News analysis

Continuity and stability, not greed, will define Premier League transfer market

Football will not be spending; not like before.
Football will not be spending; not like before.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON - When the window closed, some £1.4 billion (S$2.47 billion) had gone out of it. Last summer was the second most expensive ever in the transfer market for Premier League clubs.

It is entirely uncontroversial to say 2017's record spending will not be challenged this year. The outlay may be half, a third or a quarter, but it won't be remotely similar. Football will not be spending; not like before.

The Premier League has projected the idea that greed is good. Now the culture of consumption will have to be replaced by a culture of continuity. There will be changes to squads this year, but not as many, or at anything like the same cost. There will not be overhauls. No one, probably, will be radically reshaped.

Paradoxically, the dynamic of the division will be altered by stability. Next season will be contested by similar teams. It will be a test of creativity, constancy and strategy, not spending power, to do more with the same.

There will be fewer quick fixes. Retail therapy is less therapeutic when the funds are lesser. There may be more free transfers, loans and swop deals but they are compromise choices, not big buys.

Rewind a few months and it was safe to assume Liverpool would bring in an expensive attacker and the rest of England's big six would target at least four major signings. Now nothing is certain. Chelsea could be alone in spending heavily. Manchester United have warned that the economic ramifications could last for years. They have money in the bank but may not be able to afford Jadon Sancho.

Even the wealthier may have to prioritise: if they can make only one major signing, then where? If, for instance, Manchester City can buy only a centre-back or a left-back, some shortcomings will have to be camouflaged.

At Tottenham, Jose Mourinho has been a face of chequebook management. His total transfer spending is over £1 billion. Now his budget may be zero. That will not suit him. The managers best equipped are those who can work with players for years without falling out with them, which is not a strength of Mourinho's.

For many, it will be a test of resourcefulness. Can they rehabilitate forgotten men, revive faltering careers or re-enact current excellence? One way to add a new dimension is by trusting youth, and England's elite all have some precocious prodigies. Mikel Arteta, Frank Lampard, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jurgen Klopp have all shown a willingness to field the untried.

If improvement must come from within, and it is a test of tactics and coaching, it may also offer the intellectual challenge of reimagining players to fill gaps in the squad; that part may appeal to Pep Guardiola. But man management matters more: can coaches repair relations with those deemed misfits? Mourinho and Tanguy Ndombele are cases in point when clubs can't write off past mistakes.

 
 

The Premier League has more than 100 players out on loan at the moment and if many are sub-standard or too young, there are some blue-chip players among them. In footballing cliche, could Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexis Sanchez or Mario Lemina be "like a new signing" and become belated successes?

This enforced continuity will penalise those with poorly constructed squads and who most needed a makeover. If strengths will continue for several seasons, so could weaknesses.

Everton's squad is imbalanced, unsuited to Carlo Ancelotti's tactics and highlights past errors. Tottenham's is sorely lacking a quality defensive midfielder. Arsenal, in a state of flux, lack much money and may lose a major attacker.

 
 

Even the wealthier may have to prioritise: if they can make only one major signing, then where? If, for instance, Manchester City can buy only a centre-back or a left-back, some shortcomings will have to be camouflaged.

And a sense of stasis suits those who benefit from the status quo. Which, obviously, are the champions in waiting. Liverpool don't just have the best squad: they have the most balanced one and with a great age profile, so no one should decline. Continuity tends to suit those in positions of power.