Money from Mexico & China changes climate of winter window

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Spain’s most expensive: Argentina international Enzo Perez joined Valencia from Benfica for €25m.

The fever around the transfer market now seems as big a part of football as the action on the pitch. Intense interest, rampant rumour and huge fees dominate the discourse about the world’s most popular sport.

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Scanning the back pages of newspapers in Europe on Tuesday will see the permeating influence of the winter market. Hours of live TV were dedicated to the movers and shakers on deadline day, although there wasn’t as much action as anticipated.

Since the 2002-03 season, the introduction of the window system has provided another high point in the calendar. Its evolution has charted the rise of new superpowers and reflected ever-changing economic realities.

One near constant has been the preeminence of the English Premier League. Boosted by the enormous collective TV deal and rising commerical income, the 20 clubs set the course for the rest. Again this January, Colombia winger Juan Cuadrado’s move to leaders Chelsea from Florentina was the highlight in a relatively quiet window.

Almost without fail the EPL have set the benchmark in previous January windows. The €266 million (Dh1.1bn) spent in January 2011 remains the highest mark ever recorded by a distance, this figure boosted enormously by the triumvirate of inter-connected deals featuring Andy Carroll (€41m), Luis Suarez (€26.5m) and Fernando Torres (€58.5m).

Where the Premier League lead the rest follow, according to Hamburg director of professional football Peter Knabel. He said: “For us, it is important to see the influence of the English market. 

“The target of this winter period is to stablise and not to try and solve everything in the last minute. You want to start the planning at the earliest possible moment. England makes the world go round in the transfer window. In Germany, the continuity is really important.” 

A scan at the current highspenders table shows the flux that the game finds itself in. As of Monday night on database transfermarkt.com, the Premier League was way in front on €144m (Dh600m). Spain has bucked a recently frugal trend because of the country’s faltering economy to sit in third. This was thanks to the new riches lavished on Valencia by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, the acquisition of Enzo Perez from Benfica at €25m (Dh103.6m) the largest fee paid.

Italy is fifth on €79m (Dh329m), with Germany just behind on €74m (Dh308) after Andre Schurrle’s €32m (Dh133m) move to Wolfsburg from Chelsea.

The crash in the value of the Russian ruble has seen the nation fall dramatically down the standings from the days when Suleyman Kerimov was spending his fortune on Anzhi Makhachkala. The sizeable €35m (Dh145m) fee paid to Shakhtar Donetsk for Willian in 2013 – now of Chelsea – looking a relic of a more affluent past.

Significant usurpers exist beyond the usual names, with China second on €80m (Dh333m). Italy duo Alberto Gilardino and Alessandro Diamanti departed on loan for Fiorentina, but Guangzhou Evergrande aggressively rebounded. A national record €15m (Dh62.1m) offer secured Brazil hope Ricardo Goulart, with compatriot Alan was recruited from Red Bull Salzburg for €11m (Dh45.5m). 

What has changed markedly this year has been the activity of other sides, including Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Shanghai SIPG bringing handsomely-paid Argentine Dario Conca back to the country and highly-rated Zambia centre-back Stoppila Sunzu joining Shanghai Shenhua from Sochaux.

Dario Conca has returned to China

“There have been plenty of big name signings in the past three or four years, though perhaps there is a growing variety in the teams that are splashing the cash,” Asian football expert John Duerden said. “With the growing economic strength in China there is more money around and more companies and individuals able to invest.

“Some, like Zhu Jun who owned Shanghai Shenhua and signed Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba did so, at least partly, to promote other businesses such as online games. Others like Xu Jiayin, owner of Evergrande, made his money in property – now, the club is half-owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba. There is certainly the case of some people involved in football spending money for political reasons in order to win friends and influence people.” 

The story is repeated in Mexico, with €67.5m (Dh279m) of expenditure occuring. The domestic market has been closed since December 18, though foreign business could be done until Monday. It is Roque Santa Cruz’s recruitment by Cruz Azul from Malaga that raised eyebrows.

Guadalajara-based ESPN contributor Tom Marshall expects more recruits of a similar standard to the ex-Bayern Munich and Manchester City striker to make their way to Mexico in the coming years. He said: “Probably one of the lesser-known elements of Mexican football is the amount of money floating around. Pachuca and Leon are owned by the world’s richest person in Carlos Slim and many other teams are backed by major players in the Mexican economy.

“If I was to make a future prediction, it would be that Mexico will attract more Europe-based players. The Liga MX has the ability to match and even better the wages of some European leagues.”

“Mexico will attract more Europe-based players. The Liga MX has the ability to match and even better the wages of some European leagues.”

Financial Fair Play has played a key role since coming into force in 2011 as UEFA attempted to make clubs live within their means. Proponents say it creates a fairer playing field, while critics like Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho complain it acts as “as a big protection to the historical big old clubs”.

A freezing effect is clear when analysing the Premier League. After 2011, the figure dropped dramatically to €89.8m in 2011. Dubai-based agent David Fenwick believes another factor was at play, clubs now regulating their behaviour to focus on the better pickings available in the summer.

“I’m not sure if it’s been a conscious decision because of FFP,” he said. “Maybe lessons have been learnt about what you can get in winter, and that unless you are desperate it is better to wait.

“Usually, there is a hint of desperation to it as the really top players are not available mid-season.”

Finally, spare a thought for the players. Although they’re paid handsomely in the big leagues, their lives are always on the brink of being turned upside down. Hamburg’s Rafael van der Vaart knows the feeling well, traded to Tottenham from Real Madrid in the final throes of the summer 2010 window. “You never know in football,” he said. “The best thing is if the move comes earlier. But you never know

“You accept it and try to find a new house. What is strange is that you leave your house, and never come back.”

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Why deadline day proved an anti-climatic affair

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Early business: Wilfried Bony joined Manchester City more than two weeks ago.

When Robert Huth and Yakubu are the two biggest (and not just in terms of frame) movers, you’ve know it’s been a quiet deadline day.

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With last night curiously missing the frenetic spending and rumours of previous windows, here are some reasons for the relative inactivity.

Clubs are learning

Buying on deadline day in winter doesn’t imply any long-term planning, it tends to reveal blind panic, hence why it’s either relegation threatened clubs or those grossly under-performing who tend to get involved.

Due to the hysteria, players are over-priced and overrated and clubs scratch around for whoever they can get, rather than who they necessarily need. It’s a lottery.

Kevin Kempl was one of many players to have secured moves early in the transfer window.

Most of the bigger deals in this window were completed at the beginning of the month: Wilfried Bony to Manchester City (January 14), Enzo Perez to Valencia (January 2) and Kevin Kampl to Borussia Dortmund (January 1). Seydou Doumbia arrived at Roma from CSKA Moscow relatively late (January 31) but that was motivated by Mattia Destro leaving to Milan on loan and an element of opportunism, due to the weakness of the rouble.

It’s admirable that clubs, particularly in England, tend to be learning from previous mishaps (Fernando Torres being the daddy of them all) and are keeping their powder dry until the summer, when prices will be more realistic.

Availability in the summer

With clubs becoming reluctant to buy in January, they’d also rather sell in June, July or August than half-way through a campaign as such disruption could have serious ramifications on a season.

Aymeric Laporte (l) has been linked with a move away from Athletic Bilbao.

Unlike January, which presents a club with a maximum of four weeks to cover any departures, the summer window is a relatively stress-free three months to reinforce.

Marcos Reus is destined to leave Dortmund this summer with his €25 million (Dh104m) release clause. BVB, theoretically, could have got more now, but with a relegation battle to fight, and Champions League football to contest, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and the rest will have to wait.

Edinson Cavani is also unsettled at PSG and likely to be on the move, but the French giants are lagging in the Ligue 1 title race and it would represent a huge risk to sell the Uruguayan striker.

Athletic Bilbao’s young centreback Aymeric Laporte is another staying put as his €30m + valuation looks to have put suitors off at this stage, given the likely amount of time he’ll need to integrate to a new league. It just seems more sensible to spend that sort of money on a 20-year-old in pre-season. 

At present there will also be a raft of tempting free transfers available this summer – Sami Khedira, James Milner, Andre Ayew, Dani Alves, Yevhen Konoplyanka are all out of contract – which is sure to have influenced policy.

Financial Fair Play bites

UEFA are cracking down on clubs which overspend with their Financial Fair Play policy.

Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have had their wings clipped by UEFA and despite their protests it has clearly had an effect, given the relatively modest spends – compared to previous windows – by both clubs since the summer.

But it’s not only City and PSG who are under scrutiny. Liverpool, Monaco, Inter and Roma are among seven clubs being investigated by UEFA based on the financial year 2012-13, with concerns over their spending during that period against revenues.

It’s easy to mock UEFA and claim they don’t go after the ‘big clubs’ but the €60m fines (€40m suspended) imposed on City and PSG, plus the squad reductions have sent a warning.

City and PSG are two clubs who can absorb such heavy punishments but for the above quartet, such sanctions would significantly damage their ability in the market.

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Al Ahli sign Brazil star Ribeiro

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Stepping-up: Everton Ribeiro has put the finishing touches to his move from Cruzeiro

Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ahli expect to complete their stunning swoop for Brazil star Everton Ribeiro “within the next 24 hours.”

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Ribeiro, 25, was pictured arriving in Dubai on Thursday to put the finishing touches to his move from Cruzeiro. The playmaker has now consented to a four-year contract, with an official announcement to follow once all the documentation is completed.

Details of the arrangement have not been made public yet, though a €9 million (Dhs 37m) fee  for 60 percent of the player’s transfer rights was reported in the Brazilian media.

“Everton arrived in Dubai in the last few days and we are confident that something will be announced within 24 hours,” a senior Ahli source said.

“A four-year deal has been agreed.”

The Red Knights fought off reported interest from Serie A giants AC Milan in the player, who has been heavily recruited by numerous European clubs since his breakout 2013 campaign.

Ribeiro has been the shining light in the Cruzeiro team that has lifted the last two Brasileirao titles, being named Premio Craque do Brasileirao (Brazilian Player of the Year) in both seasons.

He has made three appearances for the Selecao since being handed his international debut off the substitute’s bench in September’s 1-0 friendly win against Colombia.

Manchester United were linked last term, with Ligue 1 upstarts Monaco also attempting to recruit him in previous windows.

The new purchase means that Ahli now hold five foreign players, one outside the regulated quota. No definite decision has been made by the management and coaching staff yet on who will make way for their new signing despite repeated rumours linking club captain Grafite with the exit door.

Ribeiro will be the second eye-catching recruit for Ahli in the winter transfer market after signing Morocco winger Oussama Assaidi from Liverpool. Ahli hope the pair will add much-needed creativity and youth to a team that has gone from treble winners to sixth place in the Arabian Gulf League table.

Assaidi has already showed signs of the ingenuity he will provide, a video clip being posted on the Red Knights Twitter account of his mesmorising dribbling skills during Friday’s friendly loss to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Cosmin Olaroiu’s charges resume their stuttering AGL campaign with the visit of relegation-threatened Sharjah to Rashid Stadium on Wednesday. It is hoped that Ribeiro will be registered in time to make his debut.

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