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2023 January Transfer Window: Comprehending Football’s Financial Feast

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
What just happened? From Chelsea’s eye-popping spending to Ronaldo’s Saudi relocation and beyond, let’s make sense of soccer’s latest global cash splash.

Another January transfer window has come to a close and one thing is for certain: Premier League clubs had no problem opening their pocketbooks wide. As noted by Reuters, English teams collectively spent a record £815 million ($1 billion) in the January window. The club that takes top honors as the one to have spent the most?

None other than humble Chelsea FC, who generated approximately 37% of that total all by themselves.

The five-time top-flight champions tallied over £323 million in spending ($400 million) for just eight players, ending things on Jan. 31 with an English record £107 million ($132 million) deal for Benfica and Argentina central midfielder Enzo Fernández.

Yes, read those numbers again.

When you’ve caught your breath, it’s time to talk Todd Boehly’s Blues, plus the other stories that defined the 2023 January transfer window.

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Chelsea’s outrageous, record-setting spending

Chelsea went to great lengths to outdo their Big Six foes in the talent department. After winning just one of six games across all competitions in January, new(ish) boss Graham Potter immediately recognized the need for more help. So, what does the Englishman do? Beg owner and chairman Boehly to loosen the purse strings to make the team competitive again.

It happened not a moment too soon, as Chelsea currently sit No. 10 in the Premier League table 10 points out of fourth place. When the UEFA Champions League returns in two weeks, they have a date with Borrusia Dortmund.

To their credit, this is indeed a rebuilding year. Sure, the likes of Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount would rather taste success here and now, but an impressive slew of incoming players virtually assures Chelsea relevance (at the very least) for several seasons to come. All told, Potter’s dream team is taking shape, so if the defeats keep piling up and the trophy case remains empty year after year, expect him to be treated as the one left holding the bag.

Chelsea’s January transfers in

Chelsea’s January transfers out

  • Bashir Humphreys (Paderborn) Loan
  • Malo Gusto (Lyon) Loan
  • Cesare Casadei (Reading) Loan
  • Jude Soonsup-Bell (Tottenham Hotspur)
  • Jorginho (Arsenal)

Leeds United: America’s Team?

What do Leeds United and the USMNT have in common? We present to you new arrival Weston McKennie, plus incumbents Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson. The former comes to Elland Road from Juventus on a loan with an option to buy worth around $35 million.

Playing under the management of fellow American Jesse Marsch — to say nothing of winger Jack Harrison, who was educated in the US and cut his teeth in MLS — we’re looking at the first club ever to out-Fulham Fulham as it relates not just to signing Americans, but empowering and elevating them.

So, will the gamble pay off? Time will tell in due time, as Leeds are 15th in the Premier League as of this writing, just one point above the relegation zone. It’s going to take some grit to escape the drop, but on the bright side, three Yanks being responsible for the Peacocks maintaining Premier League status for another year would be a hell of a story. Injuries marred the 24-year-old McKennie’s potential to excel in Italy between Juve and a loan spell at AC Milan, but his accurate passing and opportunistic chance-creation represent a promising boost.

WTF, Serie A?!

Chelsea spent £323 million (€329 million) on January transfers alone. Serie A, once the undisputed No. 1 league in the world, spent less than €28 million total. That’s an average of €1.4 million per team, or lower than the annual wages of every single player on Chelsea’s active roster according to Capology — and an indication of just how dire the financial situations of any number of Italian clubs (seriously, throw a dart at the map) currently is.

According to Transfermarkt, the biggest transfer fee paid by a Serie A club in January was the €8.5 million Fiorentina paid Hellas Verona for Antonin Barak.

That’s a big number… in 2003.

A year and a half ago, Juventus had Cristiano Ronaldo on its roster. Today, they’re in absolute shambles, losing a devastating 15 points in the table for, among other offenses, reporting fraudulent player transfer values for their own economic gain. According to the Italian Football Federation’s Court of Appeals, this was accomplished through “the concealment of documentation or even manipulation of invoices” over “a repeated and prolonged” period. Additionally, several principal figures at the club are understood to have been fully aware of the footballing malfeasance that was taking place.

Oh, and RedBird Capital’s acquisition of AC Milan last year is currently under investigation by Italian tax authorities, as Reuters notes.

No wonder the European Super League concept (and all its guaranteed “solidarity payments” and lack of relegation) won’t die! The moneyed global game as we know it is quite literally passing Serie A by. Is there any way this doesn’t get worse before it gets better?

Ronaldo to Saudi Arabia & Man United’s Reset

In August 2021, Manchester United had just announced the return of beloved No. 7 Cristiano Ronaldo after more than a decade away. Fast forward 15 months, the Portuguese international now calls Saudi Arabia home.

After a tumultuous second spell at Old Trafford, CR7 inked a deal with Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr in December, taking home a reported $206.91 million per campaign (!) through the end of the 2024-25 season. Considering how well United are playing since he left, fans wouldn’t be wrong to think that this exit should have come earlier. United are in contention to lift a trophy for the first time since clinching the UEFA Europa League under Jose Mourinho back in 2017. Still in the running for the Carabao Cup, FA Cup, Europa League, and dare-we-say the Premier League, the Red Devils are experiencing a modest renaissance thanks to an in-form Marcus Rashford, a more confident defense, and vintage David de Gea saves between the sticks.

All three winter signings — Jack Butland of Crystal Palace, Wout Weghorst of Burnley, and Marcel Sabitzer of Bayern Munich — arrived on loan deals, but there’s perhaps a strategy to doing quite literally the opposite of Chelsea. You see, 2023 could finally be the year emphatic #GlazersOut chants will finally come to fruition. Billionaire businessman Jim Ratcliffe confirmed he’d like to orchestrate a bid to become United’s new owner, but the much-maligned Glazer family won’t take a bargain to sell the club, reportedly seeking upwards of $7 billion.

Even if ownership remains unchanged, however, it’s hard to argue that Manchester United’s futures aren’t improving.

Sam Dunn also contributed to this story.

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