English Premier League clubs wary ahead of January transfer window
Top clubs reluctant to splash out next month, wary of past flops and Uefa financial regulations
Wariness of Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules and concerns about a lack of value in the market mean the Premier League's top clubs will proceed with caution when the January transfer window opens next week.
The arrival of the authorised player trading period gives managers a chance to bolster tiring squads at the season's halfway point. But successful January purchases have been few and far between in recent years.
More notable have been the big-money flops - the result, perhaps, of clubs panicking at the prospect of having to muddle through to May with a squad of players who fail to meet expectations in the first half of the season.
Two of the Premier League's most unsuccessful transfers occurred in January last year. Liverpool shrewdly sold the misfiring Fernando Torres to Chelsea for a British record £50 million (HK$625.4 million), only to squander £35 million on the similarly ineffective Andy Carroll.
The Reds did also acquire Luis Suarez, who has become one of the league's most lethal strikers, but Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson - a reluctant January spender - says it is a bad time to be doing business.
"The January transfer market has never been the best transfer market and that has been proven over the years with very few big transfers happening," he said this month. "All the big transfers happen in the summer."
Ferguson says he is happy with his squad, and with United well clear of defending champions Manchester City at the league summit, there appears little need for him to worry, despite some chronic defensive performances this term.
The onus, therefore, falls on the chasing pack, but Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini could find his attempts to improve his squad frustrated.
City invested massively in new players prior to last season's capture of the top-flight league title for the first time since 1967-68, but there was a tightening of the purse strings before this campaign as the club's Emirati owners sought to balance the books.
Defensive midfielder Javi Garcia was City's most expensive acquisition in the summer, at a reported fee of £17 million from Benfica, but there was no repeat of the lavish spending that had marked the close season in the previous two years.
Chelsea have been linked with Atletico Madrid's all-action Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, who has a release clause in his contract reportedly worth £48 million, but they - like City - must beware the looming shadow of the Financial Fair Play rules.
Uefa's initiative aims to prevent clubs from spending beyond their means, and last week's announcement that indebted Spanish side Malaga will be banned from European competition for one year suggests that the plan may have more teeth than its critics have claimed.
Arsenal find themselves adopting a familiar defensive posture before the transfer window opens. Theo Walcott's talks over a new contract have stalled and the England winger will be free to speak to other clubs in January, but Arsene Wenger has mollified him in recent weeks by allowing him to play in his preferred central attacking role.
"My gut feeling is that he belongs to this club and that I hope he will do it and sign for us," said the Arsenal manager.
Liverpool are also tipped to spend, with a move for Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge already in the pipeline.
Newcastle United, meanwhile, are reported to be eyeing further additions to their sizeable French contingent, with Marseille striker Loic Remy and Lille right-back Mathieu Debuchy among their rumoured targets.
The forthcoming Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, which will feature a host of Premier League players, could tempt more clubs to enter the market, but Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez advises caution.
"It's great for the media and the fans; it's a window of hope," he said this year.
"When things are not going well, you think that everything is going to be solved and it is a key moment in the season," he added. "In the same way, you have to be realistic that you get good value for money, and I don't think you normally can."