Transfers - Soccer 101

A controversial topic in American sports is a salary cap. The Cleveland Cavaliers went down almost $300 million in value when LeBron left to join the Lakers. However, because of a salary cap, LeBron’s contract only paid him roughly $40 million a year in Cleveland, more than 7 times fewer than the value he brought to the team. On the flip side, the salary cap prevents teams from spending all the money they have to purchase whoever they want and is intended to keep parity in the league. This is the reason sports like hockey and football (The Patriots are an anomaly, there’s parity for the other 31 teams lol) constantly have different teams competing for championships then becoming one of the worst teams in the league.

In soccer, there is no salary cap. In fact, salaries are a secondary consideration when trying to add a new player to the squad. While American sports often feature trades or free agency, soccer players go from club to club based on a transfer fee set by the selling club. This can range anywhere from just hundreds of dollars to the world’s most expensive transfer ever - Neymar joining P$G for $263 million (This doesn’t include his annual salary). To put it simply, a single human being was worth a valuation over a quarter BILLION dollars to an organization. Compare that to LeBron - he was worth slightly more but since there aren’t transfer fees in American sports, he’s been able to join teams when his contract expired rather than a team having to purchase him.

The biggest con to transfer fees is that the world’s best teams have boatloads of money while some smaller clubs struggle to pay basic expenses to keep the club afloat. FIFA implemented “Financial Fair Play”, but its effects have been minimal. Teams like Manchester City and P$G are literally owned by countries and their kingdoms, being able to afford any player in the world of their choosing. P$G has spent the majority of its money on some of the world’s greatest talents like Neymar and Mbappe, while Manchester City has signed dozens of great (not necessarily the world’s best) players, many of them exceeding their high expectations. Other clubs’ money comes from historical success and prestige (Manchester United & Barcelona), while some have been invested in by large corporations (King Power owns Leicester City). Many smaller clubs hope to benefit from finding a diamond in the rough and selling the player for much more than they paid.

Similar to trade deadlines and free agency in American sports, there is also a limit on when you can purchase a new player. The window opens shortly after the FIFA season ends (Early June) and officially closes around September 1. For the past two years, various leagues were able to set their own transfer deadlines, creating all sorts of controversy (I could write an entire post about that). The window opens again from January 1 - January 31 so teams can upgrade in the middle of the season or sell dead weight. If a player’s contract is set to expire at the end of the season, prospective teams also can approach the player in January to sign them without having to pay a transfer fee to the “selling” club.

The next time a player goes on a tirade like Antonio Brown, think about how that would be different in soccer or if American sports had transfer fees. The Raiders would’ve never released him because another team would’ve been willing to purchase him, and the Raiders would’ve eventually agreed on a sum they couldn’t refuse. How would you feel if American sports abolished the salary cap and implemented transfer fees?

Author: Living in Southern California, Robert Sweeney has been a fan of soccer since he played as a young child. Since then, he’s become a diehard Tottenham and US National Team fan. Rob enjoys writing about the impact soccer has had on his life in hopes that it betters others as well. Twitter: @robsweeney11