Gabriele Marcotti, Senior Writer, ESPN FCSep 7, 2023, 12:37 PM ET


Gabriele Marcotti is a senior soccer writer for Read his archive here and follow him on Twitter: @Marcotti.

The summer transfer window in most of Europe shut on Friday. Here are a bunch of takeaways, though first, some caveats.

For starters, in most cases, transfer fees are not official, though clubs generally disclose them privately to media. We’ve based them on media reports collated by Transfermarkt, the most reputable (though not infallible) source out there. Regular readers will know to look at “net spend” – the amount raised by shifting players minus the amount spent to acquire players – rather than overall spend, since it’s a better measure of economic heft, though overall spend provides gaudier, headline-friendly numbers.

Note also that in recent years we’ve seen a proliferation of “loans with an obligation to buy.” These are deals where a club takes a player on loan (sometimes with a loan fee) for a season and then is obligated to make his signing permanent the following summer, which is when the transfer fee gets paid. (This is usually done for accounting reasons, so the buying club can push the expense down the road.).

Transfermarkt operates based on when the deal becomes permanent and the fee is paid, so we’ve gone with that. They also only use the base fee in their calculations, not considering bonuses (even though sometimes they’re easily attainable and simply a way of spreading the cost) or sell-on fees. It’s an imperfect system, but it’s what we have.

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Also worth considering is that “free agents” may not cost a club a transfer fee, but often come with higher wages and sizeable commissions to intermediaries. While their cost may be “zero,” they are anything but free. In fact, thinking of “financial might” just in the context of transfer spending is wrong, because salaries are a huge part of it. Many times, older players will cost less in transfer fees but command higher wages, whereas it’s the opposite with younger ones, who typically cost more to sign but are on lower salaries.

With all that out of the way, here are five takeaways on the summer transfer landscape in Europe’s big five leagues.

1. The financial strength of the Premier League is unmatched

For the second straight summer, the Premier League has spent, in net terms, more than a billion euros: €1.295 billion ($1.390bn) this summer, versus €1.345bn ($1.440bn) last. What’s remarkable too is that the Premier League hasn’t just outspent the other big leagues; they’ve actually spent money – period – rather than making money, which is what the Bundesliga, Serie A and LaLiga have done by shifting players for more than they’ve paid to acquire them. The Bundesliga had a net inflow of €293.3 million ($315m), Serie A €169.9m ($182.1m) and La Liga €131.7m ($141.2m).

This financial might doesn’t automatically translate into dominance on the pitch in European competition, but we’re getting there.

Just four years ago, the Premier League (90.462) ranked well behind La Liga (102.283) in UEFA’s country coefficient ratings, which are based on results accrued in the previous five seasons. Now, they’ve opened up a huge lead at the top (109.570 to Spain’s 92.998).

2. The transfer market was distorted by the “Summer of Saudi” – without it, the Premier League’s net spend would have been even higher

Saudi clubs have spent €850m ($912.5m) this summer and that number could grow even further, since the window in the Saudi Pro League doesn’t shut until Thursday. It has had a massive effect throughout Europe.

The Premier League’s total would likely have been around the €1.6bn ($1.72bn) mark if not for the fact that the “Summer of Saudi” meant a raft of expensive players (from Riyad Mahrez to Aleksandar Mitrovic, from Kalidou Koulibaly to Fabinho) made the jump.

3. Financial constraints in Spain and Italy have driven down net spend

Belt-tightening at traditional free-spending clubs has had a major impact. Barcelona, whose financial woes are well chronicled, realized a transfer profit of €102m ($109.5m), while Atletico Madrid clocked in at €57m ($61.2m) profit. In fact, if you disregard Real Madrid -- who unveiled Jude Bellingham -- LaLiga’s biggest net spenders were … Rayo Vallecano, the minnows from the capital, who spent €11.6m ($12.5m).

In Serie A, Juventus spent €21.6m ($23.2m), but that includes having to officially acquire Manuel Locatelli and Moise Kean -- two loan players with “obligations to make the moves permanent” – for some €60m ($64.4m). Like we said: It’s very much a case of “kicking the can down the road,” as without them, they would have made a hefty profit.

By contrast, in the five summer windows through 2022, Juventus spent an average of €66m ($70.9m) a season. Inter and Roma, both of whom were under a settlement agreement with UEFA for violating financial fair play rules, recorded positive transfer spends of €65.2m ($70m) and €68m ($73m) respectively. That goes some way towards explaining how Serie A raised more than it spent for the first time in almost 20 years.

4. The Bundesliga remains a model of spending responsibility

They have the biggest economy in Europe and the highest average attendances, but Bundesliga clubs continue to be a model of fiscal probity. For the fourth consecutive year, the German top flight raised more than it spent and its profit continues to rise (from €22.4m [$24.1m] in 2019, to a whopping €293.3m [$314.9m] this summer). And no, it’s not Saudi-fueled: Sadio Mané to Al Nassr for €30m was the only significant move in that direction.

Just two Bundesliga clubs spent more than €10m/$10.7m (contrast this with the Premier League, where 16 spent more than that in net terms): Bayer Leverkusen (€12.1m/$13m) and Union Berlin (€29.9m/$32.1m) and in the latter’s case, it’s a function of qualifying for the Champions League (and its hefty prize money) for the first time ever after years of being run on a shoestring.

The league’s three richest clubs each lost some big-name players – Josko Gvardiol, Dominik Szoboszlai and Christopher Nkunku at Leipzig, Jude Bellingham at Borussia Dortmund and Sadio Mané, Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernández at Bayern – yet they managed to retool and reload while still recording hefty transfer profits: €18.3m ($19.6m) at Bayern, €46.4m ($49.8m) at Dortmund and €88.2m ($94.7m) at Leipzig.

It’s a different way of doing business, perhaps driven by the concern that Saudi money this summer has driven transfer prices out of kilter.

5. Paris Saint-Germain are once again the outlier

They managed to send Neymar for €90m ($96.6m) and still ended up spending more than €200m ($214.7m). That’s more than any club in Europe and globally, second only to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal (and that’s just because they sold them Neymar, who tipped the balance both ways).

More than any other club, PSG seem to operate by their own rules. They had the highest wage bill in football last year and, somehow – despite the departures of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos -- may end up with that title again, which takes some doing.

Clearly, it’s not just Saudi money that’s driving European transfer spending from the Gulf. Qatar also has plenty of resources and is unafraid to used them.