The worlds football clubs slashed their spending on blockbuster player transfers this summer as the coronavirus pandemic hit their revenues and fans were locked out of stadiums.

With lionel messi opting to stay at barcelona instead of forcing a move to another club, the market lost what would have been its biggest ever deal.

Transfer spending dropped by almost a third compared with last year, underlining the challenge facing football clubs. in most countries they are playing matches in largely empty stadiums after having reimbursed broadcasters with hundreds of millions of euros following widespread disruption to last seasons fixtures.

The sports international governing body said the value of international transfers in the mens game fell 30 per cent to $3.9bn in the latest window. the fifa data spanned june 1 to october 5.

It is the first time since 2016 that the value of transfer fees has sunk below $5bn, the data showed. the number of paid transfers fell by a quarter, with clubs instead opting to sign players who were out of contract to save money.

Line chart of global transfer fees ($bn) june-september/october showing pandemic spurs steep drop in spending on football players

Emilio garca silvero, fifas chief legal and compliance officer, said it was the first time in a decade that the number of players bought and sold had fallen. the number of player transfer deals fell 18 per cent to 7,424.

The european club association, which is chaired by juventus president andrea agnelli, has already warned that the regions top clubs face a 3.6bn revenue shortfall because of the pandemic.

The deals have not completely dried up, and some clubs have continued to splash the cash.

High-profile made in the transfer window included chelseas 72m deal for kai havertz from bayer leverkusen and bayern munichs purchase of leroy san from manchester city for 40.5m, according to transfermarkt, a football data site.

English clubs were the biggest spenders, racking up total transfer fees of $1.25bn, fifa said, more than double the amount spent in italy. spanish teams received the most in transfer fees at $672m.

The premier league, the worlds richest domestic football competition, has warned that the english clubs face losing 100m every month that goes by without fans being allowed back into stadiums.

As the countrys top 20 clubs, which lost 700m to the pandemic last season, grapple with the uk governments refusal to allow fans to return, it has made additional matches available for broadcast.

The premier league said that sky sports and bt, its two biggest broadcasters, will show matches that were not due to be screened in october on a pay-per-view basis, at 14.95 a game.