England spends as Italy feels the pinch

At first sight, this winter’s transfer window was spectacularly boring, unless you happen to support Manchester United, Chelsea or possibly Newcastle; but appearances can be deceptive.

England spends as Italy feels the pinch

As you would expect, the Premier League once again leads the way in money terms, with almost €155m paid out for players, a couple of million more than Spain, Italy, France and Germany combined. Championship clubs signed more players than any other league in Europe.

The most expensive transfers in Europe also all involved English clubs. The only exception was the €15m spent by Inter to secure Brazilian midfielder Anderson Hernanes from Lazio, which also set a record for the number of tears shed by a departing player on a YouTube video.

We might have expected more activity. It is always harder to secure the players you want in a World Cup summer, when national team managers are apt to be grumpy about people constantly being on the mobile to their agents, and usually more expensive as well. No doubt some moves have been agreed in advance. There has also been more activity than you might think.

The player churn in Italy continues to be phenomenal. Serie A leads the world with 230 players sold or off-loaded in January according to German website Transfermarkt.

Tough times rather than a buoyant market: well over half these moves are Italian players moving on loan. Many have been out of contract and then registered by clubs hoping to sell them on. You can see why players’ unions dislike the way the market is going.

Even some of the biggest clubs are having to be very frugal. Struggling in mid-table, Milan are clearly trying to renew their squad without spending: 10 out, nine in, total expenditure €400,000. There is a big turnover at Roma as well as they chase the chance of Champions League qualification. Taking Belgium midfielder Radja Nainggolan from Cagliari on loan with an option to buy looks a clever move.

German clubs have been cautious, apart from Wolfsburg. Bayern of course are helped by the fact that they can secure Robert Lewandowski for nothing and Dortmund can do nothing about it except sign another promising youngster from Serbia, in this case Milos Jojic from Partizan. Top German clubs are once again promoting the kids. Bayern have brought in two from their B team, Alessandro Schopf and Julian Green who has scored 15 in 18 games in the fourth division. Names to watch out for as Bayern appear to have already retained their league title.

Deal of the season could be Diego’s return on loan from Wolfsburg to Atletico Madrid, who he helped to the Europa League when he was last there. He scored on Sunday on his second debut for the club in the 4-0 win that has put them out in front in La Liga for the first time in 18 years. Diego is of course also eligible to play in the Champions League.

Pride of place in the European transfer stakes, however, has to go to a deal that isn’t in the statistics at all. Hours before the deadline, Benfica confirmed rumours that they would be selling two more of their best players, Rodrigo and Andre Gomes, for a combined total of €45m, with a possible €10m to come.

The reason this transfer is so far unrecorded is because both players are still at Benfica. They have been sold not to a club but to Meriton Capital Ltd, in yet another of the third party purchases that have become almost routine in Portugal. Most of these third party deals are obscure: this one fortunately is not.

Meriton is an investment fund controlled by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, who made a fortune from a curious combination of palm oil and property, and is also a sports fanatic with a special love for Formula 1. Liverpool fans may remember Lim as a candidate to take over the club in 2010 before the deal with New England Sports Ventures. His target this time is Valencia, and he seems confident enough to put a lot of cash on the table in advance. With Atletico challenging the Big Two and Valencia already riding high, La Liga could finally be competition once again.

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