Man City, Chelsea, Man United spend big, but most clubs pass on expensive signings: analyzing transfer trends

The Premier League transfer window has closed, and the annual spending spree is in full swing. Manchester City, Chelsea, and Man United have all spent big money on new players. But what does this mean for the rest of the league?

Manchester United, Chelsea, and Man City have spent big in the transfer market this summer. However, most clubs are not investing in expensive signings. The manchester united transfer is a good example of how players are being bought for less than they should be worth.

The summer transfer window of 2021 will be remembered as the one in which Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo both moved, but Kylian Mbappe and Harry Kane remained behind. Of course, the financial effect of the worldwide epidemic will be noted, but it will be simpler to establish that there has been an impact than to determine exactly what it is. Even yet, there are certain patterns that emerge.

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In Europe’s Big Five leagues, overall gross spending is down. It’s down, both in comparison to previous summers and in comparison to 2019, the final pre-pandemic timeframe. That much is clear when looking at Transfermarkt statistics, which is far from ideal (the figures aren’t always “official” information related to a move) and is often taken from media sources), but it’s the best we have. And it’s more than enough to see patterns from a bird’s eye perspective. For example, gross expenditure in Serie A is down considerably (it was 40% higher last year and twice as much in 2019) and LaLiga, where it has plummeted to less than €300 million after being five times higher in 2019.

Even the Premier League, the pinnacle of financial stability in European football, has seen its revenue fall in successive summers, from €1.55 billion to €1.35 billion.

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However, it is gross expense, and it only tells you so much. Because if Barcelona sells Arthur to Juventus for €72 million and acquires Miralem Pjanic for €60 million (yep, this occurred in 2020), the total gross expenditure of the two teams will be €132 million, but the net spend will be just €12 million. Money in circulation is beneficial, but it always leads to duplicate and triple counting.

We can obtain a somewhat different picture by looking at a league’s net expenditure, which is the money moving in and out of a nation on transfers. It reveals, for example, that Premier League teams spent €300 million less in net terms than the previous year, while Ligue 1 and Serie A also experienced a decrease in net spending. (In each of the previous two summers, the Bundesliga’s transfer balance was positive, and it increased.) LaLiga was the only league that spent more in net terms than the previous year, but the major spenders weren’t the typical suspects, but rather Atletico Madrid and Villarreal.

Why were clubs more kind a year earlier, when the epidemic was still raging? (If there’s one thing we know clubs hate more than downturn, it’s uncertainty, since the latter makes planning difficult, while the former can be managed.)



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For a variety of causes. One is that, although losses were incurred before to the 2020 timeframe, they were not recorded until 2020-21. Many clubs had devised transfer strategies, made pledges to managers, and set aside funds to bolster their teams prior to then. Yes, responsible clubs should have prepared ahead, but some clubs have a different risk appetite than others, and not all are “responsible.”

Another factor is that some of the teams with cash on hand (typically due to rich owners) decided to bet big and take advantage of what they perceived to be a weak market. Chelsea, Manchester City, and Inter were all part of it last summer. This summer, though, two typical large spenders, Barcelona and Inter, have been obliged to drastically reduce their spending.

The fact that Financial Fair Play has been suspended — it will be reinstated, but we don’t know what shape it will take — is also likely to have had a role. We don’t know what it will look like, but it’s difficult to justify taking a harsh stance against teams that choose to put money into the system, particularly at a time when the football industry predicts a €8 billion drop in income over the next two years. As a result, teams with rich donors (Man City, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain) can bet that they won’t be penalized for their excesses during a downturn.


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Then there’s the simple reality that many teams have chosen to be cautious when it comes to contract renewals, which is understandable. Over the summer, an unusual number of elite players found themselves with a year left on their contracts, lowering their transfer worth. Many players remained there while others went, but it’s fair to say that if Real Madrid had extended Raphael Varane’s contract, he would have cost United much more than the €40 million (plus incentives) they spent for him.

Another way to look at it is in terms of the number of large-scale transactions. So far, four players have moved for transfer prices over €80 million in the two summer windows affected by the pandemic: Kai Havertz and Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea, Jack Grealish to Manchester City, and Jadon Sancho to Manchester United. (Note: there are two clubs with rich donors and another with a steady stream of cash.) There were twice as many in the summer of 2019 alone: eight.

Grealish was one of just four players to leave a club for more over £80 million this summer, as the pandemic’s impacts were felt in the transfer market. Manchester City FC/Getty Images Manchester City FC/Manchester City FC/Manchester City FC/Manchester City FC/Manchester City FC/

The figures are consistent across all price ranges. Players moving for more than €40 million? There were nine this summer, 15 previous summer, and 24 this summer. Players worth more than €30 million? Again, 44 in the last two seasons, including a staggering 43 in 2019.

The fact that the downward trend is more pronounced among expensive players (despite the few wealthy clubs with unlimited funds) than in terms of net spend suggests that clubs are beginning to realize that, outside of the very top tier of players, it’s simply not worth spending €50 million on someone who can do the job almost as well for €25 million.

Obviously, there has been a decline; yet, the manner in which it has expressed itself differs from club to club and circumstance to situation. As I’ve already said, one of the side consequences may be that even great players aren’t getting their way as easily as they used to.

Messi wanted to remain at Barcelona, but he chose PSG instead (and took a pay cut). Kane wanted to join Manchester City but was unable to do so due to contractual obligations. Ronaldo may have been able to persuade Juventus to sell him to Manchester United, but he also had to accept a salary reduction. Gianluigi Donnarumma hoped to join Juventus or remain at Milan, but he ended up as a back-up at PSG, where he received just a little increase compared to Milan’s offer.

Some teams may have been in denial last summer and just recognized how serious the issue was this summer. Perhaps they’ve realized that the notion of “player power” is rather exaggerated. Perhaps, rather than obsessing on a certain goal, they’ve become a little wiser and realized that there are frequently cheaper alternatives available.

Is the gravy train coming back next summer? Almost certainly, and if not then, soon. However, it’s possible that a few lessons have been learnt along the road.

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