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When Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger describes the English market as ''flat'' and claims that it is "unbelievably difficult" to sign players now, the signs are there. Once again, the year's summer transfer window closed without much fizzle, although Spurs' pursuit of Rafael van der Vaart provided some late, ongoing drama.

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You can't argue with the numbers and, in a world of increasing financial uncertainty, spending is down. In turn, those big money signings that make a transfer window so exciting are now rare. One well-known presenter on a rolling news channel resorted to showing the camera his bacon sandwich after hours of hanging around outside a training ground; thankfully he was able to announce the £13.24 million signing of Asamoah Gyan shortly afterwards. A rare moment in an otherwise quiet final day.

Financial analysts Deloitte say around £350 million was spent by top-flight sides in this transfer window, 22% less than in 2009 and the lowest sum since 2006. The Premier League's overall summer transfer spending peaked at £500 million in 2008, and was down to £450 million last year.

The arrival of Manchester City on the big stage has something to do with the rise over the past few years and, again this year they have led the way - effectively propping up the market with a third of total expenditure. Mario Balotelli, David Silva, James Milner, Jerome Boateng, Yaya Toure and Aleksandar Kolarov all arrived for an outlay of £126 million but, without them, we would have been looking at an even lower figure than the £263 million spent in 2006.

Partly, this is due to a shift in clubs' focus. A large transfer fee used to be enough to lure a player away, now player wages appear just as important. In some cases it works both ways - see the example of Yaya Toure who managed to pick up £221,000-a-week in wages as well as his cut of a £24 million fee - but the examples of Joe Cole and Marouane Chamakh show that if a club are willing to hand someone an exorbitant wage packet then you can sometimes collect them on a free.

Manchester City almost have to be viewed as a separate beast, but the story from the clubs generally is one of relative restraint on spending.

''I think there are a number of factors behind this,'' says Paul Rawnsley, director of the sports business group at Deloitte. ''There is the backdrop of Portsmouth going into administration last year and clubs feeling the need to be more prudent. Tax rates for high earners have increased and the pound is not as strong against the Euro. Then there is UEFA's new financial fair play rules which may also be encouraging greater restraint.''

Chelsea's main move was for Brazilian Ramires, but they shifted Michael Ballack and Joe Cole from their wage bill to create the space. Manchester United gave new deals to Nemanja Vidic and Nani and could therefore only afford to bring in Javier Hernandez, Bebe and Chris Smalling; while Arsenal and Liverpool were forced into moves that saw a lot more players leave the club, than join. It is a familiar story across the Premier League and the fact that the most glamourous signing of the window (based solely on profile and reputation) - Valencia's David Silva - cannot even get into the City first XI, speaks volumes.

Interestingly, much of the attention from this transfer window has once again been in Europe rather than the Premier League. Following a trend over the past few years, it has been the continental heavyweights who have taken headlines with their pursuit of some of the world's top talent.

Real Madrid (Spain's own Manchester City in terms of financial power) have led the way with Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Pedro Leon, Sergio Canales, Angel Di Maria and Ricardo Carvalho all joining Jose Mourinho at the Bernabeu, while Barcelona brought in €40 million David Villa along with Javier Mascherano and Sevilla's Adriano.

Two more different business models cannot be found, but even if both clubs rely on loans to finance their deals, they have both come up trumps in the glamour stakes. It bodes well for La Liga that the likes of Ozil, Di Maria and Villa turned down Premier League moves in order to head to Spain and such headline-grabbing players are seen as an investment that most English clubs simply cannot afford at the moment. Even the unfashionable Hercules managed to snatch some big stars in the form of David Trezeguet and Royston Drenthe.

Perhaps the shock of the window comes from Italy, though. A league that looked on a downward spiral when Kaka chose to move to Madrid in 2009 has bolstered its ranks with Zlatan Ibrahimovic (again), Robinho, Milos Krasic and the return of Alberto Aquilani and now looks like a real competitor for Premier League clubs again.

That two of these headline signings arrived on loan, for a season at least, tells you all you need to know about the financial situation, but Serie A is certainly getting back on its feet again, in terms of drawing talent. With a player who often brings the wrong kind of headlines - Mario Balotelli - now departed, the future looks bright.

Ultimately, the fact that the thrill of the final day of the English transfer window only really arrived with Tottenham's last-gasp attempts to snag the £8 million Van der Vaart - a player who cannot get into Real Madrid's star-studded midfield - says a lot. The Premier League will hope that it is not a sign of things to come.


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