In lieu of a flurry of late evening activity the January transfer looks set to close with a whimper at 11pm (UK) tonight.
On what is usually a frantic day of deals being struck at the last minute and huge sums of money changing hands, this year’s transfer window looks set to be a real indication of the uncertainty that exists around Brexit and its impact in football.
Since 1992, the Premier League’s growth has been fuelled on its global appeal, boosted by its member clubs’ ability to attract talent from around the world, not least Europe. But uncertainty around Britain’s exit from the EU and the terms upon which it leaves has caused clubs, especially the traditional big spenders, to be more cautious.
Writing in a blog on the University of Salford Business School’s website, sports enterprise expert Professor Simon Chadwick says the moderation of transfer activity is down to the uncertainty over future trading and immigration restrictions.
He said: “Uncertainty about the outcome of Brexit has moderated this month’s domestic transfer window which, unlike in previous years, has largely been quiet.
“While transfer activity overseas has seemingly continued unabated, British clubs appear to have engaged either in short-term loan deals involving overseas players (for example, Gonzalo Higuain at Chelsea) or longer-term signings involving domestic players (such as Dominic Solanke’s move from Liverpool to Bournemouth).
“The recent publication of Deloitte’s annual money league shows that English Premier League clubs remain cash rich, yet they still seem to be being somewhat cautious in their transfer market activities.”
One of the reasons, Prof Chadwick suggests, is the main cause of this reluctance to splash out on transfers is the uncertainty around future visa requirements. European players currently enjoy largely unrestricted movement between member states under EU law.
However, possible restrictions on immigration are as yet unknown and therefore make recruitment of overseas players more of a risk. Prof Chadwick, continued: “It remains unclear what visa arrangements might be put in place in the event of Brexit, we still don’t know whether there will be squad limits on overseas players, and the general economic outlook appears worrying should, for instance, a hard Brexit take place.”
Outgoing Premier League executive chairman, Richard Scudamore has expressed his concern over any possible restrictions on overseas players, a quota one of the plans mooted by The FA after Brexit, suggesting it could damage the league’s appeal overseas.
“Our competition is watched in 189 countries, 700,000 visitors to the UK per season attend a match, clubs employ 12,000 full-time staff and Premier League football generates £3.3bn per season in taxes,” the Premier League statement read in response to The FA’s plan.
Prof Chadwick suggests there were warning signs that clubs were taking a more cautious approach in the summer transfer market, stating: “We perhaps saw evidence of what was to come last summer, when the British transfer market was noticeably less buoyant than it has been over the last decade.
“To exacerbate matters even further, one senses that the Premier League is sailing in troubled waters. The failure to find a replacement for outgoing CEO Richard Scudamore could be a warning sign that life is about to get tougher for its clubs.
“One reason for this is that the broadcasting environment is increasingly uncertain and the structure of revenues derived from it is likely to change. Hence, unlike in the past when clubs would very often base current signings on future broadcasting revenue streams, currently it is unclear what will happen next.”
Despite this caution, Chelsea still spent £58m on Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic and Wolves have signed Jonny Castro Otto for £15m from Atletico Madrid, but it is unlikely we will see the anything near the £430m that was spent in 2018’s transfer window.
“As a brand, the Premier League (and, indeed, English football in general) remains strong,” Prof Chadwick said, but cautioned: “however, the environment in which it operates is increasingly turbulent and uncertain. This current transfer window has reflected this.”
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