As clubs across the UK and Europe’s top men’s leagues prepare to splash the cash on transfer deadline day on Friday, fees being exchanged in the women’s game remain few and far between.
A recent report from Fifa said men’s clubs spent a record high of $7.35bn (£5.65bn) on international transfers in 2019, compared to just over $650,000 (£500,000) in the women’s game.
That came despite a 19.7% rise in the number of international transfers between women’s teams and a 16.3% increase in the fees exchanged.
Wages are growing in the women’s game too, amid the expanding audiences for the sport around the world. But transfer fees – almost all of which are undisclosed – remain comparatively negligible.
Fifa says that 96.3% of women’s international moves in 2019 were free transfers – so, while sponsorship deals are burgeoning for stars including US duo Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan and England’s Fran Kirby, what is holding back transfer fees?
“Transfer fees are still relatively low, and unheard of, because there are still a lot of short-term contracts,” Everton manager Willie Kirk told BBC Radio Merseyside.
“A lot of players are on 12-month deals so clubs know that, if you can’t get that player, you’ll get an equivalent player at the end of their contract.”
Women’s football agent Reece Land, founder of Next Gen Sport Solutions, told BBC Sport: “The market is definitely intensifying but a lot of clubs would rather wait 12 months than pay, say, £50,000 as a buyout clause.”
What did Fifa’s study find?
Fifa found that, for international transfers in the women’s game, there were 833 player moves in 2019, with $652,032 spent on transfer fees in the calendar year.
Of those deals, only 3.7% involved a transfer fee, compared to 14.9% in the men’s game.
Less than two in every 100 of those women’s moves included a sell-on fee, ranging from 10% to 50% of the future transfer fee.
More than 86% of moves involved out-of-contract players, while 44 British players were involved in international deals – including England midfielder Nikita Parris’ move from Manchester City to European champions Lyon.
“The year-on-year ‘growth’ in those stats gives women’s football a false sense of security,” said Land, whose company represents more than 70 female athletes.
“The stats don’t reflect the fact there are more underlying issues.”
‘Scary’ lack of security in women’s players contracts
Last year, the average length of a female footballer’s contract globally was just 12.1 months, up from 2018’s figure of 10.5 months.
“With the average [contract] only just over a year, for a player, that’s quite scary,” Land added. “That’s a massive risk for players.
“There’s no security for a player to maybe leave a full-time job and just go on an average of a one-year contract.
“I would say 85% of all the deals we see, players are on one or two-year contracts. It’s very rare that we see longer than a two-year contract.
“It’s going to be a hard summer [for the women’s game] because we’ve got the men’s Euros, so it’s going to be harder to keep the publicity rolling. The FA, Uefa and Fifa need a strong marketing campaign for this summer.”
Is the women’s loan market effective?
Of 2019’s 833 moves in Fifa’s report, 39 were loans and 43 were players returning from a loan spell.
However, just three of those moves were loans that became a permanent deal.
“That’s a massive gulf,” Land continued. “For so few loans to result in permanent transfers, there is something falling down in the loan system somewhere.
“Whether it’s a player not being a perfect fit for the club, or whether it’s a club that’s gone for the wrong player, or if it was just a short-term injury fix, there could be loads of reasons – but something’s wrong.”
Nevertheless, loan deals have proved popular in England’s WSL and Championship recently, with January’s window including temporary moves for Scotland left-back Emma Mitchell – who joined Tottenham – and Birmingham City’s addition of Everton defender Georgia Brougham.
Are we close to seeing a £1m women’s footballer?
Low-cost moves like those may feel light years away from the all-time men’s transfer record of £200m, set when Brazil’s Neymar joined Paris St-Germain in 2017.
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But – never mind hundreds of millions – how far away is women’s football from matching Trevor Francis’ £1m move, when joining Nottingham Forest from Birmingham City for a then record sum way back in 1979?
Asked how close the women’s game was to seeing a £1m player, Toffees boss Kirk added: “It might be a while before we get a £1m transfer fee but certainly I think there are £1m players out there.
“The top few players in the world, on a three-year contract, that contract will probably be the value of £1m. It is at that level now with some players.
“Once three, four and five-year contracts start becoming the norm, you’ll start seeing more transfer fees.”
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