The fever around the transfer market now seems as big a part of football as the action on the pitch. Intense interest, rampant rumour and huge fees dominate the discourse about the world’s most popular sport.
Scanning the back pages of newspapers in Europe on Tuesday will see the permeating influence of the winter market. Hours of live TV were dedicated to the movers and shakers on deadline day, although there wasn’t as much action as anticipated.
Since the 2002-03 season, the introduction of the window system has provided another high point in the calendar. Its evolution has charted the rise of new superpowers and reflected ever-changing economic realities.
One near constant has been the preeminence of the English Premier League. Boosted by the enormous collective TV deal and rising commerical income, the 20 clubs set the course for the rest. Again this January, Colombia winger Juan Cuadrado’s move to leaders Chelsea from Florentina was the highlight in a relatively quiet window.
Panitas gracias por todos esos mensajes que me han mandado. Muy agradecido con Dios pic.twitter.com/V3q6wMKUtc
— Juan Cuadrado (@Cuadrado) February 3, 2015
Almost without fail the EPL have set the benchmark in previous January windows. The €266 million (Dh1.1bn) spent in January 2011 remains the highest mark ever recorded by a distance, this figure boosted enormously by the triumvirate of inter-connected deals featuring Andy Carroll (€41m), Luis Suarez (€26.5m) and Fernando Torres (€58.5m).
Where the Premier League lead the rest follow, according to Hamburg director of professional football Peter Knabel. He said: “For us, it is important to see the influence of the English market.
“The target of this winter period is to stablise and not to try and solve everything in the last minute. You want to start the planning at the earliest possible moment. England makes the world go round in the transfer window. In Germany, the continuity is really important.”
A scan at the current highspenders table shows the flux that the game finds itself in. As of Monday night on database transfermarkt.com, the Premier League was way in front on €144m (Dh600m). Spain has bucked a recently frugal trend because of the country’s faltering economy to sit in third. This was thanks to the new riches lavished on Valencia by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, the acquisition of Enzo Perez from Benfica at €25m (Dh103.6m) the largest fee paid.
Italy is fifth on €79m (Dh329m), with Germany just behind on €74m (Dh308) after Andre Schurrle’s €32m (Dh133m) move to Wolfsburg from Chelsea.
The crash in the value of the Russian ruble has seen the nation fall dramatically down the standings from the days when Suleyman Kerimov was spending his fortune on Anzhi Makhachkala. The sizeable €35m (Dh145m) fee paid to Shakhtar Donetsk for Willian in 2013 – now of Chelsea – looking a relic of a more affluent past.
Significant usurpers exist beyond the usual names, with China second on €80m (Dh333m). Italy duo Alberto Gilardino and Alessandro Diamanti departed on loan for Fiorentina, but Guangzhou Evergrande aggressively rebounded. A national record €15m (Dh62.1m) offer secured Brazil hope Ricardo Goulart, with compatriot Alan was recruited from Red Bull Salzburg for €11m (Dh45.5m).
What has changed markedly this year has been the activity of other sides, including Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Shanghai SIPG bringing handsomely-paid Argentine Dario Conca back to the country and highly-rated Zambia centre-back Stoppila Sunzu joining Shanghai Shenhua from Sochaux.
“There have been plenty of big name signings in the past three or four years, though perhaps there is a growing variety in the teams that are splashing the cash,” Asian football expert John Duerden said. “With the growing economic strength in China there is more money around and more companies and individuals able to invest.
“Some, like Zhu Jun who owned Shanghai Shenhua and signed Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba did so, at least partly, to promote other businesses such as online games. Others like Xu Jiayin, owner of Evergrande, made his money in property – now, the club is half-owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba. There is certainly the case of some people involved in football spending money for political reasons in order to win friends and influence people.”
The story is repeated in Mexico, with €67.5m (Dh279m) of expenditure occuring. The domestic market has been closed since December 18, though foreign business could be done until Monday. It is Roque Santa Cruz’s recruitment by Cruz Azul from Malaga that raised eyebrows.
Guadalajara-based ESPN contributor Tom Marshall expects more recruits of a similar standard to the ex-Bayern Munich and Manchester City striker to make their way to Mexico in the coming years. He said: “Probably one of the lesser-known elements of Mexican football is the amount of money floating around. Pachuca and Leon are owned by the world’s richest person in Carlos Slim and many other teams are backed by major players in the Mexican economy.
“If I was to make a future prediction, it would be that Mexico will attract more Europe-based players. The Liga MX has the ability to match and even better the wages of some European leagues.”
“Mexico will attract more Europe-based players. The Liga MX has the ability to match and even better the wages of some European leagues.”
Financial Fair Play has played a key role since coming into force in 2011 as UEFA attempted to make clubs live within their means. Proponents say it creates a fairer playing field, while critics like Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho complain it acts as “as a big protection to the historical big old clubs”.
A freezing effect is clear when analysing the Premier League. After 2011, the figure dropped dramatically to €89.8m in 2011. Dubai-based agent David Fenwick believes another factor was at play, clubs now regulating their behaviour to focus on the better pickings available in the summer.
“I’m not sure if it’s been a conscious decision because of FFP,” he said. “Maybe lessons have been learnt about what you can get in winter, and that unless you are desperate it is better to wait.
“Usually, there is a hint of desperation to it as the really top players are not available mid-season.”
Finally, spare a thought for the players. Although they’re paid handsomely in the big leagues, their lives are always on the brink of being turned upside down. Hamburg’s Rafael van der Vaart knows the feeling well, traded to Tottenham from Real Madrid in the final throes of the summer 2010 window. “You never know in football,” he said. “The best thing is if the move comes earlier. But you never know
“You accept it and try to find a new house. What is strange is that you leave your house, and never come back.”
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