How PSR deadline impacted transfers: £323m of sales, questions marks and young players on the move

June used to be known as domestic football’s dormant month. The shutters went down, staff summered and meaningful business all but ground to a halt.

There was always scope for the odd super deal to be signed off — like Jude Bellingham’s move to Real Madrid or Erling Haaland joining Manchester City — but June was the organic divide between one season and another. Rest up and return in July to do it all over again.

In the last two years, though, June has felt that little bit different in the Premier League.

Relative serenity has given way to frantic dealings, all in the name of compliance with profitability and sustainability rules (PSR). This year felt even more frantic than last June. Not everyone is dragged in, but plenty of clubs had little choice but to sell players ahead of June 30 if they were to avoid the threat of a points deduction in 2024-25.

The final 10 days of June saw six Premier League clubs — Chelsea, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest, Everton and Leicester City — strike agreements to raise a reported £323million ($410m) through the sale of 15 players.

This was a significant leap from the year prior, when £198million was raised through sales. And the sense of PSR hitting hard only grows when you look at the figure from 2022, when just £75m was raised through sales.

Some of those last-ditch deals were not formally signed off until the opening days of July — and some are still to go through — but still served the same purpose. Accounting practices will allow for legally agreed transfers to be booked in the financial year that closed on Sunday, redressing losses and, most importantly, helping clear any PSR shortfalls.

Forest, for example, saw Orel Mangala’s sale confirmed on Tuesday evening, while they will expect to get where they want to be once the proposed sale of Moussa Niakhate to Lyon is also complete.

European football’s close season is not accustomed to weeks as chaotic as the one that has led us into a new financial year. The money raised by clubs was the equivalent of almost 15 per cent of all outgoing transfers in the Premier League last summer and, most strikingly, often involved mutually beneficial business. Nine transfers involved one financially challenged club buying from another.

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People at other Premier League clubs, who asked to be kept anonymous to protect relationships, questioned the values of the deals on more than one occasion.

The quasi-transfer deadline of June 30 was around last season, as Chelsea’s glut of sales to recoup £141million underlined. The number of clubs seeking remedial work this summer heightened its intensity.

Newcastle United, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa all accepted they had to sell at least one asset if they were to be PSR compliant, while the business done by Chelsea, Everton and Leicester suggested they also had accounting concerns.

Players were bought in the process, but it was the selling that mattered. Especially if those were academy graduates or inexpensively recruited youngsters. That was where the “pure” profit could be found.

Newcastle United could likely record £60million of profit in selling Elliot Anderson to Nottingham Forest and Yankuba Minteh to Brighton & Hove Albion, while Chelsea’s sale of Lewis Hall (Newcastle), Omari Hutchinson (Ipswich Town) and Ian Maatsen (Aston Villa) will see in the region of £80million added to their profit column. Aston Villa were another to benefit, selling Douglas Luiz to Juventus for £42million and Omari Kellyman to Chelsea for £19million.

Everton did enough business of their own when shifting Lewis Dobbin (Aston Villa) and Ben Godfrey (Atalanta), while Leicester were convinced to take the £30million needed (from Chelsea) to part with their influential midfielder Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall just two months after winning the Championship title.

Forest are yet to formally confirm their necessary business. But the transfer of Niakhate, on top of Newcastle-bound goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos and Mangala, who has now joined Lyon, should spare them a second successive PSR charge coming next season.

There has been a heavy air of desperation this last week that did not use to exist in the carefree weeks of summer. Barely a sale was done in June 2021 and in 2022 it was only moderately busier. There was Richarlison’s move to Tottenham Hotspur for £60million, announced on July 1, that gave a window into Everton’s looming problems. The only other clubs to sell so early in that summer were Liverpool (Sadio Mane to Al Nassr and Takumi Minamino to Monaco) and Manchester City (Gavin Bazunu, Southampton). Neither were then preoccupied with PSR problems, even if City have since been given 115 things to think about.

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Leicester sold Dewsbury-Hall to Chelsea (Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Last summer saw the pattern begin. Although Wolverhampton Wanderers operate to a financial deadline of May 31, thus making June 30 an arbitrary date, they sold off Ruben Neves while the Saudi Pro League money was on the table. Leicester’s perilous position after relegation was eased by the £40million sale of James Maddison.

And then there was the June business done by Chelsea last summer. Kai Havertz (Arsenal; £65million), Mateo Kovacic (Manchester City; £25million), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (AC Milan; £15million) Edouard Mendy (Al Ahli; £16million) and Kalidou Koulibaly (Al Hilal; £20million) were all moved on in time for their sales to be included in the 2022-23 accounts. Unlike Everton and Nottingham Forest, they were not found to be in breach despite lavish spending.

Chelsea repeated the trick this June but others were forced to focus sharply on the new and artificial deadline. Newcastle’s weekend, in particular, was a manic microcosm of the fight for PSR compliance.

That story is best told in detail, but the fact there was consideration given to selling Anthony Gordon and Alexander Isak, their two attacking favourites, illustrated the desperation of their plight. In the end, it was a 21-year-old local boy (Anderson) and a 19-year-old never to have featured for the first team (Minteh) that solved Newcastle’s problems in timely sales totalling £65million.

The profile of the players sold across the Premier League captured the need for a quick accounting fix. There is nothing to be gained from off-loading players bought for big sums, given the ongoing amortisation of those costs. Instead, the instant hit comes from selling the rookies.

Of the 16 players sold (or in the process of being sold) by Premier League clubs since the transfer window opened last month (including Taylor Harwood-Bellis’ move between Manchester City and Southampton), 10 were aged 22 or under. The average age of all sold has so far been 21.5.

It is this new artificial deadline and all that comes with it — the convenient trades, the sacrificial lambs and the pressurised players — that leave plenty feeling uncomfortable.

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Lewis Dobbin’s departure from Everton spoke for the fact many moves involved young players (Peter Powell/AFP via Getty Images)

The clubs involved will insist they have been creative in attempts to level out a playing field skewed towards those able to spend more, and that accounting constraints will always lead towards loopholes being spotted.

Rivals, though, have misgivings about how the last month has unfolded. A “number of clubs” requested clarification of the transfer rules, The Athletic has been told by people with knowledge of the situation, who have been kept anonymous to protect relationships. The Premier League then wrote to all 20 clubs in a circular.

A reminder was given that the Premier League are entitled to investigate any deals it believes are not conducted at “arm’s length” and holds the power to request any information over how a fee was negotiated and determined. The Premier League, in theory, have the power to return a transfer fee to the buying club if it has been deemed to be artificially inflated.

Every transfer of the last week will be subjected to the standard assessments of fair market value but the subjectivity of a player’s valuation, ultimately shaped by potential, makes it a difficult area to challenge clubs. The cynicism of others will not be enough to reverse deals.

Changes are coming to the Premier League’s financial rules but, so long as annual accounts form part of the assessment, these late deals pushed through before June 30 may well be here to stay.

(Photos: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)

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