By Tony Attwood
It is self-evident that clubs are paying ever more for the top players they perceive they need, as in the Premier League there is a feeling among at least nine clubs that a top seven finish, and hence Champions League or Europa League, is not only possible, but for their financial well being but is essential for the economic model and PR profile.
Indeed the news that the Premier League is almost certain to get an extra place in next season’s Champions League, means that there is even more push now to get into the top five, with clubs finishing sixth and seventh in the Europa and the eighth club going into the Conference.
Indeed UEFA has suggested that they are looking for a “rise in revenue generated by European competitions by about 33% within the next couple of years. The Champions League currently brings in £3.13bn – they aim is to take this up a lot further.
The changes we are starting to see come through have come about through negotiations with the clubs that formed the Super League and these developments were basically the price they demanded for staying with Uefa. Since Uefa without the top clubs is nothing, Uefa had few cards to play in reply and so agreed that the number of teams in the Champions League will increase from 32 to 36, thus taking the number of games up from 125 to 189 with the group stage being replaced by a league in one year’s time.
Of course, the clubs in the Premier League but not part of the enlarged European structure will seem like outsiders. That won’t worry clubs like Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Luton Town or Burnley – their prime task is to avoid relegation. But for the rest, Europe is now moving from being a target to an essential.
So clubs are buying more players, and in order to manage the FFP regulations (by writing down the value of a player over a larger number of years) are giving players ever longer contracts – which will pile up problems for the future, if the market in players takes a dip.
As a result, I don’t think we have ever seen clubs quite so overloaded with players as they are now, and that means a lot of players are going to be available at cut prices or as discounted loans in the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is not totally free to buy anyone any time the state-funded clubs want, as Al-Nassr has found, having been banned from signing players over ‘outstanding debts’. However the SA transfer deadline does not end until 20 September, and what will happen in the last three weeks of that window with no competition from English clubs, no one knows.
There again, the situation at Barcelona is still not clear with their income dramatically down as they rebuild the stadium, and their arrangements for getting future earnings counted in the current financial year not being allowed by the League. If their creditors get edgy, that could have huge knock on effects.
But Fifa, which could control matters, are not doing anything about the escalation of transfers, since it benefits from the situation. As we pointed out, it now has its own bank and has insisted that all transfers move through that bank – which makes ever more money for Fifa.
Thus clubs are making guesses on how it is best for them to behave – with life made more complex because there is a new loan system in place with the aim of helping young players develop, while stopping rich clubs buying them all up and having them just sitting on the bench.
Indeed Chelsea currently have a first-team squad of 32, according to Transfermkt of whom three are under 21. Arsenal also have a squad of 32 players, with none showing as being under 21. And yet the rule of 25 players over the age of 21 is still in place.
And this season the most players over the age of 21 who can be loaned at any time drops from eight to seven and there are new regulations restricting the loan of players across countries – but no one seems quite sure how it will affect clubs. But certainly, there are plans to bring in a limit on the number of loans a club can be involved in, and a control on the length of time of loans. There is even a new rule coming in, in one year’s time, which will limit the number of loans between the same two clubs.
The aim of all the loan scheme changes is to stop clubs hoarding young players just in case they are needed, or to use the loan system as a way of advertising players that they might fancy getting rid of at the next transfer window.
And as with all changes, no one quite knows how it will all work out. Unintended consequences are always something to watch out for, especially as it is all starting to look a little bit out of control.
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