Welcome to the month of lend, lend, lend

Football in the shop window: The loan arrangers ride again as January sales give way to a more prudent approach
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The Independent Football

The shock news of the transfer window which opens on Thursday: Chelsea may become a selling club. A leading agent has predicted that just six cash deals will take place in January, including the sale of striker Mikael Forssell to Birmingham City, where he is currently on loan. Indeed, loans are the new currency of the Premiership.

The biggest transfer, according to Barry Silkman, will probably be the sale of Fulham's Louis Saha to Man-chester United for up to £10m - a relatively small sum compared with the prices commanded just two summers ago. Silkman should know - he was one of the close season's busiest agents, brokering deals such as Géremi's £6.9m transfer to Chelsea.

The inactivity at Stamford Bridge is only a blip. The cash will be splashed again before next season; after Boxing Day's defensive calamities against Charlton, perhaps as soon as next week, with an improved bid for Valencia's Roberto Ayala expected.

The west London club, however, with their Russian billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, are simply regarded now as a freak of the marketplace. Last summer their £111m represented more than 50 per cent of Premiership clubs' total spending (£215m). Their acting chief executive, Paul Smith, has already moved to try to quell expectation. Whether Silkman's degree of pessimism is accurate, time will soon tell. But his assessment is not uncharacteristic.

Most experts - from managers to financial analysts - predict that much less than the modest £35m spent last January, in 30 monetary transactions, will change hands this time round. Gross transfer spending by England's top clubs was down to £250m in 2003, compared with £323m last year (a drop of about 20 per cent). Strip out the Abramovich cash and the picture is even more stark (down 57 per cent). Goodness knows where the market would have been without him, and the trend has prompted calls for the transfer window to be scrapped altogether, especially from the Football League clubs denied what they feel is a rightful lifeline.

Loan deals - once prohibited between Premiership clubs - and free transfers now represent around 60 per cent of all moves. On the busiest day during last winter's transfer window - 31 January - 71 deals took place, and only six involved a fee. That ratio is likely to be even greater, with clubs desperate to reduce their wage bills and squad sizes - and reluctant to pay fees and commit themselves to players they may not need for long.

A comment from that old spendthrift, Manchester City's manager, Kevin Keegan, is telling. "Because of the size of the squad, a few could go if people come in with the right offers," he says of his plans. John Moore, a director at stockbrokers Bell Laurie White, and an expert on football finances, is emphatic in his opinion of the transfer market: "There won't be huge movements," he says. "Clubs are looking to reduce their squads; they will want some to go out on loan, so they stop paying their wages."

The model in that regard is provided by Manchester United - who have used the fewest number of players in the Premiership this season, just 19 (compared to 25 at Everton and Liverpool). Meanwhile, Arsenal, with a squad of 31, have six players out on loan, including three to other Premiership clubs.

As for the fees, Moore cites the case of Sheffield United's coveted midfielder Michael Brown. "Here's a £5m player who will be moving to Tottenham for an awful lot less, just £500,000," he says. The variable - apart from Chelsea and Man-chester United (with cash reserves of £30m) - is a club who decide, literally, to "go for broke", Moore says. "Look for activity from clubs such as Birmingham and those at the bottom, like Wolves. Those whose status is in jeopardy - or who aspire to Europe - may go for it," he says. Or may not.

Birmingham have already moved to dampen down expectation and are refusing to enter contract negotiations with players such as Robbie Savage until they are free from the threat of relegation. Dan Jones, a director at accountants Deloitte & Touche, who produce an annual review of football's finances, agrees. "I am expecting it to be very quiet again," he says, while acknowledging "the imponderable" of the Chelsea effect.

But, according to Silkman, Chelsea are themselves waiting to move players on before they buy others. "For them it is not so much reducing the size of the squad as continually improving it. Quality rather than quantity," he says.

Deals are also becoming more complex. "There will not be many permanent transfers," Silkman says. "Only two or three clubs are planning anything at all. People are simply trying to lend players. Each club are asking themselves whether they can afford a squad of 25 or 30 players. Now they want to get players in on loan before deciding whether they want them permanently - in case they get relegated or whatever. Loans take the pressure off and, in some cases, the club the player is coming from are prepared to contribute to the wages."

It is a view endorsed by Pini Zahavi, an associate of Silkman's, who was closely involved in Chelsea's summer spree. He says: "There won't be anything too serious. There will be transactions, but they will be relatively small. You will not see clubs spending big, big money. The January window is really a time for the clubs at the bottom of the table to try to bring in some new players to help them fight for survival. They will only spend small money or maybe use loans. The big clubs always wait until the summer to do the major deals."

Unsurprisingly, agents such as Silkman are opposed to the window - and not just because it means less work for them. "It's a big problem for the smaller clubs," he says. "Portsmouth have a team good enough to stay in the Premiership but only if everyone stays fit. And that hasn't happened. Take Gary Megson - he did an unbelievable job last year taking West Brom up. What he didn't realise is how good a player you then need to stay there.

"At the same time he wanted those who had got promotion to be given a chance. After six or seven games he knew changes needed to be made, but he couldn't do anything until January, by which time they were too far adrift. So the chairman isn't then going to be willing to spend money in the knowledge that they are almost certainly already relegated. Clubs such as Millwall and Walsall are also penalised because they may have a player attracting Premiership interest but by the time the transfer window opens, priorities have changed."

Silkman adds: "It has also made the market more intense. During June, July, August and January I spent 60 hours a week on the phone. From one Saturday to the next Saturday in August I spent 72 hours on my mobile alone." This January, it may be a little quieter.

Shop so you don't drop: What might be on offer in the Premiership window

Arsenal

Wanted: Striker and possibly a defender.

In: Jose Reyes (price may be a problem), Patrick Kluivert, Stephen Carr (but will probably wait until summer).

Out: Sylvain Wiltord (otherwise will receive Bosman in summer), Efstathios Tavlaridis (loan).

They say: "I will not be on the market. Not at all." - Arsène Wenger.

Aston Villa

Wanted: "Proven" striker and defender.

In: Tomasz Radzinski or Michael Bridges, Michael Dawson.

Out: Danny Jackman, but may gamble on selling Juan Pablo Angel or Darius Vassell to finance other deals.

They say: "I don't think there will be a great deal of funds. I am not making an issue. It's a fact of life." - David O'Leary.

Birmingham City

Wanted: Striker (on loan), especially with Christophe Dugarry injured.

In: Mikael Forssell (loan made permanent) or, maybe, John Hartson.

Out: Luciano Figueroa.

They say: "There is no desperate need for us to go out and spend hugely." - chairman David Gold.

Blackburn Rovers

Wanted: At least one striker and central defender.

In: "Two new players" still needed to replace Duff. "A left-sided player is the top priority". Salomon Olembe (loan).

Out: Corrado Grabbi, Matt Jansen, Sebastian Pelzer.

They say: "I'm going to have to look abroad but that is a risk. There is nothing in the lower leagues." - Graeme Souness.

Bolton Wanderers

Wanted: Defenders, cover for Jay-Jay Okocha, another goalkeeper.

In: Johan Mjallby or Carlos Gamarra (on loan), Donovan Ricketts, Ibrahim Ba (contract offered).

Out: No one.

They say: "If we have to do some wheeling and dealing we will, but there won't be any major coups. There's an awful lot of financial constraints going on." - assistant manager Phil Brown.

Charlton Athletic

Wanted: Defensive cover - loans are likely option - maybe a striker.

In: Petri Pasanen, and may gamble on Preston striker Ricardo Fuller.

Out: No one. Paul Konchesky already recalled from Tottenham.

They say: "If some players aren't back [from injury] by the end of January, I'll have to think seriously." - Alan Curbishley.

Chelsea

Wanted: Striker, cover in central defence, at right-back and for Damien Duff.

In: Roberto Ayala (right). May reactivate interest in Christian Vieri.

Out: Would love to offload Winston Bogarde.

They say: "Mr Abramovich has given me control of his chequebook, and I don't think I'll be getting it out too much." - acting chief executive Paul Smith.

Everton

Wanted: Creative midfielder, defensive reinforcements.

In: Christian Basilla (but only if swap can be arranged with Alex Nyarko).

Out: Alex Nyarko, Tomasz Radzinski, David Unsworth.

They say: "It is in defence where we are a little bit short." - David Moyes.

Fulham

Wanted: Striker.

In: Moritz Volz (loan made permanent), Dado Prso, Olivier Kapo or John Hartson if Louis Saha is sold, Bobby Peta.

Out: Louis Saha.

They say: "I want to bring some fresh blood in to add to the quality we have already got. I have got a bit more leeway on the amount of money I have to spend than I did in August." - Chris Coleman.

Leeds United

Wanted: Reinforcements in every area - especially attack.

In: No one - unless a buyer arrives soon.

Out: Mark Viduka (maybe to Internazionale), Michael Bridges, some of the loan signings.

They say: "We are not looking to sell." - chief executive Trevor Birch.

Leicester City

Wanted: Central defender, midfield cover.

In: Alexei Yeremenko, Nikos Dabizas, Chris Hall - all loans or free transfers.

Out: No one.

They say: "There is no money to spend on players for the rest of this season." - Micky Adams.

Liverpool

Wanted: Central defender, striker (but will wait for Djibril Cissé), goalkeeper.

In: Fode Mansare, Logan Bailly. There is speculation that they may take an expensive gamble on Marc Overmars.

Out: Bruno Cheyrou (loan), Stephane Henchoz, Abel Xavier (contract terminated). Possibly Jerzy Dudek.

They say: "My two most important new players in January will be Jamie Carragher and Milan Baros." - Gérard Houllier.

Manchester City

Wanted: Goalkeeper.

In: Robert Green.

Out: Darren Huckerby. Would love to offload Robbie Fowler.

They say: "A few could go if people come in with the right offers." - Kevin Keegan.

Manchester United

Wanted: Striker.

In: Louis Saha or Mark Viduka, Dong Fangzhuo. May bid for Gareth Souhgate.

Out: Fabien Barthez, Nicky Butt (if he is worried over Euro 2004 place), possibly Diego Forlan (swap deal with Southgate).

They say: "Sir Alex has said it. We don't tend to do a great deal in January as he wants to get his squad together for a new season." - chief executive David Gill.

Middlesbrough

Wanted: Striker, central midfielder.

In: Andy Cole, Nicky Butt (but would be very expensive and demand high wages). Possibly Diego Forlan.

Out: Stewart Downing, maybe Joseph Desiré Job. Posibly Gareth Southgate, Massimo Macarone (loan).

They say: "It's the right time to bring in one or two additions. They have to be the right players, though." - Steve McClaren.

Newcastle United

Wanted: Right-back, striker.

In: Michael Ball or, if possible, Stephen Carr. Would like Alan Smith (left). Don't rule out surprise bid for Henrik Larsson.

Out: Hugo Viana (loan - although Newcastle insist he will stay), Andy Griffin, maybe Nolberto Solano (as makeweight in Carr deal). Keeper Steve Harper.

They say: "If it was financially possible, we still could do with two players." - Sir Bobby Robson.

Portsmouth

Wanted: Striker, attacking midfielder. Would love to buy John Hartson.

In: Nigel Reo-Coker, Richard Duffy, Spartak Moscow's Igor Mitrevski.

Out: Sebastian Schemmel.

They say: "We just can't cope and have to get a couple of frees and a couple of loans." - Harry Redknapp.

Southampton

Wanted: Midfield and goalkeeping cover.

In: Martin Rowlands, Paul Smith.

Out: Anders Svensson, Paul Jones, Brett Ormerod.

They say: "Unless something exceptional happens I don't see me bringing anyone else in." - Gordon Strachan.

Tottenham Hotspur

Wanted: Goalkeeper, ball-winning midfielder, but Michael Brown's recruit-ment from Sheffield United will help.

In: Michael Brown (£500,000), David Pizarro, Diego, Nolberto Solano. May attempt to sign Nicky Butt.

Out: Stephen Carr (do not want another Sol Campbell), Kazuyuki Toda, Jonathan Blondel (loan).

They say: "If appropriate opportunities are available we will consider them. The amount we spent last summer was second only to Chelsea, and is not something which is sustainable." - chairman Daniel Levy.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wanted: Striker.

In: Marc Bircham, Michael Gray (loan), Viorel Ganea (loan).

Out: Silas.

They say: "I have one or two players in mind." - Dave Jones.

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