The economy of football may not exactly be a mirror for the financial state of the nation as a whole, but England's current top four clubs have certainly approached their business on transfer deadline day in a spirit of austerity.
Public sector cuts, reduced spending on the high street and slashed benefits affect the man on the street and business alike. At least the Premier League has curbed its more extravagant tendencies with recession biting as much as the winter frost.
In 2011, Premier League clubs spent just more than £215 million in the January transfer window. This year, at the time of writing, the figure for outgoing payments stands at £55 million.
To put that into context, the last month's spending is just a touch more than what Chelsea paid for Fernando Torres a year ago.
Chelsea, just like the other clubs in the Premier League's top four, have kept their spending to a minimum. The Blues had already sewn up the signing of England defender Gary Cahill, and on deadline day, they added Kevin de Bruyne and Patrick Bamford to their payroll.
However, Belgian attacking midfielder De Bruyne will return to Genk on loan for the remainder of the season, while 18-year-old forward Bamford has clearly been brought in from Nottingham Forest with an eye on the future.
The two Manchester clubs may have both spent big in the past, but they too limited their transfer activity to just a couple of signings that will hardly have their accountants working overtime.
Premier League leaders City have brought in Chilean midfielder David Pizarro on loan from Roma until the end of the season in a move that reunites him with former Inter Milan manager Roberto Mancini.
United have been almost as spendthrift as their so-called 'noisy neighbours.' The sum total of the reigning champions' winter dealings has seen the 37-year-old Paul Scholes come out of retirement and a 19-year-old defender by the name of Frederic Veseli from City.
The Swiss Under-20 international was a complete unknown to most at the start of Jan. 31, but by the end of the day his profile was raised immeasurably.
Tottenham Hotspur can always be relied upon to give deadline-day clock-watchers a reason to stay up until the last minute, but even they kept it rather low key this year in the form of acquiring defender Ryan Nelsen from Blackburn and striker Louis Saha from Everton.
The signing of Saha may seem underwhelming upon first glance, especially considering he has one goal in 18 Premier League appearances to his name this season. However, the 33-year-old Frenchman has only been brought in on a short-term contract for a low, undisclosed fee.
If—and it is a big if—he can stay fit, then he will provide the kind of work rate and strength up front that will ease the pressure on Emmanuel Adebayor and more than compensate for the efforts of the enigmatic Roman Pavlyuchenko, who has now departed for Lokomotiv Moscow for £11 million. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has once again worked his magic in pulling off that deal.
The biggest spenders in all were Queens Park Rangers, delivering on their promise to back recently-installed manager Mark Hughes int he transfer window, while Newcastle United spent the biggest amount on a single player with their £9 million outlay on striker Papiss Demba Cisse. That not a single fee reached eight figures is telling.
The comparatively big spending of the previous two transfer windows meant that clubs were less inclined or compelled to invest heavily again this time around. Last summer alone City, United and Chelsea spent a total of more than £180 million on players between them.
That three-way splurge is now looking increasingly like a retail rampage the likes of which we will not see again now that UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations are in full effect.
With clubs now facing exclusion from European competition if they are unable to balance their books over any given three-year period, the majority of that investment was made on young players who will either serve their clubs with distinction for years to come or at least retain significant resale value.
Liverpool may well have to settle for a Europa League spot either via their league position or by winning one of the two domestic cup competitions in which they are currently shining.
The fact that no one came in or out of Anfield in January after such an expensive summer is a strong indication that they too are mindful of remaining complicit with the new rules laid down by European football's governing body.
For the likes of QPR—and, to a lesser extent, Newcastle—European football is not such a major concern. Therefore, they are able to spend with relative impunity, although in truth their transfer spending over the past two windows has been canny rather than carefree.
This summer's European Championships will provide a veritable shop window for clubs to peruse dozens of established stars and young prospects. Perhaps only then will we see a true measure of how committed the top sides are to keeping chequebook in pocket.
This January's spending—or lack thereof—does at least suggest that they are treating Financial Fair Play with a degree of seriousness.
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