Lyons signing shows up sluggish market

Dejan Lovren. Ring any bells? He is a 20-year-old Croatian midfielder. He also happens to be the most expensive transfer of this somnolent transfer window.

Lovren moved from Dinamo Zagreb to Lyons for a fee of £7.2 million, rising to £8.4m, on Thursday. It is not an expensive deal by modern standards, but it nevertheless matches the total sum spent by English clubs in the first half of the window.

At the mid-point last season clubs had spent £60.8m. Jermaine Defoe (Portsmouth-Tottenham, £15.75m), Wayne Bridge (Chelsea-Man City, £12m) and Zoran Tosic (Partizan Belgrade-Man United, £8m) were the main moves. This season the biggest deal is Birmingham's £3m capture of Michel from Sporting Gijon. The signings which have generated most attention, Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell, have not even involved a fee.

With spending in any window weighted towards the last few days, English clubs eventually lashed out £170m last January. This month spending seems unlikely to reach half that figure despite pre-window tales of Birmingham having £40m to spend, West Ham and Portsmouth facing firesales, Chelsea having gone to court for the right to make transfers, and the richest club of all, Manchester City, hiring a new manager.

It seems the recession is having a belated effect. "I don't think a lot of money is going to get spent in January, clubs haven't got it,'' said Phil Gartside, the Bolton chairman. He added: ''Everyone recognises that it is difficult to find the right player in January."

The deal-making will pick up, with Bolton among several clubs looking for recruits, but the new mood of caution suggests there will not be a repeat, for example, of the decision last January by an already heavily-indebted Hull to lavish £5m on Jimmy Bullard.

The restrained market does mean well-run smaller clubs can make an impact. It may be significant that of three £5m-plus deals in Europe to date one is by a French club (Lyons) and another is by a Portuguese (Sporting Lisbon's £5.85m signing of Florent Sinama-Pongolle). The other transfer does involve a big league club, Fiorentina of Serie A, but the intriguing aspect is that they paid £7.1m for Adem Ljajic. A year ago the attacking midfielder was reported to be part of the deal which took Tosic to Old Trafford. It transpired Manchester United had merely agreed an option. When they did not take this up Partizan suggested it was because United did not have the cash. United deny this, hinting at work permit difficulties. Whatever the reason Partizan, even in a slow market, have had little trouble finding a buyer for the 18-year-old.

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