Football loves a ‘bung’. Is the sky-rocketing transfer market fixed for the few?

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By Paul Nicholson

September 28 – The CIES Football Observatory has dug deeper into its transfer spend data of big-5 league clubs to examine where the money is being spent and how far down the football chain it is reaching. The answer is that probably not as far as clubs and leagues would like to pretend.

With it becoming clear from the latest media headlines in England, a hefty chunk of that money is only reaching as far as managers’ pockets. But the finding that “between 2010 and 2016, roughly two thirds of the fees were paid out to other teams taking part in the five major European championships”, suggests that perhaps fees are being kept within the ‘family’.

A massive €19.5 billion was spent by big-5 league clubs over the seven years analysed, with €12.9 billion going to teams from the same competitions – and their agents and presumably manager beneficiaries (5% of the agents fee is the general figure being touted as the sweetener – bung – for managers to become interested enough in a player to sign him).

This raises fundamental questions over the integrity of the transfer market generally and whether it is an artificial market engineered for the benefit of a very few entities and individuals. Are market forces dictating pricing in a truly competitive trading place, or the opportunities for personal gain the real driver of prices?

The percentage of the transfer money spent within the Big-5 leagues varies between 63% in Italy and 70% in England.

“To be able to generate considerable incomes on the transfer market, it is necessary to have sufficient economic clout and prestige to attract the best talents either young or adult. 

In the current state of play, clubs without the necessary economic muscle have little chance of earning consistent amounts. A good access to dominant transfer networks is also of crucial importance,” says the CIES.

That is certainly the case in theory, but the integrity issues that have always been an undercurrent in the marketplace may over time be found to be of more crucial importance in price determination and the driver of the astronomical fees that have been achieved.

The main beneficiaries of the transfer money-go-round can be viewed at

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