Speculation of big transfers is rife again now the January window is open.
Return of European football's 'silly season'
Yes, the "silly season" has arrived.
European football's January transfer window opened for business today, giving clubs a month-long opportunity to strengthen their squads for the second half of the season.
Top teams operating strategic transfer plans, such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United, rarely do major deals in this period. Likely targets are usually cup-tied for the Champions League and managers can be put off by inflated prices and a preference to bed new players in over an off-season.
However, an inspired January signing - whether loan or permanent - could make the difference between winning the title, getting into Europe or surviving relegation, meaning plenty of deals will go through over the next 30 days.
The cash-rich English Premier League is usually the place where the big acquisitions are made, especially on deadline day. And considering the lucrative television deals lying in wait from next season as well as the impoverished state of many leagues across the continent following Europe's financial crisis, this should be the case this season, too.
"Many of the traditional European leagues are facing economic problems so we would suggest the trend of overseas players coming to the Premier League to ply their trade will continue and outweigh transfers between English clubs," said James Skelland, a player representative for James Grant Sport Management.
"We would anticipate that there will be more loan moves which tend to suit all parties better, and some permanent moves made by clubs who are looking to stave off relegation or push for European places."
English clubs memorably spent £225 million (then Dh1.33 billion) in the January window in 2011, defying the recession. In the nine winter windows since 2004, nearly £1bn has been splashed out.
The Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who has dubbed the transfer window the "silly season," has ruled out making any signings in January, with his team top of the Premier League. However, all his rival coaches are ready to make moves.
Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, has indicated he would "probably" go into the market while his Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger has money to spend - especially if he fails to keep hold of Walcott, who appears to be holding out for a big wage increase with his contract expiring in June.
"If we find a player who will give us something special, we will do it - but that in January isn't easy," said Wenger, who has been linked with Villa of Barcelona.
Wenger, like Ferguson, is not a fan of the January transfer window, although he could not resist the temptation to dip into it in 2009 when he beat the deadline to sign the Russia winger Andrey Arshavin for £15m.
Chelsea, the European champions, should be one of the most active of the big English clubs. The 34-year-old Lampard is out of contract in the summer and could be sold, along with Daniel Sturridge who is reportedly going to Liverpool, and the club have been linked with moves for the Newcastle forward Demba Ba and Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao.
Either player would join a squad containing Fernando Torres, the most famous January transfer signing after switching from Liverpool to Chelsea for £50m in 2011.
Ba, the joint-second top scorer in the Premier League, has a release clause of £7m in his contract and Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager, said on Friday it is "even whether he'll stay or go".
In Italy, the future of Sneijder has been a topic of much debate and although the Inter Milan manager Andrea Stramaccioni says there is still room for him, the unsettled Dutch player is expected to leave. England is a likely destination.
Over at AC Milan, who are seventh in Serie A and struggling financially, one of their two Brazilian strikers - Alexandre Pato or Robinho - is set to leave and the club have been linked with Didier Drogba - unhappy after a big-money move from Chelsea to China - as a replacement.
Starved of action on the pitch because of the winter break, the sports pages in Spain have been dominated by the upcoming transfer window and the potential departures of three of the Primera Liga's top forwards.
Ronaldo has been linked with a move away from Real Madrid ever since he said he was "sad" in September. Talk of a transfer back to Manchester United refuses to go away, despite Ferguson recently claiming the Portugal forward was "unbuyable".
Villa, Spain's record goalscorer, is more likely to leave. British media are reporting that Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool are interested in the 31-year-old forward, who spent eight months sidelined with a broken leg and has found it hard to win a place in Barcelona's starting line-up since his return.
"I'm proud that so many great clubs have manifested an interest in me, but they will have to wait until the end of the season, then we will see what might happen," he said. "Leaving Atletico in the winter transfer window is absolutely not on."
Money talks, however, and agents' telephones are sure to be red hot throughout January, when clubs' fortunes can be revived and coaches' reputations destroyed.
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