The January transfer window was one of the quietest in recent memory, especially in the Premier League. Following a huge outlay in the summer window, many clubs kept the wallets closed and decided to make do with their squads as the second half of this bizarre season gets underway. Here, Christopher Winn, football finance academic at the Global Institute of Sport, dives into the numbers and the possible reasons why the window was so quiet…

Premier League clubs spent just £80m during the January transfer window on a gross basis, the lowest gross outlay since the winter of 2012, when a young Kevin De Bruyne arrived at Chelsea from Genk for just £7m. In stark contrast, the record January window gross Premier League spend was c.£500m, set in 2018.

With the Premier League continuing to feel the full effect of the coronavirus pandemic, and the associated lack of match day revenue, clubs have chosen to limit their levels of expenditure in an already traditionally quiet month following a significant summer 2020 outlay of £1.3bn.

West Ham lead the way with a gross outlay of c.£25m, followed by Manchester United (c.£20m) and Aston Villa (c.£15m), with around half of the league keeping the purse strings closed. On a net basis, Premier League clubs spent c.£55m in total, with Sebastian Haller’s transfer to Ajax being the only financially significant departure across the league. Meanwhile, in the Championship gross outlay of just £5m across the league would appear to be one of the lowest January amounts seen in the division since the transfer window system came into play almost 20 years ago.

According to Christopher Winn, football finance academic at the Global Institute of Sport, the notable cut in transfer expenditure and receipts can be attributed to a variety of factors.

He said: “A somewhat imperfect storm of financial uncertainty, incessant playing schedules, and potentially to a lesser extent the onset of new visa requirements for players as a result of Brexit, has forced clubs’ hands in their January transfer window dealings.”

Chris added: “Clubs have now played the best part of a full year behind closed doors or with play altogether suspended as a result of COVID, with estimations of lost match day revenue and associated cash flow currently in excess of £450m for Premier League clubs, with no sign of this abating in the short term given lockdown restrictions in place. With less than ten players reportedly signing for Premier League clubs for transfer fees this window, COVID may now indeed be biting to a greater extent than the summer outlay portrayed.”

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Indeed, with transfer resources limited and expenses to trim, clubs have utilised the loan market to a great extent this window, with c.50 players leaving Premier League clubs on loan, to both the financial benefit of the recipient clubs as well as the reduced wage bills of the parent clubs.

Chris pointed to the most recent set of complete Premier League financials as rationale for this behaviour. He said: “In 2018/19, Premier League clubs cumulatively paid out a total of c.£60m per week in staff costs (61% of revenues), with a total further c.£22m per week in other operating costs excluding player trading. These are clearly significant sums, and with those revenue figures known to be falling, we’re now potentially seeing a ripple effect on managing player wage expenditure.”

Chris added: “However, a fine balance will have been calculated – an abbreviated season has led to a fixture schedule like never before, with managers keen to ensure squads are rotated to keep players fit, available and able to contribute over the longer term – leading to hesitancy from some clubs to let too many players seek pastures new.”

Equally, with the new Brexit visa requirements in play since January 1st, clubs may have been partially restricted by the new immigration criteria and its impact on their transfer plans, with West Brom boss Sam Allardyce reportedly stating the new rules have made life “a bit more difficult” with respect to some previously identified transfer targets no longer qualifying for a work permit.