European Football (Soccer) Transfer Questions

I’ve been a big fan of European football since the '90’s, when TNT would broadcast the UEFA Champions League final rounds. Since then, I’ve always kept track of the players, top leagues and prestigious cups in Europe. And to this day, I still can’t figure out the issues and strategy behind player transfers.

I guess it’s just that I’m used to the US sports, and how trades, free agency, etc. work for MLB, NBA and NFL.

At the moment, there is a lot of talk around the potential of a Gareth Bale move from Tottenham to Real Madrid. It seems that he’s stuck at Tottenham until the 2 teams can agree on a transfer price. He’s not currently playing due to an apparent injury, although most people think it’s more that he doesn’t want to play to prevent an injury.

Let’s assume that the teams eventually agree on a transfer price. What if Bale doesn’t want to move to Spain? Can he outright reject the transfer? What if he wants more money when he gets there and Real in not willing? Will the price they paid be returned? Can Tottenham just sit him on the bench until he agrees to go?

Also, I hear some talk about teams setting very high or low transfer prices on players even before there is any talk of a move. How dies this work and what is the strategy involved? I guess I need a comprehensive primer on the whole subject.

Players can refuse to go, but rarely do as it means they end up sidelined by management. Winston Bogarde at Chelsea, for example, he was a disappointment on a huge wage, but they couldn’t get rid of him because no-one else would offer him the same wage. So he sat in the reserves and waited out his contract.

Similarly, clubs sometimes fail to agree terms with players. Gonzalo Higuain going to Napoli rather than Arsenal this summer, for example, supposedly he failed to agree terms with Arsenal.

I’m pretty sure the money isn’t transferred until it’s all done and dusted.

Also keep in mind that if his contract expires and a team from a different country’s league wants him, he can transfer without the original team receiving any compensation. This wasn’t the case until 1995, when Jean-Marc Bosman tried to transfer to Dunkerque (France) when his contract with RFC Liege (Belgium) expired, but transfer fee rules still applied even after someone’s contract had expired back then, so Bosman went to the European Court of Justice claiming this violated the European Union’s treaty - and won. (I am under the impression that if the player wants to go to another team in the same country, or to/from a team not in a European Union country, then they can still demand transfer fees.)

Before the Bosman ruling (European Court ruling on the transfer of fairly anonymous Belgian player) in 1995, players were pretty much owned by their clubs. Clubs could refuse to transfer players whose registrations they owned, even if they were out of contract. Players could refuse transfers I believe, but in reality often had little say.

For example Tommy Lawton, who was an England international at a time when few teams could even keep up with England, let alone get a result and one of the major stars of the 1930s and 1940s was famously (at the time) transferred from Chelsea to Third Division Notts County for what was an English record transfer fee. I believe when it happened it was generally thought he was unwillingly transferred, though reading his obituary it seems he did in fact acquiesce.

The Bosman ruling has caused somethings to change (out of contract players are free to sign with anyone they want, whether abroad or at home), though it hasn’t really put the brakes on the transfer market. Clubs generally now will not let the contracts of players who they want to keep run-down and instead when there is a year or two left offer them new contracts which has caused wages to increase dramatically. As has been pointed out, they can still apply pressure to players who refuse to go (though they have less leverage than they used to).

Gareth Bale can refuse any transfer (though by all accounts he is very keen to go to Madrid and it is Tottenham who have been resistant to letting him go). The way a transfer works is that Club A put in an offer to Club B for Player C who is in contract with Club B, though Club B are perfectly entitled to tell Club A to get lost or to ask for another offer; if Club B accept the offer, then Club A is allowed to talk to Player C who can outright reject the transfer or can enter into contract negotiations with Club A; once Club A and Player C agree a contract Player C will have a medical at Club A and the transfer is finalized.

Teams will set very high transfer prices on players they don’t want to sell, the reason being that they don’t want other clubs making offers which could potentially unsettle the player and force them to sell. Conversely if a team had no need of a player they may very well put a very low or zero price on them, this is as they don’t want to have to continue to pay a player they don’t want.

Is ‘setting a transfer price’ binding. Can’t the team simply reset the transfer price up or down at will. If so, what’s the point of setting one to begin with?

Plus, can’t players be traded, sent out on loan, etc.? If so, how does the transfer price fit into those situations?

Transfer price is binding once it’s written in a contract. It’s not set between the player and the team, but between the two teams. The contract between the player and the first team can include a transfer fee to be paid by the player if he leaves without the first team’s agreement - a team that accepts a transfer price is by definition agreeing to the player leaving.

Transfer prices, loan agreements, etc. get negotiated individually; they’re not set in the player’s contract.

Players under 23 are still paid for, even when out of contract, but the transfer fee is set by tribunal, rather than the teams involved, and is invariably very low.

Players can be swapped, sometimes there’s a transfer fee paid as well. Gallas and a few million pounds was paid to Arsenal by Chelsea for Ashley Cole, and Chelsea also paid Liverpool £15m plus Andy Carroll for Fernando Torres.

Loan deals are normally to get a young player some experience. Sometimes a fee is paid by the club taking the player on loan, sometimes not. Sometimes the parent club will pay some share of the player’s wages, depending.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is agents. They play a major role these days, as they claim a share of their client’s earnings, and frequently also a share of transfer fees, they will constantly be dripping poison into the ear of their client, agitating for a move. Some agencies also have special relationships with some big clubs or their rich owners, and use that to provide players.

Setting a transfer price is not usually binding, though sometimes players have clauses in their contracts that if a bid over a certain amount is received then it must be accepted (alternatively sometimes they have clauses which state bids over a certain amount must be “considered”, but these clauses are next to worthless: see Luis Suarez). Setting a transfer prices is really like setting a price on anything you “own” and know someone may be interested in making an offer for.

As has been pointed out players can be traded, though as it is almost unknown that two clubs will have players which they would both be happy with an outright swap it also usually involves cash as well. Loans are another kettle of fish as there’s a number of different circumstances in which a club may wish to loan out a player and most of the time they don’t involve one club paying another club a fee.

Andy Carroll was bought by Liverpool from Newcastle with £35 million of the £50 million they got from selling Torres to Chelsea on the same day.

Liverpool’s agreement was for £15m plus Andy Carroll. That’s why Carroll was so ridiculously expensive, because Chelsea were paying for him and couldn’t get Torres without him. It’s pretty unique situtation, though.

^^ This is the first time I’ve heard of this. Why would they Liverpool ask for 15 million + a player that Chelsea don’t have?

Every news item I’ve googled so far says it was 50 million for Torres and Liverpool went and used that money to buy Carroll. I guess you can say that Chelsea “paid” for Carroll but that doesn’t make remotely similar to the Ashley Cole-William Gallas deal.

Bale and Real will have had talks through agents ages before a bid was put in. There’s no point wasting time chasing players who don’t want to play for you.

Agents play a huge role and this will be the case in most transfers now.

“The fee for Torres was dependent on what Newcastle asked for Carroll. The negotiation for us was simply the difference in prices paid by Chelsea and to Newcastle. Those prices could have been £35m [from Chelsea for Torres] and £20m [to Newcastle for Carroll], 40 and 25 or 50 and 35. It was ultimately up to Newcastle how much this was all going to cost.”
– John Henry
from an interview in the Guardian, via here:

Whilst it certainly does go on, this is ‘tapping up’, is against transfer rules and could have serious consequences for those involved if caught (i.e. fines for all involved, loss of licences for agents and a transfer ban for the club). In this transfer saga I don’t believe there’s been any suggestion that Real Madrid tapped Bale up, though if it is as endemic as some suggest it may’ve happened.

I wasn’t aware of that (though it could possibly be a face-saving excuse from Henry as to why they paid so much for Carroll), still it’s not really a swap as Chelsea never owned Carroll (indeed if they’d bought him he would’ve been unable to go to Liverpool as a player can only be transferred once per window).

Yeah that’s not even remotely similar to the Gallas-Cole swap.
The deal wasn’t 15 million + Caroll , it’s 15 million + whatever Newcastle was asking for Caroll. If Liverpool decided at the last minute that Caroll wasn’t worth it they still would’ve gotten 50 million.

It seems to me that players would want as low of a transfer price on themselves as possible. This would maximize their potential salary with a new club. Meanwhile, teams with an especially gifted player would set as high of a transfer price on him as possible to discourage poachers. So an agent that acts in the best interest of a quality player would try to negotiate a low transfer price in the player’s, and would allow for a higher price in exchange for more salary.

Do I have this correct?

Mainly the transfer fee is a matter for clubs and the player and his agent doesn’t get involved, whereas the player’s salary would be between him and the new club which would be negotiated between his agent and the new club. I don’t think a player would be likely to agree to move to a club that paid him less than they might have because they spent all their money on his transfer fee.

That said, I can think of a few situations where the amount of money paid or not paid will be relevant to a player:
[li] Transfer fees and wages are both a mark of how highly a club rate a player, so there will in general be a positive correlation between the two (i.e. higher transfer fee = higher wages), however correlation is not causation. Still when a substantial transfer fee is paid a player would expect his wages to commensurate. [/li]
[li]When a club sign a player who is in demand, but is a free agent because their contract has run out, or who was bought for substantially less than what would’ve otherwise been expected because their contract is about to run out, the club may be willing to offer a larger signing on fee or larger wages to the player in order to entice him. The rationale being that to otherwise get a player of similar quality they would have to pay a large transfer fee (though this would not apply to most free agents). For example Adebayor at Tottenham’s wages are the highest at the club (higher even than Gareth Bale’s) because Tottenham paid substantially less than they might have done (about 1/5 of what Man City paid for him).[/li]
[li]Players may receive a percentage of the transfer fee, if it is in their contract. This kind of clause would probably be used when trying to get a player who is likely to attract serious attention in the transfer market. For example Neymar got a larger chunk of his recent transfer fee from Santos to Barcelona (though the situation was complicated due to joint-ownership and most of the fee being paid to Neymar’s father as ‘commission’).[/li]
[li]As mentioned above, if a club demand a particularly large transfer fee for a player it may hamper that players’ ability to move, so some players have release clauses in their contracts which means that their club must accept offers above a certain amount.[/li][/ul]

Agents sometimes get a share of transfer fees. When Leeds bankrupted themselves and had to sell all their talent, they sold Harry Kewell to Liverpool for £5m, or which £3m went to his agent. That’s a particularly extreme example, but agents frequently work for two or more parties in a transfer, and pocket as much as they can.

Which is why they are the most hated people in football, with a general reputation for being greedy sleazebags.

What’s the difference between a player and his agent? The player gives 100%. The agent takes 10%.

(In reality, though, I suppose they mostly do a job and earn a living, same as everyone else.)