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Covid-19: Why football transfers will be different this year

  • European clubs spent billions in the 2019 transfer window. With the pandemic's financial impact, there won't be a repeat this year

Chelsea are favourites to sign Kai Havertz from Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen this summer. Alamy
Chelsea are favourites to sign Kai Havertz from Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen this summer. Alamy

Later today, Premier League clubs are expected to vote on the dates of the 2020 summer transfer window. A decision will be made on either opening the transfer window when the season concludes by 26 July or to close the window beyond October 5 which, as per a Sky Sports report, is against the recommendations of European football’s governing body UEFA.

Some clubs, however, have already made recruitment moves to get ready for what will be a different transfer window. In the last few days, clubs like Liverpool and Manchester City have clarified that certain players (Adam Lallana and John Stones in this case) will not be part of their plans for the 2020-21 season. Other clubs have tied down some members of the team to short- or long-term contract extensions.

Like almost everything around the world, the covid-19 pandemic has had a massive financial impact on football clubs. In the 2019 summer transfer window, Premier League clubs shelled out around $1.8 billion in transfer fees. The Spanish La Liga also set a new summer transfer spending record last year with an excess of 1 billion euros. It's unlikely that clubs will spend similar amounts this year.

Money matters

At the end of March, the Swiss-based CIES Football Observatory had predicted that player transfer values across the big five European leagues would fall by a staggering 28%, owing to multiple factors. This was based on the assumption that the leagues would not restart and player contracts would not be extended beyond June. While the Bundesliga, Serie A, Premier League and La Liga did eventually resume, the Ligue 1 in France was ended abruptly at the end of April, with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) awarded the title.

The financial stress on football clubs is evident. Manchester United, one of the world's richest clubs, indicated in April that club spendings this year might be limited. On the other end of the spectrum, Wigan Athletic, once a Premier League club and FA Cup winner, was financially devastated and entered administration on 1 July. Salaries were slashed and staff members at some clubs across Europe were put on furlough.

Staying put

Some of the biggest transfers that looked pretty much 'done deals' at the turn of the year run the risk of not being considered at all. Take the case of French midfielder Paul Pogba, who was all but certain to depart Manchester United this summer, with either Juventus or Real Madrid as possible destinations. But given the financial stress due to covid-19, the move looks more unlikely by the day.

Paul Pogba might agree to a new contract and stay on at Manchester United. Alamy
Paul Pogba might agree to a new contract and stay on at Manchester United. Alamy

Another reason is the blossoming partnership between the World Cup winner and Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes, whose arrival at the club in January has boosted their hope for Champions League qualification.

Brazilian Neymar’s return to Barcelona is another interesting scenario. The forward had left the Catalans three years ago for France’s PSG, in a world-record transfer worth $222 million. He has rarely seemed settled in Paris, which had fueled talks of a return to the Camp Nou. Earlier this month, Barcelona’s president Josep Bartomeu said any big-money transfers this year would be "unlikely" given the economic situation across clubs in Europe.

Putting the trust in youth

Having signed Germany striker Timo Werner, 24, from RB Leipzig for $59 million earlier this month, Chelsea are also favourites to sign another emerging young talent from the Bundesliga: Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz. At 21, Havertz already has close to 150 appearances for Leverkusen, but seems certain to leave Germany for Stamford Bridge this summer.

Signing young players that not only consolidate a team’s present but also come with better future sell-on value, is going to be another trend in this transfer window. The 17-year-old midfielder Jude Bellingham, who plays for Championship side Birmingham City, is another starlet being coveted by the likes of Germany’s Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United in England. Lyon’s 23-year-old striker Moussa Dembele is another name that is being linked to the likes of Arsenal and PSG. Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, 20, was widely expected to move to Manchester United this summer for more than a $100 million. But that might not be the case anymore.

If they’re good enough, they are old enough

If signing young players is turning out to be the flavour of the season ahead of this summer transfer window, nurturing homegrown talent is another trend visible across a host of football clubs. Newly-crowned Premier League champions Liverpool handed 17-year-old Harvey Elliot his first professional contract with the club earlier this month. In May 2019, Elliot became the youngest ever player to feature in England’s top flight. He looks set to be a part of Liverpool’s future alongside fellow teenager Curtis Jones, 19, who has also been tied down to a long-term contract.

Over in the red part of Manchester, it was looking increasingly likely that Jadon Sancho would make a big-money move to Manchester United, but the remarkable form and emergence of 18-year-old academy product Mason Greenwood could change that. Manchester City, meanwhile, have a like-for-like replacement for Spanish midfielder David Silva, 34, who will leave the club when the season ends, in rising star Phil Foden, 20. Similarly, Barcelona are also expected to hold on to their 17-year-old wonder-kid Ansu Fati, who became the youngest player ever to score a brace in La Liga, despite interest from other clubs.

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