Transfer spending and activity across men’s and women’s football around the world has smashed new records, according to a FIFA report.
Men’s football clubs across the globe splashed a record-breaking $7.36bn on transfers in the summer transfer window (between June 1 and September 1), which represents a 47-per-cent jump from the mid-year window in 2022.
Transfer spending in women’s football more than doubled over the same period – reaching a new, mid-year record of $3.0m. The number of transfers also increased for the sixth year running, with a record-breaking 829 (+19.1 per cent on previous period) moves – of which 66 (+83.3 per cent) were for fees.
Who spent what?
In the men’s game, England topped the list during the window with $1.98bn spent on transfer fees, while also signing (449) and selling (514) more players than any other country.
Saudi Pro League clubs made a splash in more ways than one, with their $875.4m summer splurge ranking second, ahead of the remaining ‘big five’ European leagues: France ($859.7m), Germany ($762.4m), Italy ($711.0m) and Spain ($405.6m).
As a result, clubs from the AFC region accounted for 14.0 per cent of global transfer spending – the first time teams from a confederation other than UEFA have surpassed a 10-per-cent share of the total.
Germany recorded $1.11bn profit from their transfer business – the first time clubs from a single association have received more than $1bn in the mid-year transfer window.
Agent fees also reached a new, all-time high, with $696.6m paid during the period, bringing the total for 2023 to date to $853.0m, which is 36.9 per cent higher than in the whole of 2022 and more than in any other year.
Saudi spending analysed
Saudi’s spend in the transfer window, which closed on September 7, exceeded the spending of four of Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues with only the Premier League ahead of the Middle Eastern nation.
“This marks the first time since 2016 that another international league has outspent any of Europe’s ‘big five’ during a football transfer window…,” said Izzy Wray of Deloitte’s Sports Business Group.
“European football continues to be the benchmark for the game globally, and the Saudi investment in the game will divert its focus towards the infrastructure, to elevate the level of Asian football.”
Earlier this year, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced a Sports Clubs Investment and Privatization Project involving the league champions Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr and Al Hilal, with a host of top players moving to the league.
PIF own 75 per cent of each of the four clubs, while their respective non-profit foundations own 25 per cent of each.
This window’s biggest transfer move came from the most successful club in Saudi Arabia, Al Hilal, who spent £86.3m to bring in Brazil forward Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain.
In addition to Neymar, Al Hilal also spent big money to sign Aleksandar Mitrovic, Kalidou Koulibaly, Ruben Neves and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
Saudi Pro League champions Al Ittihad signed Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Fabinho, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr splashed out on Otavio, Sadio Mane, Aymeric Laporte, Marcelo Brozovic and Alex Telles.
Al Ahli, who returned to the Pro League following a season in the second division, also completed a string of signings including Gabri Veiga, Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Edouard Mendy, Alain Saint-Maximin and Merih Demiral.
“The implementation of the Kingdom’s privatization program is likely to draw a wave of interest around the SPL, potentially fuelling the current spending pattern for the windows to come,” Wray said.
“With the spending power of the SPL already surpassing some of Europe’s ‘big five’, it remains to be seen the impact this will have on the make-up of elite football for future generations.”
For all its expenditure, the SPL still missed out on some of its biggest targets.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah was a target for Al Ittihad, who reportedly had a bid worth £150m turned down by the Premier League club, while ambitious bids from Al Hilal for Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe failed to materialise.
Saudi Arabia has made massive investments in soccer, Formula One, boxing, tennis and golf in recent years.
Critics accuse Saudi Arabia of using the PIF to engage in “sportswashing” in the face of heavy criticism of the country’s human rights record.