The January transfer window has come to an end after 31 excruciating days with non-stop action. Deadline day was hectic and felt more active compared to some of the quiet summer windows. Business of such large magnitude was unexpected at the start of the window.
People within the football industry described January as a month for clubs to purchase “fools gold” and it was widely thought that big names were unlikely to leave since the competition for top-4 within the Premier League was intense.
Well, that doesn’t mean clubs didn’t want to strengthen their armoury or players were more than happy to sit on the bench. Newcastle and Everton saw this window as an opportunity to find resurgence in form while fringe players like Dele Alli, Donny van de Beek, and Coutinho saw this one-month period as a lifeline to force themselves into their respective nation’s World Cup squads.
As per the latest league-wise spendings collated by Deloitte, Premier League clubs spent a grand total of ￡295m in this window, which is the most since 2018. The most intriguing part of this report was that the bottom five clubs accounted for more than 50% of the expenditure, where the Saudi backed Newcastle United spent the most at around￡92m excluding add-ons.
Newcastle United‘s Amanda Staveley and co. managed to limit the Tyneside based club’s outlay below ￡100m under the guidance of a third-party consultancy along with former Celtic technical director Nick Hammond on an adhoc basis in a disoriented winter window where Premier League oppositions, who were against the inclusion of another sovereign backed ownership, tried to bust their balls to disrupt Newcastle’s immediate growth in the league by inflating player prices within the British network.
The role of agents was crucial in brokering important deals and negotiating intensively for most of the struggling clubs in this market. Not just players, even managers to a certain extent were offered to clubs like Watford and Everton. Most executives from the football hierarchy focussed on executing loan deals which would favour all parties in the deal. In fact, setting the thresholds for both the melting point and boiling point of the initial and final stages of the deal were left to top agents with connections across the globe.
One such agency having clients all over Europe busy on Deadline Day was CAA Base, which was formerly known as Base Soccer before it’s acquisition by American talent organisation Creative Artists Agency. Headed by Leon Angel and Frank Trimboli, CAA Base is a full-service football agency, working on behalf of more than 500 international football players, coaches and managers. Some of their high profile clients include Manchester United defender Raphael Varane, Manchester City defender Kyle Walker, and Spurs forward Son Heung-min.
Newcastle signed Kieran Trippier and Chris Wood, players representing the same agency. Wood’s secretive release clause pinned to his Burnley contract could’ve been communicated through this route. Everton executives were actively involved on Deadline Day finalising Frank Lampard’s appointment and even completed the permanent deal of Spurs midfielder Dele Alli in the final hours for an initial fee of￡30m, both of whom were CAA Base’s clients.
Other than formalising direct contacts between player representatives and clubs, CAA Base’s intermediaries were efficient in pulling off loan deals with clubs across Europe such as United centre-back Axel Tuanzebe’s move to Napoli, Tottenham defender Bryan Gil’s move to Valencia, and Juventus midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur’s transfer to Tottenham.
Away from the boardroom negotiations between clubs, few agencies, especially UK’s biggest sports agency ICM Stellar Sports have started laying groundworks for next summer. Jonathan Barnett’s London based firm acquired by Los Angeles based literary firm ICM Partners in 2020 features an array of high profile international talents such as Jack Grealish, Eduardo Camavinga, Gareth Bale and more. Recently, Stellar group acquired the signature of Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar in the final week of January as the 23 year old Frenchman targets a big move to the Premier League.
Some intermediaries weren’t able to find suitable clubs due to the latest Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) regulations which limited the number of non-EU spots (3) in European clubs. An FA registered intermediary of a well-known footballer at a Premier League club said that there was a massive struggle due to communication gap between the player’s camp and the club executives since both of them had different ideas about a move in January. Many clubs enquired through club representatives initially before knowing the player’s interest through agents. The same agent described some of the links reported by papers as “nowhere close and absolutely rubbish” despite clubs briefing local news outlets.
League spendings rose back to pre-pandemic levels after being recorded as the second-highest spending January window in over decades. COVID19 tensions were evident among numerous clubs such as Tottenham Hotspurs who seeked Champions League football next season while staying in England’s tier-1 was necessary for Sean Dyche’s Burnley, who were fuming for an experienced striker after losing Chris Wood to their relegation rivals Newcastle. This forced low spending Burnley side to thrash out￡12m for Wolfsburg’s Wout Weghorst.
Few major deals which were in advanced stages failed to materialise due to lack of direct replacements, disagreement over personal terms and issues with the project. Stade Reims’ Hugo Ekitike’s bid was accepted by the Ligue 1 club but the player pulled the plug on deadline day. Liverpool failed to complete the deal to sign Fulham’s Fabio Carvalho despite agreeing a fee. It was an unfortunate moment for the Merseyside Reds as the deal sheet flexibility rule(time extension) wasn’t applicable for transfers involving EFL clubs.
Other extraordinary events lead to fracture in relationship between clubs. Porto and Spurs had agreed a deal to sign the winger on paper. As per Athletic, the deal collapsed after Diaz’s agent Carlos van Strahalen came to know that super-agent Jorge Mendes was intermediary brokering the deal for Porto. Ego between the two agents paved the way for Liverpool to pounce for the Colombian’s signature. After Tottenham managing director of football Fabio Paratici’s multiple failed attempts on bringing a right-wingback, he went back to his old club Juventus to bring in 2 players for namesake to end the window on a high. Tottenham faced another huge blow after director of technical performance Steve Hitchen handed in his resignation letter to Daniel Levy for not being involved in transfer activities for the last 2 windows.
Few clubs had eyes on raw talents across the globe and one of those mouthwatering deals involved in this window was River Plate forward Julian Alvarez signing for Manchester City. The 22 year old Copa America winner will play at River Plate until the season ends. City saw this deal as a value addition for the future as they charged ahead in the pursuit of signing a striker in the summer.
Despite different media narratives, Manchester United couldn’t offload any players permanently as they suffered from the lucrative contract extensions that they provided to their fringe players before the pandemic, which made it more difficult to sell them to smaller clubs, as the market was stagnating since assets felt like damaged goods. Arsenal felt similar issues.
Fortunately, debt-ridden Barcelona came into the frame, where they designed an intricate contract for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang which led him to say goodbyes to his Arsenal career. Gunners will pay some of his wages for 6 months in partnership with Barcelona while the Gabonese international took a wage-cut. Aubameyang’s Barcelona deal will be permanent from the start of the next summer window.
The free agent market is one to look out for in the summer window. Clubs have sounded out interests through representatives while agents have offered players to various clubs. Agent Moussa Sissoko tried his best to offer Ousmane Dembele to Premier League clubs but none showed mutual interest after the French winger decided not to sign a new deal with Barcelona. Frank Kessie is another player with whom Barcelona seems to have a verbal agreement but it won’t be a one horse race as Tottenham and PSG eye for his services in the next window.
Overall, fans witnessed a major overhaul from clubs who were desperate to prove themselves in the upcoming fixtures by strengthening their hand to pick an efficient squad. Although many clubs didn’t bother to sell, roaring trades were evident in the loan market. Chaos await for clubs planning serious business in the upcoming summer.
Written by Alan Bince | Feature image by Michael Regan/Getty Images)