The 2019 summer transfer window closed for all the European “big five” football leagues without a last-day frenzy and brought only modest changes to the players’ landscape for the next season. While top deals were in line with long-term transfer market trends, an analytical snapshot reveals some interesting tendencies as well.
In this article, the KPMG Football Benchmark team looks at the major transfers of the summer transfer window for these “big five” leagues (English Premier League, French Ligue 1, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, Spanish LaLiga), providing some additional context to the numbers.
Clubs in the "big five” leagues altogether spent a reported record of EUR 5.5 billion on new players in the summer transfer window, about EUR 900 million more than in 2018. England’s Premier League clubs spent again the most, EUR 1.5 billion, followed by Spain’s LaLiga clubs, who spent EUR 1.3 billion, surpassing the EUR 1 billion threshold for the first time. Clubs in Italy's Serie A (EUR 1.2 billion), Germany's Bundesliga (EUR 742 million) and France's Ligue 1 (EUR 690 million) all registered new transfer records.
Using the KPMG Player Valuation tool, we focused on the top 20 transfers, making a gap analysis to assess the correlation between the actual transfer fees and the estimated market values derived from KPMG algorithms. In some cases, the fees for these players were significantly higher than their market values indicated by the KPMG Player Valuation tool. In such circumstances, the biggest gaps are either due to a release clause or because the buyer (and often also the seller) was a Premier League club.
In our chart below, we have listed the Top 20 summer window transfers based on the transfer fee figures available from public sources and in media reports, excluding loans. The list includes only those who played in the 11 leagues tracked by the KPMG Player Valuation tool in the 2018/19 season. The KPMG value estimates are as of 1 July 2019, and reflect players’ market values before these transfers were made. (The new contracts obviously affect players’ actual values, which we will examine in more details soon, too.)
Three transfers have exceeded the EUR 100m threshold. The highest fee (EUR 126m) was paid for the 19-year-old Portuguese João Félix, who moved from Benfica to Atlético Madrid. The Colchoneros have been involved in the second most expensive transfer, too, this time as the sellers, having released French world champion Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona, after the Blaugrana paid his release clause of EUR 120m. On the podium's last spot stands another Spanish club: Real Madrid paid EUR 100m for Chelsea to make Eden Hazard join Zinedine Zidane’s team at the beginning of the summer transfer window. These three transfers have attained the top 10 most expensive deals in football history, too.
Interestingly, these top three transfers have been made by Spanish clubs (Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid), followed by Manchester United paying EUR 87m to Leicester City for centre-back Harry Maguire, and Arsenal paying EUR 80m to Lille for right-winger Nicholas Pépé.
If we consider the top 20 deals by the transfer fees reported, Real Madrid spent the most on new top joiners, signing five players for a total of over EUR 300m. The Los Blancos are followed by Barcelona (EUR 195m for Griezmann and de Jong), and Manchester United (EUR 142m for Maguire and Wan-Bissaka).
However, the Spanish LaLiga is in only second place in terms of the number of such top deals during this summer window, with eight transactions out of the top 20. The first is the English Premier League registering one transfer more, while third is Italian Serie A with two – the centre-back Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus and Romelu Lukaku joining Antonio Conte’s squad at Inter Milan. Finally, no such sizeable deal was made by any French club, while the German championship can boast at least one expensive transfer – Bayern Munich signing French centre-back Lucas Hernández for EUR 75m.
This summer’s transfer window saw a growing tendency of loaning players. Many loan deals were made primarily to help clubs operate in compliance with the UEFA Financial Fair Play requirements, while not losing their acquiring power. Indeed, after the summer of 2017, when Paris Saint-Germain made a loan deal with Monaco for Mbappé in order to spread the total cost for two assessment periods and so evade the likelihood of a hefty fine from UEFA, or even a ban from the Champions League, it appears as if this strategy has caught on. As a consequence, the summer window was characterized by numerous loan deals with an obligation to buy. On the other hand, as some mega deals of the recent past did not fulfil their full potentials, clubs may become more cautious – they may find it less risky to assess how the transfer of a major player with a massive salary and price tag may work out through a loan deal rather than a permanent one.
Bayern Munich were active in terms of loans, signing Brazilian Philippe Coutinho and Croatian Ivan Perišic, for EUR 9 and 5 million from Barcelona and Inter Milan, respectively, and with an option to buy in both cases. Roma were also busy on the last days singing Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Arsenal and Chris Smalling from Manchester United on loan. We can also mention the moves of central midfielder Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis to Tottenham, Italy midfielder Nicolò Barella to Inter Milan from Cagliari and Mauro Icardi joining Paris St-Germain on season-long loan from Inter Milan. The Neroazzurri have also signed Chilean winger Alexis Sánchez from Manchester United on loan, but without an obligation to buy him after the loan spell.
It is also interesting to note that all the top transfers have been signed before the closing of the summer transfer window in the English Premier League, even in cases where no English clubs were involved. (The EPL was the only big five league to close right before the start of the 2019/20 sporting season, while the other top European championships continued to trade for over three weeks longer.) Despite the fact that no big transfers occurred after that moment, Premier League clubs were unhappy with the early closure of the transfer window and were set to push for a change. English clubs are already holding some initial discussions for a return to the old system and are closing the window at the same time as the other major European leagues, in order to avoid the disadvantage of continued uncertainty over the future of EPL players, who may move away to other leagues’ clubs after the closing of the buying window in England.
Although the three most expensive players play in attacking positions, the 2019 summer window has seen a price increase in signing defenders, especially centre-backs. Among others, Bayern Munich paid to Atlético Madrid a release clause of EUR 80m for Lucas Hernández, Juventus signed young Dutch talent De Ligt for EUR 75m after an excellent season with Ajax, and, above all, Manchester United signed Harry Maguire from Leicester City for EUR 87m. Maguire has become the most expensive defender ever bought (the previous world record fee was EUR 85m, paid by Liverpool to Southampton for Virgil van Dijk in January 2018, the second most expensive signing in the history of the English Premier League after Paul Pogba, who moved from Juventus to Manchester United in 2016 for EUR 105m), also being the second most expensive British player ever sold after Gareth Bale, who joined Real Madrid from Tottenham in 2013 for EUR 101m).
In addition, Harry Maguire’s current transfer made him into the most expensive 26-year-old player ever bought, as you can see below in the chart, where we showcase the most expensive transfers by the age of the player at the time. Three of them have been signed during this transfer market window: beside Maguire’s transfer, Barcelona spent big on 28-year-old French forward Antoine Griezmann paying EUR 120m to Atletico Madrid, and on 22-year-old Dutch talent Frankie de Jong, bought for EUR 75m from Ajax.
A more scientific, data-driven approach
Data and technology are at the heart of the modern business paradigm. Football, which has become a global, multi-faceted business, is no different and data can be harnessed to further professionalise and increase efficiency across the industry. At the same time, the football transfer market seems to be undergoing change, as confirmed by ongoing talks around FIFA´s reform of the system. In an increasingly data-savvy environment, in which business models are being constantly challenged, a clear course for a more realistic transfer market framework needs to be set.
While many aspects would be impacted by a game-changing transformation (agent commission, Academy training compensation payments, number of loaned out players, etc.), the accurate valuation of players is pivotal for creating a more sustainable system.
Using Microsoft’s latest technology, and in partnership with Opta, our player valuation tool is a digital platform that utilises proprietary algorithms to provide market value estimations of the world’s top footballers. It covers more than 4,000 players from 11 major football leagues: in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Turkey.
The benefits of a more sustainable transfer market are manifold – not least to counter some of football’s competitive imbalances, and also to ensure a more robust football economy and greater financial stability of clubs worldwide.