The president of La Liga described the Premier League as “a doped market” after its clubs smashed the record for a January transfer window, spending €918 million in a spree that underlined the widening financial gap between English football’s top flight and the rest of Europe.
Chelsea led the way, breaking the British transfer record with the €120 million signing of Benfica midfielder Enzo Fernández hours before the window closed and the €99.6 million purchase of the Ukrainian winger Mykhailo Mudryk, as English clubs nearly doubled the previous January window record of €484 million, set in 2018.
Incredibly, Chelsea’s gross transfer expenditure was more than the combined total of all clubs in the Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 – and more than the cumulative spend of Premier League clubs in every January window except 2018.
“The British market is a doped market,” said La Liga’s Javier Tebas.
“You can see it clearly in this winter market, where Chelsea have made almost half of the signings in the Premier League. It is quite dangerous that the markets are doped, inflated, as has been happening in recent years in Europe, because that can jeopardise the sustainability of European football. I am happy because our clubs are economically sustainable, and that means that we have a future for many years to come.”
Tim Bridge, lead partner in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, said the figures show the financial dominance of the Premier League is increasing.
“The record spending by Premier League clubs this season is beyond anything that we’ve seen before,” he said. “It is a clear indication of talent acquisition being core to clubs’ business strategies.
“Premier League clubs have outspent those within the rest of Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues by almost four to one in this transfer window, allowing them to hold on to their key players, while attracting top talent from overseas.”
Combined with the €2.13 billion paid for players during the summer transfer window, the latest figures mean that English football’s top-flight clubs spent a total of €3.15 billion during the 2022-23 season, surpassing the €2.1 billion spent in 2017-18.
On a hectic deadline day, Tottenham completed their move for Pedro Porro from Sporting, with the right-back joining on loan before a €45 million transfer in the summer, while Arsenal signed Jorginho from Chelsea for €13.5 million.
Nottingham Forest, meanwhile, made three signings – the Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas, the Atlético Madrid defender Felipe and the Newcastle midfielder Jonjo Shelvey.
But despite the heavy outlay in January, only a fraction of the money trickled down to the rest of the football pyramid as top-flight English clubs prioritised players from abroad. According to Deloitte, only €28 million was spent on players from the Football League.
“The decline in spending across the English football system is likely to be of growing concern for members of the English Football League and could further fuel the debate around distributing finances more evenly across the pyramid,” said Bridge.
“Transfer income from Premier League clubs, which has historically been an important source of club funding, now appears to be less guaranteed.”
According to Deloitte, across the rest of the big five European Leagues there was a cumulative gross spend of €253 million and net receipts of €119 million. That constituted a year-on-year fall of 35 per cent in gross spend compared to January 2022.
In Serie A, gross transfer spend fell by 84 per cent, from €183 million in January 2022 to €29.85 million in January 2023, the lowest spend by the league since 2006, while La Liga dropped by 63 per cent , from €78.8 million to €29.8 million.
“Across Europe, many clubs have sold some of their most valuable talent to other leagues, particularly the Premier League, as they look to prioritise financial sustainability,” said Deloitte’s Calum Ross.