It is an unusual summer indeed in which the most intriguing football transfers take place in France, as Paris St-Germain's Carlo Ancelotti encourages the club's Qatari owners to invest their money in expensive new players. Calm before the storm elsewhere? Possibly, and as the calendar pages turn over into August this week there will no doubt be a greater sense of urgency all over Europe. Yet a widespread belief is that the combination of global economic crisis and Financial Fair Play regulations are having a dampening effect on the buying and selling of footballers.
That was the conclusion of a significant report last week from Fifa, analysing transfers in the first six months of the year. There were nine per cent fewer of them than in the corresponding period of 2011 and, more importantly, fees were down by no less than 34 per cent.
"The overriding factor behind that drop is surely the international recession and the impact it has had on professional clubs," the report stated. "In addition, wealth is now overwhelmingly concentrated among a select few national associations, while Uefa's Financial Fair Play regulations are prompting sides to act more prudently."
Most of them, anyway. PSG, who spent extravagantly last season after being taken over by the Qatar Investment Authority but were still pipped to the French title by unfashionable Montpellier, appear to be taking no heed whatever of FFP. They spent £24 million on Napoli's much admired Ezequiel Lavezzi, then added Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva for a combined £51m in a move as significant for football in Italy as in France. It left Silvio Berlusconi, the Milan president, boasting about how much one of Italy's great powerhouses would save on their salaries.
Stefan Szymanski, the academic and author of Soccernomics, points out that Italian and Spanish clubs are particularly vulnerable at present. "The Eurozone crisis must hurt the southern European leagues, and both Italy and Spain must be concerned about their income," he said. "Spanish clubs have to deal with the debts they owe to the taxman, and this should – though I'm not saying it will – inhibit their spending."
What of the Premier League, established for some time now as the richest in the world? Szymanski says: "It has more money than anyone else to spend, but the two clubs with the biggest incentives to invest at the moment, Man United and Arsenal, seem committed to austerity. That might change if the right player became available. Man City and Chelsea are not likely to have a big blow-out in the short term."
City's Roberto Mancini, it appears, would like nothing more than a blow-out, complaining in the past few days: "This year will be harder than last so we need to improve the team. I am not in charge of this." The man who is, former Arsenal winger Brian Marwood, is adamant that amid the first monitoring period of FFP, City must dispose of several high earners before enlisting any more on the payroll. In that, they are one step further on than PSG, the other major European club with theoretically limitless Middle Eastern resources.
The problem City face is that having followed Chelsea in sending the going rate for salaries rocketing over the past few seasons, they find it difficult to convince an Emmanuel Adebayor or a Wayne Bridge that they really would be better off elsewhere. Thus Bridge, finally persuaded to move on loan to Brighton, is having part of his wages paid by the champions, as Adebayor was at Tottenham last season. However, to do the same with Adebayor if Spurs were to buy him outright, as reports recently suggested, would be unlawful, as a form of third party ownership. The champions must therefore accept lower fees than they desire, or remain stuck with unwanted players.
Chelsea have managed to offload a couple of seniors in Didier Drogba to Shanghai Shenhua (no FFP applies to the booming Chinese market) and Salomon Kalou (to Lille), while buying younger replacements. Elsewhere, much depends on Arsenal's Robin van Persie and Tottenham's Luka Modric, whose joint fees would dent any theory that the market is dead. Juventus and Real Madrid respectively would happily make light of Eurozone worries by removing that duo from north London, at which point Madrid would release the Brazilian misfit Kaka, who once cost them more than £50m and is now coveted by PSG.
In that way, money would continue to circulate within the game in time-honoured fashion, minus the sums creamed off by agents. Says Szymanski: "There are reasons to think that economic activity should be decreasing. But the big economic issue in football is not control of transfer spending but control of wages. This is what drives most clubs into insolvency." The next Fifa review, once this window is closed, may still make interesting reading.
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