- It has been a particularly quiet January transfer window for the top flight teams
- Many are increasingly wary of punishments doled out for spending breaches
- Come home, Harry! Bayern are struggling and Kane might be jealous of what Spurs are doing – It’s All Kicking Off
It has been described as ‘the ghost window’. Where the spectre of Profit and Sustainability Rules looms large, striking fear into those who dare to spend beyond their limitations.
To apply perspective, Premier League clubs spent an unprecedented £815million last January.
On Thursday, with a week to go before the winter transfer window closes, the spendometer has not even touched £40m. It’s enough to make Jim White’s yellow tie fade to grey.
In short, it’s eerily quiet.
But let’s not be naive here. History tells us that can change in the blink of an eye should one big deal fall or panic set in.
Radu Dragusin’s £25m move to join Tottenham is the biggest Premier League deal this month
Abdoulaye Doucoure (left) and Kieran Trippier (right) are both of interest before window shuts
Yet there is no doubt the 10-point punishment meted out to Everton for falling foul of profit and sustainability, and the pending second charges they and Nottingham Forest now face, have brought greater caution to the usual trend to spend.
The pockets of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Newcastle United may well remain deep but they are tiptoeing along a proverbial high wire due to their previous trading.
For some, the reasoning is much more blunt: the quality isn’t there to supply the demand.
Throw in an Asian Cup and Africa Cup of Nations, so that clubs want to retain what fringe players they have to cover for absences and possible injuries, and you have the perfect storm.
Everton, long under Premier League restrictions, have the added hindrance of being subject to a takeover. They continue to pay the price for past excesses and mistakes, as in the summer of 2022 when they turned down Chelsea’s lucrative offer for Anthony Gordon only to sell him to Newcastle United for less last January.
Everton’s focus, beyond praying for points to be reinstated, is to keep their small squad intact, and out of the clutches of opportunists.
As Saudi Arabia’s Al Ettifaq eye Abdoulaye Doucoure, scorer of so many key goals, that may not be so simple.
A deal for Brentford’s Ivan Toney, arguably the best English striker in the division, is there to be done as he won’t sign a new contract.
But at an asking price of £100m it’s one considered unrealistic and best parked until summer.
‘One bad window, can impact three years of freedom,’ one leading Premier League chief executive told Mail Sport.
‘Clubs want to be better run but also clubs are having to be better run. When Omar Berrada arrives at Manchester United he won’t need to be a forensic scientist to work out that their transfer strategy has been questionable.
‘Never mind the inflated fee for Antony, why would you allow David de Gea to leave after he has agreed a pay cut and replace him with a goalkeeper who is arguably not as good for £43.7m plus wages?’
Many clubs have sought loan moves, like Sheffield United landing Ben Brereton Diaz (pictured)
Timo Werner pitched up at Tottenham on loan until the end of the season with an option to buy
A deal for Brentford’s Ivan Toney, arguably the best English striker in the division, is there to be done but the £100m asking price makes it unrealistic in January
West Ham have swooped to sign Kalvin Phillips on loan in one of the rare deals done this window
Another Premier League director picks up the thread: ‘Financial fair play, or “fit for purpose” as we like to call it, is definitely a factor.
‘We have seen a lot of windows in the past that haven’t had much by way of quality supply but that hasn’t stopped business from being brisk.
‘If we reflect through previous windows it’s crazy how many poor players have moved.
‘Demand has been stymied by financial checks and balances. More clubs now are trying to move away from ad hoc transfers and work to a strategy.’
Wolves’ summer of cost cutting put paid to Julen Lopetegui’s time as manager. They couldn’t match his ambition but the common sense action has benefitted his replacement Gary O’Neil.
‘The club managed to correct things,’ O’Neil said. ‘You have seen what has happened with a couple of charges.
‘The club worked really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen to us. Doing what we did in the summer was incredibly important and of course it could have gone wrong.’
When Newcastle chief executive Darren Eales declared ‘every player has his price’, Kieran Trippier’s suitors Bayern Munich were not the only ones to take notice.
Newcastle don’t need money to get on the right side of FFP, but they do if they’re going to buy a much-needed midfielder in this window.
The wiggle room they inherited from the Mike Ashley-owned era that had little debt, and spent little, was used up to keep the club in the Premier League. That has left them at the limit of FFP this window.
The rules are you can’t have losses of more than £105m over a three-year period but on June 1, when they enter the next rolling three-year period, they can spend again.
Agents are often portrayed as the villains of the window but it’s not always the cushy job people perceive.
Newcastle need to raise funds to comply with FFP if they want to buy a midfielder this month
‘It’s been a nightmare,’ said one as he boarded a flight to London trying to placate a client.
‘I’ve got this midfielder saying “get me a move to Saudi Arabia”. I’ve told him there are only 144 overseas players registered in Saudi so why would they pick you when you haven’t started a game all season?’
‘Clubs are asking for mermaids,’ says another. ‘In other words, they don’t exist.
‘One League Two club asked me for a 20-year-old striker on loan because he’s on the bench at a Premier League club. He’s made 14 appearances this season, in the top flight, why would he drop down?
‘I said to them, “I’d like to marry Cindy Crawford too but guess what? It ain’t gonna happen”.
‘There’s League One clubs handing analyst jobs to kids who have just got their degrees and they’re obsessed with statistics.
‘They are like the squirrels in Willy Wonka sorting out the bad nuts. But they do it from an office, there’s no human interaction.
‘Whatever age you are from, there’s no substitute for personal relationships but some clubs really don’t help themselves.
Nottingham Forest have been big movers in recent windows but they haven’t signed anyone
‘A team in Scotland asked me for 12 new players, in January! Where’s the planning in that.’
Of course that’s not prevalent across the country as one Premier League director of football is at pains to point out.
‘You have to have a plan,’ he said. ‘Not just for this window but the next two. I disagree with the lack of quality theory, it’s out there and there are opportunities.
‘Our concern, if we buy someone in January, is they need to get accustomed to our manager’s style and we may not see the best of them until April.
‘A lot of January business is reactive, so the shutters are never completely down. You have to be ready for the “what ifs”. The conversations are still taking place, trust me.’
There’s life in this window yet, just not as we know it.