It sometimes feels like words lose all meaning when talking about the finances of football. At £200,000 per week, FSG are ‘underpaying’ Mohamed Salah. When Sadio Mané ‘only’ asked for £50,000 extra per week on top of that from Bayern Munich, his demands were considered surprisingly reasonable. The figures involved are barely comprehensible to the average person on the street, and so it is with the blockbuster deals of the summer: Darwin Núñez to Liverpool and Erling Haaland to Manchester City.
To the surprise of precisely nobody, those in the Man City camp have been quick to point out how much ‘cheaper’ the Haaland deal is. Sure enough, when it comes to the headline transfer fee, Núñez is more expensive. Even if none of the (highly achievable) add-ons are met, the Uruguayan will still cost £64m, compared to £51m for his Norwegian counterpart. The cost could rise to a club-record £85m.
Yet Liverpool were quick to count themselves out of the Haaland race because of the finances. FSG, like everyone else, were interested in one of Europe’s hottest marksmen, but they never had a realistic prospect of completing the transfer. Did they simply enjoy a massive windfall in the weeks between Manchester City making their move and Núñez coming to Anfield?
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Clearly not. The basic transfer fee involved is a gross oversimplification, as explained in a recent tweet from football finance expert Swiss Ramble. While Núñez may have cost more on paper, the reality is that the overall package to sign Haaland is vastly more expensive.
At £375,000 per week, the wages alone are enough to explain why Liverpool could simply never have challenged for Haaland. The top end of the FSG wage bill looks completely different to that of other top clubs, with Salah’s £200,000 salary representing the high watermark alongside Thiago.
As for Núñez, he will come in on a reported £140,000 per week. In the context of a likely club-record transfer fee, a wage so far off the top earners at the club prompts a complete reassessment of the deal. With the constant caveat that such terms take on an entirely different meaning in the rich world of elite football, he suddenly seems like a bargain for Liverpool.
Crucially, FSG have built in a long-term outlook. Núñez will not stay on this salary forever, and if he settles in as expected at Liverpool then there will be an extension on the table within two to three years. This can be accommodated within the existing wage structure: even a hike of £60,000 per week would only bring him on par with the top earners. Provided the striker delivers the goods, it seems inevitable that he will spend all of his peak years at Anfield.
The complete opposite is true of Haaland. There is already talk of Real Madrid seeking to make use of a release clause that will come into effect in 2024, and it is hardly surprising. The player and his representatives have a huge financial incentive to keep hopping between clubs. In the figures collated by Swiss Ramble, the deal to bring him to Man City has cost £26m in agent’s fees, double what Liverpool paid to land Núñez. Then there is a further commission payment of £13m.
In total, the added payments take the cost of the Haaland deal up to £193m for Manchester City. Meanwhile, the move to bring Núñez to Anfield will cost Liverpool £144m, despite factoring in an extra year of wages (six-year versus five-year deal). This stark £49m gulf proves that FSG have certainly not abandoned their model; the fact that the two transfers are being compared as equivalents is a compliment to the owners’ ability to punch above the club’s financial weight.
It is easy to forget the gap between Liverpool and Manchester City because they are so close on the pitch. In Haaland and Núñez, they even seem to be matching stride for stride in the transfer market. But every time Klopp challenges the dominance of Pep Guardiola’s side, that achievement deserves to be put in its proper context. This is not the first £49m deficit, and it will not be the last: between recruitment and management, the Reds are working miracles.
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