I spent an hour on Tuesday night listening to the sound of silence. Silence from Old Trafford, Anfield, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates. Silence from managers, chief executives, directors of football and public relations officers.
The only problem was I, and we at ESPN, had been hoping to hear from at least some of them on our Football Focus Deadline Day Live Special. As it happened, not one of the Big Four did any meaningful business as the midnight transfer window deadline came and went. We heard from our reporters at Tottenham, Aston Villa and Portsmouth, but that was about it.
So, no last-minute move to Chelsea for Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery, no return to Arsenal by Patrick Vieira, and no truth in the rumour that c had been spotted eating a kebab on Merseyside. Just a deafening silence.
Then that silence was shattered by the unmistakable tones of Patrick Kinghorn, football analyst, gambling expert and occupier of our London studio.
“I want everyone to remember where they were on this day,” he trumpeted in his customary bombastic fashion. “Manchester City's net spend this summer is £106 million and when you consider the net spend of the entire rest of the division is £55 million, it really puts it into perspective.
“The next biggest was Chelsea, who have spent six times less, and it really proves to me that Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United just do not want to entertain the idea of competing with Manchester City in the transfer market.”
“I was sceptical at the start of the season, but they [City] have started well,” Patrick added. “For me, this is the day that City have broken the Big Four. I'm confident they'll knock Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester United out of the top four, because if they are in contention for the League or Champions League in January they can spend a fortune again.”
And what of the Big Four? Chelsea have experimented with relative austerity this summer but they are still far away from the break-even model that chief executive Peter Kenyon unveiled a year or two ago. Arsenal's stadium and property developments have left the club some £400m in debt; Manchester United's accounts for 2007-08 showed debts of £699m, there are similarities with Liverpool, who had to pay £34 million in interest on loans secured to buy the club.
UEFA's view of these figures notwithstanding, how likely is it that Manchester City will force themselves into Champions League reckoning any time soon, perhaps even this season?
In 12 months, City have spent more than £200 million on 13 new players, while 20 or so players have been either let go or loaned out. It all started with the snatching of Robinho from under Chelsea's nose. That piece of business gave the critics plenty of ammunition: they pointed to the Brazilian's erratic performances as being symptomatic of broader problems at the “nouveau riche”
Hughes is sure the struggles of last season will not be repeated. “There's been a bit of pain but everything in the future will be better from now on. It's been a huge effort by everybody but we've been able to get through that and we can really kick on now.”
And that, concludes Kinghorn, could spell drastic consequences for City's rivals. “If one of the Big Four drops out of the Champions League there will be goodness knows what kind of repercussions,” he predicted. “It's the most exciting season ever now… and unless they start giving out 5 Champions League places we are going to have a meltdown for one of those “Big Four” clubs at the end of the year.”