group which tracks football finances. In fact, in the case of Premier League newcomers Sheffield United, the club record was smashed on four separate occasions in one single window.
The figure of £1.41 billion ($1.7 billion) is the second-highest total spent since the transfer window system was introduced in 2003, falling just short of the £1.43 billion ($1.72 billion) set in the summer of 2017. It also represents the fourth successive transfer window where spending by England’s top clubs has been in excess of £1 billion ($1.2 billion).
Arsenal, the biggest spenders of the window with an outlay of £155 million ($187 million), according to Deloitte, led the way ahead of Manchester City on £150 million ($181 million), Manchester United £145 million ($175 million), Aston Villa £125 million ($151 million) and Everton £110 million ($133 million)
“Premier League clubs’ transfer spend continues to be driven by the desire for success on the pitch, ranging from competing at the top of the Premier League and qualification for the UEFA Champions League to simply survival in the top division,” said Dan Jones, partner at the Sports Business Group at Deloitte.
“This summer has seen over half of the Premier League clubs break their individual player transfer records in pursuit of these objectives.”
According to Deloitte, the average gross player transfer expenditure for a Premier League club in the 2019 summer window was about £71m ($86 million), up from approximately £61 million ($74 million) last year.
In addition, the net spend of Premier League clubs during the 2019 summer transfer window is the lowest since 2015. As of August 8, net player expenditure was £625 million ($754 million) with only three clubs, Chelsea, Liverpool and Crystal Palace, in a net receipts position.
“With this level of net spend, combined with a more modest increase in Premier League broadcast rights values for the coming season than we have seen previously, we would expect wages to increase at a greater rate than revenue, returning to a wages to revenue ratio of 60%,” Jones said.
“However, this does not signal major financial concerns as Premier League clubs collectively generated pre-tax profits of £426 million ($514 million) in 2017/18, whilst net spend as a proportion of revenue of 12% is at its lowest since 2012.”
Manchester United’s £80 million ($97 million) purchase of Harry Maguire from Leicester City set a new world record paid for a defender. It was also the largest fee spent on a single player by a Premier League club closely followed by Arsenal’s £72 million ($87 million) signing of Lille winger Nicolas Pepe.
Manchester City, aiming for a third consecutive Premier League title, smashed its transfer record with the £62.8 million ($76 million) signing of midfielder Rodri from Atletico Madrid, as well as splashing out £60 million ($72.4 million) on Portuguese defender Joao Cancelo.
Tottenham, which reached last season’s Champions League final, signed Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon for £53.8 million ($65 million) — its first first-team acquisition since January 2018.
While the transfer window in England might have closed, clubs on the continent can still sign players with the window in Germany, Spain and France open until close of play on September 2.
That means Premier League clubs can still offload players they may no longer want, or have their best players poached by the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
Manchester United’s Paul Pogba has been linked with a move to Spain, as has Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen. Leroy Sane, who had previously been a target for Bayern, now looks set to stay at Manchester City after sustaining a cruciate ligament injury.
Spanish spending spree
The problem for English Premier League clubs is that with no facility to replace players, they risk being caught short if a foreign club comes calling with a big-money offer.
The increased spending of clubs in Spain’s La Liga, currently £1.1 billion($1.3 billion) according to Deloitte, is a new league record after breaking the £1 billion mark for the first time.
Two-thirds of that spending has come from just three clubs — Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Sports lawyer Daniel Geey, author of “Done Deal: An Insider’s Guide to Football Contracts, Million-Pound Transfers and Premier League Big Business,” believes Premier League clubs could be left in a “Catch-22” by the early closure of the transfer window.
“There are at least a couple of situations where you take Christian Eriksen and Paul Pogba, who look like they are wanted by foreign teams,” Geey told CNN.
“It means their current clubs have a predicament which is whether they need to try and get a replacement in advance of the window closing because of the subsequent risk of them leaving.
“Reactively or proactively, this puts English clubs on a difficult footing. For English clubs, there is an advantage if in the medium term the push is then for European leagues to align.
“Ultimately, what has been the play from Premier League clubs previously is that they want all their business done by the time the season starts.
“Until that alignment happens, European clubs are potentially going to have a destabilizing effect on potential squad members because European windows are open.
“It’s a Catch-22. Clubs will be thinking whether they need to replace someone before the end of the window where a continental club can wait until the end of the month to force the issue.”