Premier League clubs have spent £922m and counting with just seven days remaining until the transfer window closes.
Yet for the first time in more than a decade, they look set to be usurped from the top of the spending table by La Liga’s summer spree, which has already passed the £1bn mark for the very first time.
After Spain’s dominance in Europe was broken last season, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have all flexed their financial muscle by pulling off three of the 10 biggest transfers of all time.
That has pushed spending by Spanish top-flight clubs to £1.06bn as of midday on 1 August, and with more than a month to go until their transfer window closes, they could close in on the Premier League’s record spend of £1.4bn from 2017.
Eden Hazard, Joao Felix and Antoine Griezmann are the three huge transfers in Spain, but other than Arsenal and Manchester City making Nicolas Pepe and Rodri their record signings respectively and Tottenham spending £54m on Tanguy Ndombele, it’s been a relatively quiet summer for the English top flight so far.
But why have Spanish clubs spent so big this summer?
English success sparks response
Not only were last season’s Champions League and Europa League winners both English, it was the first time all four finalists in Europe’s top two competitions have come from one nation.
Before that, nine of the previous 10 Champions League and Europa League winners were Spanish – and Italy haven’t had any since 2010, when Inter Milan won the Champions League.
“It has seemingly sparked a response from certain clubs in Spain and Italy,” said Sam Boor from Deloitte’s Sports Business Group.
“By contrast, the largest Premier League clubs appear to have taken a more controlled approach to their transfer spending, and the competitiveness of their squads in Uefa competitions last season may have contributed to this.”
In addition to Arsenal and Manchester City’s record breakers, Sepp van den Berg, a 17-year-old Dutch centre-back, has been Liverpool’s biggest signing so far for an initial £1.3m. Harvey Elliott joined the Champions League winners from Fulham but cannot sign a professional contract until his 17th birthday.
Chelsea have been hampered by a Fifa-imposed transfer embargo while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not overseen the revolution that many predicted at Manchester United. So far they have paid £50m for right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka and £15m for Daniel James.
Surprisingly, Aston Villa have been the league’s biggest spenders as they prepare for life back in the top flight. Given the increase in revenue they are guaranteed to receive from the Premier League, they have forked out more than £110m, including £22m on record signing Wesley.
TV boost for Spanish clubs
La Liga clubs have really splashed the cash, though. Real Madrid have spent more than £300m including the deal which brought Hazard from Chelsea, which could reach £150m.
Atletico Madrid made Felix the fifth most expensive transfer in history at £113m before Barca met Griezmann’s £107m release clause to make him the sixth.
“The big three La Liga clubs – Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – have been the most notable spenders across Europe in this window so far,” Boor added.
“The start of a new domestic broadcast rights deal in 2019-20, which is expected to provide a boost to the leagues’ broadcast revenues of around 20% per season compared to the previous deal, may be helping to fund some of this spending.”
Indeed, it hasn’t just been a kneejerk reaction to English success in Europe. La Liga clubs sold broadcast rights individually until 2015, when a new law was passed to switch to the collective model, which the Premier League has used since it started in 1992.
“When clubs can forecast their income, that’s when they start to spend, and we’re seeing that in Spain now,” said Deloitte’s Tim Bridge. “La Liga clubs are well regulated in terms of what they can and can’t spend and now they’re at that inflection point where they can kick on in transfer terms and start to compete, in particular, with the Premier League.”
The Premier League’s new broadcast deal for the 2019-2022 cycle is worth £3.07bn per season, compared to £1.83bn for La Liga. But Barca and Real’s broadcasting revenue from La Liga is protected under the royal decree of 2015 so they will receive a minimum of £128m, just less than the Premier League’s top six received for 2018-19.
Could Serie A cause a chain reaction?
Italian clubs broke the £1bn barrier last summer and have almost matched Premier League spending so far. Juventus made Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt their big summer signing for £67.5m, spending £136.4m overall.
But everything could change with only a week to go until the Premier League window, before which the league’s expenditure is expected to exceed £1bn.
Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku has been linked with Inter Milan and Juventus, with Juve’s Argentine striker Paulo Dybala potentially heading the other way. Will United be keen to get a deal done so they can then sign Harry Maguire from Leicester?
All it takes is one big move to spark a flurry of activity and English clubs know that if they don’t act now they risk looking nervously over their shoulder for the next month.
European clubs could come after their English rivals’ star assets since the transfer deadline in La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga isn’t until 2 September.
Although Gareth Bale’s proposed move to China was blocked by Real Madrid, he has been linked with a move to Italy. Plus Man Utd’s Paul Pogba has been linked with Real all summer so could there be a swap deal with Bale?
And maybe that would tempt Barca into resolving the summer’s longest-running transfer saga by paying a world record fee to bring Neymar back from Paris St-Germain.
Now that would really be a statement of intent from La Liga.