Wednesday, March 3

Uncertainty, anxiety and players in limbo: How coronavirus is already affecting summer transfer window

Clubs across Europe are trying to mitigate disruption to their recruitment plans for the summer transfer window due to the coronavirus outbreak.

While the wellbeing of players, staff and supporters have been of paramount concern as the illness continues to spread around the world, impacting the staging of sporting events, there have been attempts to navigate beyond the immediate outcome of suspended domestic and continental action.

The logistics around finding a way to finish the 2019-20 season and the potential repercussions if that is not possible have understandably dominated the thoughts of executives. However, there have been meetings over transfer strategies and the consequences of not been able to adequately scout targets during this usually crucial period.

“Clubs will not have control over many of the decisions that lie ahead, which will rest with associations and governments,” a European staffer involved in player trade explained to The Independent, adding “so we focus on things we can have an influence on like recruitment. There are a few questions we still can’t answer, but we are discussing how to best squad plan in the current circumstances.”

Travel bans, games being played behind closed doors and the suspension of leagues have meant that traditional scouting checks and due diligence have been significantly hampered during the pandemic.

While most clubs are plugged into to services such as Wyscout and Instat Scout, it does not circumvent the need to watch a target live in blocks of games and map out a character profile to sit alongside a stylistic one.

While some recruitment teams will have powered through the majority of their homework on a player by this stage of the season, many are only able to escalate their work closer to the summer when they have more certainty over outgoings, the managerial situation, budgets and how likely they are to actually land a potential signing.

How much a transfer policy will be affected ultimately depends on the strength of it and a club’s pulling power. Those able to shop at the higher end of the market on established names rather than having to unearth unknown gems will not feel the pinch.

An intermediary from a prominent agency admits that “the months ahead will be very tricky,” but observed a “notable difference” in the recent interaction from teams that boast a solid transfer structure and methodology to those without one.

“There has been the expected calm approach from clubs that are well run and don’t need to do a lot of work in the market,” he said. “Not much has changed in who they want and how they want to proceed.

“There have definitely been more panicked calls from others trying to hit the brakes on a potential deal, push ahead quicker or see who else they can also line up.”

Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics would have acted as prime scouting opportunities for clubs, but the former is expected to be delayed by a year as things stand while there are concerns Covid-19 could force the cancellation of the latter for the first time since World War Two.

Reduced chances to watch a target live could lead to clubs pursuing lower transfer fees as well inserting risk-management clauses into contracts.

However, several recruitment officials and agents do not see major hitches in terms of speaking to players or negotiating deals, as much of this transpires over WhatsApp, phone calls and via Skype or FaceTime.

While face-to-face meetings are seen as preferential, they have not been essential to agreeing personal terms in the past.

“Right now, I’m finding the biggest uncertainty around players who are out of contract this summer,” one agent pointed out. “What happens if the season has to continue beyond June 30? How do we manage expired contracts?

“Their ability to get a new club is also certainly affected by what’s going on. They can’t train, they can’t play. Loanees are other potential problem: will clubs still pay their wages while the season is suspended and how do they now prove they’ve earned a permanent deal, a loan elsewhere or their worth to the parent club?

“There is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety and we don’t even know what will happen with the summer transfer window yet.

“This is small compared to what’s happening in the world with the virus, but it is understandable that players in limbo are concerned about their careers.”