January transfer window ends quietly as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts spending across Europe

3rd February 2021, 10:48 am

The January 2021 transfer window saw significantly reduced activity across Europe as clubs exercised caution amid the highly uncertain environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic and, for those clubs in the UK, the immediate aftermath of Brexit. There were only 24 Premier League transfers during the window, compared to the average of 46 across the previous three years’ January windows;

–      In line with the reduced volume of deals, the total gross transfer expenditure of Premier League clubs during the January 2021 window fell from £230m in January 2020 to just £70m. Over 75% of the expenditure was driven by just three £10m+ transfers; Said Benrahma, Amad Diallo and Morgan Sanson. The remainder of the expenditure is made up of loan fees and relatively low value permanent transfers;

–      Brexit and the restriction of free movement of labour between the UK and Europe may also have contributed to the quieter window. This is the first window since the introduction of a points based system for English clubs to sign all foreign players;

–      Similar trends can be seen across the other ‘big five’ European leagues as the financial impact of the pandemic is felt across the continent. The volume of transfers in January 2021 across the other four ‘big five’ European leagues was just over half their previous three-year average for January. Gross expenditure in the January window has plunged from a collective €660m to €195m across the other four leagues (Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1, Serie A); and

–      Premier League clubs spent a total of £1.4 billion (gross) on players transferred in and £950m (net of players transferred out) the 2020/21 season’s transfer windows. 

Amid the uncertain market created by the COVID-19 pandemic the January 2021 transfer window saw significantly reduced activity across Europe as clubs exercised caution, according to analysis by Deloitte’s Sports Business Group. Premier League clubs completed a total of just 24 transfers during the January 2021 window, a reduction of 48% compared to the most recent three-year January transfer window average (46).

In addition to a year-on-year fall in volumes, Premier League clubs spent a total of just £70m during the January 2021 transfer window. This represents a decreaseof gross transfer expenditure of £160m compared to January 2020 and marks the lowest window of spending since 2012.

Dan Jones, partner at the Sports Business Group at Deloitte, commented: “Premier League clubs were understandably cautious in the January transfer window given the ongoing financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, Premier League clubs’ very busy summer window, at a time when the rest of European football was more restrained, saw total net expenditure for the 2020/21 season reach a new record level of £950m. It remains to be seen if the relatively low activity in January will continue throughout 2021. We certainly do not expect to see another new record this summer.”

Jones added: “During the January 2021 window, Premier League clubs’ expenditure on players from non-English clubs fell to just £45m. In the previous two January transfer windows, Premier League clubs’ spend on this category of expenditure averaged £165m. While new post-Brexit rules on acquiring players from overseas may have contributed to this, the financial impact of the pandemic was, by far, a more important factor.”

The ‘big six’ Premier League clubs have not invested heavily in their squads this window, investing in three permanent transfers and three loan fee transfers, accounting for 35% of the total spend. In the January 2020 window they accounted for over half of all expenditure by Premier League clubs (c.£120m).

Furthermore, the current bottom four clubs in the table only spent £6m to acquire seven new players during this window. Comparably the clubs in the same position last season completed a total of eight inbound transfers for a value of £40m, as they sought to avoid relegation.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen across the other ‘big five’ European leagues. The volume of transfers in January 2021 amongst the other ‘big five’ European leagues is down by 40% when compared to the previous three-year average for January, resulting in reduced total transfer expenditure in each.

According to the 2021 edition of the Deloitte Football Money League,  the top 20 revenue generating clubs will miss out on over €2 billion of revenue across the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons, with the impact to the overall European football market likely considerably higher. This lost revenue may potentially act as the catalyst in creating a shift in how clubs approach the transfer market over the next few seasons.

Key findings from Deloitte’s analysis of the January 2021 transfer window include:

  • Premier League clubs spent £70m to acquire new players in the January 2021 transfer window;
  • There has been a total of 24 Premier League transfers in this window. This is 48% fewer than the previous three-year January transfer windows’ average (46 transfers);
  • Premier League clubs recorded net transfer spend of £45m in January 2021, bringing the total net spend for the season 2020/21 to £950m, a new record high;
  • Three £10m+ signings; Said Benrahma, Amad Diallo and Morgan Sanson, accounted for the vast majority (over 75%) of Premier League expenditure during the January window;
  • Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal were the only ‘big six’ Premier League clubs to spend during the window;
  • At the end of the January 2021 window the bottom four relegation threatened clubs spent £6m during the window. This compares to £40m spent by clubs in the same position last season;
  • Premier League clubs spent a total of £45m on players from non-English clubs during the window, accounting for 64% of expenditure. This is a decrease from the £185m spent, and 80% of total spend, on such players in the previous January window;
  • Premier League clubs’ deadline day expenditure totalled £7m, which is a decrease from deadline day in January 2020 (£25m);
  • The 2020/21 season’s transfer spend by Premier League clubs was £1.4 billion. Considered together with the totals for 2019/20, which is appropriate given the revised timings of that football season to cut across two financial years, gross transfer spending equated to around one third of revenues – in line with the average over the preceding 5 years (33%);
  • The total gross transfer expenditure for English Football League (EFL) clubs’ in January 2021 was £5m, less than 20% of January 2020 windows expenditure (£37m), as EFL clubs continued to utilise the loan and/or free transfer market to add to their squads; and

·       Similarly to the Premier League clubs, spending amongst the remaining ‘big five’ European leagues’ clubs in the January transfer window was subdued with all leagues seeing a reduction in transfer activity and volume compared to January 2020. Serie A (2021: £70m/€80m 2020: £180m/€215m), Bundesliga (2021: £45m/€50m 2020: £165m/€195m), La Liga (£30m/€35m 2020: £110m/€130m) Ligue 1 (£25m/€30m 2020: £100m/€120m).

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