Play Now, Pay Later: How Loans Became Soccer’s Favored Accounting Tool

Increasingly, teams do not simply consider their own financial projections, but those of their rivals, too. Several Premier League teams, for instance, keep track of the budgets of clubs across the continent, to see which ones might be at risk of running afoul of F.F.P. rules, and therefore might offer less resistance when it comes to cherry-picking their surplus players. The same summer P.S.G. was signing Neymar and Mbappé, for example, Tottenham was taking the fullback Serge Aurier from Paris. A few months later, Lucas Moura followed the same route to Spurs.

A more extreme example is the case of the goalkeepers Jasper Cillessen and Neto. In June, Cillessen moved to Valencia from Barcelona for 35 million euros. The next day, Neto moved from Valencia to Barcelona, for 26 million euros, and 9 million euros in various add-ons. In Calzada’s eyes, there was a “sporting” justification for the moves: Cillessen wanted to play regularly, after two years as Marc Andre Ter Stegen’s backup at Camp Nou; Neto’s relationship with his coach at Valencia had deteriorated, and he relished the chance to play at Barcelona.

The nature of the deals, though — not a straight swap, but two separate sales to make the numbers match — and particularly the curious timing of them, at the end of last season’s F.F.P. accounting period, raised eyebrows. It looked to be a way for both clubs to ensure their books were in order, while not weakening their squads.

To those who monitor soccer’s transfer market, it was inevitable that UEFA’s regulations — and the threat of punishment for not complying — would change the way clubs operated.

“There is now a far more dynamic, proactive regulatory framework,” said Mark Goddard, a former head of FIFA’s Transfer Matching System, the global body that oversees the transfer market. “You have an active F.F.P., and you have an active T.M.S. The clubs then move and shake within that framework.”

This summer — like the last few summers — has been the consequence of that moving and shaking. The clubs are changing to suit their new environment, finding new and innovative ways to spend money, but making sure that, whatever the rules are, they can still get what they want, and who they need, even if they have to wait a little longer than they would like.