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Big spending masks age of austerity for top soccer clubs

By Tom McGowan, CNN
updated 8:33 AM EST, Fri February 1, 2013
Mario Balotelli, David Beckham and Christopher Samba were the stars of transfer deadline day.
Mario Balotelli, David Beckham and Christopher Samba were the stars of transfer deadline day.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • English clubs topped spend during the January transfer window
  • January is one of two periods of the year when European soccer clubs can buy players
  • English Premier League teams spent $190 million on players throughout the month
  • The figure is double the amount spent in the same period last year

(CNN) -- January can be a grueling month. Christmas is but a distant memory, with the only reminder of the festive period the credit card bills which keep tumbling through the letter box.

It is often a time for cutting ones cloth as once profligate football clubs are finding out, though the likes of English Premier League club Queen Park Rangers have gone on a spending spree in a desperate bid to avoid relegation.

English Premier League clubs splashed out a combined £120 million ($190 million) on new players during the January transfer window -- double the £60m spent during the same period in 2012 -- but those figures can be deceptive, with QPR, Liverpool and Newcastle United accounting for over half of the money spent in England's top flight.

But, in truth, the increase in spending contradicts the mood of austerity which is blowing like tumbleweed through European soccer.

Read: Deadline day as it happened

Mario Balotelli was mobbed by fans outside a restaurant as he returned home to Italy to complete his $30 million move from AC Milan to Manchester City. Mario Balotelli was mobbed by fans outside a restaurant as he returned home to Italy to complete his $30 million move from AC Milan to Manchester City.
Home again
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Being Balotelli: The life and times of Mario Being Balotelli: The life and times of Mario
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was photographed grappling with his firebrand striker Mario Balotelli during a training run on Thursday, prompting coaching staff to intervene to separate the pair. Mancini later downplayed the tussle, sparked by Balotelli's hostile tackle on a fellow player, as "nothing unusual." Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was photographed grappling with his firebrand striker Mario Balotelli during a training run on Thursday, prompting coaching staff to intervene to separate the pair. Mancini later downplayed the tussle, sparked by Balotelli's hostile tackle on a fellow player, as "nothing unusual."
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Balotelli\'s training ground bust up Balotelli's training ground bust up

"There were relatively few active spenders in the winter window, with over half of this January's total transfer spending coming from three clubs," said Dan Jones, partner in the sports business group at Deloitte, as he analyzed spending trends in the English Premier League.

"Winter window activity tends to be driven by the on-pitch competition at the upper and lower ends of the Premier League table."

The elephant in every club boardroom is the need to factor in European governing body UEFA's new financial rules that are designed to prevent big spending clubs spending beyond their means and posting unsustainable yearly losses.

"Clubs are now in a reporting period that will count towards the first assessment of UEFA's financial fair play break-even requirement for international competition and Premier League clubs are also considering the implementation of additional cost control regulation at a domestic level," added Jones.

Read: Last chance saloon for "rotten apple" Balotelli

"Their apparent relative restraint in this transfer window may reflect an increasing focus on clubs achieving more sustainable levels of expenditure relative to revenues."

Like QPR, the motivation for Newcastle, currently 15th in the table, to bring in reinforcements was to ensure Premier League survival. And the arrival of the cavalry at both clubs is already starting to have an effect.

France striker Loic Remy scored on his debut for QPR in a 1-1 draw with West Ham United, while Newcastle's new French midfielder Moussa Sissoko dominated the game during Tuesday's 2-0 win at relegation rivals Aston Villa, who preferred a strategy of financial prudence, which may yet backfire.

David Beckham made an immediate impact at Paris Saint-Germain, with victories in his first two appearances against French rivals Marseille. David Beckham made an immediate impact at Paris Saint-Germain, with victories in his first two appearances against French rivals Marseille.
The career of David Beckham
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The career of David Beckham The career of David Beckham
Whether striker Demba Ba will be playing for Newcastle after January has been the subject of intense speculation. The Senegal international is in talks with Chelsea after the London side triggered a £7 million ($11 million) release clause in his contract which became active again on January 1. It is "even (money) whether he'll stay or go," said Newcastle manager Alan Pardew. Whether striker Demba Ba will be playing for Newcastle after January has been the subject of intense speculation. The Senegal international is in talks with Chelsea after the London side triggered a £7 million ($11 million) release clause in his contract which became active again on January 1. It is "even (money) whether he'll stay or go," said Newcastle manager Alan Pardew.
Ba uncertainty
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Transfer window offers rich pickings Transfer window offers rich pickings

Premier League survival is more important than ever this term, with a record-breaking television deal set to offer clubs and unprecedented bounty next season.

Read: The eternal city welcomes brand Beckham

"Premier League clubs have been relatively restrained in their player transfer fee spending, in spite of the upcoming uplift in their broadcasting revenues of between £20m and £30m each from next season," added Jones.

"Whilst the clubs' total spending was £120m, after taking into account transfer income, the Premier League clubs' net transfer spend was £70m."

The transfer window system has been in place across European since 2003. In 11 January windows, English clubs have traditionally outspent their continental rivals, and the trend continued in 2013.

The second highest spending league this January was Italy's Serie A, which spent roughly 70% of the EPL's total.

The most high-profile of those transfers was that of controversial striker Mario Balotelli, who joined AC Milan from English champions Manchester City.

Spending in France and Germany was dwarfed by that in England and Italy. The total amount spent in both countries was between 30 and 45% of that recorded in England, with an exodus of players across the English Channel the trend during France's transfer window.

One Englishman who bucked the trend was soccer icon David Beckham, who joined Paris Saint-Germain on a deal which will see his wages donated to a local childrens' charity.

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