There's a scene in the season eight premiere of Seinfeld that relates quite strongly to the months on the horizon in European soccer.
It revolves around George Costanza, who is hit with a few tantalizing could've-beens had his fiancee not died from licking toxic glue on their wedding invitation envelopes (the statute of limitations over the spoiler alert has long expired, folks).
He's in the boardroom at the foundation set up for his would-be wife, Susan Ross, when a list of items they were due to inherit from her wealthy family–a large portion of their estate and a massive townhouse among them–is read to him.
"So if Susan and I had ... I mean if the envelopes hadn't ... then we," George starts.
"Yes," the foundation's chairman responds.
The life of luxury that he could have enjoyed is a mere fleeting possibility now, and reality sets in that things are going to be quite less lucrative and joyous.
That takes us to recent remarks made by Ed Woodward, Manchester United's oft-criticized executive vice-chairman, who has overseen the club's transfer business. United, naturally, is being linked to nine-figure transfers for attacking reinforcements, but as Woodward suggests, they're just not going to happen. Not this summer–or whenever the transfer window reopens–anyway. Such is one of the significant dominoes of the ongoing pandemic, as they relate to world soccer.
"Nobody should be under any illusions about the scale of challenge facing everyone in football and it may not be 'business as usual' for any clubs, including ourselves, in the transfer market this summer," Woodward said. "As ever our priority is the success of [the team], but we need visibility of the impact across the whole industry, including timings of the transfer window, and the wider financial picture, before we can talk about a return to normality."
Say what you want about Woodward–and most Man United supporters have!–but he's plugged into the commercial realities facing the sport, and the fact of the matter is that the next transfer window won't be remotely similar to others.
No club furloughing its staff or accepting pay cuts from players and personnel can then turn around and splash $100,000,000+ on a single player before signing him to a deal that then pays astronomical wages. With the global economy in such a downward spiral and a full complement of matchday revenue unlikely to be coming in for quite some time, the financial flexibility that many clubs enjoyed is no longer there. That's not to say that behemoths like Manchester United, Real Madrid and others of that ilk are in the poorhouse, but it'll be a while before they're able to spend like they have been.
It's unfortunate timing for a number of players (and their agents) and clubs in position to profit from sales, and while they can still do business, the sizes of the paydays figure to shrink considerably as the transfer market adjusts to the times. Massive buyout clauses in contracts are unlikely to be able to be triggered, putting the onus on clubs to either reduce their expectations on sale returns or not sell at all and wait for things to return to whatever degree of normal is possible.
So with that said, here's a look at some of the major moves that could have transpired this summer, and now ... not.
- Borussia Dortmund is in a complicated spot. On one hand, it boasts some of the best rising talent on the planet. Jadon Sancho, 20, and Erling Haaland, 19, specifically, have drawn the eye of powerhouse clubs everywhere. If Joao Felix, at 19, could fetch $136 million from Atletico Madrid last summer in the third-most expensive transfer ever, just what might these two attacking standouts be able to command? Based on their output this season so far on the biggest stages and the level of clubs lining up to buy, the answer is probably in a similar range–perhaps even more if a bidding war between overeager superclubs ensues. And now ... not.
- Kylian Mbappe and Real Madrid teaming together always seemed like an inevitability. PSG paid a reported $195 million to sign the French sensation from Monaco in 2018 after his season on loan, and given what he's already accomplished and the fact that he's still only 21, there's talk of him being worth a world-record $300 million in the transfer market. He may still leave PSG, perhaps even for Real Madrid, where the link to French icon Zinedine Zidane is obvious (Mbappe once called Zidane his childhood idol), but that price tag is going to take a drastic hit. Neymar's world-record $240 million transfer to PSG once looked to be in serious jeopardy. And now ... not.
- Harry Kane's name had been floated as a potential $200 million player, even as he returns from another long-term injury layoff. The reasoning, as the story goes, for Tottenham's willingness to sell is its need to raise funds to pay off what it owes on its new stadium. Manchester United had been touted as the buyer that would spend at such a level–that is, until Woodward's remarks warning against the outlandish spending plenty were previously anticipating. Kane may have been one of the most expensive transfers of all time. And now ... not.
- In terms of a potential outgoing Manchester United player, Paul Pogba has been, for about two years now, been linked to a return to Juventus. Manchester United paid about $114 million to bring Pogba back to Old Trafford in 2016. Any chance of United had of recovering its investment was already fleeting, given Pogba's recent injury woes, his dearth of playing time in recent months and the lack of a Euro 2020 to potentially boost his stock. But there was still a glimmer of hope. And now ... not.
- Real Madrid still has spending power. One of its former managers, the well-traveled Fabio Capello, claims that of all the clubs in Spain, it's the one that stands to be impacted the least. Its Bernabeu renovations have been delayed, but the overall finances for the club remain in a good place. The club, as per usual, has been linked to just about everyone, from Haaland to Sancho to Kane to Mbappe to Sadio Mane and beyond. But just because Real Madrid may have some flexibility to buy doesn't mean everyone else will be selling at a value perceived to be lower than what they believe to be fair.
“The market will be revolutionized," Capello recently told Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Absurd amounts of money were utilized for signings. We will return to a more reasonable level. Intelligent managers will be necessary to fix the system. Egoism can be fatal.”
A summer's worth of outlandish transfers, centered on a rising generation of talent that is full of marketing and trophy potential.
And now ... not.