Premier League clubs put aside virus crisis for transfer splurge

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Chelsea is leading the way with a £200 million ($260 million) rebuild as English top-flight is again splashing the cash. AFP

Just five months after Premier League clubs consulted their players about taking a 30 per cent wage cut, the English top-flight is again blowing Europe’s other top leagues out the water when it comes to splashing the cash.

A return to the routine spending of tens of millions of pounds on players jars with the bleak forecasts often presented by the clubs themselves as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the height of the pandemic, Liverpool and Tottenham planned to use government money to pay non-playing staff, only to back down in the face of public anger, while Arsenal announced proposals to cut 55 jobs just last month.

If Premier League clubs require a reminder that Covid-19 remains a threat, they need only look to the empty stands that will accompany the start of the new season from Saturday.

Gate receipts may only account for 13 per cent of the Premier League’s revenue, according to figures from Uefa’s latest benchmarking report, but the other major streams of income such as television rights and commercial sponsorships are also not immune to the crisis.

A rebate worth a reported £330 million ($429 million) was due to domestic and international broadcasters because the 2019/20 season was not completed on time after a three-month stoppage to the campaign.

Last week the Premier League announced its deal with Chinese streaming platform PPTV, understood to be worth about $700 million, had been cancelled, with political tensions between Britain and China potentially making a new contract difficult to negotiate.

European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli said on Tuesday that rebates owed to Champions League and Europa League broadcasters totalled $681 million, warning football was in “crisis-management” mode.

Agnelli, who is also the chairman of Italian champions Juventus, said the overall value of the transfer market could plummet by up to one third.

Big-spending Chelsea

Yet no such downturn has been noticeable among Premier League clubs.

Chelsea have led the way with a £200 million rebuild, signing Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell.

Manchester City have spent more than £60 million on two players in Nathan Ake and Ferran Torres who will struggle to start in Pep Guardiola’s strongest XI, while Donny van de Beek could end up costing Manchester United around £40 million.

Even more striking are the sums spent by non-Champions League clubs.

Wolves broke their transfer record on a €40 million ($47.5 million) capture, Portuguese teenager Fabio Silva, who had scored three goals and started one league match for Porto.

After spells together at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, James Rodriguez and Carlo Ancelotti have been reunited at Everton, who have also signed midfielders Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure. The outlay for the three players is around £64 million.

Leeds announced their return to the Premier League by signing Spanish international Rodrigo and Germany’s Robin Koch.

Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Leicester are also among those to have spent around £20 million on a single signing.

By contrast, even giants across Europe such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus are selling and seeking to cut wage costs.

The Premier League’s lavish spending is due to a number of factors. Chelsea are making up for lost time after a transfer ban last summer, while they are also among the clubs seeking to make the most of a buyer’s market.

For others such as Everton, the relaxation of financial fair play rules gives wealthy owners more opportunity to back their clubs.

The Premier League’s TV deals worth around £3 billion a season are an even bigger economic advantage at a time when matchday and commercial revenue are shrinking.

But the rebates show how hundreds of millions can be wiped out, with the coronavirus threatening more disruption in the coming season.

Should a lack of caution in the transfer window come back to hurt Premier League clubs, there will be little sympathy shown from across the continent.