While the England national team suffers, the sky is seemingly the limit for Europe's top leagues and their richest clubs
There are two distinct questions, often muddled together, prompted by the mind-boggling transfer spending of English Premier League clubs in a country being subjected by its government to huge cuts in the name of austerity.
The first and probably more interesting is whether the money spent, well over £500m, and the vast wages paid to the few lucky footballers, mostly from overseas and signing up for a stint here, are obscene. That is a moral question, not new to this remarkable transfer window, and it opens out into a general discussion of inequality, to be fair to the footballers who are not the world's only super-rich. There are people who argue that footballers' wages are more objectionable than those of golfers, movie stars or investment bankers because they play for clubs which bear the names of struggling towns and cities and claim the lifelong loyalty of supporters.
The facts, however, are that footballers – to use a showbiz phrase noticeably creeping into discussions over recent days – are "the talent" in an entertainment industry operating a very free market. That leads to the second, separate question, more meaningful to those in the game accustomed to modern players as multi-millionaires: is the spending crazy, is it "unsustainable"?
The answer to that, strange as it seems after Real Madrid have splurged €100m for the talent of Gareth Bale, is that, largely, this does seem to be "sustainable", the clubs are living within their means, now considerably greater.
The Premier League has sold TV rights to its matches, boosted by BT's leap to establish itself as a broadcaster and a staggering £2.3bn from overseas, for a total of around £5.5bn over three years. Whenever TV rights have increased, over the last 21 years since the first, game-changing deal with a fledgling BSkyB for the newly broken-away Premier League in 1992, the amount spent on "the talent" has increased too.
The hope this time, evidenced by the Premier League having introduced rules limiting clubs' annual losses to an average £5m if not backed by an owner (£35m if an owner bankrolls it) is that the inflation of transfer fees has not been matched by a step change in wages too.
The overall record-breaking figure, which looks like a league waving its £5.5bn wad and spending freely, is deceptive, however. A large part of the spending has been accounted for by only three of the Premier League's 20 clubs: Manchester City, by far the highest net-spenders at £92m; Chelsea, who bought Willian for £33m and spent that again on their other new signings; and Tottenham Hotspur, who introduced seven new players for not much more than the price of a Bale.
The influence of the two highest spending owners in English football history, the oil-rich Roman Abramovich at Chelsea and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan at Manchester City, creates an impression of lavish spending not matched elsewhere.
Supporters' anxiety at a lack of activity by the American owned clubs was partly assuaged at Arsenal by Mesut Ozil's eye-catching £42.5m capture, and at Liverpool with a net £24m spend and Luis Suárez retained. Manchester United's first summer with David Moyes and Edward Woodward in charge, however, concluded with the desperately late signing of Marouane Fellaini, felt thoroughly unconvincing.
Swansea City, Norwich City and Southampton have noticeably spent, more than £20m each, in pushes to consolidate Premier League status maintained in admirable style, while other clubs which made financial losses last year, including Stoke City, Sunderland and Aston Villa, have been conspicuously restrained.
Newcastle United's investment by the owner, Mike Ashley, over the past two years has been seriously reined in, while West Ham United loosened the purse strings this time, most notably signing Andy Carroll for £20m less than Liverpool paid Newcastle for him on the crazy final day of the January 2011 window.
That Carroll deal lends perspective to a marked feature of this summer's transfer dealings: every player bought by the top Premier League clubs has been from overseas. With the window closing on a Monday at the beginning of an international week in which England face World Cup qualifiers, just one player signed by a top club is qualified to play for the national team: Tiago Ilori, who is Portuguese, by virtue of being born in London.
Chelsea paid money for six players including Willian, all from overseas; none of Spurs' seven signings is England qualified and of the five signings at Manchester City, who did sign English players in Mansour's early seasons, the £35m Fernandinho is Brazilian; £18m went on Jesús Navas and the £22m Alvaro Negredo is Spanish, £23m Stevan Jovetic Montenegrin and £4m Martín Demichelis Argentinian.
Roy Hodgson , who has already complained of the relatively small number of England-qualified players even experiencing first-team football, will not have been encouraged by the serial signing of overseas players. If England do not play well in their qualifiers at home to Moldova on Friday and away in the Ukraine on 10 September, the Premier League knows that critical questions will be asked about its clubs' commitment to giving English players first-team opportunities and building a strong England team.
Clearly, in the remarkable development and internationalised commercial boom of the Premier League, the England team is far from a priority for clubs mostly owned now by overseas financial interests. They are engaged in fierce competition with each other, on the field and to make money – and, therefore, in the inflating global market for "the talent".