European football crisis hits the transfer market

updated: February 25, 2007 09:28 IST
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The "sold" signs on many of Europe's top football players have been replaced with "for sale". Problem is, no one wants to buy. After years of exorbitant transfer fees and player wages, many clubs are now facing up to the fact they are in financial trouble and the football transfer market across Europe has all but stopped. Normally, there's a flurry of activity across the continent at this time of year. But with flamboyant management style now replaced by simple economic survival, the summer 2002 has barely seen any movement. Sinking revenues from television rights are particularly hitting clubs' finances. At clubs in the biggest-spending countries of Italy and Spain, owners and managers are realizing they simply do not have the money they once did and big transfers are now few. The most expensive transfer fee so far this summer is the relatively lowly sum of 13 million pounds ($20 million) paid by newly-promoted English club Manchester City for French striker Nicolas Anelka. That may still seem a lot of money. But when compared to the days when Inter Milan and Real Madrid were spending figures of between 30 million and 45 million pounds ($45 million and $70 million) for players like Christian Vieri, Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane, it is particularly cheap. In Italy, the surprisingly early exit of the national team from the World Cup was followed by a series of admissions and proposals that showed the country's top clubs can no longer afford astronomical payrolls. The most poignant example so far came recently when Inter Milan's top international stars - Ronaldo, Vieri and Alvaro Recoba - agreed to cut their salaries in acknowledgment of tight financial times faced by their club. Recoba is paid 8 million euros ($8 million) per season while the other two each earn 6 million euros ($6 million). The salary cut will likely range from 5 to 10 per cent. Italian soccer officials were also discussing the possibility of linking 20 per cent of players' contracts to performance-based criteria, such as winning the league title or getting demoted. There has even been talk about delaying the September 1 start of the upcoming Serie A season for a month to give clubs more time to bolster their payrolls. This campaign has also been marked thus far by the swapping of players, with little cash involved. In England, Man City is the only club to have spent more than 20 million pounds ($30 million) on players this summer. Of teams finishing in the top six in the Premier League, only Liverpool and Newcastle have spent more than 10 million pounds ($15 million). Arsenal has spent only 2.1 million pounds ($3.3 million), Chelsea and Leeds nothing at all. Manchester United has long been immune to the financial perils endured by most clubs and appears to be the only club in Europe with the finances to buck the trend. It is reportedly ready to launch a 35-million-pound ($55 million) bid to Leeds United to bring star England defender Rio Ferdinand to Old Trafford. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says the subdued preseason transfer market was a sign European soccer had hit a financial brick wall - and that clubs were becoming more realistic about their spending. "We all thought the car was going into the wall and the accident was about to happen - but the car has already hit the wall," says Wenger, who guided his team to the Premier League and FA Cup trophies last season. In Germany, the downfall of media group Kirch has seen the majority of the 32 first and second division Bundesliga clubs suffer financial woes because of lost TV rights revenue. The German Football League (DFB) has had to accept a downsized TV deal which will see clubs receive 270 million euros ($270 million) less than originally planned. Because of the uncertainty, few clubs have bought new players while some big-name stars, like Bayern's longtime captain Stefan Effenberg and Borussia Dortmund's Miroslav Stevic, can't find new clubs. In Spain, Madrid's president Florentino Perex and sporting director Jorge Valdano - who broke the record fee for Figo and Zidane in consecutive years - have not yet spent a cent this summer, and are instead desperate to sell others. There is not much hope for any change soon. In Spain, Germany and Italy, the pay-per-view television negotiations for the next two years herald drastic cuts. (AP)