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Losses to ripple across Europe if transfer market stalls


Nicolas Pepe was among the 2019 Premier League signings from Lille

Nicolas Pepe was among the 2019 Premier League signings from Lille

AFP via Getty Images

Nicolas Pepe was among the 2019 Premier League signings from Lille

Another seven days in English football's coronavirus crisis and it feels like a long time since last weekend when selected Premier League players were given the hard sell across 12 slides on how they might save the game by donating up to 30 per cent of one year's salary.

Unlike many of the investment ideas marked for the attention of footballers in recent years - tax relief opportunities in the movie industry, racehorses of dubious pedigree - this one did not disguise the likely outcome. It was a cost, with no upside other than saving half the £1.137 billion the game was projected to lose.

Seven days on and only two clubs have struck any kind of wage agreement, those 10 per cent, three-month deferrals at Southampton and a non-specified figure slightly higher at West Ham. No word yet as to whether last week's document, 'Covid-19 impact on the Premier League, the Clubs and on Player Remuneration', is officially still on the table, or whether it is largely off the table and relocated to the recycling bins at the end of some very long driveways. It seems that way.

The players have decided they want to see a real crisis before they come back to the negotiating table and, judging by the clubs' moods, that is exactly what they intend to give them.

In the meantime the search goes on for somewhere to play the remaining games of 2019-2020, with the consequences of not finishing the season only matched by the doomsday scenario of not starting the next. Games cannot be played at training grounds because broadcasters do not have the necessary cabling infrastructure in place, and without television there is no point anyway. The proposal to quarantine teams and officials in hotels in football's equivalent of the nuclear bunker has so far come up against the not-insignificant problem that all hotels, save those for key workers, are currently closed.

They could dispense with the football and broadcast the quarantined hotel as an alternative reality-television show and you have to wonder how soon before Daniel Levy suggests it.

Elsewhere in Europe the darkness rolls in. Not least in Scotland where Rangers called for the suspension of SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster yesterday over the botched voting process to find a resolution to the Scottish league. In Spain, Barca's governance is in flames with the resignation of six directors on Thursday in protest at president Jose Maria Bartomeu. England's Football League clubs are already sounding the sirens of distress.

All over the game the fault lines of mutual distrust, weak governance and seat-of-the-pants investment are being exposed.

English clubs spent £1.2 billion in 2019 on international transfers, the highest of any FIFA nation in the world and around £200m more than Spain in second place. The English game's net spend was £441m, again the highest in the world, far in excess of Spain in second place on £300m. English clubs were the biggest clients for clubs in France (£318m), Spain (£214m), Italy and Germany (both £168m). They were part of six of the 10 most lucrative transfer streams in world football between two different countries, either buying or selling. What happens to the Premier League's income over the next few months will have an effect throughout Europe.

English football is fond of overstating its importance in the game but as an economic driver it has no equal. If that £1.137 billion loss predicted by the Premier League last weekend comes to pass then it will have a seismic effect, but already it has blown a hole in the budgets of many in Europe. The transfer market is the redistribution of the English game's wealth around Europe primarily, and the fees for 2019 signings like Joelinton from Hoffenheim, Nicolas Pepe from Lille and Rodri from Atletico Madrid form part of the business plans of their clubs.

There will be no spending this summer on anything like the scale that many will have anticipated; instead English clubs will have to assess how they meet their existing obligations for transfers. There is no warning bell yet that they will not be able to meet their payments in full. Any disruption to that market will have a potentially ruinous domino effect, which is why FIFA has no option but to oversee it.

The cost to the Premier League, whenever it is finally counted, will be the cost to European football too. This was the last summer before the English game's biggest clubs expected to be freed from current work permit restrictions in the post-Brexit landscape, which have largely prevented them buying direct from South America. In short it was what many European clubs, especially those who had shrewdly traded as a middle-man for South American talent going to the Premier League, had hoped would be their last big payday.

Since the players were approached unsuccessfully last week, it is hard to discern the progress made by the English game in seeking an answer to its problems in this second week of April, as the death toll rises and the lockdown continues. Its grassroots game is at crisis point, the EFL has told the players' union that many of its League One and Two clubs cannot meet their April payroll. The only answer so far seems to be to get the games on but, in the heart of the pandemic, no one can yet say when or how.


Sunday Indo Sport