Top football clubs in England have continued to cut wage costs and Premiership salaries rose at their slowest rate ever, a report has found.
Money can still make all the difference on and off the pitch
According to the annual Deloitte review of football finances, attempts to trim wages continued in season 2003/2004.
Manchester United was again the top of the Premiership in terms of revenue generation, at £172m.
London rivals and new Premiership champions Chelsea have narrowed the gap, however, with revenues of £144m.
Overall, leading club salaries would have shown a drop if big-spending Chelsea, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, had been excluded from the survey.
Chelsea's wage bill of £115m in 2003/04 was "almost certainly" the biggest in world football, said the Deloitte report.
"While English clubs' spending on player wages and net transfer fees costs exceeded £1bn for the first time in 2003/2004, a significant element of that was driven by Chelsea," said Dan Jones, partner in sports business at Deloitte.
"We expect the 2005 summer transfer window to quieten down."
He said big transfer fees and wages would continue to be paid for star players.
"But for the majority of players the new sense of 'realism' will continue to limit transfer fees and we hope that more performance-dependent wages will continue to be introduced for all players."
'Top line growth'
The report says that healthy revenues make England home of the European football champions on the playing and financial fields.
Deloitte says Premiership clubs, including 2005 Champions League winner Liverpool, made £1.3bn total revenues in 2003/04 season.
"The Premiership continues to go from strength to strength with solid top line growth," said Mr Jones.
"This gives the Premiership a competitive advantage compared to its European rivals, most notably when it comes to attracting and retaining top quality players.
"Premiership and Football League clubs have also had success in reining back costs, particularly wages, and in doing so have improved the profitability of English professional football."
The report also points out that while players' wages make the most headlines, football also contributed a large sum to the UK's tax coffers.
"There is sometimes a perception that the game does not pay much tax," said Jason Hargaden, tax director at Deloitte's sport business group.
"In fact, professional football contributed around £600m of tax to government in 2003/04."
He said by the end of the 2004/05 season it was estimated the clubs in the top four divisions will have paid the government £4.3bn tax over the last 13 years - "quite a tidy sum for the exchequer".