Revealed: Why Clubs Leave Transfer Fees 'Undisclosed'

A DimondSenior Analyst IAugust 11, 2008

As not only a football fan, but a sports ‘journalist’ too, there are not many more infuriating and disappointing words used in the footballing media than when ‘undisclosed’ is written in conjunction with a recent transfer.

No one is happy when that word is used, as it conveniently and effectively prevents the actual transfer fee from becoming public knowledge. The fans want to know how much they have bought (or sold) their player for—so they can argue about it with their mates—and the media do too—so they know how soon they can label the transferred player a ‘bargain’ or a ‘bust’.

Yet leaving such details 'undisclosed' prevents the formulation of any opinions. Why then, do clubs insist on playing the ‘undisclosed’ card?

The answer is simple: One (or even both) of the clubs involved in the transfer don’t want to reveal how much they have paid/received for a player—as they fear it will see them criticized by the fans and press.

Exhibit A - The Buying Club

Take, for example, Bolton. Gary Megson’s club have been active in the transfer market this summer—most notably bringing in Swedish international Johan Elmander to boost the attacking options at the Reebok Stadium. Yet, despite the player being a recognized international with a good scoring record in France, the club was unwilling to reveal the exact amount they had paid for the 27-year-old.

A bit of good old fashion journalistic research later (honestly, the hacks will always find out eventually!), and the reason for this coyness was revealed—the sum paid was in the region of £11m. Nearly as much as the club received for Nicolas Anelka, on a player that looked slow and out of his depth at Euro 2008. Immediately, the press questioned the acquisition.

This is bad for the club in many ways. Primarily, such media criticism will influence the fans—they will subsequently give the player little time to adjust to the league. If he doesn’t start scoring straight away, then the board, manager and player will be in for a lot of condemnation.

More subtly, the player himself will have extra pressure on his shoulders as a result of his fee being common knowledge. Knowing he needs to justify the fee quickly, such pressure makes it even harder for the player to become a success—the Premiership is notoriously hard to adapt to at the best of times.

Ironically then, paying more for a player can make him less likely to be a success. But then again, maybe Phil Gartside should of thought of this before he sanctioned an extravagant bid—and foolishly tried to keep the press in the dark.

Elmander’s former club, Toulouse, would no doubt have been more than happy to reveal the compensation they received for the Swede—their fans unlikely to disapprove of such good business. But if the buying club doesn't want the fee revealed, the selling club won't disagree—for fear of jeopardizing the deal.

Exhibit B - The Selling Club

However, there are many occasions when it is the selling club that doesn’t want to reveal how much they have received for their player. In this age of player power, it is not always the club with the contract that gets the best deal.

Take, for instance, the recent transfer of Younes Kaboul from Tottenham to Portsmouth. With the fee undisclosed, it is highly likely that Spurs received far less for the Frenchman than they paid for him just a year ago. As a result, they don’t want to reveal to the fans and media the exact extent of their financial loss.

Portsmouth was no doubt more than happy to agree to Spur’s demands for ‘undisclosure’, especially if it ensured they got the defender. But don’t be surprised if a Fratton Park ‘source’ reveals some details of the transfer later this week.

Examples of this sort of deal are endless—Nick Carle's move to Crystal Palace, Amaury Bischoff's move to Arsenal, or even Curtis Davies' move to Aston Villa.

The irony of course, is that the media will inevitably reveal the details in the end. No one involved can keep quiet forever—and the very fact clubs try so hard to keep things secret only heightens the media reaction. More often than not, honesty would be a far better policy.

Exhibit C - The Anomaly: Both Clubs Disclose the Fee!

Sometimes, however, a transfer is more interesting for the times when it is not ‘undisclosed’. Often, the fee is revealed because both sides are happy they have agreed a market price for the player in question. This is the case 90 percent of the time—but not always.

Take for example, the summer transfer of Giovani Dos Santos from Barcelona to Spurs. The world and his wife know that the initial fee was £4.7 million, with clauses dependant on appearances.

Both clubs made such numbers public—and this is what is interesting.

Spurs were more than happy to publicize the fee, which shows that Ramos and the club feel they have got themselves a bargain. The fans are happy to have signed the Mexican for such a comparatively minimal fee—and so it seems everyone at the North London club expects the 19-year-old to be a revelation.

If the player was such a bargain, why then were Barcelona so happy to reveal the fee—especially to their notoriously critical media?

The answer is simple: the Catalan club (and its media) don’t rate the attacker nearly as highly as Spurs do.

Having played for the club frequently last year, those at the Nou Camp obviously didn’t see enough from Dos Santos to make them believe he was more valuable to the club than other youth products, such as Leo Messi or Bojan Krkic.

Happy to let him go, they feel that £4.7 million and clauses is a great deal, and one that will draw them praise from the fans and media alike. Just like Spurs.

Only time will tell which club will be regretting ‘disclosing’ this deal.


Has your club left a transfer deal ‘undisclosed’ recently? Why do you think that is? Leave a comment and let me know!


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