Premier League: Lesser-deemed clubs' vigour in the transfer market set to make new season more competitive than ever
Surprises in terms of results and captivating performances from the smaller clubs in the Premier League are inevitable, as is the promise of further lavishness from the English clubs in the future transfer windows.
“I look at us, I focus on us – not much on the others. For us, it’s a very simple market as you can see,” Jose Mourinho declared mere hours after the summer transfer window slapped shut for English Premier League clubs — the new, shortened transfer window pegging the clubs at a disadvantage as opposed to their European counterparts for whom the window will close at the end of August. Just four weeks between the Russia World Cup and the new Premier League season certainly compelled clubs to put a rush on things, yet did not dampen the euphoria surrounding transfers in England.
The net spending of £1.26bn by all Premier League clubs was definitely less than the £1.4bn spending from last summer, but it was mostly due to the lesser number of transfer deals (282 as compared to last year’s 384) and not for a lack of intent or application by the top division clubs. While the market was poignantly simple for Mourinho’s Manchester United who failed to land a number of their targets – Tottenham Hotspur’s failute to bring in a single player being the only subservient piece of business to United’s three summer arrivals. A lot of other English clubs cleverly used their monetary freedom to strengthen all across the pitch.
That the Premier League is a money-making venture is a well-documented fact, the current £8.4bn television rights deal spanning from 2016 to 2019 providing clubs with ample ammunition to play around in the transfer market. Manchester United were handed the biggest payout of £149m of prize money after last season while relegated bottom-feeders West Bromwich Albion took home £98m, even more than Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. This stark disparity in prize monies across Europe has not only allowed the Premier League bubble to further enhance, but also tilted the balance of power in the English clubs’ favour especially in the currently inflated market.
“I assure you the walls trembled. The leaders of my club did not tell me anything, not even look me in the eye. It was clear that something had happened: they promised me one thing and then it turned out that they did not keep their promise, asking for more money for me,” Jean Michel Seri had famously said after his £32m move to Barcelona failed last summer, OGC Nice plugging the deal at the last minute. Even so, nobody had expected that the gifted midfielder will be lining up at the Craven Cottage for the newly promoted Fulham just a year on, for a lesser sum of £25m.
And it isn’t simply Seri or Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa who became Fulham’s record signing on the deadline day, but billionaire-philanthropist Shad Khan’s purse strings were loose enough that Slavisa Jokanovic has the likes of Maxime Le Marchand, Andre Schurrle, Alfie Mawson and Sergio Rico at his disposal – some permanently, some on loan. But perhaps, Fulham’s shrewdest piece of business this summer has been securing the services of Aleksandar Mitrovic who played a prominent role in securing promotion to top division – essentially assimilating a squad of players capable of finishing in the top half of the table.
If Fulham’s summer spendings of upwards of £70m surprised Premier League observers, Watford and Wolverhampton Wanderers continued the trend of cherry-picking talents from a multitude of European clubs. Wolves’ relationship with super agent Jorge Mendes had already come under the scanner during their Championship-winning run last season, and the arrivals of Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio (both European Championship winners with Portugal) as well as marquee signing Adama Traore from Middlesbrough has further fanned the rumours that Mendes plays a crucial role behind the scenes in the club’s transfer dealings.
Watford had its own share of big names coming in as Gerard Deulofeu and Marc Navarro arrived from La Liga. Not to be left behind, West Ham signed Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson in addition to the likes of Jack Wilshere and Caros Sanchez – all of them coveted in the esteemed circles of English top division. It isn’t simply the purchasing power of the English Premier League clubs, but the ability to pay better wages which has allowed the smaller clubs to put together squads which are able to compete against the ‘top six’, making the league even more unpredictable and in turn bringing in more television revenue. While the likes of Bundesliga and Serie A continue to suffer on the commercial aspect, the Premier League has grown by leaps and bounds, for a transfer like that of Seri or Anderson considered unthinkable even three seasons ago.
The inflation in the transfer market may have shifted the negotiating power into the hands of the selling entity, but Premier League clubs don’t seem to be bothered by such constraints anymore. Not only has the television revenue contributed to that, but the more extensive scouting systems deployed by the likes of Leicester City, Huddersfield Town and Southampton has ensured that the technical calibre of the league keeps improving. If Huddersfield brought in Erik Durm from Borussia Dortmund, the arrival of Norwegian winger Mohammed Elyounoussi at Southampton has sparked intrigue on the coast of Hampshire.
Leicester City had taken everyone by surprise when they uncovered the jewels that N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez were, both now plying their trades for cash-rich clubs – this summer’s arrivals of Rachid Ghezzal and Ricardo Perreira being already considered as masterstrokes for the 2015/16 Premier League champions. Even Brighton got in on the act by signing Alireza Jahanbaksh from AZ Alkmaar in one of the shrewdest pieces of business of recent times – the Seagull’s record signing being one of the potential superstars of the upcoming season.
Not that the elite clubs haven’t had splurged, Liverpool and Chelsea even shattering the world record fee for goalkeepers twice within one month, but the smaller clubs have most definitely gatecrashed the party this summer – their vigour promising to change the dynamics of the league, so much that it could further widen the gulf in class between the mid-table clubs in England and those in Spain, Italy or Germany.
The league’s mercurial nature had always been down to the uber-competitiveness of the lesser-deemed clubs or as Paul Wilson wrote in his lead-up to the new season, ‘reckless competitiveness is the unique selling point that makes the Premier League so wealthy and watchable.’ Surprises in terms of results and captivating performances from the smaller clubs are inevitable, as is the promise of further lavishness from the English clubs in the future transfer windows.
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