Football transfer system unfairly benefits top clubs and fails players argues economist Stefan Szymanski in new Fifpro study

Joe Hall
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Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid transfer
Cristiano Ronaldo's £80m transfer to Real Madrid was pointed to as an example of how the transfer system only benefits top clubs

Football's transfer system fails all but a handful of elite clubs, a new study from sports economist Stefan Szymanski has found.

The study commissioned by world players' union Fifpro concluded that Fifa's transfer system as it currently exists impedes on the free movement of players and fails to achieve its pro-competitive intentions.

"The transfer system is not only unfair to players, it also promotes the opposite of what was intended", writes Szymanski in the report.

He says: "It sustains the dominance of elite clubs by ensuring that they are the only ones with the financial muscle to afford the transfer fees payable for the very best players."

Read more: Could football transfer fees be banned? Players' union Fifpro files legal complaint with European Commission

Szymanski, who co-authored the best-selling Soccernomics with Financial Times journalist Simon Kuper, was commissioned to write the report by Fifpro who have mounted a legal complaint with the European Commission over the current system and are calling for the abolition of transfer fees.

Big club dominance

In his report Szymanski argues that the biggest European football clubs could be found to be "collectively dominant" in accordance with EU law by possessing a shared economic interest in the same market - and excluding others from competing through dominance of wealth.

Clubs in the top divisions of Europe's five biggest leagues (England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany) accounted for 72 per cent of the entire €3.3bn (£2.44bn) spent in the last summer transfer window, according to data from the International Centre for Sport Studies (CIES).

The European Club Association (ECA), which represents the biggest European clubs - usually those competing in the Champions League and Europa League - "reserves a disproportionate share of representation for the dominant clubs in each country" argues Szymanski.

Read more: Premier League players enjoy biggest slice of booming transfer market as English spending hits $996m

He writes: "If it were not for the requirement to pay very large transfer fees to acquire the best players it seems likely that more clubs would be able to compete with the elite group. The requirement to spend heavily in the transfer market, before achieving any success in competition, represents a barrier to entry. If transfer fees strictly reflected training costs or foregone revenues, then they would be substantially lower and the barrier to entry would not be so high."

"Very worrying"

Fifpro's general secretary Theo van Seggelen said the University of Michigan professor's report "is uncomfortable reading for everyone who loves football".

He added: "The transfer system is damaging the game and needs fixing must be completely overhauled.

"Fifpro welcomes an honest and open debate in developing solutions that safeguard the industry and maximise football's potential as a socially responsible sport and business."

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