Manchester City have kicked off the New Year football shopping spree by signing English left-back Wayne Bridge.
£12 million for a 28-year-old left back who has been pushed out of a struggling Chelsea team by an out-of-form has-been? A sign of the times.
This hyper-inflation of the British transfer market, combined with the weakness of the pound against the euro, means that bargains are few and far between.
Two years ago, Manchester United bought two of their best players in defenders Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra for less than £7 million each. These players would now be worth thrice that amount.
Last year, Roy Hodgson called on his knowledge and experience of the Nordic leagues to sign Brede Hangeland for F.C. Copenhagen for £2.5 million. Hangeland has been a revelation in Fulham's back four this season as they continue to defy their critics.
However, with scouting networks being expanded so that no stone is left unturned and with wealthy powerhouses such as Man Utd and Chelsea exploiting lower league clubs' precarious financial status with derisory offers for future superstars, surprise finds really are, well,...surprising.
With the money and fame that accompany success and with relegation proving disastrous for many clubs (think Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, and Brdaford City to name but a few), there is a lot—theoretically at least—to be won and lost for many clubs over the next month.
The window gives clubs vying for the title or for European football a chance to bolster their squad with another superstar. A chance for clubs beleaguered by injuries to sign some reinforcements. One last chance for struggling sides to rescue their league status with new players bringing new impetus and ideas.
Only 10 points separate Wigan in seventh place from West Brom in 20th.
There really is a lot at stake here.
One player could be the difference between staying up and going down. If you are dubious about this, you must not have witnessed Carlos Tevez's inspired performances at the end of the 2006-'07 season...
West Brom, Tottenham Hotspur, and Blackburn Rovers could all do with a Tevez of their own right now.
I feel, however, that unlike West Brom, both Spurs and Rovers can easily pick up the momentum required to pull away from the relegation zone—even if Spurs fluffed their chances to do so at home to Fulham and at West Brom.
If Tony Mowbray can persuade his board to part with £10-15 million, the cause may not yet be lost.
Man City possess riches that many managers could only dream of, but their dream is quickly turning into a nightmare. Mark Hughes, so we are told, is looking to sign as many as six first-team players. If Hughes doesn't get it spot on, City could become the highest-profile club ever to be relegated.
Other clubs that could be sucked into a dogfight at the bottom of the table are Portsmouth and Middlesborough. Both managers will feel that keeping hold of their star players and away from the prying hands of rivals Spurs may be enough itself.
On the contrary, Aston Villa fans have never had it so good. They are seven points off the leaders and are sitting pretty in fourth. Some say they rely too much on the attacking prowess of Young and Agbonlahor, and manager O'Neill will look to sign a goalscorer to maintain their momentum.
Liverpool may never have a better chance to win the league. They are top—even without Spanish striking sensation Fernando Torres. If Keane bucks up his ideas and Torres can stay injury-free, coach Benitez may not need new players.
Three clubs that are unlikely to be major players in the transfer window for varying reasons are Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea.
Ferguson's side always kicks into gear into the second half of the season and he will be confident that his squad is strong enough to retain their title.
The Gunners will see the development of their young players as a greater priority than mounting a serious challenge to the Reds and their Devilish rivals.
Scolari will be fortunate if he doesn't have to sell again before he buys as the falling price of oil continues to put holes in owner Roman Abrahamovic's once deep pockets.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION