It is not quite right to say that this has been a quiet January for soccer’s billion-dollar transfer business. The month’s ordinary soundtrack — whispers gathering, phones pinging, the machine that produces vivid chyrons for breathless television broadcasts whirring to life — might have been muted, but that does not mean there has been nothing to hear. Listen carefully, and you might make out the sound of a bubble bursting.
The January transfer market is supposed to be many things, particularly in the Premier League, a place where the money flows in such great torrents that it eventually papers over almost any mistake. We expect — we want — the market to be a monument to immediate gratification. We cherish that it is panicked. We do not care if it is a source of long and lasting regret.
And there are many things it is not supposed to be. Judicious, for example. Restrained. Modest. This year, January was a month in which the most noteworthy and expensive deal involved Tottenham Hotspur’s paying a perfectly reasonable price for a central defender who slotted straight into Manager Ange Postecoglou’s team.
It should be no surprise, then, that this particular edition of soccer’s equivalent of Black Friday has felt, at times, like something of a bust. A year ago, Chelsea was busy spending $132 million on Enzo Fernández. This time around, the clubs of the Premier League parted with about $100 million between them over the course of January.
There are several reasons for that. One is that received wisdom has long had it that January does not lend itself to value: Most managers and executives now hew to the inverted Groucho Marx logic that anyone clubs are actively selling in January is not worth buying. It is possible to land a carefully-chosen target, of course, but it costs.