Covid and Brexit proved to be a toxic mix, which poisoned the transfer market and left clubs and fans disappointed, according to analysts.
The coronavirus pandemic, which has wreaked financial havoc and left squads stretched through illness and injury resulting from fixture congestion, has resulted in a stagnant market, say seasoned observers.
Nursing huge holes in the budgets and concerned about a potential lack of playing staff, clubs have hung onto players, whereas in previous seasons they have been happy to let them go and hope to bring someone else in.
Brexit has played its part, too.
Morgan Sanson’s transfer from Marseille to Aston Villa was one of the few deals to go through
Sanson signed for £15.5m in one of the most lucrative deals in a subdued window
The end of the Brexit transition period on December 31 means there is no longer freedom of movement from European countries to the UK and some of those talented players who would have bolstered squads and offered better value for money than domestic buys are no longer available.
In cash terms, with just over £80m spent in upfront fees, this is the quietest window since 2010. Ten of the 20 top-flight clubs did not spend anything and of the rest, only three, Aston Villa, Manchester United and West Ham went into double figures.
‘Covid and Brexit have applied pressure that we have not had historically,’ Rob Wilson, a football finance expert at Sheffield Hallam University, told Sportsmail.
‘Covid has heaped pressure on cash flows because of the loss of matchday revenues and the impacts on commercial and sponsorship deals.
Coronavirus has hit football clubs hard with lost matchday revenues and lost sponsorship
Moises Caicedo was captured by Brighton from Ecuadorian outfit Independiente
POST-BREXIT RULES ON TRANSFERS
Anyone wanting to come to work in the UK under post-Brexit rules will have qualify as a ‘skilled worker’ and that is true for footballers and coaches, too.
Unfortunately for football clubs, it’s not enough for the chief scout to think ‘the lad can do a job in the Premier League’ or ‘the boy will make an impact’ in the Championship.
New signings will require a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the FA, before they can apply for their visa to enter the country.
A similar system has been in place for players outside of the EU, who wanted to sign for UK clubs, but now it applies to all non-UK footballers.
The buying club applies for a GBE, which costs £500, and it is awarded through a points-based system. A player must earn 15 points or more to qualify.
Points are awarded for:
- Senior and youth international appearances
- Quality of the selling club, based on the league they are in, league position and progression in continental competition
- Club appearances, based on domestic league and continental competition minutes
‘Brexit impacts on exchange rates and currency conversion when signing players from Europe, but it also affects visas and entry requirements.’
With the big clubs all affected by Covid and Brexit the market never got moving this time around.
‘Football transfers are a game of dominos,’ added Wilson. ‘If you do not push the player at the top end then the chain reaction does not happen.’
Given the financial squeeze on the top clubs in the Premier League, Brexit has played a bigger role than may have been expected. There were fewer bargains available.
Under the post Brexit rules, a player must qualify for a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the FA, in order to obtain a visa.
This is achieved by earning 15 points or more through international appearances, games played in a high quality league or international club competition.
Morgan Sanson, a Frenchman, who moved to Aston Villa from Marseille for £15m, will have earned points towards his GBE by virtue of the large numbers of games he has clocked up in Ligue 1.
But those unable to match the higher fees paid by Villa, have suffered.
West Brom boss Sam Allardyce highlighted the problem early in the window.
Traditionally, the Premier League’s bottom eight clubs look to Europe to find up and coming centre backs and forwards at a reasonable price to stave off relegation, but not this year.
‘I have found three players already who were capable of coming here and they’re not allowed,’ he said.
‘Due to the new regulations, they were unable to come to this country, whereas [previously] they would have done. I have to look at that and think, ‘Can he qualify?’
‘It’s not so much the pandemic, it’s the change of rules because of Brexit.’
The lack of access to European talent bites hard in the Championship, too.
Sam Allardyce was frustrated that his transfer targets did not qualify for a work permit
Filip Stevanovic has completed a move from Partizan Belgrade to Manchester City
Leagues around the world have been placed into bands in the Governing Body Endorsement criteria – the higher the banding the more points a player in that league can obtain
One anticipated outcome of the post-Brexit rules is it will make South American players more attractive.
Amad Diallo’s move from Atalanta to Manchester United was agreed in October
The reason being that the system works on placing leagues in bands according to quality. The higher the quality of the league, the more points players accrue and the better chance they have of meeting the UK’s post Brexit entry criteria.
The Brazilian, Argentinian and Mexican top tiers have all been placed in Band 3, and are ranked higher than the traditional recruiting grounds of Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, Czech Republic and Greece, as well as the French and German second tiers, which are all in Band 4.
As a result, more players are available to sign from South America than many European countries.
Brighton dipped into South America signing Ecuador international Moises Caicedo from Independiente, but Sportsmail understands the Seagulls had an eye on the £4.5m central midfielder anyway and it was not a Brexit-driven decision.
‘It’s not just Covid; Brexit has also been a factor in the January window,’ Kieran Maguire, an academic and football finance expert, told Sportsmail.
‘Now, moderate players who have been attractive to Championship and lower Premier League clubs do not qualify.
‘The big clubs, who sign international players from major footballing nations, or those who have played in the Champions League, will be unaffected, but below this level the choice is reduced.’
Clubs’ Appeals Process Extended
The governement has extended the period it will allow clubs to appeal where a player is narrowly refused a visa to the UK.
Under the post-Brexit rules, a player must qualify for a Governing Body Endorsement through the FA, in order to obtain a visa.
The player must earn 15 points, based on a system using international appearances, quality of the league they play in and Champions League selection.
Where a player just misses out and achieves between 10 and 14 points they could appeal to an Exceptions Panel, for a fee of £5,000 . The appeal process was only due to be in place for the January transfer window.
However, Home Secretary Priti Patel has written to the governing bodies for football in all four nations, and announced an extension to the summer window, to help clubs hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
A Home Office Spokesman said ‘By doing this we protect opportunities for our best home-grown sporting talent while providing access to elite and established international sports stars across all parts of the UK’
Post Brexit trading conditions in the football transfer market are more challenging