Supporters have grown used to seeing football clubs initially playing hardball in the transfer market before eventually caving to the riches being offered and selling unsettled stars.
Yet this year Premier League teams have increasingly resisted even when players have publicly demanded a move to their suitors, such as Philippe Coutinho at Liverpool and Virgil van Dijk of Southampton; effectively gone on strike, like Chelsea’s Diego Costa; or, as in the case of Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, refused to renew soon-to-expire contracts.
Something appears to have changed. For six consecutive summers at least one Premier League star was picked off by Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Paris Saint-Germain – a sequence that began with Cristiano Ronaldo’s world record move from Manchester United to the Spanish capital in 2009.
Last summer brought that trend to a halt and, with only 24 hours left in the current transfer window, Barca’s low-key signing of Everton’s Gerard Deulofeu, has been the only further example.
Significantly, last summer also marked the beginning of the Premier League’s mammoth £8bn TV deal, which has made its clubs more financially powerful compared to their European rivals than ever.
European sides can still spend big — that much has been evidenced by Paris Saint-Germain’s world record £200m purchase of Neymar from Barcelona and the La Liga team’s subsequent £136m signing of 20-year-old Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund. But such is the scale of Premier League earnings that selling players no longer appears to be such a financial imperative.
While top-flight transfer spending has crossed £1bn for a second summer running and reached new record levels, income from transfer sales is not rising at the same rate.
According to figures from Deloitte, the league’s net spend — expenditure minus income — hit £685m last summer, with a huge £630m deficit on players traded with European teams.
That marked a huge leap on net spend of £460m and £410m in the 2015 and 2014 summer windows, when the league had a respective net spend of £410m and £350m on players traded with Europe.
Heading into the final day of the window, Premier League clubs have again splashed out much more than they have received on transfers, with the division’s current net spend at around £593m.
Clubs have so far spent £658m on players from Europe, making just £156m in return. In today’s market, that appears to be barely enough for a top player on his own.