Players pay the price as transfer market collapses

Window brings era of big-money moves to unexpected halt as nervous clubs look at loans and short-term contracts to curb excesses
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HERE IS a prediction. The big transfer story of the summer will be a swap deal – Damien Duff going to Manchester United and Ryan Giggs crossing over to Blackburn Rovers. No money will change hands, just players, and neither will sign a long-term contract. How do we know it will happen? Because the financiers say it will. Welcome to the football transfer business of 2003 and beyond.

Here is a prediction. The big transfer story of the summer will be a swap deal – Damien Duff going to Manchester United and Ryan Giggs crossing over to Blackburn Rovers. No money will change hands, just players, and neither will sign a long-term contract. How do we know it will happen? Because the financiers say it will. Welcome to the football transfer business of 2003 and beyond.

The years of excess are over. In the past six months football has undergone the biggest revolution since the advent of Sky Television and the Bosman ruling, but few people appear to have noticed. It may not be a death by 1,000 cuts – because the patient will survive – although it will be a very close call.

The events of the past month – which will undoubtedly be borne out by what happens up until midnight tonight when the transfer window closes – have simply confirmed this. They have also confirmed that the football transfer market has collapsed and will never be the same again.

As of lunchtime yesterday £12.7m had changed hands in the past four weeks on actual transfers – which would have bought little more than a third of Rio Ferdinand last summer. Granted, two deals – Robbie Fowler to Manchester City and Matthew Upson to Birmingham City – may include further large payments, but last season £364m was spent on transfer fees. The contrast is staggering.

This month 67 deals have so far taken place – of which 23 are permanent and just 13 involved a fee (three are undisclosed). The rest are loan deals. There may be a late flurry of activity today, especially as Newcastle United finally appear to be on the brink of landing the Leeds defender Jonathan Woodgate for £9m, but the overall total will be relatively modest.

Newcastle's manager Sir Bobby Robson, who may become the big spender, is not only scathing of the idea of a transfer window – "it creates a month of panic" – but blunt in his assessment of the market. He asks: "Tell me a Premiership club that has bought a player? It has been loan deal after loan deal. Not many clubs have any money and money is power."

Glenn Hoddle, at Tottenham, agrees. "The game has changed. You would have thought this would be a window of opportunity but that has not happened."

There have only been a handful of spenders: Birmingham City, fearful of relegation, have brought in six players for an initial £3.2m, Sunderland, bizarrely spending £2.5m on a goalkeeper, and the biggest spenders: Manchester City with an immediate outlay of £6.5m. Hardly big money – half of what they spent on Nicolas Anelka in the summer – but a risk.

It is the transfer of Robbie Fowler that most clearly illustrates the market. Bought for £11m by Leeds United barely 14 months ago, his on-off-on move to Maine Road indicates the nervous state of the business and explains why Manchester City's chairman, David Bernstein, felt compelled to make a midnight call to try and haggle down the price in the first place. Interestingly, no other club came in for the player – unthinkable a few months ago.

"It is typical of what is happening," says John Moore, a director of the stockbrokers Bell Laurie Wright and someone who has tracked the changing face of the football business. "It is a juggling act now – loan deals, reducing the wage bill and not paying too much."

Every club is haunted by the knowledge that Chelsea are paying Winston Bogarde £42,000 a week to warm the bench occasionally while his employers desperately struggle to reduce their crippling debts, with Leicester City almost going under while some of their big earners sit out four and five-year long contracts.

The golden age for players and agents of large fees (and large signing-on fees), large salaries and long contracts are over. "As Alan Sugar said, the Sky money has been spent like the prune juice – in one end and out the other," Tottenham's director of football, David Pleat, says. "The whole game now is in a cleft stick and we will slowly get out if it. It won't happen overnight because contracts don't expire until the end of the season. It may take two years to move away some of the high-earners.

"At the moment there is a massive impasse because there are hundreds of willing sellers and no one is a willing buyer so we can't make a market."

Moore explains how he believes the future will shape up. "Think temporary contracts," he says. "People who are key to clubs will still be highly paid but they will be supplemented by temporary staff, players on six-month deals who will make up the remainder of the squad and who can be got rid of easily.

"This is a realignment of the excess of the past four years. Less of the cash will go on players, more to the clubs as they have finally realised they have to invest sensibly to survive."

So, the likes of David Beckham and Michael Owen will always be highly-paid superstars – although a greater share of their income will come from such things as image rights. But there will be more players such as Tahar El-Khalej – the Moroccan who had his contract paid up by Southampton and has gone to Charlton Athletic as a free agent until the end of the season.

"Football agents will become employment agents," Moore says. "For the large section of the football playing industry they will have to find their clients contracts for six months to a year and then move on."

It was not supposed to be like this. The transfer window – there will be another in the summer – was introduced by Fifa, the game's world ruling body, in an attempt to bring stability to the market and to make clubs think more long-term. It was also hoped it would provide greater security for players and prevent the richest from simply spending their way out of trouble. In the short term, at least, it has had the opposite effect because, although the chequebooks have been put away, footballers are feeling more vulnerable than ever.

Lower down the leagues, it is even more acute. Dan Jones, the director of Deloitte Touche's football unit, points to the example of the Reading manager, Alan Pardew, who, despite doing an excellent job, has just agreed a new contract on a lower salary. At Oxford United the chairman, Firoz Kassam, says that the contracts he is offering are shorter, on a more "commercial basis" and linked to how the club performs.

As one expert put it, it is now a game of musical chairs – except it is no longer the players and their agents who are calling the tune.

Who went where: Club-by-club guide to the Premiership transfer window

Arsenal

In: No one.

Out: Matthew Upson (Birmingham City, £1m ­ plus £2m linked to appearances), Steve Sidwell (Reading, nominal ­ estimated at £250,000), Efstathios Tavlardis (Portsmouth, loan), Liam Chilvers (Colchester Utd, loan).

Verdict: Arsène Wenger once again turns a profit. Despite the need for a goalkeeper, no one has been brought in. Will wait until the summer to try for Stephen Carr and off-load Igor Stepanovs, Nwankwo Kanu and Francis Jeffers.

Aston Villa

In: Mika Aaritalo (TPS Turku, undisclosed), Johannes Gudjonnsson (Real Betis, loan).

Out: Michael Boulding (Grimsby Town, loan).

Verdict: Relatively uninspiring business dictated by the needs to lose big money signings such as Juan Pablo Angel, Alpay and Bosko Balaban.

Birmingham City

In: Matthew Upson (Arsenal, £1m plus £2m linked to appearances), Jamie Clapham (Ipswich Town, £1.3m), Stephen Clemence (Tottenham, £900,000), Christophe Dugarry (Bordeaux, loan), Piotr Swierczewski (Marseilles, loan), Ferdinand Coly (Lens, loan).

Out: Darryl Powell (Sheffield Wednesday, free), Tommy Mooney (Sheffield Utd, loan), Bryan Hughes (Leicester City, loan), Craig Fagan (Bristol City, loan), Clint Davies (Tamworth Town, loan), Curtis Woodhouse (Rotherham Utd, loan).

Verdict: The busiest club in the Premiership in a bid to stay there, although they only spent £3.2m up front. Moved a lot out to reduce the wage bill.

Blackburn Rovers

In: Vratislav Gresko (Parma, loan).

Out: Alan Mahon (Cardiff City, loan), Darren Dunning (Macclesfield Town, loan)

Verdict: Graeme Souness made an attention-grabbing announcement that he wanted rid of the talented midfielder David Dunn. No one bid for him.

Bolton Wanderers

In: Salva Ballesta (Valencia, loan).

Out: Dean Holdsworth (Coventry City, free)

Verdict: Disappointing. Sam Allardyce desperately wanted to get a big fee for Michael Ricketts so he could wheel and deal.

Charlton Athletic

In: Tahar El Khalej (Southampton).

Out: Ben Roberts (Brighton, loan).

Verdict: Alan Curbishley made clear he had no money and stuck by it. Happy with most of his squad he picked up El Khalej for minimal wages until the end of the season to provide defensive cover.

Chelsea

In: No one.

Out: Mark Bosnich (contract terminated), Mikael Forssell (Borussia Mönchengladbach, loan).

Verdict: One-time big spenders, they were never going to add to their squad even if Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had gone to Barcelona for £6m. Would love to dispose of Winston Bogarde.

Everton

In: Brian McBride (Columbus Crew, loan), Ibrahim Said (Al Ahly, loan)

Out: No one.

Verdict: Disappointed that he did not land Colin Healy from Celtic, David Moyes' fine performance has probably persuaded the board not to sell players despite the fact that Everton have a large wage bill.

Fulham

In: No one.

Out: Luke Cornwall (Lincoln City, loan)

Verdict: Despite all the talk, Jean Tigana's hands were tied. Sergei Rebrov would have come, but the turmoil at Fulham did not suit his fragile psyche. John Collins would have gone, but earns too much.

Leeds Utd

In: No one.

Out: Robbie Fowler (Manchester City, £3m plus £3m based on appearances), Lee Bowyer (West Ham, £100,000), Olivier Dacourt (Roma, loan), Frazer Richardson (Stoke City, loan), Danny Milosevic (Crewe Alexandra, loan).

Verdict: Too many departures, and talked-about departures, to satisfy the fans, but not enough players leaving to please the banks although Jonathan Woodgate's transfer should surely help.

Liverpool

In: No one.

Out: Gregory Vignal (Bastia, loan), Bernard Diomède (Ajaccio, loan), Daniel Sjolund (Djugarden, loan), Abel Xavier (Galatasaray, loan).

Verdict: One of the few clubs with cash to spend but they probably did not do so because Gérard Houllier wanted to show support to his existing squad.

Manchester City

In: Robbie Fowler (Leeds Utd, £3m plus £3m based on appearances), David Sommeil (Bordeaux, £3.5m), Djamel Belmadi (Bordeaux, loan),

Out: Laurent Charvet (Sochaux, free), Rhys Day (Mansfield Town, free), Brian Murphy (Oldham Athletic, loan).

Verdict: Again one of the few clubs with cash, although they have not spent as much as many people predicted. Now that Premiership status is guaranteed, their finances do not look so precarious.

Manchester Utd

In: No one.

Out: Ben Williams (Chesterfield, loan)

Verdict: Never planned much business ­ maybe one extra face in David Bellion. Still have the money for big deals.

Middlesbrough

In: John Eustace (Coventry City, loan).

Out: Dean Windass (Sheffield Utd, £100,000).

Verdict: If the Boro manager Steve McLaren lands the Derby pair Malcolm Christie and Chris Riggott, the mood will change. Would love to dispose of £60,000-a-week Alen Boksic.

Newcastle Utd

In: No one ­ yet.

Out: Wayne Quinn (Sheffield Utd, loan), Aaron Labonte (Livingston, loan), Tommy Smith (Livingston, loan), Marcelino (released after contract paid up), Diego Gavilan (Sporting Club Internacional, loan).

Verdict: Cash available which puts manager Sir Bobby Robson in a very strong position.

Southampton

In: Frederico Arias (Velez Sarsfeld, undisclosed)

Out: Tahar El Khalej (released after contract paid up)

Verdict: Little money to spend, no need to sell. Providing the model for the smaller clubs to follow.

Sunderland

In: Mart Poom (Derby County, £2.5m)

Out: Dene Shields (Raith Rovers, loan), Michael Ingham (York City, loan), Stanislav Varga (released after contract paid up).

Verdict: Surprising amount of money spent on yet another goalkeeper. Poom's arrival raised a few eyebrows, considering debts of £25m.

Tottenham Hotspur

In: Kazuyuki Toda (Shimuzu S-Pulse, loan).

Out: Stephen Clemence (Birmingham City, £900,000), Les Ferdinand (West Ham, undisclosed), Sergei Rebrov (Fenerbahce, loan), Tim Sherwood (Portsmouth, loan ­ fee to be paid if promoted).

Verdict: Glenn Hoddle has no money to strengthen team so expect a continued clear-out of high-earning, older players such as Steffen Freund and a reliance on youth.

West Bromwich

In: Ifeanyi Udeze (PAOK Salonika, loan).

Out: Daniel Carey-Bertram (Stafford Rangers, loan).

Verdict: Must have budgeted for relegation, judging by the inactivity. Missed out on several players. Expect a couple of high-profile departures in the summer and no arrivals.

West Ham Utd

In: Lee Bowyer (Leeds Utd, £100,000), Les Ferdinand (Tottenham, undisclosed).

Out: Grant McCann (Cheltenham Town, £50,000), Laurent Courtois (Istres, free), Titi Camera (Al Ittihad, loan), Brent Rahim (Northampton Town, free)

Verdict: Dealings reflect the new reality. If they go down it will be a financial disaster and other clubs will be able to pick up their stars for nothing in a desperate scramble to reduce the wage bill.

Totals

Number of deals: 67.

Number of permanent transfers/ deals: 23 (includes three contracts paid up and one sacking).

Number of loan deals: 44 (includes several with a few to a permanent transfer).

Total amount spent: £12,700,000 (plus three undisclosed fees and two deals with extra payments dependent on appearances).

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