How the coronavirus crisis is impacting on football's transfer market
Premier League budgets could be decimated by lost TV revenue, scouts unable to complete due diligence, financial survival of the fittest as player prices are driven down… How the coronavirus crisis is impacting football’s transfer market
- Football remains in lockdown as the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic
- Uncertainty over schedules and budgets will impact the transfer market
- Premier League clubs fear lost TV revenue could blow a hole in their budgets
- Most clubs are pushing on with scouting and drawing up shortlists of targets
- Some struggling clubs will have little choice but to sell players at cut-price rates
- Overlapping contracts amid an extended season could cause clubs a headache
The impact of the deadly coronavirus pandemic on football is already being felt far and wide with leagues suspended, players and staff forced to take wage cuts, and little certainty on when the action will restart.
What’s already becoming clear is that the coronavirus will have enormous implications for football’s transfer market, budgets, player contracts and summer recruitment as club finances take a battering.
The Premier League transfer window is still scheduled to open on June 10 but it’s looking increasingly likely that matches from the current campaign will still be taking place then.
How will the coronavirus crisis affect football’s transfer market this summer and potential moves such as Jadon Sancho’s return to the Premier League?
Clubs are still doing their best to complete due diligence on summer targets, draw up shortlists and make initial enquiries to players and their agents.
But all of this activity is taking place against a backdrop of uncertainty about when, or if, football will return to normality and what the ramifications of the coronavirus will be.
Sportsmail takes a closer look at how Covid-19 is affecting football’s transfer market.
There is a consensus among Premier League clubs that the summer transfer window will be extended as the beginning of the 2020-21 season is put back.
As Britain struggles to contain the coronavirus, with death tolls mounting, it’s obvious that no football will be played for several weeks, even months.
There is a collective effort within football to get matches back on as soon as it’s safe to do so, even if that means playing behind closed doors for a television audience, because it signifies a return to some kind of normality.
But there will be a knock-on effect in terms of the transfer window, with one proposal to extend it from the end of the current campaign through until January.
It’s almost a throwback to the pre-2003 days of the year-round transfer market before FIFA introduced the window system.
Birmingham City’s Jude Bellingham has been touted with a summer move elsewhere
The majority of clubs, especially at the top end of the Premier League, won’t alter the transfer priorities already identified for the summer window.
Their aims in terms of which positions need strengthening won’t be affected by the shutdown – for example West Ham want a right back and Southampton a defensive midfielder – but the money they have available to spend on those targets could change.
It all depends on the colossal sums Premier League clubs receive from the television companies and whether this income, which they will all have budgeted for already, is received in full.
TV companies both at home and overseas could demand rebates totalling £762million if the season isn’t completed by a contractual cut-off of July 16.
Premier League clubs could see budgets significantly affected if the influential television rights holders refuse to pay up during the current coronavirus shutdown
It goes without saying this could blow an enormous hole in the clubs’ intended transfer budgets. They would have to be slashed across the board if the TV income is withheld.
Some identified targets will have to be forgotten about, while some out of contract players may have to be retained as opposed to replacing them.
Some clubs will need to countenance selling players if the expected TV money doesn’t arrive in order to recoup vital funds.
For example, Liverpool’s Adam Lallana has strong interest from Leicester and Chelsea’s Willian is on the radar of Tottenham, but their clubs may ultimately choose the cheaper option of retaining them.
Crystal Palace expect Wilfried Zaha to leave over the summer and have identified three replacements including Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin.
Crystal Palace could see Wilfried Zaha depart this summer with replacements lined up
But coronavirus is casting doubt on all transfer market activity for the time being.
‘Football is a bit like a merry-go-round where you have got the cash from the media rights driving the growth in wages, in expenditure and in transfer fees,’ Trevor Watkins, Global Head of Sport at Pinsent Masons law firm told Sportsmail.
‘It is a fair assumption that every club, every league has budgeted on the basis of “this is the money coming in, this is the money coming out”, and now the merry-go-round has come to a juddering halt.
‘So in this cataclysmic situation where a large number of European teams may not be able to make their payments, the fairest way forward would be for leagues to ensure each club is protected.
‘That could be by way of automatically extending the period under which transfer fees are to be paid or, in an extreme situation, a UEFA-led solution that comes up with a suspended animation mechanism where transfer obligations are put on hold.’
Clubs will continue to use this time to forward plan given that targets will have long been identified – before December in many cases.
But completing the necessary due diligence on any player has become significantly harder in the absence of any live football.
Scouts will be making use of working from home to watch players and compile reports using platforms such as WyScout, which features an archive of video clips of matches at all levels of the game.
That’s fine for assessing attributes but in person scouting at live games is required to build up a personality and character profile of a player, which is just as important to gain the full picture.
Arsenal’s Under 23 side play Monaco before the shutdown – opportunities for scouts to watch players live have disappeared, meaning due diligence on transfer targets is difficult
One scout explains: ‘The clips show certain aspects but you need to be at the game to assess how they react to certain situations. For example, do they track back, how do they respond to a tackle?
‘It makes things considerably more difficult. There will be clubs who’d planned on watching targets between now and the end of the season to complete due diligence and this leaves them in a real predicament.’
And the postponement of Euro 2020 and the Olympics until next year has removed to prime scouting opportunities for the top level players.
Nonetheless, most of the homework has already been completed and most clubs will have whittled their longlist of players in a certain position down to a three-man shortlist by now.
Indeed, Newcastle had meetings with scouts on Monday over potential signings… the same day the club announced staff were to be furloughed.
The leading clubs will be using the down time to remind key targets that they remain very much in their thoughts – an effort to keep the wheels turning.
This will be the case with Manchester United and summer targets Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham, for example. There will be regular contact with agents to keep things going.
One negotiations are underway, the face-to-face discussions currently precluded by social distancing and travel restrictions aren’t really essential in this day and age.
Jack Grealish, the Aston Villa captain, has been strongly linked with a move to Man United
The nuts and bolts of most transfer deals are done over WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype anyway.
But one leading agents reported to Sportsmail that things are ‘very quiet’ at present than usually would be the case in April because of the uncertainty.
Another told Sportsmail: ‘Things are moving at the moment but we’re not far above a standstill. It’s difficult to get traction on deals. Clubs will talk but they just don’t know when the window will open and what their budgets will be.’
We could be about to see a survival of the fittest in the transfer market as a consequence of the coronavirus crisis with clubs of all sizes hit in the pocket.
Some will have to sell assets now when this previously wasn’t the case with the potential for a firesale at some of the clubs in Italy, Germany and France that have been crippled financially already.
French club Lille, for example, are prepared to sell their talented Nigerian forward Victor Osimhen but are asking £80million, which is fantasy.
Lille are asking £80m for their Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen but, like many clubs impacted financially by the coronavirus, they will have to lower their price
But other prime players such as Sancho will retain their £100m value and will be subject to plenty of interest, with Man United and Chelsea linked.
But the value of most players is likely to be driven down. For example, Everton are close to a deal with Lille’s Gabriel Magalhaes but are letting it drift in the hope of getting a better price.
Some hope this will be the reset needed in the market after years of inflated transfer fees, especially when it comes to Premier League clubs, who often pay more than their European rivals.
However, Watkins believes lower prices ‘will prove a short-lived blip.’
He adds: ‘At this present moment, there is a lot of goodwill about. Everyone is looking for solutions and trying to find a way forward that works for everybody.
‘But that period may well be short-lived because deadlines are arising and payments are having to be made.’
And the lower league clubs that are still hoping for a handout from the richer Premier League will have to remember this won’t be forgotten when the larger clubs come to cherry-pick their best talent.
One major concern within the game is that the majority of player contracts and loan deals will expire on June 30 and it appears inevitable the season will now go beyond that.
The greatest complication is those players who have already signed contracts with new clubs for next season and will have an overlap. One example is Hakim Ziyech, set to join Chelsea from Ajax on July 1.
But FIFPRO, the world players’ union, is optimistic of a ‘harmonised solution’ that would see contracts extended until the day the season actually finishes.
Ajax’s flying winger Hakim Ziyech officially becomes a Chelsea player on July 1 but this could cause issues if the season is extended beyond that point
‘You could very much argue that the spirit of the contract is that it runs until the season is over and a new contract starts with a new season,’ said FIFPRO general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann.
‘Nevertheless, there are legal obstacles with mandating such an extension and we are very concerned that we might end up in a situation where [clubs] pick and choose who is being retained for the last couple of months of the season and who is not.’
Watkins believes the vast majority of players will fall in step: ‘You may get one of two people who want to challenge their contractual position but you should get wholesale buy-in to a revised timetable to accommodate everybody.’
FIFA has also been working up a plan to help mitigate some of the problems caused by the pandemic.
With regard to contracts, they propose that expiring contracts should be extended until the new end date of the season with new contracts pushed back until the start date of the new season.
In the case of overlapping seasons, ‘priority must be given to the former club to complete their season with their original squad.’ Loans would also be extended.
FIFA say they intend to approve all requests for transfer windows to be pushed back with the specific member associations to fix the specific dates.
It is hoped this FIFA-driven proposal will help smooth some of the many issues being thrown up by these extraordinary times.
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