Football’s winter transfer window officially opened on 1 January 2018 and is due to close on 31 January 2018. Already Philippe Coutinho’s transfer from Liverpool to Barcelona for €160 million and a net salary exceeding €10 million a year has triggered a degree of disbelief on the part of the public and the media, as was seen with the earlier transfers of Neymar (€222 million) and Kylian Mbappé (loan with an option to buy for €180 million). What should we think of these amounts and should we necessarily object to them? Are they coherent or do they reflect shortcomings in the financial fair play regulations introduced in 2011? Is there a case for introducing a salary cap like in the NBA?
To start off, it is useful to paint a brief portrait of the transfer market using the 2015-2016 season as a reference. At international level, the average transfer fee approaches €2 million, bearing in mind that only a minority of transfers effectively involve fees. At the same time, the average salary amounts to around €300,000 gross per season. Although these are sizeable amounts, they in no way compare to the figures associated with football’s “superstars”. In addition, taking into account the fact that a footballer’s career only lasts eight years on average, this salary of €300,000 a year would work out to less than €10,000 a month if the same overall amount were to be paid over the duration of a classical professional career.
Rather than simply the size of transfer fees and wages, it is the wide disparities between players and between clubs that raises many questions, and not just from the standpoint of (un)fairness. In practice, the quality of the entertainment served up to football fans is compromised by the shortcomings of financial fair play regulations and their consequent inability to ensure genuine competition between clubs. Only a select few clubs have the ability to spend the amounts needed to sign the superstars and then to retain their best players from one season to another. This situation tends to concentrate talent in the hands of the few and removes the suspense regarding the outcome of national championships. Within the big five leagues, the competitive imbalance has never been as great as at present.
The temptation could be to introduce a salary cap. However, the particular nature of employment law in European football would mean that a cap would have the effect of driving transfer fees higher, with the selling club being liable to appropriate some of the savings that the buying club stood to make via the salary cap. And through a knock-on effect, the wages of less well-paid players would also be significantly reduced. Conversely, we believe that capping transfer fees would be liable to reduce overall spending on signing players and thereby raising hopes for a more equitable share-out of talent between clubs competing in the same championship. Without such regulation, and looking beyond the recurrent frenzies created by a few stratospheric transfers and the passion of fans, the ultimate result could be growing and lasting disenchantment with national competitions.
 See FIFA’s “Global Market Transfer Report 2016”
 The five biggest European championships (Germany, England, Spain, France, Italy)
 We refer the reader to the following report co-authored by Amand, Chéron and Pelgrin (Edhec 2018),