The astonishing amount of money spent in this summer 2015 transfer window by the two Manchester clubs on three particular players has lent the impression that football has gone mad again, paying record sums in aPremier League awash with improbable TV fortunes. The signings England’s top 20 clubs have made this summer do, of course, highlight a league feasting on financial windfalls, but in fact the total spending was not much greater than the enormous £835m spent last summer; the next leap will come with the cheques from the next TV deals.
This season the Premier League is in the same TV cycle as last year; the clubs are spending their shares of the £5.5bn total deals – from Sky, BT and the BBC at home and overseas broadcasters worldwide – which run from 2013 to 2016. The next TV deals, for which UK rights alone were announced in February as an unprecedented £5.136bn, again from Sky and BT for the live rights, do not begin until next season. A further £3bn is expected to have been accumulated by then for the overseas rights, making a staggering £8bn total for the clubs from 2016 to 2019.
So, despite the jaw-dropping scale of some transfer fees, particularly the £50.8m Manchester City paid to sign Kevin De Bruyne from Wolfsburg, the £49m to Liverpool for the 20-year-old Raheem Sterling and the £36m United were prepared to pay for Anthony Martial, 19, from Monaco, this was not a year of great increase overall. That relative steadiness was reinforced by Arsène Wenger’s baffling failure to sign anybody to improve Arsenal’s chances of success besides the goalkeeper Petr Cech, and Chelsea’s comparative restraint, for them.
Nevertheless, the 2013-16 TV deals have already raised the Premier League into a financial firmament way above that of any other league; the next richest, the German Bundesliga, has deals from 2013-17 amounting to £2.8bn, well under half the Premier League bounty for the same period.
This Premier League financial dominance, set to widen exponentially again from next year, largely explains the overwhelming majority of players brought in from overseas again this summer, with British signings constituting a fraction. The commission set up by the FA chairman, Greg Dyke, at the start of this television cycle in 2013, promising to challenge the overseas-owned and managed Premier League clubs about their commitment to playing English talent, lamentably failed to ask the difficult questions, and now has its answer.
With the exception of Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool, Tony Pulis at West Bromwich Albion and Alan Pardew at Crystal Palace – all, significantly, British – the managers at the 17 other clubs have spent the largest portions of their fortunes on the continent. The 2015 transfer window has been another acceleration of the process begun in 1992 when the first division of the Football League broke away to form the Premier League – with matches exclusively live on payTV for the 23 years since, as Sky’s Thierry Henry adverts are currently gleefully boasting.
The TV rights bonanza is further reducing British players to a minority, and solidifying the Premier League into a financial machine, still mostly powered by the expensive TV subscriptions and tickets paid by fans, which is sucking in talent from Europe. In the rarefied topmost layer of European competition, there is rivalry for the very best players, due to the TV deals in Spain being skewed to deliver the lions’ share of money to Real Madrid and Barcelona, Bayern Munich’s exceptional commercial earnings from giant Bavarian companies, and more recently the Qatari funds backing Paris Saint-Germain.
But at the gathering of the European elite clubs for the Champions League draw in Monaco last week, Wolfsburg’s general manager, the former Germany international striker Klaus Allofs, said his club could not compete with the “astonishing, astonishing” salary package City offered De Bruyne, and warned that the Premier League power is growing overbearing. The effect, highlighted by this transfer window, is that the vast fortunes from payTV subscribers, swollen by high ticket prices and increasingly massive sponsorship deals for the global nature of the audience, have also boosted middle-ranking and smaller Premier League clubs. Now they have so much money they can compete for European talent with clubs whose pedigree has historically placed them on a much higher stratum.
The stunning £10m signing of Yohan Cabaye from PSG to play at 25,000-capacity Selhurst Park for Crystal Palace is perhaps the outstanding example in this transfer window, but there are many others. The move by the French international midfielder Dimitri Payet from Marseille, a club who lifted the European Cup 22 years ago, to West Ham United for £10.7m is another, seen on the continent as a signal of power being concentrated in the Premier League. Newly promoted Watford, owned by the Italian Pozzo family in a trio of clubs with Udinese and Granada, have spent their Premier League booty on a battalion of experienced players intended to keep them up, every one from overseas, including the midfielder Valon Behrami from Hamburg, and the defenders José Holebas from Roma, and Miguel Britos from Napoli.
Garry Monk, celebrating Swansea City’s 2-1 win over Manchester United on Sunday, observed that the Premier League is becoming more competitive between the largest clubs and the rest. That is a result of the league’s relatively even distribution of the ever-extraordinary volumes of TV cash, which exceed the dreams of the other leagues.