Matt Maher: Prepare for a transfer window like no other

Any supporter disappointed at news Wolves will likely need to sell before they can buy might take some solace in the fact theirs won’t be the only club in that position this summer.

Ruben Neves of Wolverhampton Wanderers reacts. (AMA)
Ruben Neves of Wolverhampton Wanderers reacts. (AMA)

Now more than one year on since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and with football revenues still reeling, the talk among club directors, agents and anyone else who typically gets involved in transfers is of the forthcoming window being the trickiest ever in which to operate.

Much to the relief of Sky Sports News, there will still be the odd mega-deal. There are still a small handful of clubs either with resources deep enough to push on as though the pandemic never happened. Some of that money will trickle down and there will still be a market.

But it is likely to be far smaller than before and with the European Championships adding a further complication, things are likely to happen late. For many clubs, this will be a window where there is a focus, to borrow a phrase used by Wolves technical director Scott Sellars this week, on being “creative”.

A quick glance at the figures explains why. During the 2019-20 season, Premier League clubs lost more than £600million combined, in large part due to the pandemic causing a three-month halt in the action and forcing matches behind closed doors.

The numbers for the campaign just finished won’t be revealed until early next year but considering it was played almost entirely without supporters, they are unlikely to make pretty reading.

Remember, too, that the Premier League has fared better than any other league both in the UK and on the continent and you can begin to understand the problem. For any market to function effectively it requires both buyers and sellers and there are currently too many of the latter and not enough of the former. While the financial troubles gripping other European leagues has in some cases created opportunities, it comes with problems.

Villa’s £14m January capture of Morgan Sanson is a good example. The collapse of French football’s TV deal meant they were able to take advantage of Marseille’s need for money and sign a player valued at more than twice the price just six months previously.

The flip side is that those clubs in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and elsewhere who might, pre-pandemic, have offered a landing spot to some of Villa’s fringe players simply don’t have the funds to make the deal.

Since returning to the Premier League two years ago, Villa have spent more than £260m on new signings but raised virtually nothing from sales. While they will again invest this summer, the club’s board know that in the long-term such a trend is not sustainable, either in terms of pure finance or for the fact the eventual result is the stockpiling of players.

Matheus Pereira of West Bromwich Albion puts his fingers in his ears as he celebrates after scores a goal to make it 1-1. (AMA)

There are very few clubs who can sustain a playing squad as large as, for example, Chelsea’s. The London club will enter another window looking to find permanent homes for the likes of Danny Drinkwater, Victor Moses, Michy Batshuayi and Ross Barkley, all still on the payroll but all still on the payroll, each a more than handy player but priced too highly for the vast majority of clubs to consider good value.

Barkley, for example, is valued at around £30million but with the midfielder, who turns 28 later this year, likely to demand a significant salary and the danger his value will have decreased by the time his next contract expires, it is a deal mid-ranking Premier League clubs simply cannot afford to chance in the current climate. Moving out unwanted players has never been harder and increasingly there is a situation where if clubs want to raise funds to help balance the books they may have to sell those they would otherwise like to keep.

Albion’s position is slightly different following relegation but in an ideal world the Baggies would want Matheus Pereira and Sam Johnstone to remain and help engineer an immediate return to the top flight.

Instead the duo represent the best chance to boost the coffers though, in a depressed market, they might not draw quite the same offers as they might have done when rival clubs had more cash to spend.

At Wolves the player whose future is currently subject to most speculation is Ruben Neves. Suggestions the midfielder might depart for a fee of £35million have been played down by the club but neither has a sale, at the right price, been ruled out.

The situation is essentially the same as a year ago when Diogo Jota departed for Liverpool in a £45m deal. He was not a player Wolves ideally wanted to sell but the transaction was ultimately considered to be good value. Over the course of last summer, Wolves brought in as much as they spent. This year will be no different.

The focus then switches to how that money is reinvested. There will be many who question whether Jeff Shi’s claim, made this week, that Wolves have rarely made mistakes in their transfer dealings stands up to scrutiny. At very best, the jury remains out on just how effectively the money raised from the sales of Jota and Matt Doherty was spent.

Unquestionably a club at a crossroads following Nuno Espirito Santo’s exit, Wolves need a good window after a bruising season exposed deficiencies in their squad. But like pretty much everyone else, they will need to box clever.

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