Leverage transfers are when a club buys an entire team to help them win the league or improve their performance. If a club has more resources than another, they’ll be able to outbid other teams and bring in players with better contracts that set themselves up for success.
Luis Diaz is heading to Liverpool. Juventus has signed Dusan Vlahovic. Ferran Torres has arrived in Barcelona. Inter has signed Robin Gosens. Manchester City has signed Julian Alvarez. These are five of the most significant transfers from the recent transfer window… and five transactions that were universally praised as solid business.
Of course, time will tell, but when evaluating the impact these players have at their new clubs (Alvarez won’t join until next season), there’s a common thread you should consider, one that’s often overlooked: the impact their arrivals have on players already at those clubs, particularly those whose contracts are expiring. It isn’t the primary reason for their moves, but it is a component that is as crucial as ever right now, especially in terms of time, and it most definitely had a role in their acquisitions.
We’re talking about leverage, and the arrival of Luis Diaz from Porto on Merseyside is maybe the clearest illustration.
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Diaz, 25, cost Liverpool £37 million ($50 million), with the possibility of a further £49 million ($66 million) in incentives. He has been an outstanding player for Porto, especially in the Champions League, although the fee may seem high at first sight. On paper, he’s the fifth-choice forward behind Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota, and Roberto Firmino. He’s the eighth-most expensive player in Liverpool history (and if he meets his bonuses, he’ll be the fifth-most expensive) and yet he’s the eighth-most expensive player in Liverpool history (and if he meets his bonuses, he’ll be the fifth-most expensive). Liverpool does not have infinite money, and they already have Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino, so why spend in a striker rather than, say, another central midfielder? Especially given Mane, Salah, and Firmino are all due to become free agents at the conclusion of next season?
The solution may be found in the final question. You don’t want to feel obligated to extend a contract (or, worse, succumb to the “Give him what he wants!” camp) when you enter a contract discussion. I’ve already argued that Liverpool should prolong Salah, Mane, and, despite being hindered by injury, Firmino, but only at a certain cost. From Liverpool’s standpoint, the price has dropped somewhat as a result of Diaz’s arrival, allowing them to be a little more aggressive at the negotiation table.
In other words, by signing Diaz now, Liverpool will be less likely to be held hostage next summer if Mane or Salah refuse to extend their contracts and force a deal (or, worse, sail towards free agency), forcing the club to scurry for a successor. Is there a drawback? Sure, there’s always something. Perhaps Diaz will be a flop and never settle down. However, every signing carries risk, which is eased by the fact that the ultimate decision on Diaz won’t be made until next season, by which time they’ll have settled their differences with Mane or Salah in one way or another.
Inter’s acquisition of Gosens is similar, but more so. They already have a top-notch left-wingback in Ivan Perisic, who is enjoying a fantastic season despite the fact that he is 33 years old, will be a free agency in June, and is paid well. Because he’s fit and productive, Inter is willing to retain him, but only for a certain fee and for a set number of years. Perisic’s negotiating power is greatly reduced now that Gosens is in town; moreover, Gosens is six years younger than Perisic and earns slightly less than half as much. Oh, and they don’t have to start paying for him until 2023 since it’s officially an 18-month loan with an option to purchase afterwards.
Contract extensions were not the primary drivers of the other acquisitions, but they had a substantial influence.
Alvarez’ transfer to Man City isn’t anticipated to pay off right away — he’ll be on loan at River Plate until the summer — but it does allow his new club some wriggle space when it comes to re-signing players like De Bruyne and Sterling. NurPhoto/Matas Baglietto via Getty Images
Barcelona’s acquisition of Ferran Torres from Manchester City has the added benefit of allowing them to play hardball with Ousmane Dembele. Torres is a versatile player, but in his three games with Barcelona, the Spanish international has primarily played wide on the right. While it seems that the ruse will fail (Dembele has so far rejected Barcelona’s proposals), that aspect has more to do with Dembele’s enormous contract, which makes it more sensible for him to test the waters in free agency.
Consider how Vlahovic’s presence will affect the futures of Paulo Dybala (who will be a free agent in June) and Alvaro Morata (Juve will need to decide whether to make his loan from Atletico Madrid permanent at the end of this season, as well as give him a new contract). Dybala and Morata will be 29 and 30 years old next season, respectively, and both make a lot of money. The pressure to keep them around would be substantially stronger without Vlahovic. Now, if one (or both) of them choose to remain, you can bet it will be at a figure that the club is happy with.
Gab and Juls talk about how Dusan Vlahovic and Denis Zakaria will fit into Juventus coach Max Allegri’s plans.
Then there’s Julian Alvarez’s case. Manchester City paid $20 million to River Plate for the Argentina striker, but he will remain on loan in Buenos Aires until the summer. In 2021, he turned 22 and scored 22 goals across all competitions. He has often been deployed as a center striker, although he can also play out wide. City haven’t had a true center-forward for the previous 18 months (and it hasn’t really hurt them), but they were in the market for Harry Kane last summer, and you’d expect them to pursue Erling Haaland this summer.
Obviously, Alvarez isn’t in the same league as those two right now, but if they need a less expensive option, he fits the bill. And his adaptability has an influence on City’s approach toward the three players whose futures they must decide on in the coming months: Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, and Riyad Mahrez, all of whom have contracts expiring in June 2023. We know City isn’t short on cash, but we also know they are wary of signing players to long-term contracts that extend past their 30th birthday (just ask Kevin De Bruyne, who got a hefty bump, but only a two-year extension). Next Monday, Mahrez will be 31 years old, while Sterling will be 27. With Alvarez on board, City now has that additional piece of leverage.
Keep in mind that we’re not talking about assurances. Any of the above-mentioned players might turn out to be mega-busts, resulting in embarrassment for the teams who signed them. We’re talking about calculating odds, weighing advantages and disadvantages, and estimating risk. Among the benefits, undoubtedly, is the influence they have on long-term personnel choices that involve large sums of money.