Undisclosed Fees are Warping Football

Posted by on Aug 24, 2013 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments
Undisclosed Fees are Warping Football
Image available under Creative Commons (c) nicksarebi

Yesterday, Queen’s Park Rangers brought Matt Phillips to London. In the past twelve months, the 22 year old winger has been eclipsed somewhat by the arrival on the scene of teammate Tom Ince, while injury hampered his progress in 2012-13.

Even allowing for the stuttering nature of the player’s career, also highlighted by an earlier, slightly bemusing loan spell at Sheffield United in 2011, he remains hot property given this appearances for the England Under-21 and the full Scotland teams, the turning down of a £5 million bid from Premier League Southampton a year ago amid interest from Reading and others as well as, before he nailed his colours to the Tartan mast, the odd rumour linking him with the Three Lions (us, admittedly!)

So QPR have signed another proven performer to shelve alongside Karl Henry, Richard Dunne and the myriad of additional stars already occupying the pieds à  terre of Holland Park. The question is though — how much did they pay for him?

We can only surmise — because the press reports of yesterday’s deal reported the fee as undisclosed.

Similarly, this Summer has seen a whole host of players move on to new climes with we, the public, unaware of the true value of the deal – Jà©rà©my Hà©lan to Sheffield Wednesday, Royston Drenthe to Reading, Jermaine Beckford to Leicester City and James Perch to Wigan to name but a quartet.

Then there is the case of Watford — who have skilfully sidestepped the criticism of their loans policy by capturing the likes of Gabriele Angella and Marco Fabbrini – among seven Udinese players to sign for the club on permanent deals.

Donald Rumsfeld will have had little compunction explaining away how much money changed hands to bring these players to Vicarage Road and the lack of transparency is worrying.

Of course, if one buys a car from one’s parents (as I have just done), all I have to do is fill in the log book while declaring the price I paid to the taxman is not a legal requirement – hence, Watford may reasonably point out that the fee disbursed for — say — Almen Abdi — is a matter between themselves and the Italian club.

So one can assume that the monies that brought the Magnificent Seven and others to Watford will have been minimal, reflected by the fact that some of the deals players signed were very lengthy indeed — Fernando Forestieri agreed to stay in Hertfordshire for five and a half years in January. In short, most of the financial elements of the transactions can be assumed to be taken up in player wages.

But football is a public business and in a League where so many clubs laugh in the face of financial ruin, shouldn’t the public be party to the true level of spending taking place?

Take Pavel Pogrebnyak’s arrival at Reading a little over year ago on a free transfer from Stuttgart. At the time, the Royals indicated that the Russian striker’s wages were in the region of £35,000 a week — provoking head scratching that the blond bombshell had opted for Reading over Fulham, themselves hardly reticent with the readies — the went on to acquire Dimitar Berbatov after all.

A recent interview with an agent in Michael Calvin’s excellent new book The Nowhere Men provided a possible explanation with ‘The Pog’ said to have accepted a signing on fee totalling £5 million.

So it’s as murky as a fracking operation in Sussex but if that’s all within the rules, there is also a touch of spin about it all.

Not publicizing how much has been paid for players or, to put it more accurately, their true market value, is seriously warping any reasonable view of the runners and riders in the Championship race. Taking Watford again, it would perhaps not be unreasonable to suggest that their current squad could fetch anything between £20 and £25 million — and that may well be a conservative estimate.

Instead, the grids that showed the ‘ins and outs’ from Vicarage Road at the start of the season in August are as free of numbers a high school English lesson, save the £150,000 the Hornets collected for Craig Forsyth.

Sven Gà¶ran Eriksson’s Leicester were less clever when they started as favourites two years ago. One bad result for the most expensively assembled squad in the division and the press talons were unsheathed and the criticism raining in from all sides.

Realistically though, Watford and Reading’s outgoings may be up there with the likes of previous ‘buy to succeed’ outfits such as Blackburn Rovers, Fulham and Newcastle United — but by hiding behind the arras of the undisclosed fee, these clubs, along with QPR on Friday, have cleverly lessened the pressure on their squads.

For the absence of the adjectival phrase ‘big spending’ in front of your team name can lead to press coverage and public perception that is far less intense than it might be, allowing the players to concentrate on their game away from the full glare of publicity that Charlie Nicholas for one found to be insupportable after he joined Arsenal from Celtic in the Eighties.

The way things are going, we’ll soon reach a situation where no transfer fees are reported at all — we need to go the other way — all elements of a transaction including wages, signing on fees, tax and emoluments need to be accounted for.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.


  1. Nick Chainey
    August 24, 2013

    Undisclosed fees at the Vic have been in place for a number of years. I can’t actually remember the last time we admitted how much we paid for someone….

  2. Matt R
    August 24, 2013

    Don’t really understand your problem here Rob. Not knowing transfer fees and details makes the traditional “Highest transfer fee paid/received” columns somewhat redundant but otherwise I don’t see a problem with it.

    As you highlight, it’s a murky many-faceted set of numbers anyway… but fundamentally I don’t particularly want my salary publicised and I don’t see why footballers shouldn’t be afforded the same privacy. As for transfer fees… there’s less of an ethical issue there, but perfectly understandable that neither buyer nor seller are particularly keen to show their hand.

    The inevitable consequence of all salaries being made public would be an inflation of salaries; this was discussed on 5 Live last night. When Sol Campbell signed for Arsenal on a free from Spurs, one of the first high-profile Bosmans in this country, he negotiated a massive wage hike on the basis of lack of transfer fee. This was well publicised, and so of course Arsenal’s other senior pros demanded parity with inevitable consequences. A good thing?

  3. Tom Bodell
    August 24, 2013

    I don’t think there’s an ethical or otherwise necessity for transfer fees to be made public, but the nosy, want-to-know-everything-my-club-is-doing fan in me is really interested to know what, if anything, we’ve paid for the players we’ve signed this summer. They would, afterall, have cost millions apiece if another club had purchased them from Udinese.

    That said, I have to agree with the point you raise regarding the ”big spending’ prefix applied to heavy-spending clubs; it’s something I’d never considered before and I think there is some merit to that point.

    At the same time, whilst Watford might not be under the same pressure from neutral supporters and the media to get promoted as they would have been if they knew what we’d spent, circumstances at clubs such as QPR & Newcastle were always going to put greater pressure on clubs such as that to win promotion back to the Premier League, regardless of their actual transfer outlay.

    I certainly agree with Matt re. wages, though. I’m guessing that, like me, none of you have your wages made public and although no-one cares what a customer assistant in a popular retail store makes per week/month/year, I don’t believe that because footballers are in the public domain they should be any different.

  4. Lanterne Rouge
    August 24, 2013

    Some good points fellas – especially on wages. I guess the one exception is where the person is a public employee i.e that their remuneration comes from the State – hence, we do feel we have a right to know the wages of members of parliament for instance. Watford are of course a private concern so there is no such obligation although many conservatives would argue that private firms drive national prosperity and therefore, econometricians might find knowledge of the wages private firms disburse very useful indeed in devising their calculations.

    I would stick to my point about ‘big spending’ clubs though. I wonder how close Watford and Reading are to the previous likes of Al-Fayed’s Fulham, Sam Allardyce’s West Ham and Graeme Souness’s Blackburn among clubs who have spent a lot at this level? – probably still way short I would guess although QPR certainly won’t be. The image of both clubs as among the smaller ones at this level compared to traditional giants such as Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest has allowed them to still retain an image of plucky underdogs when actually they are among the real big boys now.

    I would also state that although Watford’s squad may be worth a lot of money now, there was still a very impressive level of acumen involved in picking up such comparative unknowns and one could argue that many of the players’ market value has risen under the club’s expert tutelage.

  5. Jonathan Rodgers
    August 24, 2013

    Good post as usual. Would love a bit more transparency about transfer fees but clubs have a vested interest in keeping these things secret, so as not to advertise how much cash they have to splash around for their next target. I can’t see this changing, why would it?
    As for the Craig Forsyth fee, I’m pretty sure that fee was never officially announced by either Derby or Watford (indeed I reckon all Derby’s purchases/sales in recent years have been “undisclosed”). Rather bizarrely, the local paper tends to confirm the fees anyway via a standard “the fee is thought to be in the region of..” article. This info can only come from the club and tends to undermine their attempts at secrecy..
    I think Watford is a different kettle of fish really. I don’t believe for a minute that any money changed hands in the “transfers” of Abdi, Angella, Anya etc. They’ve just been shifted from one corner of the Pozzo empire to another. Not that I have a problem with that, being a part time Pozzo-ist.

  6. peter saunders
    August 29, 2013

    Matt Phillips undisclosed fee ??? as a blackpool fan that comes as no surprise KO and his father have long kept the fans in the dark so why tell us .My guess is they have either trousered some of if not all the money or sold him on the cheap denying Paul Ince money to strengthen the paper thin squad.no doubt they are looking at our league position after 4 games thinking everything is roses so why not cash in sit back and enjoy the ride .Look out for KOs xmas sale its bigger than Harrods and will feature Thomas Ince call me cynical and fatalistic but ive had over 25 years of them and am wear of their raping my club .

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  8. Steve
    September 5, 2013

    I agree with Jonathan Rodgers above: clubs may put themselves in a weaker position to negotiate if they publicise financials, that goes for both signing-on fees and wages. Every club, as with every business, will want to get the best results with the smallest outlay, it doesn’t make any sense to make it harder for themselves to do that.

    Fee disclosure may also result in unnecessary pressure on a new signing, take Mr Bale as an example, he’s got a ton of pressure on him to perform as the most expensive player in the world, if the fee was private then the pressure would be less.

    And really, are any fans actually any better off for knowing someone’s signing-on fee or the wages they earn?


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