Q&A: How does coronavirus impact transfers and contracts?
Will less money be spent? When will the window re-open? What happens to contracts? Who decides and when?
By Lyall Thomas
Last Updated: 31/03/20 3:56pm
Like all aspects of life, football has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic - and one area without exemption is player recruitment.
The British transfer window is scheduled to open on June 10 and Sky Sports News has been told the majority of clubs are continuing to operate on that basis; maintaining their research and due diligence on potential targets, despite not being able to watch them.
However, there is widespread consensus that the forthcoming market has already changed and some interesting predictions are materialising on the more long-term implications.
Sky Sports News has spoken to a number of experts in the industry - sporting directors, chief executives, scouts, agents - to try to answer some fundamental questions and report back on what it means for your club's plans.
Does all of this mean less money spent and fewer deals?
Like the rest of the world economy, the financial impact of the pandemic on football has been immediate and significant, but that significance is being felt to varying degrees depending on the size of the club and its financial model.
All have suffered the instant loss of gate receipts, but while for some this accounts for just a portion of revenue, for others it is their lifeblood. Some have already guaranteed their 2019/20 season-ticket money, for example, but others are paid in instalments. Some have begun selling next season's, while others have put that on hold. Some have a low proportion of 'walk-in' supporters, for others they account for most on a match-day.
What the loss of this revenue means for player recruitment is quite simple though; there will be less money to spend on players, across the board. That means fewer deals. And the more months that go by without football, those transfer kitties shrink even further.
Teams can't scout at the moment... what does this mean?
The loss of live scouting has also immediately hindered recruitment processes too, increasing the risk of getting decisions wrong. That means clubs are even less likely to follow through on deals they were perhaps already planning, as one sporting director at a top-level club explained.
"It's true to say that modern scouting networks are not dependent on live scouting," he told Sky Sports News. "With platforms like Wyscout and the like, you can still watch players from your office - and actually we've all found more time to do that now we are working from home.
"But live scouting is still an important part of the process. It shouldn't be a calamity for any club to not be able to watch players for the time being. But for some it might make or break a deal they were looking to do. Perhaps they won't sign one or two they otherwise would have this summer.
"That, coupled with a hesitancy to commit to spending, because a club is not sure how much money it's got, will make recruitment really difficult. It will have a huge effect on the amount of movement."
Could keeping the window dates the same help clubs?
But Kieran Scott, head of recruitment at Norwich City, is one of several figures in the industry that told Sky Sports News they believed opening the window as planned, or perhaps even sooner, could allow struggling clubs to compensate for their lost revenue quickly.
"There are two ways of looking at it," he said. "You could open the window now so clubs could generate cash from selling players. I can see the value in that.
"But then that could allow a buying club to use it to their advantage and offer to buy players cheaper. I don't think anyone wants that and I don't think another club will want to be the cause of another club to go under. It's a tough one."
Could transfer fees be slashed?
What less money for players, and the need of some clubs to generate cash quickly, also means is the slashing of transfer fees. All of those Sky Sports News have spoken to agreed that this is inevitable.
One top German agent said he expects valuations to drop by as much as 50 per cent, and that there are growing fears of a fire-sale of Bundesliga talent to other countries, namely the Premier League, exacerbated by the German league's restrictions on private investment.
Sky Germany's transfer expert Max Bielefeld does not expect this to impact the cost of the very top players such as Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund nor Bayer Leverkusen's Kai Havertz - both valued at more than £100m each - due to the financial strength of those particular clubs.
But one top-level sporting director believes that Premier League clubs will be hit so significantly that their power over the market will decrease, and it is therefore more likely the likes of Sancho and Havertz, both linked with the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea, will stay in Germany.
"For a long time we've all known clubs have been paying over the odds on transfer fees and player wages, and for a long time many have wanted something to be done about it," he told Sky Sports News. "This could finally be what we need to reset the market.
"I think one of the greatest impacts will be on the Premier League. Many of our clubs have been paying bigger transfer fees and salaries than anywhere else In Europe for a long time; outgoings have been significantly higher.
"But that can't happen this summer. Maybe the very top clubs, who are less reliant on gates, will be okay. But many clubs could be facing anywhere between three and five months without any regular income at all.
"That will hit the valuations of players and what clubs are willing to pay. I think we could be looking at by at least 50 percent. This could reset valuations, and it could take a long time for fees to get back to where they were before this happened, if at all."
Norwich head of recruitment Scott believes the lack of cash could see an increase in the number of structured deals, to help minimise the risk of huge outlay on a player, especially when research has been hampered.
"I think the risk factors being too great would mean more clubs looking to do more free transfers or low-fee deals, so the outlay isn't too great if it goes wrong," he said. "Or you could see more deals being structured so that they pay less up-front and more in incentivised add-ons in future than usual. Either way, it means lower transfer fees in the short-term."
What about player contracts?
One major caveat to all of this is the issue of player contracts and registrations. All contracts are due to turn over into the next year or expire on June 30, and some deals have already been done for a new player to arrive on July 1.
The most notable of these in the Premier League is Hakim Ziyech, who will join Chelsea from Ajax. If the season begins again in June, or even later, what happens to him? Can he join Chelsea, or will he have to stay in the Eredivisie?
The internal FIFA document presented to its coronavirus working group recommends that current contracts for players and coaches be extended until the end of the delayed domestic seasons, but the wider conversation has been dominated, so far, by ideas of individual players and clubs working together to find solutions themselves.
One sporting director at a top level UK club believes, however, that a unilateral decision would be the best way to solve the issue, via what seems like a relatively simple amendment, and that FIFPro could play an important role in how this gets decided.
"The best suggestion I've seen is unilaterally exchanging the months of relevant clauses in contracts," he told Sky Sports News. "So, for example, expiration in June becomes July, and so on.
"That unilateral change actually protects the players too. The top players need to be thinking about their colleagues further down the leagues. It's those that stand to lose the most, so will benefit the most.
"Lower league clubs are struggling financially, so you could have a situation where, say, a League One club, has half of their players running out of contract, and having to release them. How are they going to finish the season then?
"I think this is where FIFPro could step in and agree to unilateral changes, on behalf of all players. Nobody wants players being sacked or made redundant and this would help protect against that."
Such a change would see Ziyech join Chelsea at a later date but Ajax retain a player they believed they had for the rest of the campaign anyway. It would also solve the issue of what to do with players like Jan Vertonghen at Tottenham, who sees his deal expire, and should alleviate much of the anxiety for lower-league players also out of contract, who are almost always playing for their futures.
So what happens next? And who decides?
All roads lead to FIFA. Their working groups continue to assess the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the game. No date has been fixed for them to announce a decision, but world football's governing body is well aware of the urgency in relation to player contracts and potential changes to this summer's transfer window.
But like the rest of the world economy, football waits for coronavirus to subside to a point of safety for everyone - and there is broad consensus that football does not want to prioritise itself over public health.