The Toxic Cycle of Football Transfers

Every hour, more than half a million euros

are spent on the transfer market.

That adds up to 57 billion euros over the

last decade.

With that money, you could buy that many Big

Macs (12.6 billion), spend 1 thousand years

at the world’s most expensive hotel, or

buy Twitter!

The transfer market is big business, but which

club makes the most money?

To find out, we looked into the incredible

geo-politics of football.

Welcome to Athletic Interest.

Technically, the answer is Chelsea.

Over the last decade, Chelsea have received

more than one (1.1) billion euros from the

sale of 339 players.

Although only one player already makes up

10% of that total: Eden Hazard.

But this is only half of the picture.

Chelsea also spent over 1.5 billion euros

on players.

This brings their net transfer spend to MINUS

500 million.

When you consider the amount of profit made,

it is Benfica that tops the table.

Despite spending 500 million euros on players

in the last decade, Benfica have walked away

with 600 million euros in profit.

Benfica didn’t just get lucky by selling

a few superstar players at insane prices.

They were involved in more international transfers

than any other club in world football.

Selling players abroad has become such a lucrative

business that Benfica have doubled their money

over the last decade.

This is a pretty unique strategy.

Because making money with transfers is not

an easy task.

Let’s look at some examples throughout Europe.

These are the clubs that have made the most

money on the transfer market.

Notice anything?

No Real Madrid, No Man City, No Bayern Munich,

No PSG.

Pretty much all of Europe’s top clubs lose

money on the transfer market.

This trend is also followed when you look

at the major footballing nations.

England spent more money than Italy, Germany

and France combined.

English clubs actually lost more than 7 billion

over the last decade.

Here’s why.

English players do not often move away from

their home country.

This is not just because they would miss baked

beans on toast.

England is full of rich and competitive clubs,

that can offer players far better deals than

their European rivals.

This means that Premier League clubs usually

take all of England’s best talents.

Exceptions prove the rule.

So England is mainly spending a lot of money

for players, but not selling a lot to clubs

abroad.

The only top five nation to make a profit

on international transfers is France.

This is despite having PSG in the league.

French spending on the international transfer

market was relatively modest for many years

before spiking dramatically in 2017.

Any guesses on what happened in 2017?

PSG paying 220 million for Neymar gave Barcelona

the funds to purchase Coutinho.

Liverpool then used this money to purchase

Van Dijk and Allison.

It can be argued that these two signings played

a key role in Liverpool winning the 2019 Champions

League.

This shows exactly how interconnected the

market is.

One transfer can cause ripple effects across

the entire continent.

The transfer market is globalized.

But what does that actually mean?

To understand, we need to turn to David Ricardo.

No, not Daniel Ricciardo.

This guy.

A British economist who came up with a theory

that became the foundation of free trade.

And as if he knew we were making this video,

he used goods from Portugal and England for

his example!

His theory was that it took fewer workers

in Portugal, a country with a long history

of wine making, to make wine than it does

to make cloth.

And it took fewer workers to make cloth in

England, a textile powerhouse at the time,

than to produce wine there.

So, Portugal should export its wine to England,

while England should export cloth to Portugal.

Win-win, even if Portugal was better at making

cloth as well.

The idea in a nut shell: Focus on your biggest

advantages and sell them to other countries.

Ricardo called it “comparative advantage.”

But now back from Portuguese wine to Portuguese

footballers.

Like all clubs across the world, Portuguese

clubs get revenue from three main sources:

Tickets, sponsorship, and broadcasting.

But with a population of just over 10 million

and a relatively small international fanbase,

these three income streams are severely limited.

Just compare Benfica’s income from the traditional

revenue streams to the champions from the

major European leagues.

They make 75% less – mainly because the Portuguese

market is so much smaller.

So, how does Benfica close the gap?

By selling their best players.

The transfer of Jo?o Felix to Atletico Madrid

lifted Benfica’s income to almost 250 million

and saw the club generate 100 million euros

in profit.

After CR7 Underwear, footballers have become

one of Portugal’s biggest exports.

It is the countries’ comparative advantage.

How does Benfica find so many valuable players?

As you’ll soon find out, part of the answer

is geo-politics.

The biggest flow of transfers in world football

is Brazilian players moving to Portugal.

Brazilians eat, sleep and breathe football.

Many dream of playing for one of Europe’s

big sides and see Portugal as the perfect

stepping stone to launch their careers.

Portugal and Brazil have a complicated history.

After Colonising most of the territory, and

wiping out many local tribes, the Portuguese

began to use Brazil as a global trade hub.

Slaves were moved in from Africa, while sugar

and gold were exported across the world.

At one point, Rio de Janeiro was actually

the capital of Portugal!

Brazil left Portuguese control in 1822, but

their shared history has created strong links

between the two nations.

Thanks to the common language, cultural similarities,

and comparable weather conditions, many Brazilians

find moving to Portugal relatively simple.

Portugal also makes it incredibly easy for

Brazilian people to move there for work, with

some of the most relaxed immigration rules

in Europe.

About 40% of the foreign players in Liga Portugal

are from Brazil.

Fittingly, almost 40% of the transfers into

and out of Benfica over the last decade have

involved Brazilian players.

David Luiz and Ramires both moved from Brazil

to Benfica at a young age.

Benfica sold them for a combined profit of

40 million euros, while both players won the

Champions League with Chelsea.

Benfica’s most profitable market is actually

Portugal.

Thanks to the country’s small land mass

and population, it is very easy for Benfica’s

scouts to look for talent.

The club has several training centers located

close to major population areas, making it

easier for young kids to play for the club

without moving away from their families.

Jo?o Felix, Renato Sanchez, and Ruben Dias

were all drafted into the club’s youth system

and sold within a few years for a total of

230 million euros.

Another factor is that Portuguese football

is incredibly uneven.

Benfica received around 18 million euros for

entering the group stage of the 2022 Champions

League.

That is the same as the entire squad value

of league rivals Pa?os de Ferreira.

Benfica take advantage of this financial disparity

to snap up local talent at bargain prices.

In 2015, they paid 500 thousand euros for

Rio Ave goalkeeper Ederson.

Two seasons later they sold him to Manchester

City for 40 million euros.

But if Portugal is such a hotbed for talent,

why aren’t Benfica the kings of Europe?

Buy cheap players, train them in state-of-the-art

facilities, and play them against top teams

in the Champions League.

Benfica’s formula may be relatively straightforward,

but it doesn’t benefit the club as much

as you might think.

Benfica may seem like a competitive club when

you look at the balance sheet.

Before the financial strain of the pandemic,

Benfica recorded seven consecutive years of

profit.

But having more than half of their income

dependent on selling players almost guarantees

that Benfica will never reclaim their place

at the summit of European football.

If the club wants to compete, they need to

keep their top talent.

Doing that would require them to pay more

in wages.

How does the club afford those extra wages?

They sell players…

It’s a vicious cycle.

If Benfica try to retain players, their income

stream is instantly cut in half, making it

impossible to pay the wages.

If they sell the player, they have no one

to give the extra money to.

The question is, will Benfica ever be able

to break that vicious cycle?

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