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Spending on new players by English Premier League clubs has dropped sharply as increased enforcement of financial rules sent a chill through the market during the winter transfer window.
The total outlay in the past month across European football’s big five leagues reached €572mn, according to figures from Deloitte, compared with €1.2bn a year ago. Spending by English Premier League clubs plummeted from £715mn a year ago to £100mn last month.
The Premier League is by some distance football’s richest domestic competition, and one of the UK’s highest-profile global exports. Transfer spending by English clubs typically makes up the bulk of the market.
But in January, player purchases by Premier League teams accounted for just 20 per cent of all spending that month across Europe’s big five, said Deloitte, down from 79 per cent a year ago. Barring January 2021, when spending was depressed by the pandemic, the recent window was the quietest for top-tier English clubs since 2012.
Analysts and agents said the recent regulatory action by the Premier League has caused clubs to pay far closer attention to their financial position and cut back on transfer spending.
The Premier League has recently charged two clubs, Everton and Nottingham Forest, with breaking financial regulations, and last year levelled more than 100 charges of rule-breaking against champions Manchester City.
Everton has already been docked 10 points and is awaiting judgment on a second infringement.
“The Everton sanction opened a few eyes,” said Marlon Fleischmann, an agent at Unique Sports Group. “It was a turning point, there’s no getting away from that.
“Those days of the manager saying, ‘I want a striker, get me a striker’, they’re being told no now,” he added, “and that’s because the financial health of a club and the regulations are pressing issues.”
This season is also the first under the new spending limits imposed by Uefa, European football’s governing body. The new regime caps spending on players and wages by clubs competing in pan-European competitions at 90 per cent of revenue, but that number will drop to 80 per cent next summer and 70 per cent the year after.
Spain and France also have their own spending rules, which have prevented certain clubs from being active in the transfer market.
Other factors have played a role in the tepid activity, too. Last summer included several deals at or above €100mn, including Jude Bellingham’s move to Real Madrid, Harry Kane’s transfer to Bayern Munich and Chelsea’s purchase of Moisés Caicedo.
Big moves often lead to a flurry of further deals as selling clubs look to deploy that cash. But deals this winter have typically been smaller.
“We haven’t really seen any significant transfers that make a waterfall effect across the market,” said Calum Ross, an analyst at Deloitte’s Sports Business Group. Winter transfer windows, Ross said, tended to be reactive and opportunistic, which this time had led to a “perceived lack of value” in the market.
However, he expects spending to increase in the summer, when clubs typically do most of their business and plan well in advance.
Liverpool FC will be embarking on a new era after the announced departure of manager Jürgen Klopp, while Manchester United will be in the middle of a transformation following Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s deal to become a minority shareholder and take control of the club’s football operations. New managers and owners at elite clubs are often catalysts for major transfers.
Many teams are also adjusting to a period of softening demand for broadcast rights, the financial lifeblood of European football.
Italy’s Serie A recently concluded a new TV deal for less than its current contract, the French rights auction failed to attract a single bid at the reserve price, while the English Premier League squeezed a 4 per cent rise in value from its new deal — but in return increased the number of games on offer from 200 to 270.
Enders Analysis has described the market for football rights in Europe as being in “significant decline”.
This January marked the first transfer window since the summer of 2011 in which English clubs have not been the top spenders in Europe, according to Deloitte.
Instead, French clubs were the busiest in the market, thanks largely to a spree by Olympique Lyonnais. The club has a history of success in France, but its fortunes have soured since it was bought by a US investor in late 2022. The team is currently in the relegation zone in Ligue 1, prompting a push to bring in expensive reinforcements including forwards Malick Fofana and Gift Orban from Belgian side KAA Gent.
Teams from the Saudi Pro League, flush with cash from the state’s sovereign wealth fund, were big spenders in the summer window but did little business last month. Instead the league saw the high-profile departure of England international Jordan Henderson.
However, Fabrizio Romano, who has amassed almost 20mn followers on social media platform X through his coverage of football transfers and his “here we go” catchphrase, predicted that Saudi clubs will inject fresh cash in the summer, kicking off the return of the “domino effect”.
“I think in the summer it’s completely different because there’s going to be movement, also from Saudi,” said Romano. “They will come to sign players from Europe and this is going to put fresh money into the market.”
He added: “I think the summer is going to be crazy again.”