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How does a football transfer happen?

Michael Johnson | 27 August 2020

With moves being made across the footballing pyramid, we take a look at how it all works

From meddling agents and release clauses to last minute desperation bids, there are a lot of moving parts in play in almost any transfer, which is why we sometimes see a ‘transfer saga’ drag on across an entire window.

While we’ll assume you know the basics – what a transfer is and how a transfer window works – we’re going to take a detailed look at the process involved in a player moving from one club to another.

Finding the right player – scouting and building a team

Traditionally teams employ a chief scout and a team of additional scouts whose job it is to identify the right players to recruit for their team.

Whether that’s a youth specialist who is trying to unearth the next gem, to a league specialist whose knowledge and expertise of a specific league allows them to identify a target and then watch them over a series of games before reporting back to the decision-makers at their club. Some clubs also lean heavily on data and analytics to try and find underappreciated talent, with Brentford a notable example.

But of course, there are many other ways clubs can become aware of potential signings. Managers may have informal connections in the game who can alert them to an unsettled player, or interesting prospect. Agents may try to tout their players to a club, whether because they’d honestly like to join, or because having their player in demand gives them an extra edge in contract renegotiations.

Other examples include if a player’s contract is running out, a previously impossible transfer may suddenly become plausible as clubs try to offload players while they can still make some money. If a player’s contract does run out, they’re free to negotiate with another club and may be released by their current club if no-one else is interested in their services.

Players can also be transfer-listed, whether by request or because they find themselves unwanted at a club, at which point the club may offer the player to another team.

Some clubs (Arsenal for instance) have a different model whereby a director of football is primarily responsible for squad-building, while some clubs start with the manager and allow them to bring or build their own recruitment team.

While some managers seek to cobble together talented teams of individuals, a lot of emphasis is put on team-building and mentality today, as clubs seek players with the same or complementary personalities that they know will mesh well together.

Other clubs perhaps don’t have that luxury and will take a chance on a controversial but talented figure who may cause disharmony or have a recurring injury, but may be considered worth taking a risk on for their on-pitch performances.

Making a bid – offers, asking prices and release fees

Once a player has been identified, the buying club will make an offer to the club the player is currently contracted to, at which point the negotiations will start.

For some players, a club may have a specific fee or asking price that needs to be met before they’ll accept a bid, other times it’s more nebulous and a club will simply reject an offer. Of course, increase that offer enough and they could change their mind, but a club can end up paying an overinflated fee for a mediocre player when this occurs (watch Season 2 of Netflix’s Sunderland ‘Til I Die for a great example of this with Will Grigg).

Other times a club may intentionally put in a low bid for a player in an attempt to unsettle them. If that occurs, a player may hand in a transfer request, forgoing their loyalty bonus as they seek to force the club they are contracted to into accepting an offer.

Some players will also have a minimum fee release clause in their contract, where if a certain amount of money is offered for the player, their parent club is legally obliged to accept it. For instance, Lionel Messi famously has a €700 million release clause in his contract.

Agreeing terms – player contracts and negotiation

Once a bid has been accepted formal negotiations between the buying club and the player can begin. Most players have an agent or legal team who will handle these negotiations on their behalf.

As well as their basic salary, negotiations can include a plethora of bonuses or clauses – a striker may want a goal bonus, as well as a bonus for scoring over a certain amount of goals in a season.

Clauses can include automatic salary increases that are triggered in various scenarios, such as when a team gets promoted. Most clubs will also insist on a salary reduction in case of relegation.

Negotiations here can take some time and while they’re ongoing players will often pay a visit to the club who are bidding for them, meeting their potential new manager, undergoing a medical examination and touring the facilities. Meanwhile excited fans will often follow the players spotted near their club’s training grounds, sharing information on social media and building anticipation for their new signing.

Once the contract is agreed and signed and the medical is completed, paperwork must be submitted to the FA to confirm the transfer, making administrative procedure an improbably exciting part of transfer deadline day.

Once the transfer goes through the club will often call a press conference to announce a new signing, forcing the player to pose unnaturally with their new team’s shirt, or scarf.

Loan signings

Of course, not all transfers are permanent. Players can be signed on loan from another club – essentially operating as sub-contractors. Young players are often loaned out to low tier or lower status club to help with their development and grant them valuable first-team experience.

Loans can also involve an up-front fee, as well as the loaning club playing a percentage of the players wages.

Some loan deals include purchases clauses, where if a player is involved in a certain amount of games, the loaning club must purchase them at the end of the season. Premier League newcomers Leeds United for instance are obliged to purchase RB Leipzig’s Jean-Kevin Augustin after a promotion clause in his loan agreement was activated. However, since the striker barely played for the club, Leeds and Leipzig will likely end up going to the courts to settle this matter.

Fan fervour

While we’ve looked at this in a lot of depth already, there are in-truth hundreds more factors in play here. From buy-back clauses for a selling club, to salary increases after international appearances, transfers are full of clauses, agreements, bonus payments and agent fees. They are incredibly complex and absolutely crucial for any team who hopes to find success.

They’re also of huge interest to football fans during the off-season as they look to their club to make the right decisions. Any football club statement on social media is guaranteed to have at least one response saying ‘Announce X!’, such is the fervour that surrounds transfers and football.

Of course you can also bet on football transfers with Coral – just head to our Specials markets to see which touted transfers have odds available on them.

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All odds and markets correct as of date of publication