Is the January transfer window on borrowed time?

Posted by Sean Smith

This January was the transfer window that proved the Premier League administrators right: No good will come of the game of football while clubs are allowed to spend their way out of trouble halfway through the season.

Premier League clubs spent 130 million pounds to bring in new players in the most recent January transfer window, according to the Sports Business Group at Deloitte.

But it is less about the way that the money was spent during the window than what it meant for the legions of young footballers looking to make a name for themselves in the game that will be remembered.

The Premier League top brass has made little secret that it is in favour of permanently shutting the January transfer window, but only if the rest of Europe follows suit. The Premier League believes that the January transfer window takes away opportunities from younger players to establish themselves in the top flight because the easier solution is to buy an established player halfway through the season rather than risk a younger squad player.

There was plenty of evidence to suggest that the body has a point. The Premier League clubs sent 78 of their young players out on loan, principally across the Football League, while spending 130 million pounds on signings from abroad (65 million pounds), other Premier League clubs (55 million pounds) or Football League sides (10 million pounds).

And the worst offenders were the biggest spenders: Manchester United, who spent 37.1 million pounds on Juan Mata, sent 13 of their youngsters out on loan; Chelsea spent at least 44.5 million pounds and sent nine youngsters out on loan; Sunderland spent 5.5 million pounds and shipped five youngsters out on loan.

While the total for January is up 10 million pounds on last year's winter window, it should not be taken as an indication that clubs are beginning to frequent the window more. In fact, this was a record year all round, with 760 million pounds spent on transfers in the Premier League -- 150 million pounds more than last season and 90 million pounds more than the previous record, which was the year that Manchester City's new owners arrived on the scene in 2008-09. Last month's total was just 17 percent of the total transfer spend this season, compared with 20 percent last season and 38 percent in the highest-spending January transfer window in 2011.

Juan Mata and David Moyes GettyImagesJuan Mata is Manchester United's record signing at 37.1 million pounds.

"It is important to put this in context: The transfer spending is supported by the record level of revenues of Premier League clubs, driven primarily by new broadcast agreements," said Dan Jones, a partner in the Sports Business Group at Deloitte. "This gives Premier League clubs the ability to continue to invest significantly in their playing talent."

Perhaps the reason for the slide in money spent as a percentage is based on who is doing the spending. Clubs chasing the title are beginning to be wary of the "Faustino Asprilla effect," the Colombian who is still blamed in some quarters for Newcastle United's failure to win the title in 1996 after he was bought in February.

While Manchester United spent heavily on Mata, Chelsea made a 9.6 million pound profit on their dealings while league-leader Arsenal brought in a solitary loan signing. In fact, with Manchester United in seventh place, not one team in the top six spent more than they sold in the window, with Tottenham (sixth) and Liverpool (fourth) not bringing a single player in.

The driver in January is fear of losing the huge amounts of money that come from either qualification for the Champions League or relegation to the Football League. To that end, Chelsea and Manchester United forked out 60 percent of the total spend in January to keep up their challenge for the top four.

But the most activity was at the bottom of the table, with the lowest four teams bringing 23 players in among them -- effectively half a team each. This year, though, the bottom clubs have shied away from spending large sums on transfers, with just strugglers Fulham spending significantly on the 12.4 million pound arrival of Konstantinos Mitroglou from Olympiakos.

It is conceivable that the January transfer window is on borrowed time as the Premier League has historically been the biggest spender at this stage of the season -- and that trend continued with only France spending significantly (40 percent of the Premier League total) this year among the big five leagues. Spain's spending has been surpassed by emerging leagues in Turkey and Russia for the first time this year.

German clubs, which include both Champions League finalists, spent a mere fifth of the money that was spent by the top English clubs.

Perhaps the most intriguing pause for thought is regarding the transfer of Football League players to the Premier League -- or the lack thereof. While a number of clubs in the Championship can boast players who have been considered Premier League class, just Tom Ince made the move into the top flight, from Blackpool to Crystal Palace, and even that was a loan until the end of the year.

Championship top goal scorer this season Ross McCormack stayed put at troubled Leeds while title-chasing Leicester kept hold of highly rated striker Jamie Vardy. Perhaps most surprising is that Burnley -- a selling club -- not only managed to maintain the services of their prolific strike duo Sam Vokes and Danny Ings, who between them this season have scored more goals than 11 Premier League teams, but they also did not receive a single inquiry from the Premier League.

It would, therefore, seem that the tap that dripped money down from the Premier League has been shut off.


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