It's been eerily quiet. Almost too quiet. It feels all wrong. The winter transfer window has been open for over three weeks. And so far … crickets.
Well, Swansea City's burly striker Wilfried Bony was sold to Manchester City for some $36 million. And Argentine midfielder Enzo Perez left Benfica to join Valencia for about $28 million. But as far as big-money transfers go, that's been it. The other transfers of note – Fernando Torres and Cani to Atletico Madrid; Xherdan Shaqiri and Lukas Podolski to Inter Milan; Victor Valdes to Manchester United; Alessio Cerci to AC Milan; the Jermain Defoe-for-Jozy Altidore swap between Toronto FC and Sunderland – have all been loans or free transfers.
English newspaper the Telegraph had identified 56 star players who could be on the move in this transfer window, but so far, with just a week remaining, only a few have actually switched clubs.
It used to be that the winter transfer window, which closes at the end of January across most of Europe, was a hive of activity. Major business was done then, altering a club's fortunes and the sport's landscape. Liverpool bought Javier Mascherano in the winter of 2007, Luis Suarez in 2011 and Daniel Sturridge two years after that, setting itself up for success. United bought defenders Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra in the winter of 2006, settling the club's defense for many years as both became club captains. The examples are plentiful.
Certainly, the summer window has always been the big one. Of the 25 most expensive transfers ever, 23 happened in summer. A pair of Spaniards is the exception. Fernando Torres – the 12th most expensive player of all time – left Liverpool for Chelsea in January 2011 for about $75 million. Last winter, Juan Mata – 24th on the list – joined United from Chelsea for some $58 million.
But the splashy winter transfer has become increasingly rare. Clubs have become more skittish and apprehensive about laying out big money in the middle of the season. There are a few possible explanations. The teetering European economy has made staying in business a lot trickier for the vast majority of clubs, leaving scant surplus for player acquisitions. And the precedent of major winter spending isn't great.
Torres was an all-time bust at Chelsea. His confidence disintegrated almost instantly – not helped by a loss of form that probably dated back to the 2010 World Cup – and he became a punch line who scored just 20 goals in 3½ seasons. Before the 2014-15 campaign, the Blues gave up on him and let him go to AC Milan on a loan and then something of a nominal fee. He failed there as well with one goal in 10 appearances and the Rossoneri loaned him out to Atletico. Torres, then, was an almost total write-off for Chelsea.
The man Liverpool immediately brought in to replace him, Andy Carroll, on whom the Reds blew almost all of their Torres riches, was a failure as well. In his only full season on Merseyside, Carroll scored a mere four goals. Soon enough, Liverpool unloaded him on West Ham for less than half what he had cost them.
While these examples may seem anecdotal, the market for soccer players is seldom rational. It didn't help any that Mata, hailed as a savior in Manchester in the midst of a disastrous season, is a part-time player just a year into his tenure there.
The other factor is Financial Fair Play. Designed and implemented by UEFA to avoid the financial excess that has marred so many European clubs, FFP – which requires that clubs break even or come close to it, at the risk of losing their eligibility for European competition – has mandated financial caution. Winter transfers, in addition to being risky, also tend to be more expensive. Clubs don't like to lose star players in mid-season. They are hard to replace then, and it's harder still to integrate a new player into the team on the fly. So those players come at a premium.
What's more, transfers are more complicated than ever. Transfer committees, intermediaries, third party owners, an army of agents and other stakeholders slow down the process, simply making it harder to get deals done quickly in a short timeframe.
Look closely at the big-money winter transfers of this winter and the one before it and you'll find that they were instigated by clubs in emergencies or exceptional situations. United, as stated, was in real trouble as David Moyes tried, and failed, to replace Sir Alex Ferguson when he bought Mata for more than he was worth.
City has had a critical shortage of strikers this season, with Alvaro Negredo out on loan to Valencia and Sergio Aguero, Stevan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko all injured for long spells. Things got so bad that workaday winger James Milner played up front. It plainly needed a striker and, in Bony, paid top dollar for a 26-year-old one who has never represented a major club.
Valencia, meanwhile, was just bought by a Singaporean billionaire after years of financial distress that got so bad the club had to halt construction on its new stadium three years ago. Apparently feeling flush for the first time in well over a decade, it splashed out on Perez.
On the whole, this trend further complicates life for Major League Soccer. Its ability to do business on the international market is already fraught by its spring-to-fall schedule, which runs counter to most of the world's fall-to-spring calendar (something that MLS has understandably been loath to adapt). A further emphasis on summer business only exacerbates that effect.
New York City FC Director of Football Claudio Reyna recently pointed out that the club had to sign David Villa and Frank Lampard (I know, I know) during the summer to begin playing the following winter because players of that caliber aren't available in the middle of the season. When they are, like Los Angeles Galaxy and Toronto FC free agent signings Steven Gerrard and Sebastian Giovinco, they can't join their new clubs until July, in the middle of the MLS season, when their old contracts expire.
The slow death of the big-time winter transfer is shame for the fans. Big winter transfers made for appealing drama and were refreshing in the middle of a long season. But with all of these tendencies acting in concert, it would appear winter transfer windows will stay quiet for a while longer.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.