What the summer transfer window means for English football amid Covid-19


During a pandemic, a season potentially without matchday supporters and a projected loss of £700 million, investment in Premier League first team squads is clearly not something which has been sacrificed as a result of huge financial uncertainty.

Once again, the notions of disparity between the Premier League and the English Football League have been solidified; somewhat of a transfer spending spree this summer brushed past the proposed £250 million needed to bail out the EFL.

In one sense, the Premier League transfer window was a huge success with 401 deals totalling a whopping £1.45 billion.

Squads were able to strengthen in depth with the champions Liverpool securing superstar midfielder Thiago Alcântara from Bayern Munich for a healthy £20 million fee alongside £41 million-rated Diogo Jota from Wolves.

Perhaps the biggest winners this transfer window were Chelsea who, although didn’t quite manage to sign Lionel Messi, completed a few lucrative deals to really challenge for the title this year. Aside from the headlines of free transfer Thiago Silva for their defence, £72 million Kai Havertz was possibly the most exciting addition to their attack.

Manchester City also splashed the cash on two defenders and even newly promoted Leeds spent big in the transfer window with their priorities being to retain their Premier League spot.

Once again, the notions of disparity between the Premier League and the English Football League have been solidified.

The real issues become clear when we look to Arsenal. In August, the Kroenke Sports and Entertainment owned club made 55 redundancies due to the pandemic having ‘explored every aspect of club expenditure.’ Not to mention the temporary redundancy of Gunnersaurus, who was miraculously saved by Mesut Ӧzil and his £350,000 a week wage.

In spite of this, a month later, Arsenal spent big on the final day of the transfer window blowing £45 million on Thomas Partey from Atlético Madrid.

Where Arsenal saved in the axing of a lot of their recruitment workforce and minor cuts to player wages, expenditure in the transfer window was largely unaffected. This pattern was similar for a lot of top flight football clubs.

Within the Premier League, matchday earnings contributed to only 13% of total revenue compared to 59% for broadcast and 28% for commercial. It is this factor which points to why clubs aren’t willing to back down in bidding for their next starlet in the transfer market.

It seems that if a pandemic cannot change the ever-growing inflation of spending within the transfer market, then nothing will.

Maintaining and growing a strong, attractive squad, which is more important now than ever, is the key to securing remunerative amounts from broadcasting companies and advertising campaigns.

This paints a much bleaker picture for English football on the whole. Lower league sides simply don’t have access to the goldmine of broadcasting deals. With a much higher percentage of revenue generated from matchday sales, it is hard to see a way out for clubs at the bottom of the football pyramid without major government or Premier League intervention.

The Premier League seem generally unphased by the prospect of many EFL clubs falling into administration. It is generally more focused on its own financial crunch and the problems that poses for the league and owners alike.

However, a recent proposal by Manchester United and Liverpool would see a huge shake-up of English football. The ‘Project Big Picture’ plan would see a quarter of the League’s broadcast revenue go to the EFL. This may be some progress in making the football pyramid more economically viable, though nothing is set in stone.

The 13% loss of revenue in the Premier League may not sound like a huge sum but proposed measures indicate that the league is fully concentrated on making up for the absence of footfall in stadiums this season. Last week a ‘pay-per-view’ system was announced whereby any game not shown by typical broadcasters would be streamed for a £14.95 charge.

The pay-per-view scheme is onerous on football fans who are tackling their own financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It is has been branded ‘a really bad move’ by ex-footballer and pundit Gary Neville.

Coupled with the outrageous spending in the transfer window, the scheme has highlighted existing ideas that the Premier League is out of touch with English football’s working-class roots as it becomes more and more commercialised in the midst of the pandemic.

It seems that if a pandemic cannot change the ever-growing inflation of spending within the transfer market, then nothing will.

Image: Ronnie Macdonald via Creative Commons

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