Turn back the clocks to August 2015, deadline day. As reported at the time, Manchester United are on the verge of finalising two high-profile, multi-million-pound transfers. The club are negotiating the sale of their first-choice goalkeeper, David de Gea, to Real Madrid for approximately £30m, including the part exchange of Madrid keeper Keylor Navas.
Simultaneously, the club’s negotiators are also trying to conclude a deal for Monaco wunderkind Anthony Martial for a staggering £50m+. While United manage to finalise the Martial transfer, de Gea and Navas are left without new clubs: the correct documentation was not uploaded to the FIFA Transfer Matching System in enough time, so the deal collapsed. A war of words breaks out, both clubs blaming each other. In the weeks that follow, de Gea signs a long-term contract extension and Martial scores on his debut against arch-rivals Liverpool.
This must have been a pressurised time for the lawyers, negotiators and commercial members of the United back-room staff. They were simultaneously negotiating playing contracts with a whole host of bonus provisions and performance clauses; securing image rights deals, to ensure club sponsorship agreements don’t conflict with player sponsor arrangements; and negotiating with the various agents acting for the players and the clubs selling them.
In addition, they were finalising all the paperwork and documentation required for international transfers to take place. Navas will have required a work permit, complicating an already difficult set of negotiations and admin tasks.
It’s taken you only moments to read the headlines, but what has just been described will almost certainly have taken weeks, if not months of organisation and negotiation. Some transfers make it over the line, like Martial’s, and some don’t, like de Gea’s. This chapter will show the difficulty in making a transfer happen and the spider’s web of jobs, tasks and complications that most fans never see or even contemplate.
Fast forward to the end of the 2017 Premier League summer transfer window, and records continued to tumble. A world record £1.4bn was spent by Premier League clubs; PSG bought out the contract of Barcelona’s Neymar for £198m and paid a large loan fee to Monaco for Kylian Mbappé with the promise of a £167m transfer fee in the 2018 summer window. It was also the season for transfers that didn’t (initially at least) materialise for a number of high-profile players. Philippe Coutinho submitted a transfer request to his club Liverpool, who refused three separate bids from Barcelona for his services. Diego Costa was left without a transfer out of the Premier League, and faced the prospect of being frozen out at Chelsea. He returned to Atlético Madrid in September but was not allowed to play until January 2018 because Atlético were banned from registering new players. Virgil van Dijk submitted a transfer request in order to push through a deal to Liverpool, who were willing to pay north of £70m to secure his services. It would not be until January 2018, however, that he joined Liverpool – for £75m, a world record fee for a defender.
Many of these issues – transfer fee negotiations, agents’ commission, contract renegotiations, image rights deals, work permits, and international transfer clearances – are described below. This is the bread-and-butter work for clubs and agents alike. Take a glimpse into what actually goes on to get a deal done.