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Football Transfer Trends in 2010

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The 2010 Global Player Migration Report (published by Professional Football Players Observatory & SoccerAssociation.com) reveals several interesting facts on football transfers in the 2010 calendar year.

The report analyses all international transfers of footballers during the 2010 calendar year to 101 first or second division leagues of 69 national associations worldwide. The report covers 5’729 international flows (transfers) of professional players of 103 national origins.

The full report can be downloaded from the PFPO website, we’ve presented some of the key findings below:

Imports (Players Coming In) and Re-Imports (Players Coming Back Home)

  • Cyprus is the most active national association for the import of players, both in absolute and relative terms. In 2010, clubs of the Mediterranean island have recruited 219 foreign players from abroad. This figure represents an average of 7.8 per team.
  • England is 4th on the overall list with 143 foreign recruits coming in 2010.
  • The first non-European association in this ranking is the United States of America. This reflects the increasing appeal of the Major League Soccer (MLS) and its greater inclusion in the global transfer market for footballers. Chivas and Kansas have brought in 9 foreign players each, DC and Portland 8 each, Chicago and NYRB 7 each.
  • Celtic brought in 16 foreign players in 2010.
  • The highest number of foreign recruits in 2010? AEP Paphos (Cyprus), with 18. Other notable clubs include Schalke (12), Genoa (12) and Manchester City (7) (remember, this is 2010 calendar year only, so this excludes the January transfer window).
  • When it comes to re-imports, Brazil is at the top of the table. On the whole, 135 players from this country came back home to play for first or second division clubs, of whom 10 just for Flamengo. The return migration of Brazilian and more generally South American footballers is a key feature of the contemporary global player circulation system.
  • Clubs of the top division Brazilian league have imported the oldest foreign players (on average 29 years of age), while teams of the Italian second division championship have recruited the youngest ones (22.8).
  • Analysing Football Transfers By Age

  • The 15 leagues having imported the youngest players are all located in Europe. On the contrary, 12 out of the 15 leagues whose clubs have recruited the oldest foreign players from abroad do not belong to UEFA member national associations. This reflects a clear distinction in the logics underlying international recruitment.
  • In Europe, clubs in the majority of leagues import players who are supposed to be consequently re-transferred for profit, while those located outside this continent tend to sign players overseas primarily to strengthen their squads (e.g. the MLS).
  • In Brazil, local clubs compensate the departures of young national players by recruiting more seasoned foreign ones.
  • Analysing Return Migration

  • Many Brazilian, Argentinean, Uruguayan and Serbian clubs take advantage of the return migration of national footballers having failed to settle down abroad to make up their squads. Many top-flight South American clubs such as, among other teams, Flamengo, Peñarol and River Plate, follow this strategy. From the point of view of former migrants, coming back to the home country is a strategy that allows them to re-launch their career or, if they are already well seasoned, to extend it for a few more years.
  • Only four teams having reached the last 16 of the current Champions League edition have re-imported national players in 2010.
  • Exports (Players Going Away) and Re-Exports (Foreign Players Being Sold)

  • The three national associations having exported the most local players are Brazil (280), Argentina (215) and Serbia (150). These three nations are also top of the list for re-imports.
  • While 103 associations have exported at least one national player to the leagues surveyed, 27% of these flows originate from one of these top three countries. This figure is 50% if we take into account the 10 associations exporting the most local footballers.
  • Almost 80% of Ghanaians who migrated in 2010 are midfielders or forwards. Generally speaking, a greater part of international flows concern players in these positions (63.5%). This figure is higher for Africans (81%) and South Americans (69.2%), than for Central or North Americans (63.2%), Asians or Oceanians (58.7%), and Europeans (59.3%). When it comes to recruiting African or South American footballers, importing clubs seldom seek defensive ones.
  • Contrary to popular expectations, England ‘exported’ 50 players abroad in 2010. One imagines though that if you took Scotland out of the picture, that number would fall drastically.
  • The average age of players leaving their country is telling – 21.81 for England, 24.48 for Brazil (even with the high number of young Brazilians coming to Europe), 25.01 for Italy, 25.36 for Argentina, 26.35 for Germany, 26.54 for France, 27.14 for Holland and 27.54 for Spain.
  • England is by far the most re-exporting national association. In 2010, 241 foreign footballers moved away from this country to clubs in the other championships analysed, of which 111 from the Premier League (5.5 per club on average). This shows the challenge that many players face to settle down at the heart of the world football economy.
  • Three Argentinian clubs – River Plate, Boca Juniors and Argentinos Juniors – have exported more than 10 players each.
  • When looking at re-exports, Udinese tops the list with 23. Other notable clubs include Benfica (22), Manchester City (14), Liverpool (13) and Chelsea (10).
  • Networks

  • If the heart of the football economy is undoubtedly in Europe, the real hub of the globalisation of the football players’ transfer market is South America. In 2010, Brazilian and Argentinean teams have been implicated in a significant number of transfers with clubs located in national associations of three other confederations. However, UEFA member national associations have exchanged at least 20 footballers with only CONMEBOL ones.
  • The most used pathways for international migration are those having led players from Brazil to Portugal (95, and 21 the other way around), from England to Scotland (67, and 24) and from Argentina to Chile (56, and 29). The latter country plays a stepping stone role for Argentinean players who then move up to Mexico.
  • Brazilians can be considered as the authentic global football workforce. In 2010, they have moved across borders to clubs located in 58 distinct national associations out of 69. This figure is much higher than for any other player origin: Argentina (44), Serbia (40), Croatia (36) and Nigeria (35).
  • After Portuguese clubs, those having imported the most footballers from Brazil are in Asia: Korea (15), Japan (14) and Iran (12). While South-North networks are historically well established, South-South ones are rapidly developing. From this perspective, South America can be considered as the real hub of the globalisation of the player transfer market.
  • In 2010, Premier League clubs have imported players from 27 national associations. The geography of these imports shows the importance of spatial proximity. The majority of international signings have been carried out from national associations of EU’s member states, for the most part neighbouring ones. This situation is partially due to the ruling obliging non-EU footballers to have played 3/4 of the matches of their national A-team during the two years preceding the transfer to be eligible for a work permit. Insofar as footballers playing for local clubs have almost no chance of being selected in many of the most competitive non-European national teams, direct imports from there are often impossible.
  • You can download the 2010 Global Player Migration Report from the PFPO website.

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