Pandemic has lasting impact on players’ values


The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the world of football, with an abundance of clubs finding themselves in dire straits, primarily from the fallout in their matchday income. What’s more, the flux in the market values of players, football clubs’ main assets, is creating further headaches, as clubs attempt to stabilise their finances and return to pre-pandemic levels. The latest update in KPMG Football Benchmark Player Valuation Tool reveals that the aggregate market value of the 500 most valuable football players has decreased by 10.3% since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak. Nevertheless, the market is showing a slow recovery in the past several months.

In the period between February and May, the value of the Top 500 and Top 100 players estimated through our proprietary algorithms decreased by 19.6% and 17.9%, respectively, as a result of the pandemic and the uncertainty regarding the completion of football leagues’ seasons. However, the market has been recovering since then: from May to August, the 500 and 100 highest valued players in our model were worth 9.2% and 8.2% more, respectively. Nevertheless, our latest update as of 16 October[1] demonstrates much slower growth between August and October: indeed, the Top 500 players are now valued 2.2% more, while the Top 100 players’ values grew by 2.1%. The main driver for the significant market acceleration between May and August was the continuation and finalisation of many domestic and international competitions. Not only did these developments alleviate much of the uncertainty, they also enhanced the outlook of clubs’ financials substantially, fostering the significant player value growth seen in that period. On the other hand, the slower growth from August to October, when things were already in flux, reflected the long-term status quo of football in the pandemic.

The dominance of English sides is demonstrated when examining the Top 10 clubs by their aggregate squad market value, with August’s leaders, Manchester City, still on top. Real Madrid and Barcelona are amongst those who slid in the rankings due to limited investment in their squads in the most recent transfer window, as a consequence of cash constraints caused by the pandemic. Meanwhile, Chelsea improved their position from 6th to 3rd after numerous high profile signings. The financial power of the English Premier League stemming from its colossal TV broadcasting revenues is even more apparent in an examination of the domestic league level. The aggregate player value of the English Premier League is almost double that of its closest competitor, the Spanish La Liga, in this regard.

The composition of the Top 10 players by market value shows no change, while the order of players differs slightly. However, the aggregate value of these elite players has decreased by a total of EUR 30m in the past two months, and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold is the only player among them who could increase his value in this period.

As we had predicted in our report entitled ‘Player value not immune to pandemic’ in May, the summer transfer window that has just come to an end was characterized by a decreased volume of transfers involving high transfer fees. Rather, it was dominated by a large number of smaller deals, or loan deals with future buy options. Such changes put an upper limit on player values, since clubs did not possess the available funds to spend big on players of such calibre as they had been accustomed to doing. French world champion Kylian Mbappé remains at the top of the rankings with an unchanged valuation of EUR 200m in October; once again, he is the only player having reached that milestone figure. Second place is occupied by Raheem Sterling, who moved up from 3rd place to secure this spot, followed by his England teammate Jadon Sancho, who was a constant subject of transfer news this summer. Neymar fell from 2nd to 4th place as a result of an EUR 18m decrease in market value, while 5th and 6th place are occupied by Liverpool teammates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, both valued at EUR 125m. Yet another two Premier League stars reside in the following spots, as Kevin de Bruyne and Harry Kane are tied at a valuation of EUR 120m. Lionel Messi (EUR 114m) continues to slide down the list, due to his expiring contract and increasing age; finally, Trent Alexander-Arnold, the highest valued defender, completes the Top 10 at EUR 111m. Even though the market conditions place downward pressure on elite player values, Alexander-Arnold managed to increase his value due to his young age and the scarcity of top players in his position.

Regardless of the state of the market, good performances affect player values positively. Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich, for example, jumped from the 29th to the 13th spot with a valuation of EUR 94m, a EUR 16.6m increase since August. His teammate Serge Gnabry did even better: he advanced 23 places and is now 19th at EUR 89m (a growth of EUR 17.9m). Both players jumped in the rankings following excellent displays in the Champions League and the early Bundesliga games.

Barcelona have amongst their ranks the player with the highest market value increase. Spanish wonderkid Ansu Fati broke onto the scene last year at 16, was capped by the national team at the senior level and awarded September's LaLiga player of the month. His achievements resulted in an EUR 26m increase in value between August and October. England’s Mason Greenwood also followed a similar rise to stardom, albeit at a slightly older age. His important goal contributions pushed Manchester United into the Champions League spots in the past Premier League season and allowed his valuation to rise significantly, by EUR 21.6m. Meanwhile, Colombian superstar James Rodríguez and promising Moroccan right-back Achraf Hakimi left Real Madrid this summer and signed long-term deals at Everton and Inter Milan, respectively. As a result, they are major up-and-comers in value since the last update. Interestingly, James’ value decreased by second-most in the May-August period, partly due to his limited opportunities at Real Madrid throughout the year and impending exit as a free agent. Champions League winner Serge Gnabry completes the five following his exceptional performances both domestically and internationally in Bayern Munich’s treble-winning season.

International superstars headline the list of those who suffered the biggest value decreases. Neymar leads the pack with a decrease of EUR 18.1m, due to his looming contract expiration. In 2nd place is Mbwana Samatta (- EUR 14.6m), who failed to make an impact in the Premier League with then newly-promoted Aston Villa. Nicolò Zaniolo (- EUR 11.8m) also made this list as he suffered his second ACL injury in just as many years. Finally, last year’s marquee signings of Real Madrid and Barcelona complete the list: Eden Hazard’s and Antoine Griezmann’s values both decreased by approximately EUR 11m due to their less-than-optimal debut seasons at their new clubs.

1The latest update of the KPMG Football Benchmark market value estimations includes approximately 5,000 footballers playing in the top divisions of the English, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Argentinian, Brazilian, Dutch, Portuguese, Turkish and Belgian football leagues. Furthermore, the English 2nd division is also covered. As such, the scope of the valuation encompasses 12 domestic leagues.