African clubs and associations remain peripheral to the men’s global football transfer market even as African footballers account for a large proportion of traded players and some of the world’s biggest individual deals, according to data from world governing body FIFA.
While five African nationalities (Cameroonian, Ivorian, Ghanaian, Nigerian and Senegalese) appeared in the top 25 player nationalities, there were no African member associations in the top 25 associations engaging in transfers in 2021, according to the FIFA Global Transfer Report 2021.
Just five of 2021’s top 25 associations in terms of total receipts from transfer fees came from outside Europe, with no member associations from Africa. That is despite the fact that Nigeria (624 transfers) and Ghana (456 transfers) ranked 6th and 8th respectively in the top ten player nationalities by number of transfers.
Clubs in the region administered by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) released 663 players to clubs in Europe’s UEFA zone for a total of $45.7m, but only 219 players worth $5.4m moved in the opposite direction.
1,346 deals worth $9.4m were concluded within Africa itself. 335 releases worth $9.1m were arranged with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and 20 releases worth $0.8m with the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
The report shines a spotlight on the lack of financial benefits that accrue to African clubs and national associations despite the flourishing of African talent on the global stage.
Two African players were in the top 10 deals by transfer fee, but both moved between European clubs: Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi moved from Internazionale to Paris St Germain, and Ivorian Amad Diallo left Atalanta for Manchester United.
Africa’s biggest spending clubs in 2021, led by Tunisia’s Espérance, are largely concentrated in North Africa, with Libyan, Algerian, Sudanese and Egyptian clubs all represented. Clubs from Tanzania and South Africa were also in Africa’s top 10 transfer fee spenders last year.
Nigeria was the only African country among the top 25 releasing associations. While releasing clubs can be financially rewarded for training and releasing a player, there may also be other clubs that trained the player in his formative years but are not part of the transfer.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a limited impact on player transfers. In 2021, 4,544 clubs (the highest-ever number and almost 400 more than in 2019) completed a total of 18,068 international transfers in men’s professional football, just a few transfers short of the all-time high of 18,080 recorded in 2019 and a 5.1% increase compared to 2020. However, total transfer fees declined from $5.63bn in 2020 to $4.86bn in 2021.
Clubs from England ($1.3bn), Italy ($667m) and France ($511m) spent the most on transfer fees. For sales, the English FA, whose clubs received a total of $548.8m, topped the list ahead of the French FA in second, with Italy in third and Germany in fourth.