The January transfer window opens on Saturday with very high potential and prices as clubs look to potentially transformative 31 days.
Whether it’s talking to executives, agents and middlemen, here are the trends we expect for next month.
Everyone wants to know what Newcastle will do
There’s one club that comes up in every conversation with transfer insiders about what’s going to happen in January – and they feature scouts, agents, executives and rival club owners across the continent.
The Saudi-backed Newcastle United takeover makes them the club to watch in January, with rivals eager to see what the club’s theoretical wealth means in practice.
“Expect them to get really big if the conversations I’ve heard are correct,” says an agent I.
Others say Newcastle have moved away from deals for which they have been charged significant fees. An investigation into a South American international playing in Europe resulted in costs of more than £ 40million, prompting the Magpies to pull out. “We still don’t know exactly how much money they need to spend,” said another intermediary.
When the business plan was initially submitted to the Premier League, PIF planned to bolster Newcastle’s transfer budget by £ 50million for each of the first five transfer windows (in addition to TV money and sales of players). This suggests that while a substantial investment is underway, they will also need to be smart.
The club themselves have projected a more realistic vision in private, tempering expectations of big European stars coming to the club and instead stressing that Newcastle need seasoned players ready to ‘plug in and play’.
“We know it’s important to get things done quickly,” an insider said I. “There has been a lot of work behind the scenes for weeks now. “
The added factor is the need to get the idea across to the plethora of middlemen offering them players and deals they won’t pay too much for, no matter what funds they have. Minority owners Amanda Staveley, Jamie Reuben and Mehrdad Ghodoussi are at the forefront of transactions – new to this world but described as “sharp” by a negotiator I spoken – but how will the power lines to the PIF work?
Previously, BIPs needed a signature and their “process-oriented” approach slowed some movement. The club needs these processes to be smoother and more agile.
One thing all observers agree on is that they will have to pay more than the “going rate” to bring in their players.
“Newcastle are in the relegation zone, they have to do something – which will probably be to put some weight on the transfer market – but every club in the world knows that,” Jeremy Steele, owner of Analytics FC, the powerhouse football analysis, tells I.
“So it’s almost like the Man City factor and Chelsea. They were paying on the odds for the players to put themselves in a stronger position. There has always been a Premier League bonus, where clubs pay more if they are are English to good foreign players, but Newcastle can add their own bonus to that now.
An agreement for Kieran Trippier is being drawn up and I understands that things are at an “advanced” stage. It would be a huge transfer for Newcastle which would give them momentum to work with the rest of the month and a world-class player to attract other targets.
Interestingly, insiders believe the deal will come with relegation clauses that would give Trippier (and his new club) an “exit” at a certain price if relegated to the championship. The club might be forced to swallow more clauses like this to get the moves they want.
Manchester United could open up possibilities
The appointment of Ralf Rangnick opens up prospects for the Red Devils, who have made important moves during the summer and who – according to an agent – will be “big players” during the winter trading period.
Exits may determine how they attack in January, but Rangnick is said to want a defensive midfielder who can bolster his favorite system, which has – so far – failed to trigger.
Anthony Martial’s departure seems inevitable, even if it must work for the Red Devils. Jesse Lingard and Dean Henderson are others to watch, although the former may end up staying at Old Trafford out the window.
It is understood that Manchester United’s board will ‘support’ Rangnick in the transfer window: he benefits from years of in-depth data-driven European market research. Bringing in the right kind of player shouldn’t be a problem.
Will the impact of Brexit finally be felt?
In a move that has gone under the radar but will matter, the Premier League has decided to extend its work permit “exceptions panel” – which was due to end in the summer – until January.
While internationals or players who play regularly in the Big Five will get permits without too much of a problem, Brexit rules have made it much harder to find European ‘good deals’.
The presence of the ‘exceptions board’ – which costs clubs £ 5,000 to meet but can obtain work permits for clubs outside the strict rules – could be a lifeline for some transactions. This is how Manchester United got a permit for Rangnick.
Brexit is having a big impact on screening at big clubs and those in football expect big changes in where clubs look for signings. Keep an eye out for South America, Steele says.
“The biggest thing I can’t wait to see is how the clubs deal with Brexit and the new UK regulations,” he said.
“Are Premier League clubs nimble enough to pivot where the real opportunity lies: South America?” I think right now it’s probably going to take them a few more seasons to get their seats and become drivers of this market, but it’s inevitable.
Covid gives Premier League extra power
Premier League clubs will get their next installment of TV revenue ahead of the January transfer window, giving them a chance to flex their financial muscles in a market where Covid has strengthened their market grip.
Players like Boubacar Kamara, Marseille’s talented defensive midfielder, are actively peddled in Premier League clubs. Other clubs in Europe are using agencies to find buyers to get their top players to pay the bills.
“The Premier League has been a bit isolated, but I think there has been an underestimation of how hard Covid has hit the rest of Europe,” said Steele – who has extensive knowledge of the markets Europeans -.
“The clubs are in trouble.”
Ferran Torres’ Barcelona deal, however, indicated that some would continue to borrow money and find a way – even if it seems implausible from the outside.
There are “agreements to be made”
Most believe it will be a fairly quiet window from the pre-Covid era. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be movement and agents are convinced there is still a buyer’s market for English clubs.
“I think it will be rather calm, but there will be some big transfers,” said Steele.
Loans, pre-contracts and the European market open up “possibilities” for clubs agile enough to seize them. And agents refer to Everton and West Ham as other clubs looking to get out of the blocks quickly in January.
The bottom fell from the market
“It’s a very strange market right now,” said one executive I. “A good proportion of players are still under a pre-Covid contract which has years to run.
“They know they won’t get the money they’re currently on, so they’re sitting tight, even if that means not playing. And clubs can’t dump their squad because of it.
“The market will reset naturally, but it will take until the end of all of these contracts for that to happen.”
There is – an executive who spoke to I said – “zero money” in the EFL. This means there is no escape for disgraced players, unless clubs heavily subsidize their wages or allow them to go out on loan.
With the exception of a few star men who are highly sought after in the championship, don’t expect any major moves in this division – except for clubs which are still cashing in parachute money.
The first two won’t do much for the summer
A Premier League club executive has estimated his budget to be around £ 10-15million for the window and that’s probably pretty typical of the kind of deals most top clubs will be looking at.
January is notoriously a tough market with higher prices and more resistance to selling top players due to the difficulty in finding replacements. This is why Liverpool, recognized as one of the best recruiters in the industry, tend to do their business in the summer.
Few people expect the Reds or Manchester City to do anything, with all the efforts for the summer and “potential blockbusters” – to quote one agent – to come.
“Someone is going to sign Mbappe and someone is going to sign Erling Haaland,” said an executive. “Work on these deals will take place now – with clubs looking for replacements as well.”