Welcome to the first episode of Real Football. In today’s episode, Bassam Haddad, Matt Atteberry, and Samer Abboud discuss the evolution of the transfer system and how legal changes in the 1990s turned transfers into the multi-billion Euro spending bonanza we see today. We consider how Gulf capital sustains this spending and the role that it has played in building instant winners in European football, such as Manchester City. The many downsides of the high levels of Gulf spending in European football are also explored, before discussion shifts to the ongoing tensions at Real Madrid and what they mean for the coming season. Real’s Catalan rivals Barcelona and the potential of a Neymar return rounds out the discussion. Keep an ear out for which current player reminds one of the hosts of a deceased champion racehorse. You won’t want to miss it.
Future episodes will address a variety of topics, including Women’s Football Matters, MLS Woes, the State of Arab National Teams, and more. Should you have any comments or contributions, please send an email to email@example.com.
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Bassam Haddad is Director of the Middle East Studies Program and Associate Professor at the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs (SPGIA) at George Mason University.
Samer Abboud is Associate Professor in Global Interdisciplinary Studies at Villanova University who fell in love with the game of football after Alexi Lalas’ 1994 World Cup performance. Up the Reds!
Matt Atteberry is a George Mason alumnus who eats, breathes, and sleeps football. Just don’t ask him to play because he’s clumsier than newborn deer on ice skates. When he’s not complaining about defenders, drawing formations, or looking up obscure facts, he’s reading a book with a cup of coffee. Come on You Spurs.
The abolition of foreign player caps (the three-player rule) and the creation of the free transfer as a part of the Bosman ruling by the European Court of Justice opened the financial floodgates for teams to add more top foreign talent than previously allowed.
One of the other factors motivating increased transfer spending is asset-rich ownership both private (Roman Abramovich) and state conglomerates (Qatar Sports Investment & City Sports Group of the U.A.E. led by Sheikh Mansour).
Since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of Manchester City in 2008, they along with seven other clubs including QSI’s Paris Saint-Germain have spent over 1 billion Euros on player purchases.
These clubs are some of the main drivers of the hyperinflation of the transfer market in recent years.
In 1996-1997 the top ten transfer spenders, spent a cumulative 263 million Euros approximately. Now, individual teams are breaching that entire threshold by themselves. For year by year statistics on spending go to www.transfermarkt.com
This window, transfer spending for all teams in top European Leagues by UEFA Coefficient passed the 5 billion Euro mark, despite grumblings about player costs.
Two transfers that are emblematic of the current hyper-monetized climate are Gareth Bale’s move to Real Madrid, the first player sale to breach 100 million Euros and Neymar’s move to PSG the first and only player to go over the 200 million Euro marker.
One unintended consequence of all of this player movement and all the money being spent has been that players, even those under long-term contract have left for new clubs’ mere months after signing these extensions. The necessity of spending in order to compete led to several notable fiscal meltdowns (Fiorentina and Leeds United being the starkest examples).
On the flipside to destitution, the new ultra-rich owners have made Manchester City and PSG rise from obscurity to the forefront of club competitions in Europe.
The big money is not without it’s problems, due to the way business is conducted UEFA has instituted what are called Financial Fair Play Regulations, which in addition to keeping clubs from going for financial broke without consequence, also are intended to make it harder for team owners to pump their own money in to cook the books.
See below for the changes in transfer expeditures over the last decade. Left: 1996/7 - Right: 2019/20. Source: transfermarkt.com