There has never been a summer like it: It isn't just that more money has been spent than ever before, but also that the profile of the players top clubs are buying has changed.
In the past, players were nervous to switch clubs one year before a World Cup. But now, with Champions League squads bulging and players desperate not to miss out on a chance of playing in Brazil 2014 (which, despite the issues thrown up during the country's hosting of the Confederations Cup, already has a mythical status), they are on the move and in some cases happy to drop a level, in order to guarantee playing-time and the chance to impress their national coach. Here are some thoughts from a crazy transfer window:
Stop complaining: Club presidents claim not to like it, coaches trying to keep their best players moan about it, and fans worried about not signing new stars can't relax until it happens. And yet every fan, player, coach and president knew three months ago that the window would shut on September 2. Everyone. That's why Manchester City could afford a wry smile on Saturday night after beating Hull City thanks to a goal from Alvaro Negredo (signed, July 19) and an impressive performance from Fernandinho (signed June 7). It may have paid slightly over the going-rate for both men, but that expenditure is made up for by the value of having those players settled, integrated and ready to go for the start of the season. They already know their roles, their teammates, and their new surroundings: for the sake of a few million (which these days means frighteningly little), surely buying early makes sense?
This week, football has provided a Wild West version of the NFL Draft -- which is an established part of the NFL season to get clubs and fans geared up for the new campaign. Was United really represented by impostors in its efforts to sign Ander Herrera? Who got the better deal from Real Madrid -- Spurs, with its world record fee for Gareth Bale, or Arsenal, in signing Mesut Ozil? And how many of his former players did Harry Redknapp end up signing?
There are winners and losers, crazy bids and unlikely movers: but above all, it's a fun part of the season. Why else would people take a day off work to focus on a sporting occasion that includes no actual sport to watch?
Top clubs backing youth: It may be that Financial Fair Play is a misnomer, and not fair at all; it may be that UEFA doesn't even know what punishments to hand out for clubs that fail to comply with the new regulations when it can dish out sanctions at the end of the season. But one thing we can tell from the signings that top clubs have made this summer: they are targeting potential first. An investigation in France Football this week split the spenders into two distinct categories, the top tiers and the chasing pack.
We can define the top tier as the real contenders for the Champions League—and those clubs signed young talents: Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), Andre Schurrle (Chelsea), Marquinhos (PSG), Henryk Mkhitaryan (Borussia Dortmund), Neymar (Barcelona), Gareth Bale, Isco and Asier Illaremendi (Real Madrid). All of those players are 24 or younger and cost over $31m. Remember that when Real Madrid last broke the transfer world record on signing Cristiano Ronaldo, he had won the Premier League, the Champions League and the Ballon D'Or. By comparison, Bale has played just one season in the Champions League.
The next tier down, the contenders, spent a lot of their money on experience, with the likes of Roberto Soldado, 28, (Spurs), Radamel Falcao, 27, (Monaco) and Negredo, 28 (Man City) all moving. These clubs want to be part of the elite, and are forced to pay the price. It has become a side-effect of FFP: As the elite group shrinks, the price to break into it grows.
Huge spending in England: It's boom-time in England, where the latest TV deal negotiated by the Premier League is worth around $3.1 billion per year, which means that even clubs who finish in the bottom three will bank over $93m. That explains why so many clubs, including Cardiff, Southampton, Norwich, West Ham and Spurs, three times over, have smashed their transfer record this season. Some are risking a lot on wages too: one side whose self-stated aim is to stay up has spent three times more on the salary of one player than a top-five club is paying an established international.
The number of transfers may have dropped by a small figure, but the amount spent has increased by an astonishing 39 percent according to France Football. And with English clubs spending over $930m on new players, they are at the forefront of this wave. However, only three English players moved for over $9.3m (Andy Carroll, Steven Caulker and Dwight Gayle).
Next come the Spanish clubs with $590m, almost half of which was spent by Real Madrid. The rest? Mainly by Barcelona but beyond it and Atletico Madrid, no other side spent over $6.6m on a player.
Will we see a repeat of this summer? I can't see it happening: FFP's two-year monitoring period ends this season while the World Cup is 11 months away. There is one other factor that has had a big impact on the market this summer; the fact that seven of the richest clubs in the world have employed new coaches this summer. It's a bizarre merry-go-round that has happened at the same time and seen Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Barcelona, Bayern, Real Madrid and PSG all have new bosses. They each come with a wish-list of players, and when it gets to the stage of Jose Mourinho complaining about "economic sharks", you know something strange is afoot.
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