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  • Deepanshu

The Lusophone Link - Following the Money in the Football Transfer Market

Peeking behind the curtains of the swanky business of football transfers to see what’s happening off-the-field amongst the biggest spenders, earners, and the most profitable clubs.

Football transfers is a big-money business. Since 2009, over $50 billion has exchanged hands among clubs in a bid to get the best talents around the world. Today, let’s look at the 70,000+ transfers that have taken place over the last decade or so to and from Europe’s top 7 footballing nations – England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain – and dive a little into a very interesting pattern that emerges.

Part 1 (and a side quest) – The Biggest Spenders

Since 2009, 11 clubs have spent over $1 billion on permanent transfers.

We can instantly notice that most of these clubs are from England. However, it is not surprising since the English Premier League is arguably the richest league in the world. This theme of ‘concentration’ of transfer market activity keeps on emerging throughout the story, whether we look at transfer spend or transfer earning. If we look at the clubs that have spent over half-a-billion, the distribution looks like this:

The above distribution shows the concentration of spending power in the hands of English clubs.

(Market) Concentration refers to the extent to which a small number of companies dominate a particular market. In economics & finance, market concentration is often measured using the Herfindahl–Hirschman Index (HHI). Any HHI value over 2500 indicates high market concentration. The HHI for the above distribution is 3166, which means that this particular 'market' is highly concentrated.

In fact, the first time we have at least one representative of each of the 7 countries is with Ajax, which ranks 44th on the list.

Nevertheless, and unsurprisingly, all of the 11 clubs noted above are net spenders, i.e., they spend more money on incoming players than they earn from outgoing players.

This makes sense because the aim for these clubs is not to make the most profit on transfers, but to compete at the highest level in the biggest competitions.

Part 2 – The Biggest Earners

The other side of the coin is the clubs that earn the most by selling their players. When we look at the top 10 earners, we see many familiar names from the previous list. However, some new clubs appear as well, namely Benfica, AS Monaco, AS Roma and Borussia Dortmund (BvB). Even still, the biggest earners don’t necessarily make any profit on transfers.

Only 3 out of the above – Benfica, AS Monaco, and Borussia Dortmund - make profits on transfers.

Now with all of this context, when we look at the list of most profitable clubs, something interesting happens.

Part 3 – Most Profitable Clubs

We have with ourselves a list of clubs that we don’t hear about very often. Portuguese clubs feature 4 times in the top-10 most profitable clubs and account for 48% of the top-10 pie.

To understand the dynamics of clubs from a country-wise perspective, let’s look at the ratio of Domestic vs International transfer market activity – the ID Ratio. (I don’t know if it’s an actual thing)

1. ID Spend Ratio

2. ID Earnings Ratio

In essence, IDs will tell us the difference in magnitude of domestic and international purchases and IDe will tell us the difference in magnitude of domestic and international sales.





4.7 : 1

11.0 : 1


1.7 : 1

6.3 : 1


1.8 : 1

2.7 : 1


2.4 : 1

2.6 : 1


1.5 : 1

1.5 : 1


0.9 : 1

0.8 : 1


1.6 : 1

0.7 : 1

It is almost incredible how much the Portuguese market is tilted towards international transactions.

Part 4 – The Portuguese Transfer Giants

Let’s take a closer look at the reasons for success of the two crown jewels of Portuguese football – SL Benfica and FC Porto. The findings stand true Sporting CP, the third Portuguese club on our list, as well. (Remember Mathematical Induction from Class XI CBSE?)

Since 2009, Benfica have been involved in over 350 permanent transfers. The same number is around 300 for Porto (and around 200 for Sporting CP). By limiting the analysis to ‘permanent transfers’, I will exclude all loan deals and the cost of procuring youth players from transfer activity.

The biggest success factor for both clubs is the development of young Portuguese talent who they then sell to clubs across Europe for a healthy profit. Joao Felix, Ruben Diaz, and Bernardo Silva from Benfica, Fabio Silva, Diogo Dalot, and Ruben Neves from Porto (and Bruno Fernandes from Sporting CP) are great examples of this.

When we look at the profit these clubs earn from developing and selling young talent, the figures are staggering.

But, I hear you say, isn’t it obvious? Portuguese clubs WILL develop Portuguese talent! You’re spot on! It is indeed obvious.

However, what is not so obvious at first glance is players of which nationality makes both of these clubs (and Sporting CP) the second-most money.

The answer – Brazil!

Brazilian players account for nearly 1/4th of total market activity for Benfica and nearly 1/5th of transfer market activity for Porto.

Brazil, which is THE most successful footballing nation, was once a Portuguese colony. Brazil was so important to the Portuguese kingdom that Rio de Janeiro was once its capital. The country eventually gained its independence in 1822.

Many Brazilians dream of playing in Europe’s best divisions and Portugal is the perfect stepping stone. Same language, similar weather and lifestyle, along with relatively easy mobility between Brazil and Portugal make Portugal a lucrative destination for young Brazilian footballers.

Brazil was once used by Portugal as a hub of global trade. Today, Portugal serves as a hub of Brazilian football talent for rest of the world.

To finish off, here are some of the most prominent Brazilian footballers to have come out of Portugal:



Transfer Amount Paid

Destination Club

Transfer Amount Received




Manchester City



David Luiz










Eder Militao


Real Madrid





Zenit St. Petersburg





Real Madrid




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