Tempers tend to get a bit heated in the middle of the transfer window. It’s called the silly season for a reason – and Fulham’s dealings in the market, as well as their recruitment methods, have been a hot topic for a while now. During a pandemic, with money clearly tight for a lot of clubs, the issue how much people will spend on a new signings is definitely up for debate.
I can’t be alone in considering some of the fees banded about these days as astronomical. Ben White for £50m, Joe Willock for £25m – they seem extremely high for rather average English players. But the big spending Premier League sides are not the only ones to blame. We’ve seen how the financial pinch has decimated all of the French sides bar PSG and the Chinese Super League now seems an attractive destination for players who are chasing a quick pay day. All of this means some very average footballers are able to retire with millions in the bank and worth more than what some League Two clubs are worth.
Fulham are undoubtedly still struggling when it comes to Financial Fair Play as a result of their summer spending spree on reaching the top flight in 2018. It is easy to blame one man, but I think there’s a bigger picture to consider. Inflated transfer fees have been around for a while, but the amount of money going out of the game to agents has risen similarly unchecked. Clubs find it difficult to navigate a way around paying intermediaries – as they are now universally known – and there’s always been a suspicion that this is one of the reasons for some of the more eyebrow-raising deals.
One of the most interesting cases is how Wolves, through their links with Fosun and the super agent Jorge Mendes, landed a lot of premium Portuguese players on their way up from the Championship. Before their amazing ascent to the top of the division, they signed Ivan Cavaleiro – now of this parish – and Helder Costa. Nuno’s arrival saw Ruben Neves sign for nearly £16m and a host of high-profile loanees. It isn’t as though big spending in the Championship is a new thing – Fulham splashed out some £60m on new signings from 2014 to 2018 – Middlesbrough paid out £30m on three strikers, Stoke revamped their squad at a cost of £56m and Aston Villa spent £76m in the season when they bought Ross McCormack.
Nobody is holding a gun to anybody’s head and demanding that they pay extortionate transfer fees. Clubs are shrewd at pricing up their most prised assets. Look at how Crystal Palace have proven able to hold onto their most influential player, Wilfred Zaha, by valuing him at £75m. They know how important he is to their fortunes and have acted accordingly. That is the same price that Barcelona, another club now counting the cost of horrendous financial missteps, paid for Neymar. It may be trite to say so now, but the market approach – and amount of money oozing out of the game – is ruining football. No amount of regulation will be able to stop it and the leagues are essentially powerless.
The game’s problems are far bigger than how Tony Khan choses to act as Fulham’s director of football – whatever we think about whether he should hold the post. Clubs like Wigan, Luton, Bury and Southend have all fallen victim to what appear draconian punishments for actions by absentee owners or unprincipled asset-strippers – and, in Bury’s case at least, the lack of intervention from the EFL should be a permanent stain on that organisation. The leading Spanish clubs are struggling, Tottenham have had to take out a loan worth almost £400m and some of the wages that substitutes are on at the leading continental clubs appear staggering.
The chronology of Fulham’s transfer dealings under the Khans makes for interesting and, sometimes, painful reading. They have been some excellent signings – look at the impact of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Harrison Reed, Joe Bryan, Kenny Tete and loanees like Lucas Piazon, Tomas Kalas, Matt Targett and Oliver Norwood. Fulham’s use of the loan system has been criticised but it got us the likes of Calum Chambers and Joachim Andersen for a season when the pair were quoted as being worth a combined £40m should we want to acquire them permanently. Many others were far less successful and the splurging on Jean Michael Seri, Maxime Le Marchand and Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa looks ill-advised in hindsight, especially as it seemed like Slavisa Jokanovic looked unsure as to how to use them.
The nature of our FFP predicament means that Marco Silva and Fulham will have to get creative in order to add further signings in the closing weeks of the transfer window. But the same issues are afflicting plenty of clubs – look at Liverpool’s lack of transfer business to date; any acquisitions Jurgen Klopp makes are dependent on outgoings from Anfield. The times of Fulham splashing the cash to reach the Premier League belong to that glorious bygone era under Mohamed Al-Fayed and it makes every transfer window something of a waiting game these days.