It seems that football’s version of Never-Never Land, the Promised Land for clubs far and wide, has finally felt the bite of the economic recession. While a pay cut for Wayne Rooney or Frank Lampard is unlikely, this year’s January Transfer Window saw an unmistakable trend of belt-tightening throughout the league. The £30 million spent on transfers represents the lowest figure since FIFA made the Transfer Window compulsory in 2002, and pales in comparison to the massive £170 million splashed in the 2009 window.
This drop in spending can be partly attributed to the fact that some clubs have become cynical about the merits of disrupting their squad by adding players in the mid-season window. This attitude was characterised by Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti’s promise that he would strip naked if he bought in any players, and his post-window explanation summed up the position of a number of Premiership managers: “I did not need to sign anyone. The squad is doing well enough and players’ careers last much longer now.”
Manchester City, another club with overflowing coffers, were also quiet in the window, choosing to add only the experience of Patrick Vieira to their squad. This was perhaps due to the need for stability at Eastlands, and to allow the £100 million worth of new players who arrived last summer more time to gel under Roberto Mancini, who is himself a new appointment.
However, there is no doubt that many teams adopted a restrained attitude to the window because they simply did not have the money. An incredible 13 out of the 20 Premiership teams chose not to spend on new players, with loan deals making up around 70% of moves in the window. This is where the real shift has occurred, with many clubs now choosing to scour the market for temporary deals which can help them in the short term. Bolton’s short-term acquisitions of Jack Wilshere and Vladimir Weiss from Arsenal and Man City respectively is a case in point, as the Trotters attempt to stave off relegation without breaking the bank.
In a similar vein, many managers have made the decision to bring in players with Premiership experience, who don’t cost a thing, and can adapt immediately. These players have the know-how to guide a team through the squeaky-bum part of the season, and an understanding of how to deal with the pressure that comes with being a January purchase. Arsenal’s acquisition of Sol Campbell and Tottenham’s move for Eidur Gudjohnsen were both made largely because of both players’ knowledge of what success feels like, and what is required to achieve long-held goals. Arsenal’s quest for a first title in six years and Tottenham’s bid for fourth place have both been characterised by inconsistency, and fans will hope that Campbell and Gudjohnsen can cure this potentially fatal flaw.
However, all this penny-pinching behaviour hasn’t lessened the interest in the window, or the exciting talents that it has brought to the Premiership. The return of Vieira and Campbell, both acclaimed footballing legends, has rightfully garnered a lot of interest, but Landon Donovan and Victor Moses’s moves, to Everton and Wigan respectively, may prove to be the deals of the 2010 window. More observant fans will also have noted Yildiray Basturk’s move to Blackburn with interest, and will be waiting to see if the Turkish legend can make an impact on the Premiership.
Only time will tell if Premiership clubs’ new-found inclination for loan deals and putting faith in their current squad will become an established trend, but there can be no doubt that money is not nearly as a available as it once was. The days of a mid-table Premiership side paying £10 million for a star player, as Sunderland did last summer in buying Darren Bent, are certainly not over. Nevertheless, the catastrophic consequences of Portsmouth’s attempts to achieve short-term success without building for the long-term, including their subsequent fall into administration, will have been noted. Premiership clubs are no longer safe from the threat of financial meltdown.