Manchester City’s £100m signing of Jack Grealish is the most expensive transfer in Premier League history – but it could yet be shattered in a summer of astronomical spending by England’s richest football clubs.
The eye-watering deal has smashed the previous transfer fee record of £89m held by Manchester United’s Paul Pogba.
The football world is now waiting to see if City will meet the reported £150m asking price for England’s star striker Harry Kane, who is said to be desperate to quit Spurs and join the Premier League champions.
After Jadon Sancho’s £73m move to Manchester United, Arsenal’s £50m signing of Ben White, Spurs’ £47m deal for Cristian Romero and Chelsea’s potential purchase of Romelu Lukaku for close to £100m, the spending power of the so-called Big Six clubs appears to be bigger than ever despite the pandemic.
So what do these ever-increasing transfer fees mean for the future of English football and its fans?Advertisement
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Can City afford to bring in Kane after signing Grealish?
Experts are split over whether City will be able to bring in Kane this summer after signing Grealish from Aston Villa for such a huge sum.
Dr Rob Wilson, a football finance expert at Sheffield Hallam University, said he believed any deal for the Spurs striker would be “unlikely” if the transfer fee is £150m.
“Harry Kane’s issue is his age,” he told Sky News.
“Grealish at 25, over six years, makes financial sense.
“Harry Kane at 28 – you’re not going to give a 28-year-old a six-year contract. You’re more likely to give him a four-year contract.”
ity afford to buy Kane and still meet UEFA’s financial fair play (FFP) rules?
He added: “Kane signed a six-year contract a couple of years ago. There’s no need for Spurs to sell him cheaply.
“City could throw the kitchen sink at it and say: ‘Come on Harry, we’ll give you six years. Sign for us until you’re 34.’ Would you take that risk for £150m?
“He’s brilliant, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think I’d have the bottle to sign off on that deal.”
However, Kieran Maguire, a sports finance expert at Liverpool University, believes a six-year deal for Kane could happen.
He says City could afford this from their extra revenue from winning the Premier League and reaching the Champions League final, Sergio Aguero’s move to Barcelona, the potential sale of Bernardo Silva, as well as other transfers out.
The club also took a 15% share of the fee their rivals Man United paid Borussia Dortmund for Sancho, as part of a deal agreed when City sold the player to the German club in 2017.
Last year City received a two-year ban from the Champions League for alleged “serious” breaches of club licensing and financial fair play regulations, before it was later overturned by UEFA.
Mr Maguire believes the rules need a “complete rethink” because “nobody actually knows what financial fair play is there for”.
“Originally when it was launched, UEFA said it was to reduce the amount of borrowings that football clubs have,” he said.
“But Manchester City don’t have any borrowings because they’re funded by their owners. Whereas Manchester United owe half a billion pounds to banks.
“The spirit of FFP was to try to create a more level playing field.
“Financial fair play needs a complete rethink if it’s going to be taken seriously. I think at present it’s lost its credibility.”
Dr Wilson believes some clubs find “grey areas” around FFP.
“The way some clubs have achieved financial fair play compliance is against the spirit of what the regulations was intended to do,” he told Sky News.
“If a regulation is there, comply to it – don’t try to bend it and make it work for you, which I think is what we’ve seen really.”
Dr Wilson also believed it was “distasteful” that Arsenal spent £50m on signing White from Brighton after the north London club announced 55 staff redundancies last August.
“I think it perhaps polarises the issue we’ve got with football being totally disconnected from what those clubs were originally set up to do – which was be community-based organisations,” he added.
Will the increasing transfer fees hit fans’ pockets?
The soaring transfer fees are unlikely to result in higher ticket prices for match-going fans, according to Dr Wilson.
This is because the money made from tickets only accounts for a small proportion of Premier League clubs’ revenues, he said.
“For some of these really big clubs, it might make up somewhere between 5-10% of their overall revenue profile,” Dr Wilson added.
“Even if you’ve got big transfer fees, match day tickets don’t generate enough revenue to cover those costs.
“It’s much easier for a club to find a commercial sponsor to plug that gap.
“There’s no appetite on behalf of clubs to raise ticket prices… they realise that fans are important stakeholders in the clubs so they don’t want to upset them.
“I don’t think they can justify increasing prices.”
Is it becoming harder for teams outside the ‘Big Six’ to win the Premier League?
Both experts believe the increasing spending power of the “Big Six” means the chances of a repeat of Leicester’s shock Premier League win in 2016 are becoming slimmer and slimmer.
Dr Wilson said: “There’s a reason Leicester were 5,000-1 to win that title, and that’s because it’s almost unheard of. It was a miraculous achievement by them.
“When you look at the data and look at the numbers, it should be theoretically impossible for anyone to win the league outside of Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
“In terms of financial size, those six clubs are pulling further away from everyone else.
“I think increasingly we’ll start talking about the Big Four, rather than the Big Six, because if Spurs and Arsenal can’t really break in, they’ll just get further and further behind as well.”
Mr Maguire said: “To break into the elite was almost impossible. These type of signings – Sancho, Grealish, potentially Kane and Lukaku – are just going to make it more difficult.
“There are still people willing to believe they can break in – I just think if there was a 1% chance a year ago, there’s a probably a 0.1% of doing it now.”