Premier League spending slumped by more than two-thirds to a nine-year low of just £70 million ($96 million) in the January transfer window as the coronavirus crisis hit budgets.
The outlay was dramatically down on last year’s £230 million expenditure, which came just weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down football across Europe.
And it is in sharp contrast to a bumper summer transfer window, when English top-flight clubs spent freely despite the lingering uncertainties to ensure total net expenditure for the 2020/21 season reached a new record level of £950 million.
Just £7 million was spent on deadline day as the Premier League comes to terms with the financial impact of the virus and new Brexit rules that make it tougher to recruit young players from Europe.
The figures, from financial experts Deloitte, showed there were a total of 24 Premier League transfers in the winter window — 48 per cent fewer than the average for the previous three-year January transfer windows.
Manchester United’s Amad Diallo, Aston Villa new boy Morgan Sanson and West Brom pair Mbaye Diagne and Robert Snodgrass were among the handful of high-profile permanent signings as teams made the decision to rely on their existing squads or opted for loans.
Just three £10-million-plus signings — West Ham’s Said Benrahma, Diallo and Sanson, accounted for more than 75 per cent of Premier League expenditure.
Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal were the only “big six” Premier League clubs to spend even though the race has been one of the most open in years.
Champions Liverpool borrowed much-needed defensive cover in the form of Schalke’s Ozan Kabak, along with a low-cost permanent deal for Preston’s Ben Davies.
Dan Jones, a partner at Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, said the virus, which has emptied stadiums and has hit broadcast revenues, has had a major impact on clubs’ plans.
“Premier League clubs were understandably cautious in the January transfer window given the ongoing financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
“Despite this, Premier League clubs’ very busy summer window, at a time when the rest of European football was more restrained, saw total net expenditure for the 2020/21 season reach a new record level of £950 million.
“It remains to be seen if the relatively low activity in January will continue throughout 2021. We certainly do not expect to see another new record this summer.”
Jones said expenditure on players from non-English clubs fell to just £45 million from an average of £165 million in the previous two January transfer windows.
“While new post-Brexit rules on acquiring players from overseas may have contributed to this, the financial impact of the pandemic was, by far, a more important factor,” he said.
Deloitte said the impact of the pandemic was being felt across the other major European Leagues.
Gross expenditure in the January window plunged from a collective 660 million euros ($794 million) to 195 million euros across the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, La Liga and Serie A.
According to Deloitte, the top 20 revenue-generating clubs will miss out on more than 2 billion euros of revenue across the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons.
“This lost revenue may potentially act as the catalyst in creating a shift in how clubs approach the transfer market over the next few seasons,” Deloitte said in a statement.
Deloitte’s Tim Bridge told Britain’s Press Association news agency that it was tough to guess the future direction of the market.
“I think the way transfer departments within clubs work now, it’s often quite scientific or quite analytical and now more than ever it’s very challenging to make sure you’ve got the data correct,” he said.
“It’s also challenging to make any sorts of estimates as to what the future of the market might look like. I think it depends on a number of factors.
“Getting fans back into the stadium is essential to the business model of football clubs, and then how the commercial model reacts.”