Transfer Window Review: Spending by Europe’s Top Five Leagues

Bale to Real
Photo by REUTERS/Paul Hanna


After a summer of spending at incredibly high levels, the transfer window has now closed. A new name now sits at the top of the player transfer record fee list, with a further five players joining Gareth Bale in the top 20 in terms of the highest transfer fees ever paid for individual players.

The Premier League dwarfed world football in terms of overall spending, highlighting the effect of the new television deal. Using figures published by, we can see how much more the Premier League spent in comparison to Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga:

total spending per league

The Premier League spent over £300 million more than the Serie A, the division with the second highest total spent – despite five of the top six transfer deals being on players that joined clubs in other leagues – Bale and Neymar to La Liga and Edinson Cavani, Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez to Ligue 1 (Mesut Ozil was the exception). With the full force of Europe’s biggest television deal behind Premier League clubs, few had to rely on players leaving the club to fund transfer sprees. Instead, the issue for EPL clubs was mainly create space in the wage budget to allow more acquisitions to be made (an issue that ended West Ham’s summer spending early). This year’s Premier League is therefore in the middle of the pack in terms of income, with La Liga and Serie A clubs having a huge advantage in this respect:

total income per league

To fully compare the combined transfer fees both spent and received by clubs in each of these five divisions, the below graph shows the overall figures when spending and revenue is combined. Needless to say, the Premier League’s net spending dwarfed the other four leagues, with two showing a combined profit:

total net per league

To break this down further, the below table separates the top two spending clubs in each division (Manchester City, Tottenham, Napoli, Roma, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund) and compares these with the rest of the league:

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In this respect, the Premier League is certainly less top heavy with the top two clubs spending ‘just’ 31.2% of the total amount paid in transfer fees – again due to the effect of the new television contract – giving other clubs more money to spend. In terms of the net fees, the Gareth Bale deal allowed Tottenham to turn a slight transfer profit, with Manchester City’s outlay causing the overall loss. Nonetheless, it gets interesting when looking at the other four divisions.

In Serie A, Napoli and Roma were boosted by the sales of Edinson Cavani and Erik Lamela respectively, allowing these two clubs to replace their departed stars; meaning that the top two spending clubs in Italy were the only combination to show a profit. The two clubs were responsible for 37.4% of spending in Serie A, the second lowest percentage between the five leagues. The Bundesliga was the only other league where the top two spending clubs combined for less than 50% of the total transfer spending (42.6%).

La Liga (62.4%) and Ligue 1 (73.0%) were the two divisions where the expenditure of its top two clubs overwhelmed the rest of the division – so much so that the other 18 clubs in both leagues resulted in showing a considerable profit. In La Liga, Barcelona and Real Madrid do have the advantage with just short of 50% of television income going to these two clubs. Conversely, in Ligue 1 rich owners flexed their financial muscles this summer – with Monaco aiming for a Champions League spot in just its first season after being promoted to France’s top division and PSG determined to both keep its title and progress further in the Champions League.

Transfer fees have hit record levels this summer, so the next step is to see how these new signings affect each club’s performance on the pitch. The Premier League’s spending has been highlighted due to the vast numbers involved, however the more concerning aspect should be competitive balance. It’s an issue across Europe, not just these five divisions, with clubs that are able to spend big on a regular basis enabling them to have regular finishes in Champions League spots – with the financial rewards from Europe’s premier competition largely allowing this trend to continue.

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