(Transfer) Window shopping

November 05, 2020

Reflections on one of the busiest transfer windows ever seen at Level, despite the predictions for a quiet year.

The popular view was that the 2020 summer transfer window would be quieter than normal. Covid-19 was predicted to curtail the spending of the 20 Premier League clubs and many thought that the usual round of rumours, signings and near misses would be more muted.

That’s not how it played out however, certainly in England’s top division, where a cool £1.3 billon was splashed out from the start of the window in July until its close on Friday, 16th October.

It would be wrong, of course, to say that the pandemic had no impact at all. In Leagues One and Two, a combination of salary caps and the loss of much-needed matchday revenue hit all clubs hard. That led to greater caution in transfer business further down the pyramid than we’ve seen previously – and sadly, most clubs face a continued struggle.

However, despite the unique challenges posed by the pandemic, our expert team of sports lawyers at Level had one of our busiest transfer windows ever – advising agencies and players on over 75 permanent transfers, loan deals, new playing contracts or contract extensions. In the process, we dealt with 16 Premier League clubs and advised on deals involving clubs in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Sweden, France, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and India.

We were delighted to work with a broader range of agencies and players than ever before. Working remotely turned out to have limited impact on our work, partly because Level has always been an agile business, with lawyers well-used to working flexibly. Whilst our clients have faced significant challenges during the pandemic, we’ve been available 24 hours a day to assist them as and when required.

Business as usual? Only for some

The truth is that, though revenue is down for every club in the football ecosystem, Premier League clubs were somewhat sheltered from the worst impacts of the pandemic due to the league’s lucrative broadcasting deals. Whilst the matchday experience, and the revenue generated by it, disappeared overnight, little changed in the transfer dealings we saw in the upper echelons of the industry.

But in the lower leagues, clubs were notably reticent to commit to long-term contracts and we saw a significant number of loan deals between clubs. The ongoing financial struggle being endured by clubs from the Championship down, and indeed the financial viability of numerous EFL clubs, is by far and away the single biggest challenge facing English football.

So what next?

Many assume that as sports lawyers working in football, we take a break when the window shuts, but of course that’s not the case. Football never sleeps. Our attention, as well as the focus of many of our clients, shifts to non-transfer related business. We’re also just two months from the start of the 2021 January transfer window and already things are moving. Injuries, clubs’ positions in the table and the inevitable managerial merry-go-round will see the pace pick up over the coming weeks.

Having worked with a broader range of clients than ever before in the last window, we’re likely to have a busy January too. The winter window is usually quieter, but we’re sure there will be plenty to keep us busy, and 2021 looks like being a fascinating year, with Project Big Picture, the potentially huge changes to the regulation of agents’ activities and other significant issues on the horizon. In the meantime, we can reflect on a hectic, at times challenging, but enormously satisfying summer window and look forward to helping clients, both existing and new, come the 1st of January.

Will Hill is a specialist sports and media lawyer at Level