God bless the people who create transfer rumors. Even as the entire footballing world is at a stasis, the rumors are out there, getting numbers on twitter and collecting hits on websites. They’ve managed to provide some semblance of normalcy, at least in some sections of the sports pages. The problem, though, is that the transfer window is not going to be normal, if it even happens at all.
If the 2019-20 season finishes, it will finish behind closed doors. This has a significant impact on Arsenal’s finances. While broadcast money is most important to Premier League clubs, matchday revenue is still significant. The Arsenal Supporters Trust estimates that if the season is finished behind closed doors, Arsenal will lose £19m. If all of the 2020-21 season is played behind closed doors, Arsenal will lose £144m next season. This far exceeds the club’s cash reserves, and while it is highly unlike that any Premier League club will go bust, because of access to loans and possible owner investment, it is a significant loss of money. Furthermore, it is likely that the 2020-21 season will be disrupted, with experts hypothesizing a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall or winter of 2020, with subsequents waves throughout the spring of 2021. If football is to happen throughout this, it is not really possible to see how fans will be able to attend games until next spring.
And, of course, Arsenal have enacted a 12.5% wage cut across the board. This is not a deferral but a cut, meaning that unless the team achieves Champions League football—and who knows if international competition is possible—that money will not be handed out to the players, but instead utilized for operating costs. These are the costs of paying cleaners, casual employees, and other people who allow the football club to run day to day. It is not money that is going to go to buying Thomas Partey for £50m. Indeed, it seems that it’d be quite disruptive to a dressing room to ask players to take a paycut and then spend millions on buying another person to play for the club.
Moreover, the entire transfer market will change. Clubs across Europe are losing money and clubs across Europe are deferring or cutting players’ pay. There are very few clubs immune to this, meaning that the primary way to generate more money for your football club, selling players, isn’t going to exist. Arsenal will not be in a position to sell Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette for a huge sum. Indeed, given travel restrictions and quarantines, it is quite possible that certain leagues will effectively have a foreign transfer ban.
There is another component here: player contracts expiring, clubs potentially folding, or having to raise money, and thus selling players at a lower price. In economic terms, there will be a saturation of footballers, and less demand, as fewer clubs will have the resources to operate in the transfer market. One would expect cheaper signings, shorter contracts and deals without much fanfare as clubs look to tighten their belts in a way that they haven’t had to do in the Premier League’s existence.
All of which is to say that the transfer market, as we knew it, is over. It will be replaced by something else. We don’t know yet what that looks like, but whatever the outcome, it’ll become part of how we think about football’s response to a new and perhaps uncomfortable normal.