It's the most wonderful time of the year!
Until the end of January, the newspapers will be chock full of scurrilous rumours, Sky Sports News will be more dramatic than an early Marlon Brando performance and your favourite team might spend exorbitant amounts of money for an acquisition that wouldn't have been very expensive four months ago.
Yes, the January transfer window is upon us, so here's everything you need to know...
What is it?
For the uninitiated, the transfer window is the period in which players can move between clubs. In England there are two windows: one which spans from June through August and another in January.
As The Guardian's excellent Knowledge column informs us, the transfer window system was originally pitched in the English top flight in the early 1990s, but it didn't come into effect until FIFA made it compulsory for the 2002-03 season.
Outside of the window, free agents can be picked up at any time, players can be signed on an emergency basis (for example, if a club completely runs out of fit goalkeepers) and existing loan deals can be permanently inked.
Why do we need it?
That's a good question. Prior to its introduction, players could be picked up at any time and everyone was generally quite happy about the situation.
However, as the aforementioned Guardian column explains, the idea for a window was inspired by Serie A, where the season shut down for a two- to three-week period in the winter, save for a transfer window. The main benefit is that managers are able to concentrate on coaching, rather than scouring the transfer markets for the entire season. Additionally, teams that begin a competition are generally left intact by the end of it.
In a more modern context, a window may also prevent a rich team buying a championship in the last few weeks of a season, or a doomed team from asset stripping before the campaign is complete.
The window has plenty of detractors, with many managers and pundits arguing that it encourages a "fire-sale mentality" and incredulous pricing and plenty of panic buying.
It is for these reasons that Bundesliga clubs tend to shy away from January window activity: In Germany, it is perceived that a club hasn't conducted its affairs properly in the summer if it has to resort to the window.
When does it open?
This season, the window flings open on Wednesday January 1, 2014, and will slam shut at midnight on January 31, 2014.
Sometimes, windows are extended beyond usual parameters if the deadline falls on a weekend. This happened in the summer, for example, but won't be necessary in this instance.
The midnight deadline is strictly enforced, but there is sometimes leniency for certain paperwork to be completed after the window has closed. In some instances, dispensation is given to allow for transfer complications: In 2009, for example, the Premier League extended the deadline when snowstorms hit the UK, which allowed Arsenal to complete the signing of Andrei Arshavin nearly 24 hours later.
Why does all the action happen on the last day?
Premier League clubs who buy on deadline day are the equivalent of the man who heads out at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve to complete his Christmas shopping.
If they were sensible, they would wrap up their major purchases by the middle of the month, but the nature of the business forces most major activity to be completed in the dying minutes.
Selling clubs hold on to their prized assets for as long as possible to drive prices up, agents use the media to create a stir and buying clubs tend to wait to see what their competitors are doing until they make a move.
How much will be spent?
During the summer of 2013, a record £630 million was spent by Premier League clubs. Typically, only a small fraction of this amount is spent over the winter.
Here are the spending figures of the past few years, as per The Guardian:
So, as you can see, there is absolutely no pattern!
Since the window began, the BBC note that English top-flight sides have spent over £1 billion in January. This compares to over £3.7 billion in the summer months.
Which clubs are likely to make big moves this year?
After a thoroughly underwhelming summer window, Manchester United may look to make some improvements in their midfield. According to reports from The Mirror, Southampton's Adam Lallana and Galatasaray midfielder Wesley Sneijder are among those making early impressions on the rumour mill.
Jose Mourinho has made no secret of his desire to bring a world-class striker to Stamford Bridge—presumably to replace his stopgap solution Samuel Eto'o and the outgoing Demba Ba, as reported by Sky Sports—and he will almost certainly get the funds to make a move. According to The Guardian's Barry Glendenning, Radamel Falcao might be given a release from his unhappy spate in Monaco, while Chris Richards of The Mirror suggests a £48 million bid for Gonzalo Higuain might be on the cards.
At the other end of the table, West Ham co-chairman David Sullivan has promised to steer the club away from relegation by getting his chequebook out, as reported by to the Daily Mail's Sam Cunningham. According to The Independent's Charles Reynolds, The Hammers' shopping list might include Rickie Lambert. Well, it's not as if they've been stung buying an English striker lately.
Where can I stay up to date with the latest transfer window deals and rumours?
That'll be Bleacher Report.