It must be great to be a players’ agent in Europe these days: business is booming. You’re at the centre of the richest market in world football and for the past decade and more, if you’re any good at it, you’ve been cutting a slice from a very large, juicy pie.
It’s hard to credit the numbers. A recent Report commissioned by the EU lays bare just how steep the growth in money and transfer activity has been since the turn of the new century. In the last year of the old century, 1999-2000, there were 8,531 player transfers amongst member nations of Uefa.
By 2005-6, that figure had almost doubled to 15,953, and five years later, in 2010-11, there were 18,307 individual player transfers in Europe.
The money involved has gone up by even greater percentage increases. In 1999-2000, the entire sum spent on transfers was just over €1.7billion; by 2005-6, it had risen to just under €2billion.
A couple of seasons ago, in 2010-11, even at a time when the financial world had been going to hell in a handcart, transfer activity added another €1billion to the mountain of cash that clubs were spending: a grand total of just over €3billion in one year. Meanwhile, despite significant increases in income, the overall debt burden that top league clubs in Europe were carrying reached €1.6billion.
Funny old game, isn’t it?
As we all know, nations and their clubs can be generally divided into two varieties: importers and exporters; those who buy and those who sell. Some nations act as a ‘hub’ for transfers of players: Portugal (from Brazil to Europe); Scotland (for mainland European players en route to England), and France (for African players on their way to the ‘big five’ group of Euro leagues).
But the overall effect of the steep rises in numbers of transferred players and the money involved appears to have concentrated more and more power amongst just a few clubs in each country; the bulk of it in the hands of just a dozen or so ‘super-clubs’ across Europe.
If you think there’s very much real competition anywhere for the top league title in most European nations, consider these statistical truths: over the period, 2001 – 2012, the title silverware was picked up by one of the three top clubs in each country almost every season.
For example, this was true:
• 100% of the time in Spain (and in Lithuania!)
• 92% of the time in England and Portugal
• 83% of the time in Germany, Belgium and Poland
• 75% of the time in France
Not much competition outside the top three clubs is there? In Portugal, just one club won the league 67% of the time; in France and Poland, 58% of the time, and in England, Germany and Belgium, exactly half the league titles over twelve seasons were collected by the same club in each nation.
Perhaps, it’s not such a funny game after all; it certainly isn’t a genuinely competitive one.
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.
The views of our regular columnists are independent, and as such do not represent those of Leaders in Football.