Do Clubs That Spend More In January Finish The Season Better?

Football Business MoneyThere has, for a long time, always been somewhat of an unhealthy stigma about the January transfer window – especially for Premier League clubs who historically appear to be the most active.

As a result, it means that they get held to ransom by European clubs who recognise the urgency of situations and are able to often exploit them by negotiating a higher fee. Furthermore, clubs in the Premier League have always traditionally had more to spend than most clubs across Europe.

So, for many clubs who decide to buy in January, it is usually an indicator that their season hasn’t gone to plan so far, which can be reflected by a number of reasons. This could be due to having not spent in the summer, spending on the wrong players, poor form or injuries which affected their league position by the end of December.

Over the years, there have been some notable deals in January, and each one has often broken the record of the previous year.

A number of gems have been unearthed in past January transfer windows, though, for relatively low fees – Manchester United’s capture of both Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic in January 2006 proved to be a masterstroke, each player being pivotal to multiple Premier League title triumphs and a Champions League conquest.

With more and more money in the game now, over the last few years, £60 million+ deals for players have essentially become the ‘norm’, and this trend will likely continue over the foreseeable future.

However, the January transfer window also got us thinking how much of a difference there is in terms of league position for clubs that spend more in January when compared to their summer spend.

Below, we explore some examples of when this has happened over the last couple of decades and how much of an effect it ultimately had on their season, starting with the earliest.

Arsenal: 2003/04

jose antonio reyes
Gabrielcorbachobermejo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps one of the most exciting Premier League seasons, despite going the whole season undefeated and adopting the ‘Invincibles’ nickname, Arsenal were actually second in the league by the time the January transfer window opened, trailing fierce rivals Manchester United by just one point.

In the summer, they had a very modest spend of approximately £6 million, bringing in Philippe Senderos, Gael Clichy and most notably goalkeeper Jens Lehman from Borussia Dortmund.

However, when the opportunity presented itself to sign one of Spain’s most highly-regarded youngsters that January, Arsene Wenger jumped at the chance, bringing in 20-year-old winger Jose Antonio Reyes from Sevilla for an initial £10 million plus £7 million in add-ons. A considerable fee at the time.

Reyes added to the quality of the team and made some contributions during the second half of the season, with Arsenal finishing as champions.

Liverpool: 2010/11

luis suarez playing for liverpool against chelsea
Kenneth, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Merseyside club have actually been involved in some standout January transfer windows over the years, though arguably none more so than in the 2010/11 season.

In the summer, they spent £27.5 million, most notably Raul Meireles from FC Porto, which saw the club hovering in mid-table (10th) when the January transfer window opened.

However, a remarkable outlay of £57.8 million saw them splash out on strikers Andy Carroll (£35 million) from Newcastle United and Luis Suarez (£22.8 million) from Ajax. As a result, the team’s form vastly improved in the months that followed – Suarez having an instant impact as he helped to fire the club to a sixth-placed finish.

Suarez would go on to play a major role for the club, becoming one of the best signings Liverpool made during that period as they agonisingly missed out on lifting the Premier League trophy under manager Brendan Rodgers in the 2013/14 season. Undoubtedly he is the club’s best January signing in recent times.

Chelsea: 2010/11

fernando torres playing for chelsea in 2012 club world cup
Christopher Johnson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The same season saw Chelsea involved in a couple of big January transfer window deals, ultimately funding Liverpool’s spending. While in the summer, they brought in Ramires (£18.3 million) from Benfica and Yossi Benayoung (£5 million) from Liverpool, the club was fifth by the time the January transfer window opened.

There followed a sensational £50 million swoop for Liverpool striker Fernando Torres in addition to the £25 million capture of centre-back David Luiz from Benfica.

Despite his electric form for Liverpool, Torres failed to have much of an impact at Stamford Bridge, largely down to Chelsea’s considerably different style of play. However, it saw the Blues improve considerably in the latter half of the campaign, finishing the season in 2nd place.

The club’s January business essentially laid the foundations for what followed. A season later, Chelsea won the Champions League – Luiz and Torres being a key part of the campaign while they then won two Premier League titles under returning manager Jose Mourinho.

Newcastle United: 2021/22

bruno guimaraes warms up for newcastle before a game
SonoGrazy, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The most notable recent case was that of the Magpies. Rumours of previous owner Mike Ashley selling the club had been doing the rounds for many months; however, midway through the first half of the season saw them sensationally taken over by the Saudi Public Investment Fund – overnight making Newcastle United the richest club in world football.

After a spend of £26.5 million in the summer transfer window, which saw them just bring in midfielder Joe Willock from Arsenal, this had little impact, and by the end of December, the club was 19th in the Premier League.

However, armed with essentially a bottomless pit of money, it was all change in January. Former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe had been brought in as manager a couple of months earlier, and this, in turn, led to one of their biggest transfer windows for a few years.

A total spend of £91.9 million saw them bring in four players in key positions. Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes was signed from Lyon for £37.9 million, while this deal was followed by full-back Kieran Trippier, who arrived from Atletico Madrid for £13.5 million. Centre-back Dan Burn joined from Brighton for £13.5 million, while proven goalscorer Chris Wood made the move north from relegation rivals Burnley for £27 million.

This activity led to a significant improvement in form, coupled with a ‘feel good factor’ that surrounded St James’ Park that saw the club finish 11th in the Premier League.

ClubSeasonSummer Transfer SpendJanuary PositionJanuary Transfer SpendSeason Finish
Arsenal2003/04£6 million2nd£10 million (£7 million in add-ons)1st
Liverpool2010/11£27.5 million10th£57.8 million6th
Chelsea2010/11£23.3 million5th£75 million2nd
Newcastle United2021/22£26.5 million19th£91.9 million11th

When The January Transfer Window Goes Spectacularly Wrong

todd boehly
Eric van den Brulle, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While the January transfer window can go right for clubs, there have also been many instances where this has backfired in a major way.

Most recently, following Todd Boehly’s takeover of Chelsea, the club’s spending has been almost unprecedented. In the summer of 2022, following his takeover, the American immediately sanctioned £251 million worth of deals that also saw manager Graham Potter join from Brighton.

Nine players (plus one on loan) joined the club – the standout ones being Raheem Sterling from Manchester City for £47.5 million, centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli for £33 million, left-back Marc Cucurella from Brighton for £57.5 million, while centre-back Wesley Fofana arrived for a whopping £70  million from Leicester City.

When January came around, the club were languishing in 11th after an underwhelming first half of the campaign. The answer? Throw more money at the problem.

It saw a staggering £323 million worth of cheques written for seven players (plus one on loan) as they smashed their summer outlay. Among those were Argentinian World Cup-winning midfielder Enzo Fernandez, who joined from Benfica for an English record £107 million fee, while Ukrainian winger Mykhailo Mudryk arrived for £88.5 million from Shakhtar Donetsk, and young English wideman Noni Madueke flew in from PSV Eindhoven for £28.5 million. Chelsea finished 12th.

In the same season, Leeds United spent nearly £100 million in the summer on players such as Tyler Adams, Brendan Aaronson and Luis Sinisterra. By the time the January transfer window opened, a position of 13th was quite flattering after many below-par displays.

It saw them spend a club January record in the transfer window, bringing in young forward Georginio Rutter for an initial £25 million (rising to £35 million) from Hoffenheim, centre-back Max Wober for £11 million from fellow Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach, young centre-back Diego Monteiro for an estimated £5 million from Switzerland, while also paying a substantial loan fee to Juventus for USA midfielder Weston McKennie. Such an outlay and the calibre of these signings offered a lot of promise; however, the club’s form went from bad to worse, finishing in 19th and getting relegated from the English top flight.

How Does The January Transfer Window Compare With The Summer Transfer Window?

football cartoon with question markIn recent seasons, for English-based clubs especially, the January transfer window has not been too detrimental when you compare them to other clubs around Europe and the spending power that is available to them.

One of the most notable January transfer deals in recent years for a European-based continental club was that of Philippe Coutinho’s sensational £142 million move to Barcelona in 2018 – a move that proved to be considerably smart business for Liverpool. For nearly half the price (£75 million), they brought in Virgil van Dijk from Southampton, with the Dutchman establishing himself as one of the best centre-backs in the world in the years that followed.

Historically, there are fewer bargains to be had in January as well – selling clubs often inflate the price of players due to there only being a limited amount of time to find an adequate enough replacement.

However, a number of clubs (especially in Europe) also keep an eye on player’s contract situations at Premier League clubs, with those in England able to sign pre-contract agreements with clubs on the continent in January if their contract expires in the summer.

This most notably happened with Paul Pogba when he accepted a pre-contract agreement to return to Juventus from Manchester United in 2022 after he snubbed a new deal with the Premier League club.

How Could The January Transfer Window Evolve Over The Next Few Years?

close up pen graph charts finance moneyWith a considerable influx of money being ploughed into the sport over the last year, we could well see the January transfer window essentially rival the summer transfer windows in terms of financial outlay.

In particular, those clubs in the Saudi Pro League (backed by the Public Investment Fund) are likely to be big spenders, especially when you consider flagship names across Europe who may be seeking lucrative contracts, regardless of whether they are in the twilight years of their career.

The situation at Chelsea remains an interesting prospect, especially from an FFP (Financial Fair Play) perspective, even if Boehly is willing to continue his trend of spending big on players.

Newcastle appear to be taking a much more organic approach, despite having billions to spend, as they focus on making sure that they are able to balance the books. Despite this, if they are able to, the club will have major issues spending 10s of millions on players in January.

Unless any continental clubs become the subject of oil-backed takeovers (such as PSG), January spending in Europe is unlikely to change too much. Even the European elite such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich have had to considerably tighten their financial belts over the last couple of years, especially following the fallout from the global pandemic, which is still having a major effect on club’s finances.

Estimated January Transfer Window Spend In The Premier League (2003-2023)

YearAmount Spent in January
2003£30 Million
2004£50 Million
2005£50 Million
2006£75 Million
2007£60 Million
2008£180 Million
2009£175 Million
2010£20 Million
2011£220 Million
2012£60 Million
2013£120 Million
2014£130 Million
2015£130 Million
2016£180 Million
2017£220 Million
2018£425 Million
2019£180 Million
2020£225 Million
2021£70 Million
2022£290 Million
2023£820 Million
Total (2003-2023)£2.305 Billion

*Estimated Data From BBC Sport

What the above table indicates is that January transfer window spending has been consistently on the rise over the last two decades. Some of the figures reveal obvious explanations.

Following Chelsea’s takeover by (Roman) Abramovich in 2003, it saw spending dramatically increase, not just in the January transfer window, and this had a considerable knock-on effect, allowing other clubs to reinvest this capital. The 2010 January transfer window was a key example of this when Chelsea signed (Fernando) Torres for £50 million, allowing Liverpool to reinvest this with the signings (Luis) Suarez and (Andy) Carroll.

Another obvious explanation for the low spending in the 2021 January transfer window was the global pandemic, which meant that many clubs had significantly less to invest in players – particularly in January.

With the market having substantially recovered (especially in the Premier League), it is likely that further records may continue to be broken. (Todd) Boehly’s takeover of Chelsea in the summer of 2022 was the major factor behind the unprecedented spending in January 2023, while Saudi Arabia and its associated Public Investment Fund will also have a big effect in the years to come.

Ultimately, though, as we have seen, clubs do not usually finish the season better if they spend more in the January transfer window compared to their summer outlay. Newcastle proved that it is definitely possible to improve a potential December relegation situation if they have an influx of cash available, though further up the table, this has proven to be considerably more difficult.

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