The Rise of the “buy-back clause” in player development


Image result for gerard deulofeu

The transfer market in 2017 is a complex being. Financial fair play and ever increasing role of agents means deals often contain more small print than a mortgage application and this is even more apparent in the transfers of youth team prospects.

Part of the small print that has become prominent in any transfer of players under 23 is the “buy-back clause”. This is swiftly replacing the traditional loan deal as a way of clubs sending a promising player to gain first team experience while retaining some form of control over his future.

Barcelona who are long since viewed as kingpins of youth development with the vaunted “La Masia” rarely let a player leave without inserting such a clause in case of technical improvement.  Adama Traore, Andreu Fontas, Alen Halilovic and Jon Dos Santos are all players who have left their youth system in the past number of seasons with inactivated buy-back options.

This year Barcelona have activated the option on Gerard Deulofeu’s contract, sealing a €12m return for a man sold to Everton in a €6m deal two seasons ago. Similarly two years ago, Denis Suarez was sold to Villarreal for €4m only to return a year later for €3.25m. Both arrive back still in their early twenties but vastly more experienced. So why not just send them on the conventional loan?

Loan circumstances, their mentality and uncertainty of the situation can end up hindering how a player develops. The current “farm” or “feeder” systems causes youngsters to endure three maybe four seasons of loan moves while consistently; struggling to put down roots, develop off field relationships and become comfortable in their surroundings which are all crucial to allow focus on mental improvement and technical development.

Image result for christian atsu

Christian Atsu had 5 loan spells before a permanent move and has yet to reach the potential Chelsea saw in him. 

The finality gained in a permanent transfer benefits both sides: the player isn’t left thinking about returning to a dead end in a few months’ time and the purchasing club has more incentive to use the player as they’ve invested the cash in his fee and wages. The player may then begin to excel during his first team opportunities and suddenly the buy-back clause becomes a snip compared to his actual value.

It also gives considerable motivation to the player as he knows two things. Both his new club and manager have enough faith in him to sign him permanently and want him to succeed in the first team. Contrastingly his parent club has not given up on his development with the insertion of the “rebuy” and he is therefore encouraged to settle and work hard from two fronts.

If Alvaro Morata seals his mooted €70m move to Manchester United this summer, Real Madrid will have executed a near perfect application of this new system. Mostly a rotation player (37apps 10 goals) between 2010/14, the Spaniard made the €20m move to Juventus where he went on to score 27 goals in two years as a first team regular with the old lady. He then returned to Madrid for €30m last summer and continued his progress, netting 20 goals in 43 appearances for the Spanish Champions.

This improvement means Madrid could net an extra €50m just from their choice not to totally cut the umbilical cord back in 2014, not to mention the practical gain of an improved Morata last season. When you take the €30m rebuy fee into consideration the will still be making a cool €60m profit from the total transfer fees received for his services. It is easily argued that were it not for the type of environment this permanent style transfer offered him, none of the aforementioned business would have occurred.

Ironically it was Manchester United who made the most famous gaffe. Letting Paul Pogba leave the club only to subsequently pay £89m to regain his services causing a panic insertion of this clause in a vast amount of youth transfers in recent times.

Image result for paul pogba

Pogba’s move and development at Juventus and return to Old Trafford has scared top clubs. 

The days of the conventional loan system for smaller clubs is far from a dead market but when it comes to bigger prospects moving across top European clubs, the “permanent/rebuy” market is a massively developing one which will continue expanding as more money is generated by middle income clubs.

It is vastly regarded by academies, scouts and boardroom directors alike as a new way around FFP and another way forward in player development. While its inception is nothing new and has been more common in the continental market for the last 20 years, it is the recent financial successes which will see it ultimately replace the conventional loan as a developmental tool amongst elite clubs.


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