English clubs were by far world football's biggest spenders on overseas players in 2013, paying £550m in the year, a quarter of the total spent by all clubs globally, according to Fifa. In its Global Transfer Market 2014 report, Fifa said English clubs spent substantially more money on overseas players, up 51% on 2012, due to the new £5.5bn TV deals secured by the Premier League for 2013-16, which makes it again the world's richest league.
Spain, whose clubs apart from giants Real Madrid and Barcelona are struggling with debts, losses and mounting tax bills, were the world's biggest sellers of players, receiving £341m in total.
The figures, compiled from all international player transfers by Fifa annually, also reveal that English clubs paid £45m to "intermediaries" or agents to act for them, in addition to any money paid to players' agents. However, Fifa said only 7% of the total 12,309 international player moves involved clubs using and paying intermediaries to make transfers happen, lower than generally suspected.
The £550m Fifa calculated English clubs spent confirms the increasing trend to sign overseas players; the FA chairman, Greg Dyke, has appointed a commission to examine their potentially detrimental effect on the England national team. Manchester City, who under the ownership of Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour initially had a policy of signing and fielding a core of English players, spent £102m in the summer on five new signings who were all from overseas, including Jesús Navas and Álvaro Negredo from Sevilla and Martín Demichelis from Atlético Madrid.
Tottenham Hotspur, having sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for £80m and sold or transferred for free several of their British players in the summer, spent £107m on seven signings, all from overseas.
Swansea City, who have looked for good value signings from Spanish football particularly since the success of Michu, signed Álvaro Vásquez from Getafe, Alejandro Pozuelo and José Cañas from Real Betis and Jordi Amat from Espanyol in the summer. The Welsh club spent a total of £21m and signed 10 players, two of them British: Jonjo Shelvey, signed from Liverpool, and Jernade Meade, the left-back who arrived on a free transfer from Arsenal.
Fifa's transfer matching found the 12,309 international transfers was an increase of only 4% in the number who moved between countries in 2012, but the total money paid for them, £2.2bn, jumped 41%.
That huge spending on international signings reflects the comparative financial might of European football, with 82% of the £2.2bn, £1.8bn, spent by clubs in only nine leagues. In order of spending, they were: England, Italy, France (aided by the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev's outlay at Monaco), Spain, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and Portugal.
The South American football powers of Argentina and the World Cup host country Brazil, traditionally sellers of their countries' talent, spent less in 2013, with Brazil's expenditure 22% down to £44m.
"A currency crisis afflicting emerging economies has reduced Brazilian and Argentinian buying power in the international market," the report said. Brazilian clubs, Fifa said, sold 1,588 of their players to clubs in other countries, a remarkable 13% of all international transfers.
The average age of the 12,309 players who moved to clubs across countries in 2013 was 25 years, three months, Fifa said. The report noted that the oil rich gulf countries of United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and China, were all in the top 20 spending countries, and tended to buy older big-name players at the end of their careers, to give their emerging leagues a boost in profile.
The transfer matching system recorded that in 14% of international transfers, clubs paid an "intermediary," or agent, to help secure a player. This is separate from paying players' agents . The total recorded for payments to "intermediaries" acting between buying and selling clubs was £130m, up 30% on 2012. Campaigners for more investment in English grassroots football will be exasperated that English clubs paid £45m, 35% of the total, while the Premier League's contribution to improving rundown playing facilities via the Football Foundation is £12m.