As the tension and excitement of transfer deadline day nears its solstice and fans across the country await the arrival of Jim White on SkySports News, the majority of fans will tell you this seasons January transfer window has been one that has failed to stimulate and arouse as clubs purse strings seem to be tightly knotted. Yes there is movement on deadline day, but many fans have described this January’s window as the ‘worst transfer window ever’. The transfer window is now in its ninth season since the format took effect from the 2002/03 season and although speculation continues to intensify every year, transfer activity is at an all time low this season, bucking an almost yearly rise. We have decided to take a look as to why this could be also investigate the tactical game the window has now become.
In January 2011 we had a transfer window that broke all previous spending records as a massive £225m was spent on player acquisitions. This window we can expect fees in England to reach around a third of that. We need to take note that big amounts were spent on single players as activity at certain clubs was higher than others. For example last January’s top deals were:
Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City obviously felt they needed to spend, and spend big, in order to give themselves the best opportunity of finishing as high as possible in the league. Already this season many of the top teams managers, such as Roberto Mancini, Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, insist that their squads are good enough and have ruled out the possibility of any big activity before the window closes, but you can still expect the odd cheap signing.
Ask around and many people would say they think Manchester United need to recruit, as do Arsenal, let’s face it, most clubs could always do with a player to freshen things up in January. So why is such a hard-line being taken all of a sudden by manager’s ruling out big signings? Possibly mind games, but the more likely explanation is that this season is different as it is the first year clubs are assessed under the new financial fair play (FFP) rules.
The FFP is one major contributing factor to a lack of transfer activity this window, not just in England, but across Europe. On one hand, the new regulations are a good thing as they safeguard the existence of clubs financially in the long term. On the other hand it is no fun for the fans who want to see big deals, but unfortunately transfer windows such as this one will be a reality from now on. Last January’s spending may have been more frivolous with the FFP in mind as it was the last chance to recruit outside of the regulations coming in to effect, but such colossal fees in January will be a thing of the past.
Ordinarily January is seen as a very negative time for the purchase of players, one clubs big signing is another team’s huge loss, this is what keeps prices so high in January for the better players. Now with the FFP in mind, the market is much quieter as clubs are more wary of spending big. Clubs now need to control wage bills more tightly so a player coming in will now lead to a player going out, which isn’t always that easy mid-season. During January we can expect to see players who leave clubs being replaced by a player of a similar value with not dissimilar wage demands to keep the books balanced.
Another contributing factor also linked to the FFP is the renegotiation of the Premier League TV rights package. This will have a major effect on the amount of income clubs will get in future, so from a business perspective clubs will be more vigilant with their spending until they know the forecast income amounts from the TV rights package.
Aside from the direct effects of the FFP, during previous windows certain trends have developed that define how the window operates. In seasons gone by, the window is more of a waiting game where activity happens as the window draws to a close as clubs and players are forced to consider their options – this will continue, but in future don’t be surprised to see more and more clubs state their position on player recruitment earlier in the window. The January window will be a period that will become more about clubs cashing in on players who will be out-of-contract at the end of the season. This contract situation leads to player’s valuations being lower as clubs cut their losses as they do not wish to lose players for free.
This window is unique as we are also in a year where much of Europe’s best talent will be showcased in the summer during the European Championships and we all know that good performances during such a tournament can easily lead to asking prices going up. Clubs will not want to part with their stars mid-season as they know they will get more in transfer fees if they wait until after the summer tournament. We will see more activity in the form of loans for fringe players who demand more game time as they want to be selected for their nations during the tournaments, such as the European Championships and also the World Cup.
Therefore the majority of deals you will see this window are loans or transfers of under £10m and the majority of activity will know come from Premier League teams near the bottom of the league who can’t necessarily afford to pay big wages and fees, but need to survive. The other main activity will come from clubs like QPR and Sunderland as they have new managers and this is their first chance to bring in players.
This January transfer window is being affected by both long and short term factors. The short term view is more about situational factors and the long term view is more about the FFP regulations becoming paramount in a clubs financial thinking. This window is just a glimpse in to what future windows will be like as the FFP helps complete the transition of a football club in to a business. This window could well be one of the lowest in terms of fees paid and activity for quite some time and although today may bring its fair share of excitement, from now on the window is going to become more stagnant, much to the dismay of Jim White, Sky Sports and football fans in general.