England a magnet for players as clubs flex financial muscle
LONDON (AP) — For the final months of 2015, clubs in continental Europe can relax: English clubs cannot plunder their top talent until January.
By the time the summer transfer window closed on Tuesday, English topflight clubs had blown 870 million pounds ($1.3 billion) on players — more than double any other European league. And 585 million pounds ($896 million) of that lavish English outlay was to entice foreign clubs to part with valued assets, according to accountancy firm Deloitte.
“Without a doubt England has become the place to be playing,” Bobby Barnes, European president of international players’ union FIFPro, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “The biggest transfer fees and the biggest salaries are being paid in England so the top players will try to come.”
In the last Deloitte ranking of teams by revenue, all 20 Premier League clubs were in the top 40 globally — such is the gulf in the price of showing English matches on television compared with their European counterparts.
As a result, even finishing bottom of the Premier League earned Queens Park Rangers around $100 million from the Premier League last season and that figure could soar by a third when the new TV deals starts next year. Relegated clubs are also entitled to four years of so-called “parachute payments” to soften the hard landing of relegation to the second tier.
The figure for QPR compares with around $80 million that Bayern Munich, which has won the last three German titles, expects to earn in Bundesliga TV cash this season.
“It will be very difficult, apart from Bayern Munich, to compete with the Premier League in the future,” Wolfsburg sporting director Klaus Allofs said.
Wolfsburg has just received around $75 million by selling Kevin de Bruyne to Manchester City, a $50 million-plus profit on the midfielder who spent barely a year at the German club, which is owned by carmaker Volkswagen.
Although the Wolfsburg bank balance has been fattened by City’s Abu Dhabi ownership, keeping De Bruyne would have strengthened its quest to topple the mighty Munich and repeat its only Bundesliga title success in 2009.
Discussing players being attracted to English clubs, Volkswagen chairman Martin Winterkorn, a Wolfsburg board member, said: “We will have to consider what we can do here in Germany to prevent a sell-out.”
The talent drain to English clubs extends beyond the Premier League elite. And French clubs in particular are tempted by lucrative transfer packages from English clubs who aren’t used to winning titles.
For fees of between $15 million and $20 million per player, Marseille sold Florian Thauvin (Newcastle) and Dimitri Payet (West Ham), Lyon sold Clinton Njie (Tottenham) and Paris Saint-Germain sold Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace).
Highly-rated Caen midfielder N’Golo Kante also crossed the English Channel to join Leicester for $9 million.
“I would have been pleased to see him continue his career in France,” Caen president Jean-Francois Fortin said. “But for economic reasons it’s not possible. French clubs obviously don’t have the same financial means as their English counterparts.”
BEYOND THE PREMIER LEAGUE
The League Championship is also now an increasingly attractive financial option for players wanting to come to England and willing to drop into a second-tier league, albeit one that is the fourth-best attended in Europe.
Just look at the Championship game between former Premier League teams Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough last week.
Middlesbrough’s goals in its 3-1 win were scored by an Italian (Diego Fabbrini), Uruguayan (Christian Stuani) and only one Englishman (Adam Reach).
The Wednesday goal was scored by Marco Matias, who joined for $2 million in the offseason from Portuguese club Nacional. The 26-year-old winger was not just a squad player at home. With 17 goals in 33 games, he was the fourth highest scorer in the Portuguese league. Wednesday is also managed by former Portuguese defender Carlos Carvalhal.
ON THE FLIP SIDE
With English clubs spraying cash across the continent in the search of players, selling clubs gain the financial firepower to embark on their own buying sprees.
While Wolfsburg worries about “a sellout”, the De Bruyne windfall from City allowed the club to break its own transfer record. Bundesliga rival Schalke was raided for the $40 million-signing of World Cup winner Julian Draxler and $5 million was spent capturing defender Dante from Bayern Munich.
And while Leverkusen sold Son Heung-min to Tottenham for more than $30 million, around a third of that was reinvested in the recruitment of Javier Hernandez from Manchester United. The Mexico striker was surplus to requirements at Old Trafford after United bought 19-year-old forward Anthony Martial from French club Monaco for a fee reported to be as low as $56 million and as high as $90 million.
But this migration of talent to England has not turned the country’s teams into all-conquering world-beaters. Far from it.
The last English winner of a European trophy was Chelsea in the 2013 Europa League. And last season, for the first time in 22 years, England was not represented in the last eight of any European club competition.
There are currently two periods in each country where clubs can trade players. In Europe’s top leagues that is in January and the summer when deadline-day is usually the end of August.
International players’ union FIFPro wants transfers allowed throughout the year. The hope is that would restore some calm to deal-making, eliminating a degree of hysteria in a market where transfers are often now scrambled over the line as the deadlines approach, leaving selling clubs little or no time to sign replacements for several months.
“The transfer window has done the reverse of what it set out to do,” FIFPro’s Barnes said. “It’s not created stability and has not taken the heat out of transfer market. People are paying a premium to get deals done before the window closes.
“It would be healthier to close the windows because what you’d stop is big spikes of activity at these particular times.”
For Oliver Bierhoff, the German national team’s general manager, the answer could be to introduce salary caps or an American-style weighted draft system where the weakest teams get the first pick of players.
“Even if I would be reluctant to intervene in the free market, I am a friend of the American system,” Bierhoff said.
AP sports writers Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt, Germany and Sam Petrequin in Paris contributed to this report.
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