Like so many aspects of society at the moment, football is facing uncertainty with some very turbulent months in store for the sport. According to Premier League chiefs, finishing the current season remains a priority once conditions are safe enough to do so. However, safeguarding the financial future for clubs that have seen their revenue streams dry up may supersede that priority in the near future.
Wage deferrals and the controversial furloughing of non-playing staff are a couple of measures already in place by some to soften the blow of vanishing revenue steams. Yet with no confirmed resumption dates for hostilities, there has been increasing speculation about the long-term impact on club’s spending power in subsequent transfer windows.
With the next window due to re-open in June, clubs face a myriad of issues as they look for new recruits. From expiring contracts to a general halt in physically scouting targets, it is difficult to see how clubs can approach this coming window anything like the confidence we have seen in recent years.
Coupled with logistical issues, there is of course, a potential lack of funds. Hanging over everyone is the very real threat of a rebate for appropriate media partners totalling just over £760 million if the current season cannot be completed by the contractually agreed deadline of July 16.
If they do face such a crushing refund, clubs would be left with a sizable hole in their transfer budgets and far less capital to lavishly spend on eye-watering fees.
Of course, such a scenario would leave some teams in dire straits and desperate to sell players. However, that would also likely lead to increased depression in the market as asking prices would further contract with rival clubs savvy to their plight and simply unwilling to part with the funds they have left.
Ominously, Manchester United Chief Executive Ed Woodward recently said in a Fans Forum meeting: “I cannot help feeling that speculation around transfers of individual players for hundreds of millions of pounds this summer seems to ignore the realities that face the sport.”
This stark economic reality has also seen Liverpool reportedly tap the brakes on their interest in Timo Werner. Other clubs are also likely to take a step back and survey the situation before forking out huge sums on major targets.
Expenditure on top talent has grown like clockwork in all but one of the previous seventeen years since the transfer window was introduced in 2003. In 2019, Premier League sides shelled out just over £1.4 billion on new players, the vast majority of which was spent on overseas talent.
Indeed the boom and bust natures of normal economies did not really seem to apply to football’s gravy train until the current global pandemic brought the game to an unprecedented standstill. Faced with such a startling scenario Premier League clubs may well be forced to look inwards for solutions.
Until recent seasons top-flight sides were not exactly esteemed in their reputation for bringing through an abundance of young players.
More and more clubs would turn to the transfer market for a quick fix rather than give a youngster a shot lest they miss a big chance or a cause a fatal defensive error with huge ramifications. The margins for success and failure simply did not allow for the luxury of bringing through an academy graduate.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is the first local Liverpool academy graduate to feature in over 100 games, since Steven Gerrard nearly two decades before him. Furthermore, Phil Foden at Manchester City had only managed 335 minutes of Premier League action before the season was postponed in March.
With endless riches, the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City could simply go shopping as opposed to delving into their youth ranks to see if there was a player who may blossom in the first team. This is not exclusively an established big six phenomenon either. As recently as November last year, the likes of Bournemouth, Watford and Sheffield United had handed out less than 500 minutes combined to academy products in the league.
However, the past couple of seasons have seen a turn of the tide. Faced with a transfer embargo, Chelsea and Frank Lampard were forced into using their vast legion of academy stars, most of whom had been previously living out of a suitcase whilst out on their vast network of loan deals.
The likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori have all impressed while benefiting from regular action and exposure in the first team. The talented trio have clocked up 5,538 minutes of league action this season whilst helping their side contest a top-four spot and reach the last 16 of the Champions League.
Okay so they had their hand forced, but Chelsea’s success with this current crop of graduates does at least provide some cause for optimism should the next couple of transfer windows fall victim to the current crisis.
Manchester United have also had success in this. A total of 20 academy players saw competitive action in the Premier League last season. The Red Devils were miles ahead of anyone else as they gave their lads more than 27,000 minutes of senior game time. Arsenal have also had some joy this season with youngsters impressing since Mike Arteta was sworn in at the Emirates in December.
Of course, not every kid coming through is going to be good enough but whereas in the past, the knee-jerk response was to open the chequebook, this current crisis could force a more general, internal shift to look at academy stock before spending vast sums on an older, more established name.
The likes of Lampard, Jurgen Klopp, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Arteta have all shown in their managerial careers that they are willing to give game time to capable graduates. If a big freeze in the transfer market does set in, they could find some refuge in this approach as clubs could well be forced into taking a longer and more considered look at what is coming through their academies before this crisis is at an end.