Soccer transfer terms explained: Fees, loans, clauses, more

The transfer window is confusing because it's designed to be confusing. No one in European soccer benefits from you or I being able to understand how they're spending their money or why they're spending their money. And with the influx of sovereign wealth funds and venture capital over the past decade-plus -- entities somewhat randomly concerned with "winning soccer games" -- that's truer than ever.

But that doesn't mean we can't try! So, as the summer transfer window across Europe open on July 1, here's your dictionary guide to the terms that will define the summer of 2023.


Additional fees to be paid to a club who are moving a player on if certain conditions are met, e.g., the player scores a particular number of goals or plays a certain number of matches, or the team reaches a specific achievement.

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Agent fees

A principal driver of transfer activity. While agents in other sports typically benefit from their clients signing the biggest contracts possible, soccer agents benefit from their clients constantly changing teams as much as possible, which allows them to pocket a chunk of the transfer fee exchanged between the two teams.

According to FIFA, $622.8 million was paid to intermediaries in 2022. However, newly passed regulations now state that "agents can take a maximum 3% commission for any transfer above $200,000 (£168,166) and 5% for deals under $200,000."


The process by which clubs account for transfer fees paid. Although the fees themselves are reported in lump-sum terms, they appear on the club's books in installments divided over the course of the player's contract.

For example: If a player is acquired for a $50m fee on a five-year deal, the annual "cost" of the player on the club's accounts would be $10m, plus whatever their annual salary is. However, when a club moves a player on, the fee is booked as a one-time, immediate, lump-sum profit.

In an effort to ease their financial burden, Chelsea have begun signing players to deals of seven years or more, which allows them to massively dilute the annual accounting cost of the moves. In response, UEFA announced new rules that allow fees to be amortized for a maximum of only five years.

Al Ahli, Al Hilal, Al Ittihad, Al Nassr

See: PIF.



Although the language used around the word would suggest that the "bid" is some kind of sacred, codified process passed down from generation to generation and team to team -- bids are, in transfer jargon, first prepared, then made official and submitted -- this is not how it works. A bid is simply an offer to sign a player made by one club to another club, with some notification also sent to the player and the agent. These typically are not complex documents.


The final decision-making hurdle for clubs with a specific kind of ownership model. Think of the final season of "Succession," but instead of deciding whether or not to sell Waystar to Gojo, it's Bayern Munich weighing up whether to extend Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting's contract for another year.

Boehly, Todd

An innovator, a buffoon, perhaps both. An American investor, he led the Clearlake Capital consortium's $5 billion takeover of Chelsea after Russia's invasion of Ukraine saw then-owner Roman Abramovich (a Russian oligarch) forced to sell the team by the U.K. government. Although Boehly doesn't own the club in the same way Abramovich did, he has been the face of Chelsea's $600m-plus of activity in the transfer market over the past year, which led to an incredible amount of turnover for a team that had won the Champions League just a year prior and culminated in two fired coaches and the club's worst season in over 30 years.


The United Kingdom's decision to formally leave the European Union. Or, a thing that is making Premier League clubs spend more money, according to the competition's CEO, Richard Masters.

According to UEFA: In January, "English clubs ... spent a total of €830m ($878m), which accounted for 53% of global transfer spending." This, Masters said, is partially due to the fact that there are now Brexit-based restrictions on players Premier League clubs can sign. All non-English signings must be approved by the U.K.'s immigration department, and clubs cannot sign European-based players under the age of 18.

Buy-back clause

An agreed-upon amount that allows a club selling a player's rights to then repurchase that player's rights for a future fixed amount which is almost always significantly more than what his rights were initially sold for.

The most famous recent example was when Casemiro transferred to FC Porto but was then re-signed by Real Madrid for around $10m. However, like all transfers, the deal will not happen unless the old club also agrees personal terms with the player.


Owned by professional bettor Tony Bloom, Brighton are the transfer market's best investors. If they're signing a player you've never heard of for a couple million dollars, you will probably be hearing about how some big clubs want to sign him for many millions more within a few years. A good rule of thumb: If your favorite club is making a deal with Brighton, Brighton won the deal.

Caicedo, Moises

A 21-year-old midfielder with one full season of European top-flight experience. Acquired for $5m last year from Independiente del Valle, he's now being linked with Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal for a transfer fee upwards of $100m. Also, see: Brighton.

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City Football Group

A holding company majority owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group, which is a fund owned by members of the Abu Dhabi royal family. They own Manchester City, along with stakes in multiple other clubs in countries across the world, including the United States, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Italy and France. Their flagship club has been charged by the Premier League with breaking 115 different financial rules and is under investigation.

Clearlake Capital

A private-equity firm that owns about 60% of Chelsea but shares control and management with Todd Boehly. Sources within the game speak quite highly of Clearlake's plans for the club and continue to be baffled by how Boehly still seems to be driving much of the decision-making.

Financial Fair Play

UEFA's financial regulations, which were first introduced in 2009 in order to prevent clubs from overspending and going bust. What they were not meant to do: create an equal competitive playing field for clubs across Europe.

Essentially, the rules have allowed clubs to make small losses over a rolling period of years, but those losses can be written off by various accounting tricks or certain "healthy" investments into things like women's football, the academy and infrastructure. Starting this year, the rules have changed slightly (and are now called "Financial Sustainability,") as clubs are allowed to spend 90% of revenue on agent fees, transfers and player wages -- and that number will eventually be tapered down to 70%.

In the past, violations were assessed retroactively after an audit over a three-year financial period. There was little to no transparency, and it encouraged teams to violate the rules and then deal with and try to avoid the consequences later. The consequences themselves were also seemingly dealt out at random: fines, suspensions, strongly worded news releases.

With the new rules, UEFA claims it will fix those issues: "One key feature of the new regulations is that the reframed reporting periods will allow UEFA to identify breaches as they occur. Breaches to the regulations will be sanctioned by the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB), according to a catalogue of sanctions listed in the CFCB procedural regulations." These rules apply only to teams in European competitions, but many domestic leagues also have their own, typically more lenient, FFP rules, too.

Free transfer

A total misnomer. The term is used to describe players who were acquired after their contracts ran down and therefore did not require a transfer to sign them. However, these players do not play for free. While Lionel Messi joined Paris Saint-Germain in 2021, he was "free" to sign, but he was paid around $70m per year in salary.

We have included the term in our lexicon not to legitimize it, but rather to delegitimize it. It serves only to confuse.


An abbreviation for Fenway Sports Group, an investment group founded by John W. Henry, that owns, among other entities, the Boston Red Sox of Major League Baseball, the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League, and Liverpool of the Premier League. After purchasing Liverpool in 2010, with the team fresh off a seventh-place league finish, FSG oversaw the most successful stretch of the club's modern era.

Despite competing with larger legacy clubs and the state-owned money at others, Liverpool have been one of the four or five best teams in the world over the past five years. They've won every conceivable trophy, including their first-ever Premier League title, they've reached three Champions League finals, and they've finished second by a single point in the Premier League two other times. FSG are despised by a not-insignificant portion of the Liverpool fanbase.

Glazers, The

Even more hated than FSG, the Glazers family completed a leveraged buyout of Manchester United for $1.47bn in 2005. That, essentially, meant that they bought the club using other people's money and then transferred the debt from their borrowing onto the club, which is still paying that debt off today.


The Glazers now seem to want to sell the club but are currently engaged in a bizarre back-and-forth bidding process with British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe and Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim. At this point, it's unclear if the Glazers actually want to sell the club, which is fitting for owners who couldn't really ever afford to buy it, either. Were it to happen, this would be the most consequential sale of the summer.

Run properly, United would quickly become a European power once again. Run by the Glazers, United will likely continue to underperform their massive resource advantage.

Gvardiol, Josko

A 21-year-old defender for RB Leipzig who seems likely to become the most expensive central defender of all time if he joins Manchester City for over $100m. The current record holder: Harry Maguire, $95m, doesn't start for Manchester United. The previous record holder: Virgil van Dijk, might have had the highest peak of any central defender, ever.

This is the hardest position to scout on a soccer field. Good luck to whomever signs Gvardiol.

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Kane, Harry

A 29-year-old striker with one year left on his contract. Kane, who has registered 83 combined non-penalty goals plus assists over the previous three Premier League seasons, occupies a particularly tricky area of the market. He's one of the best players in the world, but he's also about to age out of his best years. On top of that, any team could theoretically acquire him without paying a transfer fee next summer, and he plays for a team that finished eighth last season.

It would seem that Tottenham, unlikely to be competitive this season, have the incentive to get a fee of over $100m in return for a player who could soon leave for nothing, while potential suitors would be incentivized to just wait for a year.

Laporta, Joan

The president of Barcelona, Laporta is constantly talking about something and claimed he would save Barcelona last summer by selling off a large portion of the club's future earning capabilities in order to sign a slew of expensive new players. They won their first LaLiga title in four years this past season, but that became almost an afterthought once the team failed to advance out of the Champions League group stages and the club lost out on a ton of extra revenue it assumed it would have.

The latest financial machinations, as Reuters reported last month: "Barcelona issued bonds on Wednesday to finance the revamp of its Camp Nou stadium, agreeing to pay 6%-7.22% interest depending on maturities, more than initially expe​​cted, according to data published on the Vienna stock exchange."

Levy, Daniel

Over the past 15 or so years, the Tottenham chairman has developed a reputation as European soccer's toughest negotiator. He'd frequently squeeze as much money as possible out of the bigger clubs that wanted to sign one of Tottenham's wantaway stars, but what will he do now he doesn't seem to have any leverage? He can hang on to Kane for another year and risk losing him for nothing next summer, or he can negotiate with clubs that know they can always just walk away from the conversation and try to negotiate a contract directly with Kane come next year.


When a player, currently under contract with one club, is allowed to play for another club for a specified period of time, usually a single season. The acquiring club will typically pay a portion of his salary or a small fee to bring the player in.

Two types of players will typically be loaned: either promising young players the parent club want to keep for the long term but can't offer any immediate playing time, or expensive older players the club want to get rid of permanently but can't because they offered them a large salary that no other team would be willing to match.

Mbappe, Kylian

The presumptive heir to the "Best Player in the World" throne, but more pertinently, the first soccer player to really flex his negotiating power by letting his contract run down and pitting multiple super-clubs against one another in competition for his services. He has a year left on his contract and PSG want at least $170m to allow him to join Real Madrid.

Messi, Lionel

The GOAT not just of soccer, but maybe all sports. Set to join MLS side Inter Miami now his PSG contract has expired.

Milinkovic-Savic, Sergej

Possibly a figment of your imagination, Milinkovic-Savic has been rumored to be leaving Lazio for close to a decade and been connected with just about every big club on the planet. Each generation has its own SMS. Before you know it, he's 28 and about to start his ninth season in a row at the same club.

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Or, Major League Soccer, which sits uncomfortably within the rest of this lexicon. European soccer -- and the transfer market -- is an open and openly capitalist system. You can spend as much as you make, you get punished if you fail, and there's not very little revenue sharing among clubs. The result: the teams that spend the most tend to win.

MLS, on the other hand, has developed a kind of jerry-rigged hybrid of the American (cartel, revenue sharing, salary cap, no relegation) and European models as a result of it existing both (A) in the United States and (B) within the larger Europe-centric soccer market. That goes a long way toward explaining why Messi is about to join the worst team in the league.

Perhaps a better way to think of this is that Messi is joining MLS first, and then Inter Miami second. The league itself (through vague rule finagling), its jersey supplier (Adidas) and its new broadcaster (Apple) have all played a huge role in creating a situation in which a team could "afford" to pay one of the most expensive players in the world.

Mount, Mason

Mount is previously fantastic hybrid midfielder-attacker who was stuck in a tug of war between two clubs that didn't really seem to know what they were doing: Chelsea, who knew he had only a year left on his contract and didn't intend to renew it, and Manchester United, who could have new owners any day now.

United offered somewhere north of $50m to sign Mount. That seemed ridiculously high for a player they could land for no fee at all next year and who didn't plan to re-sign with Chelsea. Of course, Chelsea, who have move on a number of key players already and appear to be in something of a rebuild, had declined all of United's offers.

It turns out Chelsea were right; Mount is now expected to join United for a fee upward of $60m.

Net spend

A mostly useless statistic comparing how much a team spends on arrivals with how much it makes in departures. For more, see both: "free transfers" and "amortization."

Osimhen, Victor

Osimhen is a dominant 24-year-old center-forward who just scored 26 goals in Serie A and led Napoli to their first league title since Diego Maradona was with the club in 1990, Osimhen should be the player everyone wants to sign. He does the most important thing you can do on a soccer field and is just entering his prime. Yet, the market for him feels oddly cool.

Perhaps that's due to the potential availability of both Kane and Mbappe, both much more famous. Perhaps it's due to Napoli's desire for a $150m fee. And maybe it's also because Osimhen is a one-dimensional player in an era that often asks attackers to do multiple things across the final third. Related: It has been 11 years since Manchester United last had a 20-goal scorer in the Premier League.

Perez, Florentino

Perez is the president of Real Madrid (first from 2000 to 2006; then from 2009 until now) and the man who led the ill-fated attempt to form the European Super League. In terms of the handful of clubs that have a comparatively unlimited amount of money and also insist on stacking superstars on top of superstars, Perez's Madrid do it better than anyone.

Personal terms

The most underlooked part of every transfer. A player can't be transferred from one team to another without agreeing to the move, which includes them terminating their current contract and signing a new one with a new team. Every summer, there are teams that want to deal away a player and teams that want to acquire them, but nothing happens because the acquiring team would not be able to match or increase the player's current salary and the player is unwilling to take a pay cut.

No transfer happens unless the acquiring team offers the new player a salary they're willing to accept.

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Or, the Public Investment Fund, which is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia that controls somewhere around $700bn worth of assets.

The PIF bought into European soccer in the fall of 2021, when the fund completed the takeover of Premier League club Newcastle United. Overnight, Newcastle went from one of the cheapest owners in the sport to the richest owners in all of sports. Right around the same time, the PIF launched the startup LIV golf league, which poached a number of golf stars, most of whom were past their primes, away from the PGA Tour by offering obscenely lucrative contacts. (LIV has since announced a merger with the PGA Tour.) However, Newcastle were mostly constrained by FFP regulations from spending LIV-like money and completely disrupting the European landscape.

Not constrained by FFP is Saudi Arabia's own domestic soccer league, which landed then-37-year-old superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in 2022 as he left Man United to join Al Nassr on a total salary of €200m-a-year.

Earlier this month, the PIF announced it would be taking a 75% controlling stake in the league's four leading clubs -- Al Ahli, Al Hilal, Al Nassr, Al Ittihad -- and soon after that a bevy of stars similar to the LIV archetype joined those four clubs for massive contracts that would not have been on offer anywhere in Europe. Many of those have been Chelsea players (N'Golo Kante, Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy), and well, the PIF is an investor in Clearlake Capital.

Soccer is only vaguely about soccer anymore.


A thing a player is said to be "excited" about. The term is typically reserved for when someone signs for a club without a recent track record of success or open with an inexperienced manager or both. With most managerial stints lasting for fewer than two seasons, there are no projects.

Qatar Sports Investments

The sports-investment arm of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund, which has around $500bn in assets. Qatar hosted the 2022 World Cup, which featured an all-time great final between Messi's Argentina and Mbappe's France. Not only that, but at the time, both players were employed by PSG, which is owned by QSI.

It sure seemed like Qatar owned soccer in that moment -- until a few months later, when PSG were unceremoniously knocked out of the Champions League round of 16 for the second year running.

Release clause

A clause in a player's contract that means their club must release them if they agree to personal terms with a new club and that club meets whatever transfer fee is stated in the clause.

In Spain, every player must have a release clause in their contract; this is how PSG signed Neymar from Barcelona. They paid the $267m clause, which was set at more than double the previous world transfer record, a fee no one thought any club would ever pay. Barcelona and Real Madrid now frequently set the release clauses at artificially high numbers (over $1bn) to prevent something similar from ever happening again. In England, and other major European leagues, some players might have release clauses, but most don't.

More interestingly, release clauses are typically not public knowledge. If a player wants to join a certain team, their agent might inform the club about the clause. And if a club wants to move on a certain player, they might do the same.

Rice, Declan

Rice is a 24-year-old midfielder expected to join Arsenal for an initial $133m, plus a further $7m in add-ons. It's a shocking number that no one would've expected just a month ago, but perhaps one better understood as a confluence of market factors that only vaguely concern Rice's abilities as a player.

The first: his age. He's 24, which means Arsenal will get all of the prime years of a player who has already made 190 Premier League starts.

The second: his nationality. He's British, and all British players command a higher premium thanks to Brexit-related transfer regulations.

The third: sovereign wealth funds. City were able to join the bidding for Rice despite not really needing him. They drove up the price for a player they seemingly were happy to acquire but also happy to be without.

Arsenal, meanwhile, seemingly felt the pressure to compete with City, who have won five of the past six Premier League titles, and all of a sudden, Rice's transfer is worth more.

Shirt sales

A term often used to justify a sizable fee paid for a famous player. As in, "[The player] will pay for himself in shirt sales alone." This, typically, is used incorrectly, as clubs are paid a large, upfront sum for their kit deals and shirt sponsorships. Any royalties from shirt sales are only a small percentage of the actual price paid for the jersey, and the royalties themselves don't even kick in until after a certain number of shirts are sold.

Transfer fee

Best understood as the price the acquiring team has to pay in order to get the player's old team to terminate their contract and allow them to sign a new contract with the acquiring team. A transfer fee is not a monetary representation of the value a player provides on the field. All kinds of other factors -- position, other available players in a similar role, number of years left on the contract, value of the previous contract, age -- determine whatever transfer fee is ultimately paid.