There are still five weeks to go before the transfer window closes and even though numerous clubs have still to address their problem areas and nail down their priority targets the Premier League has already broken the billion pound barrier. This frenzied spending on an unprecedented level has unsurprisingly resulted in media condemnation and widespread moral disgust which in turn has inevitably been countered by clearer heads espousing calm. The money isn’t actually being spent, some claim, but rather it’s swishing around between clubs. They can afford it, others insist, so where is the harm?
Each point is incontestably true, at least to an extent. When the new £5.14 billion UK TV deal was struck and announced in 2015 everyone knew that transfer spending would wildly increase as a consequence and sure enough that summer saw an astonishing £859m splurged across the Premier League with Manchester City alone investing in £153m of new talent. With the television revenue not yet actually distributed perhaps here was the time to worry as clubs were essentially spending ‘beyond their means’ (a negligible concept when applied to extremely wealthy clubs with extremely wealthy owners) on promised funding. Thankfully they got away with it even if the chances of Sky and / or BT going bust in that twelve month period was in reality slim to none.
Once the first cheques were cleared the subsequent summer was always going to be a game-changer and what quickly became noticeable was that our collective distaste for football’s profligacy was no longer aimed at every club but rather centred on specific transfers. £89m pounds for a former academy player? That is insanity, we chimed. Meanwhile the fact that the twenty clubs in the Premier League had committed themselves to £1.165 billion of expenditure largely escaped our wrath. They now had more money than small nations and we knew that. Spending most of it was inevitable, even maybe necessary.
Which brings us to the here and now and a return to articles being written such as this one full of hand-wringing concern for the future of the game. Elsewhere there is more than alarm, there is outright disgust. The reason for this – as the clearer heads calling for calm are dismissed out of hand – is pretty simple.
Just eleven short months ago the 2016 summer transfer window closed and Jim White went to have a well-earned lie-down. Once the figures were all totted up and player registrations had gone through the Premier League was responsible for 160 permanent signings at a combined cost of the aforementioned £1.165 billion. That is an average of £6.7m per player.
Presently there have been 74 permanent signings made for a sum only marginally below the entirely of last summer. The average so far is £13.5m per player.
Quite why it has doubled in such a short space of time is a matter for serious debate. Quite why it’s doubled in the third year of extreme affluence is downright puzzling.
It is a sudden and dramatic escalation that seems to have taken even those inside the bubble by surprise. This week Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has called the market ‘unsustainable’ while big-spending Jose Mourinho has been accused of hypocrisy after referring to it as ‘strange’. Taking the obvious double-standards out of the equation the Portuguese coach is entirely correct. It is strange. Why now? And why to this incredible extent?
Breaking the total amount down only further reveals the insanity that is upon us. Last summer may have heralded extravagant spending but it was also awash with bargains. This time out there has been only five out of 74 by a conservative estimate. Even the ‘big’ purchases made by several clubs last year seem like a drop in the ocean now. Joe Allen, Idrissa Gueye, and Fernando Llorente were the marquee singings of Stoke, Everton and Swansea respectively last summer: their accumulative fees would just about get you Jordan Pickford in this window.
This summer is going to get a lot more expensive with Tottenham yet to flex their financial muscles, Manchester United still with a reported £100m to burn, and Liverpool intent on breaking the bank for Virgil Van Dijk. Maybe by the end of it – as Jim White is relieved of his duties and the current record amount has an additional £500m added to it – the pragmatic among us, with clear heads, might start to agree. There is a problem. And it needs to be addressed.