Top German clubs like Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen don’t have to deal with financial dips too often. But even they have had to tighten their belts during the coronavirus pandemic.
Expecting to spend big this past summer, Bayern had to see one of their highly touted transfer targets Kai Havertz move from Leverkusen to Chelsea. Dortmund had to let stud defender Achraf Hakimi walk and elected to replace him only with an out-of-contract Thomas Munier.
Leverkusen reinvested less than half of the €80 million they received from Chelsea for Havertz in new arrivals, including a reported €26.5 million for Czech striker Patrik Schick.
With the winter transfer window on the horizon, Leverkusen sporting director Simon Rolfes expects the frugality to continue.
“I think the winter [transfer window] will be the same as the summer because clubs are not in the shape to financially buy a lot of players,” Rolfes said in a virtual conference call with reporters on Thursday.
“In the summer window, a lot of players stayed at their clubs. My expectation is that this will also happen in the winter transfer window.”
Normally, German clubs keep their checkbooks closed in January, having done most of their business in the offseason. Leverkusen signed defender Edmond Tapsoba and midfielder Exequiel Palacios in the winter transfer window last season, but those were their first midseason signings since Leon Bailey in 2017.
In-season sell-offs have been more common than player acquisitions, but Rolfes said even that part of the transfer market will be dry.
“A lot of clubs want to sell players, but if you do not have enough buying clubs, it’s difficult to sell,” he added. “The only thing is that, if a club really needs money and has to sell, then they will sell the player below the expected market value.”
That may not apply necessarily to everyone. Despite the pandemic, Leverkusen was still able to extract €80 million from Chelsea for Havertz. But the German international was already a Bundesliga star at the age of 21 at the time of the sale, scoring 38 goals in his final two seasons with Leverkusen.
“That kind of player, a world-class player, also has a market value in the biggest crises of the football,” Rolfes said.
Not every player that enters the market is Kai Havertz, though, and most go for much lower sums. Those lower- and mid-tier quality players are where the transfer market will show the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Really high-quality players will keep their market value, but the average will go down, I think, a lot,” he said.
Rolfes also predicts that “financially solid clubs will be stronger after the crisis because if you are financially strong, you do not have to sell your players because the prices will go down.”
Though Leverkusen is more financially solid than most clubs in Germany, Havertz appeared to be a key sale for them, as was the sale of Kevin Volland to Monaco.
According to club CEO Fernando Carro, Leverkusen’s lost revenue during the pandemic has been in the “double-digit million euros number,” which is why the club could not reinvest more of the money they received in the Havertz sale.
“We had a good year in a way because we had a special transfer in Kai Havertz this summer,” Carro told reporters during the call. “What we could not do is spend all the money we received for Kai on new players . . . because we had to take into account that the income was lower and therefore had a very, very strict cost control investment in players.”
Rolfes says it will take years and multiple years for the market to recover from the pandemic. But, even in the circumstances, he maintains “it’s important for a club to keep the quality and to build up your squad.”