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There’s More To It Than You Think: How Player Transfers Work in Football 🤝🔍

July 25, 2023

There’s More To It Than You Think: How Player Transfers Work in Football 🤝🔍

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Signing a player is a multi-step process dependent on many factors. 🔢

If negotiations are smooth, transfers can be a straightforward operation. ✅

Here’s a breakdown of the complicated process of a football (soccer) transfer! 👇

Transfers are a huge part of football.

They take star players on new journeys; they give prospects the opportunity to explode onto the scene. Sometimes, they may even be the beginning of the end of the career of a player.

In many cases, these transfers are filled with emotion, which rubs onto the fans. In others, it may as well have been the easiest decision of the player’s life.

Whether it's a superstar on the move or just another average signing, we do our best as fans to keep up with all the happenings in our beloved game.

But it gets crazy sometimes.

In rare cases, a transfer that was almost 100% a done deal may fall through, and fans are left to speculate what exactly happened.

Was it a failed medical?

A last-minute change of heart?

Did the window close shut before pen could be put to paper?

The reality is this: the world of football transfers is complicated. As spectators, we are only given the basic breakdown of a particular transfer. Whether it comes from Fabrizio Romano, or some credible (or uncredible) sports newspaper, we’ll be informed on certain details like the transfer fee, release clause, contract length, and perhaps a bit of an inside scoop of any possible drama between the clubs and the player in question.

Besides these key details, we don’t know much else.

If you’re a fan of a club, you can probably recall a player that you wish your team would sign. 

They're desperate to join and they seem destined to wear a particular shirt one day, but it doesn’t happen.

Perhaps just as common is the departure of a key player that had only just signed an extension 6 months prior.

In this newsletter, we’ll be explaining everything that goes into a football transfer, shedding some light on the whole process that is way trickier than you might think.

😅 The basics…

Let’s start with the simple stuff.

Players cost money, and in the majority of cases, clubs require a payment in order to send a player to a different team.

This payment is known as a transfer fee, which is paid directly to the selling club. It should be noted that transfer fees, despite being prevalent in football, only come into play when a player is currently under contract at a club at the time of purchase.

So when you hear the term “free transfer”, this means that the player signed to a new club as a free agent, as their contract with their previous club had expired.

Contracts are signed agreements between the player (and their agent) and a club that specify how many years they will play at the club, their annual salary, and other personal terms.

When a player is signed while they are actively fulfilling the length of their previously agreed contract, the buying club is required to “buy out” the rest of said contract.

All this means is that, since football contracts can’t just be terminated (unless for certain emergency circumstances), the selling club needs to receive a mutually agreed payment from the buying club in order to officially render the contract useless. Think of it as compensation.

The Athletic says it best in a piece they published last year.

“A transfer fee doesn't buy a player. It buys the right to register a player.”

💰 Release clauses are no joke!

That’s not all there is to it.

Prior to paying a transfer fee, another payment has to be made. This is known as a release clause.

When clubs sign a player or extend a current player’s contract, they set these clauses. They are fixed amounts which any possible buying club is required to pay off in order for a player to be freed from their contractual obligations.

This amount can actually be paid - either in part or full - by the player themselves, usually depending on how badly they want out of their current team. This is rare though, and most of the time, the buying club will be the ones who pay the fee.

Release clauses are important not only because they give more value to footballers that deserve it, but also because clubs can set them as high as they want to ensure that they do not lose their key players,

This is why you see certain big names with insane release clauses set for them by their outfitters. The last thing the club wants is to see them leave to a major rival. These clauses are usually much higher than the true value of a certain player, but they show the particular club’s loyalty and appreciation to their greatest servants.

🗣️ How clubs go about buying players

Let’s talk about the actual process of a transfer.

When a club shows interest in a particular player, they typically go about it by sending in a formal enquiry to the target’s club.

If the club is open to it, then the player is informed of the new club’s interest, who then discusses the idea with his agents and advisors. If all goes well and the player has no issue with moving clubs, then talks between the two clubs begin.

These discussions will typically consist of agreeing on the things we previously mentioned: th timeframe for the player to be signed, the plan to pay off the release clause and, ultimately, the final transfer fee.

Most talks typically go well, but other times, they boil over, which is why certain transfers eventually fall through. Disagreement on transfer fees is typically the reason, usually when the selling club is asking more than what the buying clubs want to pay.

The reason why some of these sagas take so long is because although a club may want to pay no more than a certain amount for a target, they also don’t want to end talks immediately, in hopes that the selling club may give in and sell for less.

In the same way, a selling club may decide to stall in order for the interested club to eventually accept the proposed transfer fee without lowering it further.

Although this is the most common process of initiating a transfer, clubs may decide to take a bit of a different route. Sometimes clubs may directly contact their targets to convince them to join, prior to communicating with their club.

This going behind their back tactic in order to sway the player is known as “tapping up”, and it is by definition prohibited across most football leagues. Despite that, many big clubs still do it, as it is pretty difficult to enforce.

Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona), Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool), Paul Pogba (Manchester United) and Ashley Cole (Chelsea) are just a few examples of players who were allegedly tapped up prior to signing for their respective clubs.

📝🩺 Finalizing contract terms and completing a medical

Once two clubs agree to a deal, it’s now up to the buying club to finalize a fresh contract for the player.

This will normally have already been set up prior to the completion of the deal, usually occurring around the time a club first shows interest for a particular target.

Although the main concept of a contract is to decide how long the player will play at the club and what they will be paid, other terms are also thrown into the mix. Image rights, bonuses, housing, clauses and other important agreements.

At the end of the day, if a club wants a particular player, they will put a good enough offer on the table for them, which is why the reason why some transfers break down is rarely because of contractual specifics. If the interest is mutual, even better.

The next step after a player is relieved from their current contract and has agreed to a new one is to fly out to complete a medical.

Completing this test is crucial because they are used to determine whether a player may have any pre-existing health conditions or injuries that weren’t previously public. 

Clubs want to have healthy players that can actually play and contribute, so if they fail the medical, this could affect the size of the transfer fee, or lead to the cancellation of the transfer entirely.

🤔 Why do transfers get so complicated?

Certain transfer sagas can leave us shaking our heads, whether it’s because of a hefty, world-record fee or because someone involved, whether it’s the club(s), player or agent, is making things difficult.

Let’s take Kylian Mbappe for example. We all know he wants Real Madrid, and that the move should've happened years ago. But he’s yet to leave PSG. At the end of every season, rumors kick up again but then as soon as the transfer window shuts, the French striker is still wearing red and blue.

Flash forward to today, and it has gotten to the point that ultimatums have now been thrown into the mix. PSG doesn’t want to let Mbappe leave next year (when his contract expires), because that would mean he would leave for free and the club would make no profit.

Mbappe had previously publicly stated that he wants to see his contract through, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Saudi club Al Hilal have prepared a mind-boggling $1 billion to secure the World Cup winner’s signature for 1-year before he inevitably goes to Madrid, which PSG are absolutely happy to accept.

But it doesn’t seem like Mbappe is all about the money. It’s being reported that he would rather sit out an entire season if it meant that he can calmly join Madrid next summer as a free agent.

💼 Football is a business!

Like we mentioned before, most transfers tend to be relatively straightforward, resolved after a couple weeks of negotiations and planning, going through all the steps we previously laid out.

Mbappe’s case is a scenario that typically only the most sought-after footballers experience, but even then, transfer sagas don’t normally drag out for so long.

While we don’t know what’s next for Mbappe, what we do know is that, in the grand scheme of things, the process of completing a transfer is a complicated one.

It’s many moving parts that ultimately decide whether a player gets to join their dream club or gets left with no choice but to stay put. It’s not like playing Football Manager or Career Mode on FIFA to be able to sign whoever you want.

It’s a business negotiation, and all parties involved must come to a 100% agreement, which can take weeks, months or sometimes years.

It’s no wonder why football rumors circulate so quickly, with a lot of them turning out to not be true.

At least we have Fabrizio to tell us “Here We Go!” so that we can all breathe calmly knowing that yet another saga is officially over.

That’s it for the 10th edition of our newsletter! 😅
How did you like it? Let me know by messaging me via email at or by sending us a text. 📲
We want to make sure we’re providing the right content to you all, so if you have any interesting football/business-related topics that you’d like us to write about, don’t hesitate to send in your requests! 📩
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Julian Febres

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