Clubs fight back against player power in European soccer

September 1, 2017
Chile's Alexis Sanchez, right, leaves the field after his team lost a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match 0-3 to Paraguay in Santiago, Chile, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Chile's Alexis Sanchez, right, leaves the field after his team lost a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match 0-3 to Paraguay in Santiago, Chile, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Alexis Sanchez was about to play in a crucial World Cup qualifying match for Chile in Santiago when he learned his potential transfer from Arsenal to Manchester City had fallen through.

Philippe Coutinho played — and scored — for Brazil in Porto Alegre while likely knowing his dream move to Barcelona from Liverpool was not going to happen.

Riyad Mahrez left the Algerian national team’s training camp in Sidi Moussa in a bid to tie up a transfer from Leicester that never materialized.

Diego Costa, it seems, remained on virtual strike at his family home in Lagarto, eastern Brazil, as Chelsea fought hard for last-minute signings, without allowing its one-time star striker to leave.

The effects of the closing of Europe’s summer transfer window on Thursday spread well beyond the continent, leaving some of the world’s most high-profile players disillusioned and facing awkward returns next week to clubs they no longer want to play for.

In many cases, this was the transfer window when clubs struck back against the growing phenomenon of so-called “player power.”

In the English Premier League, Coutinho, Mahrez, Costa and Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk all put in transfer requests amid interest from other clubs. None of them got their moves away, with their teams bringing in so much revenue these days — mainly through record broadcasting deals — that they no longer need the cash from player sales.

Liverpool even turned down a reported bid of 118 million pounds ($150 million) from Barcelona for Coutinho. Most pundits are in agreement that the Brazil playmaker isn’t worth that much, however fine a player he is.

Of course, some players did get their own way. Ousmane Dembele went missing at Borussia Dortmund, while being the subject of bids from Barcelona, before finally securing his move to the Camp Nou. It was reported that Monaco accepted a bid of 100 million euros ($120 million) for Thomas Lemar from Arsenal, only for the player to turn down a move reportedly because his prospective new club wasn’t in the Champions League.

In the last minutes of the window, England midfielder Ross Barkley also rejected the chance to join Chelsea from Everton, against the wishes of both clubs.

But Leicester midfielder Danny Drinkwater secured his switch to Chelsea in one of the final deals signed off on deadline day, having lodged a transfer request this week following interest from Chelsea.

Here’s a look at some other themes from the summer window, during which clubs in Europe’s so-called “big five” divisions — England’s Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 — spent around 4.1 billion euros ($4.9 billion) on players:



Clubs in England’s top flight spent a record 210 million pounds ($270 million) on the final day of the transfer window and a record 1.43 billion pounds ($1.85 billion) in the window in total, according to soccer finance expert Deloitte.

That was almost double the gross outlay of the next highest-spending league (Serie A, $950 million)

“Premier League clubs have broken their own record for transfer expenditure for the sixth summer in a row,” said Dan Jones, of Deloitte. Jones added that Premier League clubs were still spending within their means — because of the huge rise in broadcast revenue — even though 13 of them broke their own transfer records.



Paris Saint-Germain was the most spectacular player of the market, with perhaps political and sporting goals for the club’s Qatari owners.

The 400 million euros ($475 million) commitment to bring Neymar from Barcelona and 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe from Monaco, initially on loan, signals PSG’s intent to finally win a Champions League title.

Quite how PSG’s business complies with UEFA’s ‘Financial Fair Play’ rules, which were designed to curb excessive spending, is a matter that is now being investigated by European soccer’s governing body.

PSG could try to balance its books as a big seller in January’s transfer window. If the likes of wingers Julian Draxler and Angel Di Maria are squeezed for playing time, they could be moved on.

Some see other motivations for the spree. During the offseason, Qatar was targeted diplomatically and politically by its regional neighbors. The 2022 World Cup host, which owns the glamorous Paris club through its Qatar Sports Investments fund, has showed its ambitions and influence in world football.



The more Spain dominates European club football, the less it seems to spend.

Spain has taken home 11 of the last 12 UEFA club trophies (Champions League, Europa League, Super Cup) on offer. The exception is Manchester United’s Europa League title in May.

Yet, by close of transfer business Thursday — 24 hours before Spain’s buying window closes — La Liga clubs ranked fifth among the five biggest leagues by overall spending. It totaled 545 million euros ($647 million), according to Deloitte.

Still, Barcelona and Real Madrid made a net profit on transfer trading.

Atletico Madrid’s hands were tied by a summer-long FIFA transfer ban.

Barcelona’s nine-figure splash on Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund re-invested less than half of its 222 million euro ($263 million) Neymar windfall, and Madrid’s sale of Alvaro Morata to Chelsea helped fund its relatively modest purchases.



Europe’s clubs are getting increasingly frustrated about how the final weeks of the transfer window affects the start of their domestic league campaigns.

In England, for example, there are three weeks between the first round of the Premier League and the transfer window closing on Aug. 31. On Thursday, England’s top-flight clubs will vote on a proposed change to the deadline so that teams can no longer register new players after the season has begun in mid-August.

The majority of clubs are expected to vote in favor of the change, and they have support beyond England.

“I don’t like the first three, four weeks of the championship that have still the markets open,” PSG’s former sporting director, Leonardo, told The Associated Press. “It’s distractions, and problems, and using this situation even to do some deals.

“You have time between the end of a championship and the beginning of the (next) one.”


Douglas reported from Manchester, England. Dunbar reported from Geneva.


Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80