Premier League transfer spending has plummeted in January 2024 – an expert explains why belts have been tightened

Premier League transfer windows can be a noisy affair, with vast amounts of money being thrown around, as deals are made and players bought and sold. The summer of 2023 reached a record spend of £2.36 billion, straight after a high-spending January window before that (£815 million).

January 2024, though, has been eerily quiet, closing on just £100 million.

So what has made club owners so reluctant to splash their considerable amounts of cash this winter? Are they just all happy with the squads they have already bought?

A more likely reason is that transfer activity has been hit by several outside factors coming in to play at the same time, all leading to a tightening of the Premier League purse strings. Here are some of the reasons for the spending slow down.

Financial rules starting to bite

The end of 2023 saw some big clubs facing scrutiny in relation to the Premier League’s “profitability and sustainability” regulations, which determine how much money clubs are allowed to lose over a certain period. Everton were found to have broken the rules a few years ago and were docked ten points in November as a result (a sanction they are appealing).

Then Chelsea reported themselves over incomplete financial reporting under their previous ownership and are now under investigation, having already been fined €10 million (£8.5 million) by Uefa for the same thing.

Meanwhile Manchester City are still facing 115 charges in relation to alleged breaches going back to 2015-2016. And Everton (again) and Nottingham Forest were both then found to be in breach of the rules for the 2022-23 season.

While each case is different, the focus here is clearly on financial management. In such a competitive league, all clubs will be wary of having points deducted, or even being relegated as a punishment, so are keen to have their books in order.

The Saudi slow down

Some huge spending by the Saudi Pro League was a major contributor to the sums spent in the Premier League over the summer.

Then, clubs in receipt of that money were able to buy new players, creating an upward spiral of transfer spending. But in January 2024, the Saudi appetite for Premier League players has not returned (for now), which has slowed the market overall.

In fact, some of the players who signed to Saudi clubs over the summer have expressed dissatisfaction with their moves. It may be that this has influenced other players who had been considering a similar change.

Italian teams too have spent less in this transfer window after the government recently scrapped a tax break of up to 50% on the wages of sport clubs’ new signings from abroad.

Rising costs

There is also the issue of how transfers are paid for. Continuously large or record-breaking transfer windows have left clubs with debts that are spread over many years, as deals are usually paid off in instalments. Combined with financial regulations, these costs mean there is less money available in the current transfer market.

As a way of dealing with those costs, January 2024 has seen quite a few loan deals instead of permanent transfers. These are cheaper because the loaning club retains overall ownership, but can reduce their salary bill at the same time, which is a big factor in the financial regulations they need to be mindful of.

It’s not all bad…

There is one transfer market that has had a fairly buoyant month, and that’s in women’s football. The sums involved are much smaller, and the squads are not subject to such strict financial regulations, but still, the market is on an upward trajectory.

Chelsea broke the British transfer record for a women’s player with Colombian international Mayra Ramirez (€450,000 (£383,000)), while Manchester City bought Laura Blindkilde Brown out of a £200,000 release clause.

Mayra Ramirez in training for Chelsea.

In the men’s game though, the January transfer window has been quiet because of timing. Different issues have come together all at once to dampen the market, and most of these are things that clubs will just need to get used to.

Once they have adjusted, we will no doubt be seeing more activity – and eye-watering sums – in future transfer windows. Research has shown that Premier League clubs are pretty resilient to economic change.

by : Christina Philippou, Principal Lecturer, Accounting, Economics and Finance, University of Portsmouth

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