Premier League transfer window: £1.9bn spent, 67% up on 2021, Man United biggest net spend

In the end, it was a summer like no other. The Premier League’s 20 clubs might not have quite reached the £2billion ($2.31bn) mark by the close of business on Thursday night but they had a fine go trying. Spend, spend, spend, from start to finish.

During a transfer window that has welcomed the stellar names of Erling Haaland, Darwin Nunez and Casemiro to English shores, the Premier League’s collective spend wound up at a staggering £1.91billion once the last cheque was written. Allow for the minor inaccuracies that come with undisclosed fees and it is somewhere in the region of £95million per club.

For all it lacked a signing to topple the £100million Manchester City paid Aston Villa to sign Jack Grealish 12 months ago — still a Premier League record — this summer’s spend turned out to be unprecedented on every other level.

The combined outlay of clubs in Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 struggled to keep pace with a final sum that cemented the Premier League’s financial dominance. A total of 70 deals were eventually signed off in excess of £10million, with Chelsea and West Ham United doing six apiece.

Serie A was more than £1.2billion back with a total spend of £647million. In gross terms, spending was 50 per cent down on pre-pandemic levels. It underlines the market contraction caused by COVID and how unprepared Italian football was to bounce back from a shock of that scale. High-profile signings have been low cost like the free transfers involving Paul Pogba and Angel Di Maria to Juventus, Paulo Dybala to Roma and the loan of Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan.

Gleison Bremer was the most expensive acquisition in Serie A at €41million (£35.5m, $40.9m), a move financed by Matthijs de Ligt’s sale to Bayern Munich for €77million. Napoli’s window only really got going after Chelsea paid a Premier League record fee for a player aged 30 or over (Kalidou Koulibaly). Only champions AC Milan could buy without selling, a flex of strength found in the club’s sustainable model. But Leeds United, 17th in the Premier League last year, bid more for Charles de Ketelaere and Milan had to count on the club’s enduring appeal and the player’s desire to play at San Siro to get Brugges to accept their inferior offer.

€170m in I.O.Us have been written out by Serie A clubs and there’s a new fashionable deal structure. It’s the compromise between a loan with an option or an obligation. Ladies and gentlemen, Serie A gives you the loan that only becomes permanent if the player fulfils a certain quota of appearances, minutes and other criteria. All in all 86 deals in Italy’s top flight were loans, including 20 on deadline day alone. It reflects the need for prudence and a lack of short-term liquidity. 

Then came Ligue 1 on £482million. No prizes for guessing who led the way in France. Paris Saint-Germain have known more extravagant summers but still managed to spend in the region of £128million. The biggest chunk of that went on Portugal midfielder Vitinha, Ligue 1’s biggest signing of the summer at £36million.

Also prepared to spend were Marseille, who return to the Champions League this season, while Rennes were able to invest big on the back of sizable player sales. Nice were another eyecatching club in the market, spending £60million.

Over in La Liga, the total spend of £437million was well below the three pre-pandemic summers. And would have been an awful lot smaller but for some extraordinary factors. Barca’s activation of economic levers allowed them to borrow from the future to spend a total of €153million, including the captures of Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha and Jules Kounde. Real Madrid used some of the money saved up for Kylian Mbappe to spend €80million on another young France international in Aurelien Tchouameni.

While Premier League new boys Nottingham Forest were spending upwards of £150million, Sevilla were making a profit of €63million, Valencia €42million and Villarreal €14million as they looked to rebalance their books. Of the 161 new players arriving at La Liga’s 20 clubs, only 11 cost more than €10million. The 20 clubs taken together received €469.4 million for selling players – meaning an average net spend of just over €1 million each. The contrast with what happened in England was stark, and worrying for many Spanish club executives and pundits.

The Bundesliga accounted for the lowest spend of the top five leagues, at £418million.

In total, the 18 Bundesliga clubs spent £418million on new players, slightly less than last season, and the lowest of the top five leagues. Yet somehow, the window felt bigger.

Both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the two most important clubs, sold their two superstar strikers, Lewandowski and Haaland, and they used the proceeds to make important additions in a number of positions after a couple of years of relative frugality.

While the champions brought in Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Mathys Tel (Rennes), De Ligt (Juventus), Ryan Gravenberch, Noussair Mazraoui (both Ajax), Dortmund bought Germany international Karim Adeyemi (RB Salzburg), Nico Schlotterbeck (SC Freiburg) and Niklas Sule (Bayern) as well as Sebastian Haller (Ajax), who’s recovering well after cancer surgery.

Other notable additions included Timo Werner (back to RB Leipzig from Chelsea) and Callum Hudson-Odoi on loan from Chelsea to Bayer Leverkusen.

Interestingly, last season’s top four clubs made use of the rebounding market to move on an army of unwanted players. Bayern made €100million in sales which reduced their bottom line to minus-€33million.

Dortmund only spent €12million net and Leverkusen €4million, whereas RB Leipzig registered a profit of €16million after selling Tyler Adams (Leeds), Nordi Mukiele (Paris Saint-Germain) and others.

In fact, Bundesliga players were in pretty hot demand: the league made more money on sales (€528million) than it spent. A large chunk of the €44million profit comes from Premier League coffers.

Nottingham Forest’s spending spree and the underlying economics — a newly promoted team in England receives more TV income from domestic rights than Bayern Munich — wasn’t lost on observers, but many clubs are quite happy to develop players and sell them on for huge profit. In a league without ownership investment and static TV income, making money in the transfer market is the easiest way to grow the bottom line.

English football’s top 20 clubs have been those with cash on the hip and the confidence to spend it. The austerity that came with COVID-19 is now a fast fading memory thanks to the insulation of new broadcast deals, both at home and overseas, that will be worth a guaranteed £10.5billion between now and 2025.

Nothing underlines the Premier League’s financial might quite like the net spend of this increasingly affluent division across the last three months. Just £700million was recouped from player sales by Premier League clubs this summer, ensuring that balance sheets were enough to make accountants weep. The deficit (£1.2billion) surpassed last season’s gross spend alone.

Deloitte, the accountancy firm, estimates the net spend of Premier League clubs amounted to 18 per cent of estimated revenues this season, a marked increase on last summer’s 10 per cent. Even pre-pandemic levels, taking an average between 2017 and 2019, could only get as high as 14 per cent.

This was a window of joyful abandon while the rest of Europe attempted to keep things moderately sensible. Even with Barcelona’s, erm, creative finances, La Liga’s 18 clubs almost managed to balance the books with its overall spending. Bundesliga and Serie A clubs managed to turn a collective profit.

And all thanks to the Premier League, which parted with £1.22billion hoovering up some of the continent’s most coveted players. Antony, Matheus Nunes, Lucas Paqueta, Alexander Isak and Fabio Vieira to name just a handful.

Sixty two per cent of the Premier League’s total spend went to clubs dotted around Europe. Just £155million, meanwhile, made it down to the EFL. That, at least, was a marked climb on the previous summer when only £65million was filtered down.

Where Premier League clubs spend money

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Not that is a competition anyone wants to win but the six clubs with the biggest net spend in Europe all came from the Premier League. Chelsea and Manchester United were to be expected in summers that demanded overhauls but West Ham United, Newcastle United, Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur all had a deficit north of £115million in their trading this window. Arsenal were not far behind, nor were Wolverhampton Wanderers.

According to Transfermarkt, 13 of Europe’s biggest 20 net spends came in the Premier League. Only Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille, Nice, AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan broke the English monopoly of those willing to spend without need to make it balance.

There were exceptions to the Premier League’s generous rule. Leeds United’s £95million outlay was countered by the £93million of sales that included Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha. Liverpool and Manchester City, too, boxed clever by moving on unwanted players to recruit superstars like Haaland and Nunez.

Premier League transfer window 19bn spent 67 up on 2021

Raphinha made the switch from Leeds to Barcelona (Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Leicester City had to part with Wesley Fofana to address their ailing financial health by recording a hefty summer profit but top of the class were Brighton & Hove Albion. When all around them were losing their heads, they were keeping theirs by selling Marc Cucurella, Yves Bissouma and Neal Maupay to Premier League rivals. The result was a transfer profit of £68million. Only Ajax, Sporting Lisbon, Monaco and Lille made more.

The next best return for net spend from an English club after cash-strapped Leicester? Burnley and then Watford, who parted with their greatest assets when relegated to the Championship at the end of last season. That, though, was more necessity than choice.

Net spends across the Premier League were more revealing than any single transfer. They are the reminder that English clubs can speculate and roll the dice more readily. West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Newcastle and even Arsenal might not be able to spend like this again next summer due to financial restraints but in the here and now, it has been considered a calculated gamble in their very different attempts to progress. Ambitious recruitment, they will argue, amounts to sound investment. Some will be vindicated but spending has never brought guarantees.

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“The record level of spending during this transfer window is a clear indication of Premier League clubs’ confidence, as fans return to stadia and a new broadcast cycle begins,” says Tim Bridge, lead partner in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group.

“It’s now become part and parcel of the Premier League that clubs are willing to pay significant sums to maximise performance. This season, the desire to acquire playing talent has reached new levels as the pressure for clubs to stay in the competition is higher than ever before.”

The Premier League’s spending habits, opulent and carefree, are nothing new. There have been gradual increases across most summer windows, with a collective outlay of just £260million recorded as recently as 2006.

Up and up it has gone to reflect the increased value of broadcast deals at home and overseas. The previous peak came in 2017 when £1.43 billion was spent before COVID-19 brought bumps in the road and an unprecedented two years of diminishing outlays.

Last summer brought (only) £1.14billion of spending as clubs took stock and a breath, but caution has since been thrown to the wind. The final spend of £1.91billion represents a jaw-dropping 67 per cent rise year on year. There have been leaps before but none quite on this scale. January has not even arrived and this season has already seen more money spent than any other.

1662183518 748 Premier League transfer window 19bn spent 67 up on 2021

Based on the projected club turnovers for the 2022-23 season, the total outlay of this transfer window equates to 33 per cent of collective revenues. Premier League clubs have come close to that figure before, when the summer of 2017, the previous high, brought a spend equating to 30 per cent of revenues.

This summer has ultimately been a measure of the Premier League’s durability and enduring appeal. At a time when many among Europe’s elite are choosing to run a tight ship on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Premier League has tightened its grip as the global market leader.

New overseas broadcast deals are now in play for a new three-year cycle, adding gloss to the domestic TV rights that no other European league can live with. About £3.5billion will come to the Premier League in broadcast money alone this season, ensuring that the forecast revenues for the 20 clubs is set around the £6billion mark. Deloitte estimated in its Annual Review of Football Finance last month that La Liga will be next best at roughly half of that sum. Dominance scarcely covers it.

And there is a belief within the game that the gap will only widen. The Premier League has the most polished product to offer to international audiences. There is not even the merest suggestion that this bubble may burst.

“Clubs, in my view, are thinking there’s going to be an awful lot more money around in the Premier League, which is unusual as most of us are still coming to terms with how much there already is,” says one agent, who was involved in an eight-figure deal at a Premier League club this summer.

“They’re investing on the basis that this money will keep coming and increase. Some clubs are spending because they’re scared to death of falling out of the Premier League. They’re spending because they feel they have to.”

Whatever the motivation, be that through new ownerships at Chelsea and Newcastle and ambitions to be something better this season at Manchester United, West Ham, Tottenham and Arsenal, the Premier League clubs keep on finding opportunities to flex their growing financial muscle.

The rest of Europe can only look on in envy.

(Additional reporting: James Horncastle, Dermot Corrigan, Raphael Honigstein)

(Photos: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)

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Premier League transfer window: £1.9bn spent, 67% up on 2021, Man United biggest net spend

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