The hype and bluster surrounding the Premier League transfer windows, and the shorter January version in particular, is well established.
Rumour, counter-rumour and 24/7 rolling news with reporters in club car parks were designed for such occasions and have become ingrained in football culture.
All the window means in practice, however, is that after five months of playing, the top flight’s 20 clubs get a 31-day window in which they are allowed to bolster their ranks, plug gaps created by injuries or splash the cash to pursue a particular target, whether survival or league position.
The potential of new arrivals brings excitement and offers hope – and something to talk about on transfer-focused programs – but the early indications are that the new year could be defined by the tightening of belts rather than a feast.
Last season was the first since 2011-12 in which expenditure dropped in the Premier League’s winter transfer window and it seems that, rather than being an anomaly, it could prove the start of a new trend.
January 2019 saw a dramatic decrease in outlay, with £180m spent compared to £430m the previous winter, and the factors behind that reduction appear to still be in effect a year later.
Managers have often bemoaned the lack of value in the mid-season window, when desperate buyers can be held to ransom by selling clubs, but the spiralling of transfer fees in recent years has made January an even worse time to dip into the market.
When you consider that 11 of the 20 current Premier League sides broke their transfer records in the summer window, when a collective £1.41bn was spent despite an earlier deadline, it is logical that most clubs simply don’t have the funds to go big once again now.
The trends of the Premier League don’t always follow logic, with ill-informed decision-making and questionable football expertise evident across some boardrooms. However, there are only so many times teams can keep throwing money at the same shiny things while expecting different results.
Stick instead of twist
A look over the current squads and standings of the Premier League’s Big Six clubs suggests the transfer-focused elements of the media may struggle for talking points between now and 11pm on 31 January.
Runaway league leaders Liverpool have already signed versatile attacker Takumi Minamino from Red Bull Salzburg for a shrewd £7.25m and have no apparent desire, nor need, to make any other movements just now, with the title all but sewn up.
Defending champions Manchester City have dropped off the near-faultless pace required to stay with Liverpool, but a man of Pep Guardiola’s intelligence knows the transfer market cannot provide any quick fixes, especially considering he oversaw spending of north of £150m in the summer.
A centre-back is on City’s wish list, but reported targets Inter Milan’s Milan Skriniar, Shakhtar Donetsk’s Mykola Matviyenko, Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake or Leicester’s Caglar Soyuncu would all command huge fees. Planning for a summer in which Guardiola could himself move on appears a more prudent strategy.
Chelsea, on the other hand, look set to trade this window after their transfer ban was cut short. Frank Lampard has guided his side to fourth place in the table but his young squad has stumbled recently. Whether the Blues have the clout to spend big after recording a loss of £96m in the last financial year remains to be seen though.
Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal are all underperforming and could no doubt do with fresh faces, but their problem will be finding suitable additions who are not prohibitively priced.
Targets such as Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, Lyon’s Moussa Dembele, Leicester’s James Maddison, Red Bull Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano, Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Lemar and West Ham’s Declan Rice may all fall into that category.
So far, Minamino has been the only signing of note involving a transfer fee by a Premier League team. With cut-price deals increasingly thin on the ground and clubs biding their time until the off-season, loan deals with a view to buy later could prove the solution.
Fans and broadcasters may not like it, but January could well be a quiet month in transfer terms.