Enzo Fernandez
Enzo Fernandez's arrival at Chelsea from Benfica was completed on transfer deadline day Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC/Getty Images

Weeks after the conclusion of the first winter FIFA World Cup in Qatar, football interests instantly returned to club matters. Whilst the resumption of domestic football has garnered some spotlight, much attention has switched onto the high levels of spending amongst Premier League clubs in the January transfer window, which just slammed shut recently.

The January transfer market is crucial to Premier League clubs as previous years have demonstrated the big-money transactions that can occur. The past five years have seen Virgil van Dijk, Bruno Fernandes, Luis Diaz, Bruno Guimaraes and the recently arrived Chelsea duo of Enzo Fernandez and Mykhailo Mudryk turn out to be some of the (big name) stars who Premier League clubs have splashed out on mid-season.

Chelsea's recent signing of Fernandez for £106.8 million makes him the most expensive purchase from a British club ever. The arrival of the Argentine World Cup winner from Benfica followed a month-long pursuit and occurred shortly after Mudryk joined for another hefty fee of £88.5 million from Shakhtar Donetsk.

Mudryk's signing at the time was the largest an English club had ever spent in January and was part of Chelsea's incredible £323 million spending spree this past month.

Mykhailo Mudryk
Mudryk's arrival at Chelsea comes after long-standing interest from rivals Arsenal Joupin Ghamsari/Chelsea FC/Getty Images

Deloitte's analysis of the 2023 January window states £815 million was spent by Premier League clubs. This is the largest total spend ever in January and almost double the previous record of £430 million from 2018.

This figure obliterated anything the other major European leagues including Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga and Ligue 1 were capable of. Only Ligue 1 managed to spend over £100 million whilst Bundesliga spent £60 million and just £25 million was spent each by La Liga and Serie A.

January for the Premier League has consistently remained a period for lucrative business since the January transfer window was established in 2003.

According to Deloitte, transfer spending by Premier League clubs from 2002-2023 exceeded over £100 million in thirteen windows. This includes ten of the past eleven January markets with the 2021 window the exception. This was an anomaly that was largely due to it being the first window after the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, the finances of clubs were affected negatively and just £70 million was spent.

January 2022 saw the Premier League recover from the financial setbacks of the pandemic and return to high-spending windows habits as a colossal £295 million was spent, the third largest ever. It meant the Premier League recorded an expenditure of transfer incomings of more than £200 million on five occasions in the past seven January windows.

In comparison, the other major European leagues could not get near to the £295 million figure as only Serie A spent over £100 million. Most of the £145 million spent by Italian top-flight clubs was from Juventus paying £62.8 million for Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina.

The year 2018 saw the biggest ever January transfer window at the time as £430 million was splashed out by English top-flight sides. This represented a shift in the level of players brought in. Deals for ready-made top-class additions began taking place mid-season as opposed to just in the summer window. Proven players including van Dijk, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Aymeric Laporte all moved to Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City respectively in winter of 2018. All three clubs recorded their club record transfer fee at the time which saw van Dijk costing Liverpool £75 million, making him then the most expensive defender ever. Arsenal spent £60 million on Aubameyang whilst Laporte cost Man City £57 million.

The high amount of these transfer fees demonstrate clubs are now willing to spend largely in the middle of the season on players to instantly improve their starting eleven. Van Dijk is recognised as a major influence in transforming Liverpool into a highly competitive team and winning the Champions League and Premier League.

This expensive nature of spending is opposed to previous January windows which were often reserved for smaller scale signings. Often these were low-fee signings, loan deals or desperate purchases from teams battling relegation in the Premier League. The top Premier League clubs would often be reluctant to do business due to a lack of quality in the market and clubs not willing to sell key player's mid-season.

This frequently led to quiet windows for those clubs competing near the top as they would wait until the summer to conduct the bulk of their business. Perhaps there was a fear before that players would struggle to settle in mid-season and instantly make a difference, especially at clubs where regular high-quality performances are required.

A rare occasion where Premier League clubs were willing to spend largely on statement signings in January was in 2011. They spent £225 million, the fifth largest total in January transfer windows. Whilst, that amount would not be surprising today, in 2011 it was seen as hefty. It included Chelsea spending £50 million on Fernando Torres and £25 million on David Luiz.

Also, Liverpool paid out the most expensive fee for a British player ever at the time, as they spent £35 million on Andy Carroll. Liverpool also signed Luis Suarez for £22.8 million whilst Man City acquired Edin Dzeko for £27 million.

The two biggest arrivals that January, Torres and Carroll, are regarded as hugely failed transfers. A knock-on effect potentially followed and there is a chance it led clubs to believe making mega singings in January does not work out well. This was proven in the immediate short-term as the following January just £60million was spent by Premier League clubs.

However, January arrivals of the past such as van Dijk, Fernandes, and Guimaraes have shown the positive impact one new player of quality can make to changing the entire outlook of a team. The immediate and successful impact of these players may have been influential to this shift in the January market.

When looking at why Premier League clubs are willing to make expensive signings in January now, the competitiveness of the league and the stakes are a very large factor. The constantly referred to "big six" teams of Man City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham all want to finish in the top four spots so they can qualify for the Champions League.

Additionally, these six clubs also have to consider other clubs which may perform well enough to be in that conversation. Newcastle United are currently enduring a fantastic campaign, and just over a year into having new wealthy owners from Saudi Arabia, may well be a major threat in years to come.

Previous seasons have seen Leicester City and West Ham United remain close to the big clubs and pose a larger threat to them than before. The big clubs are aware they cannot rest on their laurels and may well have to strengthen mid-season. This even means taking from their allocated spending budget from the upcoming summer or having to overpay more for a player that they deem crucial to improving them.

For football clubs, finances are crucial and the prize money for maintaining Premier League status is a large incentive for clubs to perform well on the pitch. According to The Mirror, last season saw all 20 clubs earn rewards of at least £100 million, with champions Man City bringing in the most with £161.3 million. All 20 clubs received roughly £84 million from television rights, with extra payments for clubs depending on how often their matches were broadcast domestically.

Last campaign also had an estimated £2.2 million difference between each place in the final standings in the league table. These financial rewards mean a great deal to clubs so they may be willing to take a risk and improve their squad mid-season to either improve on their position in the table or to try an escape the relegation zone. Relevance and success as a team from having new signings can lead to more matches being broadcasted and greater chances of finishing higher in the table.

This mostly equal distribution of prize money is a resemblance of the strength of the Premier League and how not only the big clubs are in the market to flex their finances with big signings. In contrast other major European leagues do not have the same level of prize money. The Serie A champions of last year, AC Milan, received around £90 million. Additionally, this season's La Liga winner will earn roughly £135 million, a total which the top seven Premier League clubs of last season earned more than.

Last season, Newcastle, fresh from their new investment, acquired Guimaraes, Kieran Trippier, Dan Burn, Matt Targett and Chris Wood to ensure they remained in the Premier League after a disastrous first half of the season.

Going into the Championship would have been catastrophic for them, especially off the back of spending over £90 million in January. It would have been a major step back as they are looking to forge a successful future under their new ownership regime. Their best players would have wanted to leave as they would not want to be in the Championship. Also, relegated clubs get pressured into selling players and may not get as much in return from sales as clubs are aware of their dire situation.

Tottenham Hotspur signed both Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski to help propel them into finishing in the top four places. Playing in the Champions League is important for Tottenham and they need that greater revenue from Champions League participation.

Finances are pivotal with Tottenham as they spent £1.2 billion on their new stadium that opened in 2019. Having this large expenditure followed up by the COVID-19 pandemic, just a year after the stadium opened, led Tottenham to record losses of £63.9 million. Also, Tottenham are not as competitive as other big clubs on the pitch, having not won any silverware since a League Cup triumph in 2008. This is by far the biggest trophy drought amongst the top Premier League clubs.

Champions League football is imperative if they want to keep their top players such as Harry Kane satisfied and willing to stay. This also applies to their manager Antonio Conte, renown as one of the top managers in world football, but also a figure who often stays at clubs for short periods and leaves if he is discontent.

Conte joined Tottenham midway through last season and has a reputation of delivering success in the short term, so Champions League qualification last season was crucial. It made it worth Tottenham signing Bentancur and Kulusevski in January as it boosted their chances mid-season, and they were ultimately successful in finishing in the top four.

According to The Mirror, qualifying for the 2022/2023 Champions League season means clubs such as Tottenham will have pocketed £13.48 million as a starting fee from being in the group stage, whilst wins earned them £2.4 million and draws £802,000. Tottenham's three wins and two draws mean they received an additional £8.8million from this season's group stage campaign. Also, Tottenham successfully advancing from this season's group stages and reaching the round of 16 means they will earn an extra £8.2 million.

This emphasises how vital Champions League football is as Tottenham have already earned roughly £30 million for their campaign in Europe so far. Unsuccessful Champions League qualification last season and entry into the Europa League instead for Tottenham this season would have seen a large drop off in financial earnings. They would have received just £3 million for group stage participation and £527,000 for winning a game.

Ultimately, the risk of failure on the pitch for Premier League clubs is very high now due to the financial implications that could arise from them not meeting their club objectives. In contrast, the reward for meeting your objectives is very lucrative for Premier League clubs now.

Hence, it is worth using the January window as a springboard for success as reaching your goals by the end of the season can mean a great deal to a club's financial state and future. With Premier League clubs having started to do that and do it well with successful additions, the competitiveness amongst the league will continue to build.

The total spending costs for January windows should remain very high amongst Premier League clubs and they will continue to blow other major league's in Europe out the water financially. The glamour of the Premier League is evidently at its highest ever, but it does require spending money to make money. Turning a blind eye to improving through a lack of investment, including now in mid-season, can be very detrimental.