Premier League clubs tighten purse strings in fear of breaking financial rules

Premier League clubs are on course to spend one of the lowest amounts in a January transfer window, with owners and financial experts blaming the league’s increased scrutiny over its profit and sustainability regulations (PSR) for the significant downturn.

Last year English top-flight clubs almost doubled the record for January after paying £815m as the Chelsea owners, Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, continued their spending spree but the market has been noticeably quieter this month. Crystal Palace confirmed the signing of Adam Wharton from Blackburn for an initial £18.5m on Thursday but as transfer deadline approached the collective spending was less than the British record £106.8m Chelsea paid for Enzo Fernández alone 12 months ago.

The amount was above the £70m spent in 2021 when the financial effects of Covid restricted clubs’ spending power significantly but this year’s total passed the all-time low of £34.8m set during the 2009-10 season only in the past few days.

Clubs increasingly prefer to wait until the end of the season to make big signings but it is understood there has been an even greater reluctance to spend in January owing to PSR factors that brought Everton a 10-point deduction in November. Their appeal against that sanction began this week but Everton could face another punishment after being charged with a further breach along with Nottingham Forest.

“Everyone is worried about spending in a way I haven’t seen before because the Premier League never policed anything so closely until recently,” a major shareholder of a top-flight side told the Guardian.

Premier League clubs are prohibited from accumulating losses of more than £105m in a three-year period. According to the football finance expert Kieran Maguire, the government’s intended introduction of an independent regulator has prompted the Premier League to take tougher steps to enforce its rules.

“If the Premier League was being a little bit flexible in previous years with regards to financial fair play compliance then clearly that is no longer the case,” he said. “It is desperate to prove to anyone and everybody that it can keep its own house in order with the impending creation of the independent regulator.”

Maguire added: “If you look at the past few years we’ve had a combination of new owners at Chelsea and the Saudi Pro League last year. All of those factors kickstarted things but this year we’ve seen financial fair play showing its teeth, which means clubs like Everton can’t be seen to be signing new players when they are under potential charges.”

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The £25m spent by Tottenham on the Romania defender Radu Dragusin was the highest fee in this window. Loans have been a key feature of January’s market, with Manchester United allowing 10 players to head out on that basis.

“A lot of the spending in previous windows was done on credit,” said Maguire. “So you’ve got around £2bn of outstanding instalments that have to be paid for in the next two or three windows. lt’s a bit like when you max out your credit card on holiday and for the next few months you have to budget and try not to spend any money. But I’m sure that most clubs will be looking to spend big in the summer again.”

The Guardian