LONDON - Europe's major clubs are beginning to tighten their belts before the introduction of UEFA's new Financial Fair Play rules, analysts surveyed during the January transfer window have told Reuters.
Unless there are a string of major transfers in the next few days before the deadline at midnight on Monday, the total spent on deals this month will be among the lowest since the windows were introduced in 2003.
In essence, UEFA's new financial rules mean that from 2013-14 clubs must break even - only spending the money they generate - or risk the ultimate sanction of facing exclusion from the Champions and Europa Leagues.
But UEFA's tighter controls start to take effect from June 1 this year and the first sanctions against clubs not fulfilling the break-even requirement can be taken during the 2013-14 season based on financial information submitted by clubs from next season.
There has been a decline in transfers across the continent, with just two major deals taking place so far in the English Premier League, the richest in the world:
Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko moving from VL Wolfsburg to Manchester City for a figure in the region of £30 million, according to British media, and England striker Darren Bent's move from Sunderland to Aston Villa for a fee which could rise to £24 million.
Giorgio Brambilla of the Italian branch of the sports marketing consultancy Sport+Markt, told Reuters: "I don't think there have been any great opportunities to buy top players in January but also clubs are paying more attention to their budgets with Financial Fair Play not so long away. They are starting early."
"Definitely some of the not so big clubs are boosting their income now so that they can start financial Fair Play on a strong footing," added Brambilla.
Alex Byars, senior analyst in Deloitte's sports business group told Reuters: "We see the Fair Play rules having some impact in taking some of the heat out of the market but they are only one of a number of reasons for the fact we are seeing fewer high value transfers.
"For some clubs the availability of credit is still quite tough and we have seen historically that the January window sales are low in comparison with the summer.
"But any spending in the current window will have an impact on the year-end results for next year and beyond, when the Fair Play rules come into play."
Christian Seifert, the chief executive of the German league (DFL) told Reuters the transfer market as well as players' wages are being affected by the advent of the new rules.
"It should be the logical consequence that transfers do not grow endlessly and the spiralling income of players starts to drop a bit. It is not as if they cannot play as good if they earn a million euros less per year.
"We support this financial fair play guideline not because they are along the lines of the Bundesliga but because that is the right way to go for football in Europe.
"It is a big industry and the way to the future should have balanced profit-loss statements and not produce huge losses."
SLOW SERIE A
While deals have been slow in England and Germany, there has been a little more movement in Italy and Spain - although nothing compared to previous years.
Serie A leaders AC Milan have been busy, bringing in Sampdoria and Italy striker Antonio Cassano and Dutch duo Mark Van Bommel and Urby Emanuelson.
Champions Inter Milan have so far only recruited Genoa centre back Andrea Ranocchia but they hope to sign a forward before the window shuts with Sampdoria's Giampaolo Pazzini looking the favourite, although they will not overpay.
In Spain, Malaga, with their newly installed Qatari owner, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani, have been by far the most active Spanish club this month, bringing in Brazil forward Julio Baptista, Argentina defender Martin Demichelis and midfielder Ignacio Camacho, among others, although both Real Madrid and Barcelona have also been active.
Barcelona have bolstered their already superb squad with Netherlands midfielder Ibrahim Afellay, who joined for 3 million euros on a four-and-a-half year contract from PSV Eindhoven.
Howver, Angel Barajas, associate professor of financial management at the University of Vigo in northern Spain told Reuters that because of various loopholes over the next few seasons UEFA's rules still allow some leeway until they are fully implemented.
"In my opinion, UEFA's measures could have a positive effect in controlling prices for player transfers and the wages they are paid. This seems to be their aim.
"Nonetheless, it seems to me that they have not gone as far as they should. There appears to be a get-out clause that will continue to render the market over-valued.
"In concrete terms, article 61.2 allows clubs to run a deficit of up to 45 million euros until 2015 and up to 30 million until 2018.
"This implies that some magnate or investor group could appear at any time and 'artificially' inject cash into clubs with the aim of strengthening it with the best players.
"When you have more than one club acting in that way the prices will tend to be high. In Spain, we have seen what happened with Malaga in the January transfer window.
"The transfer market could find itself restricted mainly because of financial woes, which are widespread across the economy, more than by UEFA's new rules.
"Nonetheless, they seem to be a big step forward and I hope we see their impact soon."comments