The Quiet Bazaar: Soccer’s Transfer Market Braces for the Unknown

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Let’s start with a game. Here are two prophesies about the immediate future of soccer’s transfer market — that great bazaar of haggling and horse-trading, whispers and bubbles — offered by two executives at European clubs.

One sounds confident, bullish, determined to see the shafts of light amid the gloom. “The market for young stars will still be the same,” he said. “Maybe you will not see deals for people like Kylian Mbappé, but the fact that clubs are prepared to pay $30, $40 or $50 million for young talent? That will continue.”

The other sounds a little more downbeat. “I’m convinced there will be an impact,” he said. He had spoken to colleagues across Europe, he said. All of them were concerned by the financial picture they could see. All of them seemed to think they might have to sell players before they could buy.

“There are many clubs who would like to put players on the market to sell, and there are not so many clubs able to pay in cash or meet their demands,” the executive said. “I believe prices will go down. Maybe salaries as well.” That offers a glimmer of hope. “Maybe, then, we will be able to bring them down to a more stable and rational basis,” he said.

Which of those views, would you say, belongs to an executive who approaches the market as a vendor, and which as a buyer? Which interpretation of reality — precisely the same reality, built on the same data and the same figures and the same knowledge — is more likely to belong to Michel Louwagie, the chief executive of the Belgian club K.A.A. Gent, and which to Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, his counterpart at Bayern Munich?

That is the thing with the transfer market: Everything is a game. Louwagie, of course, wants to believe that values will hold up, because he has an asset — the Canadian forward Jonathan David — to hawk. Rummenigge needs to assert that values will come down, because Bayern’s needs to approach negotiations for the likes of Leroy Sané from a position of supposed weakness.

Neither, in truth, offers a full picture of what the first post-coronavirus transfer market will look like. Neither could, in fact, because Louwagie, Rummenigge and the rest of soccer are all driving blind into the next transfer window. They could not know, because nobody knows, for sure, quite how deep the impact of the shutdown will run.

It feels, certainly, like it is being underestimated. Over the next week, Italy and England will join Spain and Germany back on the field, making it four of Europe’s five major leagues returned to action, all of them hopeful that in doing so, they have safeguarded the majority of their television revenue for this season.

Of the leagues that have not — France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Scotland — at least three can at least take solace in the fact that they have new broadcast deals coming…

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