The financial challenge facing Sheffield United in the transfer market is exposed by researchers
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder was right to be sceptical about claims the Covid-19 pandemic would prompt a major realignment of football’s finances at Premier League level, a study published by one of the sport’s leading academic institutions has suggested.
Researchers for the CIES Football Observatory, based in Neuchatel, Switzerland, discovered that England’s flagship competition proved more immune to the effects of the global health crisis than Italy’s Serie A, La Liga in Spain, Germany’s Bundesliga or Ligue 1 in France during the recent transfer window.
Their findings support Wilder’s theory, which he put forward during a series of interviews with journalists earlier this summer, that the country’s leading clubs would be forced to adopt a more prudent approach towards recruitment following the government’s continued refusal to allow supporters back into stadia.
Concluding measures to try and curb the spread of the respiratory disease had only “put a little brake on the galloping inflation” surrounding transfer fees - which have risen 15 per cent year on year since 2015 - the CIES paper did note a rise in the popularity of loan deals and performance related clauses since professional sport emerged from lockdown, while the number of free transfers brokered rose by nearly a fifth in Germany. In the PL, however, they were down by a single percentage point. Intriguingly, the CIES also discovered that salary packages offered to players signed for money had risen by around six per cent compared to 2019.
Speaking this week, Wilder noted the wage demands of most established top-flight professionals put them beyond the reach of teams such as United, who do not enjoy the patronage of a billionaire owner or state investment fund.
“The COVID crisis has thus strongly impacted the probability that players are subject to a paid transfer,” the CIES report stated. “However, if a transfer takes place, the hypothesis according to which the price would have been negotiated to a lower level than before the pandemic does not hold true. Footballers signed for money by big-5 league teams during the last transfer window were paid on average about six per cent more than players with similar characteristics during the summer 2019.”
United made only one free signing during the summer window, after agreeing a deal with former Rangers goalkeeper Wes Foderingham.