By Graham Lister
A surge of some £110 million on deadline day contributed to total player transfer spending by Premier League clubs this summer of around £490m - marginally up on last year's total and just short of the £500m record set in 2008, immediately before the global economic recession really began to bite.
The latest figures, reported by Deloitte's Sports Business Group, tend to confirm that English football's top flight is either recession-proof or, as sceptics such as Arsene Wenger would have it, living in a fools' paradise. Either way, there is no denying that the Premier League's enduring marketability continues to underpin its member clubs' spending in the transfer market.
That marketability was reflected in increases of more than 70 per cent in the Premier League domestic broadcast deals announced earlier this year which, when overseas broadcast deals are factored in, means each Premier League club will receive, on average, a further £25m in annual revenue beginning next season.
As Deloitte warned, such commercial strength must be set against the need to contain costs, address falling profits and, in the case of the top clubs, comply with Uefa's Financial Fair Play regulations. In that context, it is worth remembering that transfer fees are only the most visible part of the player expenditure picture; players' wages and, increasingly, image rights over the duration of their contracts are a hugely significant consideration.
|TOP SUMMER SPENDERS
| TOTAL FEES IN EUROPE'S BIG LEAGUES
For although the Premier League generates substantially more revenue than the top leagues elsewhere, it also continues to "redistribute significant financial value" to overseas clubs through player transfers, according to Deloitte. Clubs in Germany, France and the Netherlands in particular have benefitted from Premier League spending this summer, as net spending (the amount that flows from Premier League clubs to foreign and Football League clubs) reached a record level of £250m in 2012, with a net £200m going to overseas sellers and a net inflow of £50m to selling clubs in the English Football League.
These flows are important: gross transfer spending trends across the top divisions of Europe reveal a mixed picture compared with 2011, with the spending of top division clubs in France (£190m) and Germany (£210m) up from last summer, but those of Italy (£310m) and Spain (£110m) down, perhaps reflecting wider economic difficulties in the latter two countries.
Among the Premier League's buyers, the usual suspects were again prominent: Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal each managed to spend more than £30m, these five clubs between them accounting for around 55% of total Premier League clubs' transfer spending this summer, underlining their determination to be in the mix for silverware next May and/or desperation not to miss the lucrative Champions League gravy train.
But the financial benefits of being - and remaining - one of English football's elite 20 clubs are such that Queens Park Rangers, who survived by the skin of their teeth last season, were among the busiest buyers during the window, while newly-promoted Southampton broke their own spending record on deadline day with the £12m recruitment of Gaston Ramirez. The last few days of the window also saw West Ham, promoted via last May's play-offs, notably busy, along with mid-table clubs such as Stoke City, Fulham and Sunderland.
The introduction of two transfer windows per season is not a system that's universally liked, but it certainly concentrates minds and creates undoubted drama as the shutters prepare to fall. Almost a quarter (22%) of Premier League clubs' business was conducted on deadline day this year, begging the perennial question of why clubs leave it so late to conduct their deals (too late in the case of Tottenham's attempt to sign long-time target Joao Moutinho from Porto, though on balance Spurs enjoyed a productive window).
It's that poker-playing brinkmanship that seems to push deals to the very edge, with buyers, sellers, players and agents testing each others' nerves by seeing who will blink first as the negotiations ratchet up. But part of the final day frenzy seems also to be infused by a dash of panic.
The fact that the season has started a couple of weeks before the window closes means managers have had weaknesses in their teams exposed, identified gaps in their squads they hadn't previously covered, and also seen, worryingly, what their rivals have to offer. It's a heady mix that injects sudden urgency into proceedings, feeding the adrenaline-rush that gives so many fans such a deadline-day buzz.
That last-day business contributed to a total for gross player transfer spending by Premier League clubs of more than £4.6bn since transfer windows were introduced, with 80% of this being spent in the summer windows. Now managers - and fans - must make the best of the business that was done, and hope it was enough. If it wasn't, there's always January...