Premier League remains Europe's highest spending league on transfers

07 September 2018 4 min. read
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The English Premier League remained Europe’s highest spending football league in the 2018 summer transfer window. However, while the league left its nearest competitors for dead, major spending by top teams in Serie A and La Liga has seen the pair gain ground.

The perpetual boom of transfer spending of Europe’s footballing elite seems to finally have slowed, despite another summer of record transfer fees. A huge premium on top talent saw the total spend of the EU’s five top footballing leagues stand at 126% higher than in 2009. Then, the cumulative spend topped a now frugal seeming €2 billion, but this has more than doubled since, to sit a huge €4.5 billion. While this is a colossal change, however, spending slowed in 2018 compared to the rise in transfer fees seen between the same transfer windows in 2016 and 2017.

The largest part of the top five leagues’ spending remains the English top-flight, with soaring television revenues enabling English teams to spend top dollar on summer recruits, year after year. However, the traditionally free-spending English Premier League seems to have cooled in regard to bank-breaking expenditure in 2018. The best example of this is probably Manchester United, who previously did not think twice at bringing in the then world record breaking Paul Pogba for an eye-watering  £93.2 million, alongside others. This year saw the pricey ambitions of Jose Mourinho frustrated, though, with the club signing three players for less than the value of a single Pogba.

Transfer spending of EUs largest leageus in Summer window

As a result, Italy and Spain in particular hosted spending which seemed to gain ground on the €1.4 billion cheque written by English teams. Italy’s Serie A was once the biggest spending league in Europe, with the likes of AC Milan and Juventus maintaining an era of continental dominance with a constant stream of big-money buys. The Premier League only surpassed this in 2003, but following a succession of scandals – which saw Juve relegated to the second tier, and AC Milan part ways with long-term owner and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – 2018 represents the first time since 2011 that Italian football’s spending has come within 6% of the Premier League.

Seven years ago, the two were matched at 30% of the share of spending each in a more modest €1.8 billion market. Now, while Italy’s 25%, or €1.1 billion, was heavily supplemented by the high-profile €117 million arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo – who at time of writing still to score his first competitive goal for the club – it signals an intent in the sleeping footballing giant to return to the sport’s top table, with an Italian club not having won a European trophy since Inter Milan in 2009/10, under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho.

Spain also made a gain on the spending of English clubs, albeit a more modest one. Spain’s footballing elite have enjoyed the run of the continent in recent years, hovering up the last five Champions Leagues and four of the last five Europa Leagues titles. Spanish football finds itself in a period of transition, however, with Ronaldo’s absence adding to a void which saw a number of high-profile departures from an ageing Barcelona, including captain Iniesta. With Barca seemingly abandoning their long-heralded ideological approach to developing youth players into world beaters, and instead competing frenetically in the transfer window, Spain’s spend jumped to €893 million from €577 million the year previously, and now accounting for 20% of the top five leagues’ spending.

Contrastingly, however, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 both saw spending fall. The German premier division spent €498 million, compared to the French elite league’s €586 million, both declining on last year’s levels. This may be in part because the top clubs of both nations have drafted in new managers for the season, and owners were less confident to splash the cash on the whims of these unknown entities. However, in the case of Ligue 1 at least, it is also because last year represented a landmark in terms of expenditure, and the league has now returned to its usual spending rate. The transfer of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain alone cost in excess of €200 million last season, while another lucrative deal for World Cup star Kylian Mbappe was completed as part of a loan deal that commenced in 2017.

Since 2009, the Premier League remains the largest spender of the top competitors, by some distance. The top 20 teams of England have spent a total of €9.6 billion since then, compared to €6.09 billion from nearest rivals in Serie A. La Liga has spent a total of €4.7 billion, while the Bundesliga lags on €3.5 billion – narrowly ahead of Ligue 1 at €3.08 billion.