English soccer clubs slow spending on players in relatively quiet transfer window

  • Premier League clubs’ player transfer expenditure fell to £180 million ($235.7 million) in January.
  • Net spend still hit record levels as a whole for the 2018/19 season to an estimated £1.4 billion.
  • No English ‘top six’ team made a signing eligible to play this season during January.
Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City in action during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Huddersfield Town at Etihad Stadium on August 19, 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom.
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City in action during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Huddersfield Town at Etihad Stadium on August 19, 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

European soccer's mid-season player transfer window has come to end with a lack of deals producing the lowest spending levels for England's Premier League clubs since 2012.

Premier League clubs' player transfer expenditure fell to £180 million ($235.7 million) in January. It is the first time since 2011/12 that there has been a year-on-year decrease in transfer expenditure from England's top 20 clubs during the month, with total spending down by £250 million compared to the same period last year.

However, when 2018's pre-season deals are factored in, net spend for the whole 2018/19 season hit record levels of an estimated £1.4 billion. That figure becomes the second-highest season of spending ever, following record spend of £1.9 billion in 2017/18. Net transfer spend (player purchases less player sales) was also a record, estimated at £905 million in 2018/19.

More than half of the teams in the league opted not to spend any money in January and instead stick with the squads they have for the rest of this season. That's despite the next three- year cycle of global broadcast rights starting from August 2019 showing a slight increase on the current deal.

"As we approach a decisive phase of the season, Premier League clubs' January transfer spending has been relatively muted in comparison to what we have seen in previous years." said Tim Bridge, Director at Deloitte's Sports Business Group, after analysing January spending.

Newcastle United was perhaps surprisingly the biggest spenders on deadline day, paying £20 million to Major League Soccer (MLS) side Atlanta for its Paraguayan striker Miguel Almiron. The North-East club is part of Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley's empire and has been subject of a long running takeover. However, this signing marks the club breaking its transfer record for the first time in over a decade, when it brought in former England striker Michael Owen in from Real Madrid.

Fabian Schar of Newcastle United battles for possession with Bernard of Everton during a Premier League match on December 5, 2018 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. 
Jan Kruger | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images
Fabian Schar of Newcastle United battles for possession with Bernard of Everton during a Premier League match on December 5, 2018 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. 

Chelsea spent the most on a single player in the past month, shelling out £57.6 million on Borussia Dortmund midfielder Christian Pulisic, only to then loan the American international back the German Bundesliga club for the remainder of this season.

This ongoing trend reflects the fact that the Premier League is the highest importer of playing talent in the world with its clubs prioritising on-field performance ahead of maximising player trading profits. The latter has become a key component of the business model of clubs in most other leagues.

"Of the Premier League's total expenditure in 2018/19, 72 per cent related to players acquired from overseas with clubs also increasingly seeking loan arrangements with options to buy to try and protect themselves from excessive transfer fees on unproven Premier League talent." Bridge added.