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How transfers actually work (The Athletic)


Well-Known Member
Apr 4, 2021
An interesting article about transfers.

At no point does it mention Mr Levy. Well, not by name anyway.

How transfer bids actually work: Emails, brinkmanship and massive egos​

Tim Spiers

You are a senior recruitment boss at a football club who has spent months working on a potential new signing.

This has involved hour upon hour of scouting the player both in person and on video, analysis of their data, reference checks, discussions about where they will fit into the squad and prolonged courtship either via his agent, the player or even their family.

That is not to mention talks and debates with your club’s head coach and/or chairman/owner who must also be aligned not only on whether they want to sign the player too, but if they are even affordable.

Oh, and the player must also want to join, their club must want to sell and there is the further complication of whether any other clubs are trying to buy them too.

If all of that has gone well — if the planets have aligned — your bid goes in and you can start negotiations with the other club. And those negotiations might take a few weeks too. Not as easy as on Football Manager, eh?

But how is a bid actually lodged? How do you offer tens of millions — maybe even hundreds of millions — of pounds to buy a human being’s football-based services? Does it have to be in writing? Is football the only industry still using fax machines? Do carrier pigeons have any role?

Well, the boring answer is that a lot of bids are made via email.

The vast majority of club-to-club correspondence takes place on other platforms and through different mediums, like WhatsApp, voice notes, phone calls or sometimes in person, but when it comes to that official bid, email is often how it’s done. That makes it official.

Fax machines were still common in the 2000s and even the 2010s. David de Gea’s prospective move from Manchester United to Real Madrid fell through in 2015 supposedly due to a dodgy fax machine which meant documents weren’t sent in time before the transfer window closed.

An email may drop into a junk folder, but that’s about as unreliable as it gets. The bid is usually sent by (and to) a member of a club’s legal team and/or a club secretary, with the relevant recruitment chief or sporting director copied in (this is sometimes prefaced with a call to say it’s coming) and it contains a fairly standard template message outlining that the bid of X pounds comes from the board of the buying club. It will include contingent and non-contingent fees, i.e. money up front, add-ons and perhaps a sell-on clause.

In fact whether you’re Accrington Stanley or Arsenal, the vast majority of bids follow more or less the same structure: a transfer fee (and a payment breakdown possibly spread over a few years), add-ons, a sell-on fee (typically ranging from 7.5 per cent to 15 per cent) and, in rarer cases, a buy-back option.

The higher up the ladder you go the more complicated things can get — dealing with European or global clubs you may have two or three agents involved (one on behalf of the player, one for the selling club and one for the buying club) but the same basic principles apply.

A deal’s structure can depend on the original asking price. If the buying club is giving the selling club almost everything they want, for example, the sell-on percentage will be lower and there will be fewer bonuses. For example, if the selling club want £20million ($25.6m) and the bid is £18m up front plus a couple of million in add-ons, perhaps in the event of the player making 50 appearances or if the club avoids relegation that season, a future sell-on may be set at 7.5 per cent.

When the bid comes it’s not sent blind. A palatable framework — or the basis for negotiations to begin — may have been discussed verbally or over WhatsApp beforehand. The selling club will often know it’s coming, because agents and recruitment teams have already been in discussions.

In fact, personal terms have almost always already been agreed with the player (“nine times out of 10” according to one Premier League recruitment chief).

A member of a Championship recruitment team, speaking anonymously, told The Athletic: “I can’t think of a transfer I’ve been involved in that was done without personal terms being agreed first.

“Bids always come officially from the club, but very often now if we or a club want a player, they will talk to an agent first and agree personal terms, otherwise it’s just a wasted bid and a waste of everyone’s time. If the player’s not interested then what’s the point?

“The agent will also set the expectations of the transfer bid to the buying club and, in return, we could give them a figure that we think is reasonable. That saves a bit of backwards and forwards between clubs before a first bid goes in and it quickens up the process a bit.”

It also reduces the risk of disrespecting a selling club with an offer that might be deemed derisory.

There are a lot of factors that go into deciding what the figure will be — the club’s budget, the player’s age, their previous transfer history, how long is left on their contract, the selling club’s financial status, the importance of the player to the selling club (i.e. a star striker or an expendable squad player) and of course market trends.

Recruitment teams and scouts are only looking for players within a certain budget anyway — Crystal Palace aren’t going to be scouting Kylian Mbappe — so it’s rare that clubs are going to be massively far apart on initial fee expectations when it comes to those crunch negotiations. Plus clubs will usually speak to agents first to gauge whether a deal is feasible. But it can happen.

When Arsenal bid £40,000,001 for Luis Suarez from Liverpool in 2013 (any bid over £40m would mean Liverpool had to inform Suarez of the bid, reportedly as per the terms of his contract) it prompted owner John Henry to question what narcotics the Gunners were taking.

That’s not to say the first bid won’t be below what the buying club is eventually prepared to pay, but this is page one of the negotiation manual stuff.

“We want to be respectful but we also know there will be a line in the sand drawn as to what we would be willing to go to,” a recruitment head at a Premier League club says.

“Different sporting directors have different tactics but I’ve found the best stance is to be respectful; you have got more chance of getting a deal done if you don’t low ball everyone. It doesn’t have to be a game of tit for tat. Some treat it that way, but that’s not my approach.

“Some will go through a whole process — the first offer always gets the same reply: ‘He’s not for sale, that doesn’t meet that valuation’.

“So when you are dealing with certain clubs you know that first bid may as well just be a throwaway number. The second bid is where you start to properly negotiate.”

Even if a player has a release clause, the buying club will still chance its arm with a bid lower than the set fee. And even then there can be negotiations about how the fee is structured, unless it has been stated in the clause that it is paid in one lump sum.

After the first (or second) bid has gone in, negotiations begin. In years gone by these may have been thrashed out face-to-face in a boardroom, or hotel or maybe even at a service station, but that’s increasingly rare now.

“A few years ago, when you’d only have a handful of people involved in a transfer deal, you might say to a chief executive or a director of football, ‘If you’re free this afternoon I’ll just drive and meet you if we want to thrash this deal out today’,” a senior recruitment staff member from a Premier League club tells The Athletic.

“There are generally two or three hands on the tiller now, so it’s difficult to get all the relevant people around a table — although it does still happen occasionally.

“The problem you’ll have now is weirdos who own football clubs, they all just want to ‘win’. It’s a Trumpian mindset for a lot of them; they just want to win every single fight, be that keeping their player, or getting a massive fee, or signing a marquee player just to show off. So that makes it hard to have sensible negotiations sometimes.

“And then you can end up spending so much time over the smallest of details because clubs are playing games too. They might be stalling because, even if they tell you that you’re the only club they’re speaking to, they may be speaking to others too and trying to drive the price up. And that’s where the media can come in.”

Ah yes, the pesky media. One senior recruitment figure at a top-flight club says he recently lodged a bid for a player and the details were out in the public domain via a story on a local newspaper’s website an hour later.

“One hour is quick. It’s not normally as quick as that, but everything comes out eventually,” he says.

“I expect in that case it came from the selling club to drive the value of the player up and get other clubs interested.

“Pretty much every transfer comes out in the media beforehand, ether via the selling club to drum up an auction, or the agent to drive the money up, maybe even the player because he wants to raise his profile. Or maybe someone in the building overhears something and they tell a mate, who tells their mate, then before you know it it’s on Twitter.

“Very rarely the buying club might do it, perhaps to show to their fans that they are bidding for a big player or something, but that’s just a sign of an insecure club without a plan.

“There are no secrets in football anymore so it’s pretty much impossible to keep information private. That can be frustrating if it jeopardises a deal as actually paying for a player is just the tip of the iceberg. The body of work that’s gone into identifying and trying to sign him is enormous. We’ve got people taking 30 to 50 phone calls a day over just a few deals.”

Bids are seldom accepted off the bat and negotiations can take a while. There are typically up to five or six points that aren’t agreed on and usually it will take a compromise on two or three of those points before an agreement can be reached.

The personalities involved make a big difference. The chairman of one Premier League club was described to The Athletic as “willing to push his own grandmother over to get a good deal”. :whistle:

A recruitment boss at a Championship club adds: “There are a couple of people where I could say, ‘Look, we’ve got a problem with the deal here — we’re really far apart, can we just knock our heads together and sort it out?’ and that would be the worst possible thing you could say to them, because they see that as the balance of power massively shifting their way and you may as well just put your head in a lion’s mouth because they already think they’ve won.

“But most people are fairly reasonable. So you might agree the terms of engagement with them before you start negotiating: ‘Shall I just give you our maximum best offer right now?’.

“Most recognise that once the deal is done for the player there will be another time your paths will cross, which could be later in the same window. And people will remember how you behaved in those moments.

“There are smoke and mirrors too — that shouldn’t be forgotten. There was a situation recently where a lot of clubs wanted or needed to generate money by the end of June to help with the financial year, so your asking price might be lower than it is by July onwards, but you don’t want everyone knowing that.

“And, to be honest, there’s no point trying to price a player out of a move if he wants to go. You’re just going to piss him off. Players are too often treated like commodities rather than people.”

Owners will have the final say on whether to take the bid or not. Typically owners are kept apprised of negotiations, but it’s certainly not uncommon for them to kibosh deals at a late stage if the price has soared too high (for the buying club) or not high enough (for the selling club).

And when it finally comes to accepting the bid, what happens?

Again, back to email templates. It’ll be something along the lines of: we accept the bid and give you permission to talk to the player.

Well, that’s probably already happened, but still, this is the game they all play.

For the love of Spurs

Well-Known Member
Mar 28, 2015
‘’The chairman of one Premier League club was described to The Athletic as “willing to push his own grandmother over to get a good deal”


I wonder who that could be.