Coronavirus sees transfer spending fall by more than €2 billion among Europe's top five leagues

6 October 2020

Photo: PA Images English clubs accounted for 12 of Europe's 20 biggest transfers, with Chelsea's signing of Kai Havertz (left) from Bayer Leverkusen for a reported €80 million being the most expensive purchase

Clubs in Europe's biggest five leagues this year spent 41 per cent less than the €5.5 billion they cashed out last summer.

LaLiga clubs were particularly stingy and spent less than a third of what they did in 2019, while Bundesliga clubs spent less than half.

Unsurprisingly, Premier League clubs spent the most – by far – spending just €190 million less than the €1.6 billion they spent last summer.

Emil Gjerding Nielson and Joseph Mailil, analyst

When president of the European Club Association (ECA) Andrea Agnelli earlier this year predicted the overall value of the transfer market to shrink by 20 to 30 per cent due to the coronavirus pandemic he might have been overly cautious. At least for now. 

Clubs in Europe's top five leagues spent a total of €3.3 billion on transfers this summer – 41 per cent less than the €5.5 billion they spent in 2019, a significant sign of the financial consequences brought on football by Covid-19. 

"That's probably symptomatic of where we expected to be at with the pandemic," Dr Dan Plumley, a senior lecturer in sport finance at Sheffield Hallam University, tells with a caveat.

"We've seen figures that are quite high – perhaps higher than we might have expected in a market where clubs are struggling with revenues linked to the pandemic".

In Spain's top tier, clubs spent a total of €411.8 million – less than a third of the €1.3 billion they spent last summer. Meanwhile, in Germany, Bundesliga clubs spent just €323.2 million on players - less than half of last year's spending of €747 million.


Premier League reigns supreme

Clubs in the Premier League were once again the biggest spenders and with expenditures of around €1.4 billion cashed out just €190 million less than the €1.6 billion they spent last summer. 

That is despite clubs facing more than €360 million in TV rebates, the cancellation of the league's three-year €621 million broadcasting agreement with China's PPTV, and the prospect of no matchday income for the foreseeable future. 

Accordingly, English clubs accounted for 12 of the 20 biggest transfers, with Chelsea's signing of Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen for a reported €80 million being the most expensive purchase, after Juventus' signing of Arthur from Barcelona for €72 million, and Napoli's signing of Victor Osimhen from Lille for €70 million. 

"The Premier League has for the last ten years been pulling away from the rest and it is going to continue for the next couple of years purely because of the TV money," Plumley says.

Clubs in France's Ligue 1 spent more than both the Bundesliga and LaLiga at €434 million, down from €716 million last summer. Serie A clubs spent €747 million, €422 million less than they spent in 2019.


LaLiga and Bundesliga with negative net spend 

Premier League clubs had the most astonishing difference in terms of spending versus income and had net spending of €901 million, while Serie A clubs' net spending stood at €38 million, and Ligue 1 clubs' at €57 million.

"Other clubs in Europe are seeing the power of the Premier League to be able to draw a big transfer fee. If you are looking to offload a player and that player is wanted by a Premier League club there is an opportunity to generate a big transfer fee," Plumley says. 


In LaLiga, clubs actually had a positive balance of €82 million this year compared to the €302 million negative net spend last summer. Bundesliga clubs also had net income of €1.7 million. Likely due to the lack of activity from those countries' super clubs.

"Usually a lot of the transfer activity is driven by the big clubs - Barcelona, Real Madrid and perhaps Atletico Madrid," he says.

"We've seen Barcelona come out and say they've lost €97 million and are looking to shift players on rather than bring them in, while Real Madrid haven't signed a Galactico superstar this time around. The same goes for Germany". 

The ECA expects clubs to lose out on collective revenue of up to €4 billion for this season and the next, while EBITDA excluding transfers is expected to drop by €3.1 billion in total. 

In addition, clubs are expected to, on average, exceed UEFA's guideline of a maximum wages-to-revenue ratio of 70 per cent. For the 2020/21 season, the level is expected to reach 70.1 per cent whereas without the pandemic it would have stood at an estimated 62.9 per cent.