2013 marks the tenth anniversary of the January Transfer Window, Freddie Mickshik looks at some of the transfers that have become part of football folklore…
It’s the start of 2013, which aside from futile resolutions and intense hangovers means the opening of the January transfer window, as it celebrates its 10th anniversary. This mid-season shopping window gives managers the chance to add to their squad and potentially find those extra few goals or tighten a shaky back four enough to secure a title or beat the drop. The shortness and timing of it, however, means the new year sees many a panic buy (Savio anyone? Thought not.)
In 2003, the inauguration of the January transfer window was met with caution, and few big moves as a result. The biggest movers were debt-saddled Leeds United, mid-way through a wholesale cull of playing staff. The most significant Elland Road departure was Jonathan Woodgate, regarded at the time as the club’s ‘jewel in the crown’, who moved to Bobby Robson’s Newcastle United for £9m. Lee Bowyer was moved on to West Ham United whilst Robbie Fowler also departed the West Yorkshire club, moving to Manchester City for £6m, just over half of the fee Leeds had paid for him two years earlier.
As the amount of activity in the window has developed, each Premier League club has developed their own little history. Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United have scarcely forayed into the market – it is no secret that the manager is skeptical of value that can be found at this time of year. Two notable exceptions to his festive frugality came in 2006, with then relative unknowns in England Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra arriving for a combined fee of around £13m. That went quite well.
Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle have been three of the most active clubs in the mid-season sales, with Newcastle always keen to pay over the odds for a less than proven defender, as anyone who remembers Jean-Alain Boumsong will care to point out.
Chelsea have often been tempted into a mid-season buy, often a short-term fix, with the induction of the window coming shortly before the arrival of a certain Mr Abramovich. 2004 saw the arrival of Scott Parker for £10m from Charlton Athletic – but he made just 15 league appearances in 18 months – whilst many have probably forgotten about Ricardo Quaresma’s short spell at Stamford Bridge in 2009. The signing of Nicholas Anelka from Bolton in 2008 helped complete a formidable forward line, the Frenchman going on to win a Premier League and two FA Cups.
Branislav Ivanovic also joined in January of the same year, but after having to wait over 8 months for his first appearance, has become a stalwart of the Chelsea back four, as has Gary Cahill who signed in 2012. David Luiz remains under close scrutiny, particularly given the fact he cost the Blues over £20m in 2011, but his recent virtuoso midfield performances are beginning to turn a few of the Brazilian’s critics. More on their other high-profile January 2011 signing later…
Liverpool have frequently done shrewd business in January. Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, the bed-rock of their back four, arrived in two separate January windows sandwiched either side of a move for Javier Mascherano. Their best bit of January business came in the form of the talismanic Uruguayan Luis Suarez, for £23m in 2011, while five years earlier Robbie Fowler returned to his boyhood club in a fairytale move.
It’s not all been plain-sailing at Anfield though – Fernando Morientes was a marquee signing for Rafa Benitez but failed to live up to the billing, whilst the less said about Andy Carroll’s £35m transfer two years ago the better. Neither striker scored more than eight league goals for the Reds.
Perhaps the most interesting to assess are the strikers who’ve come and gone over the years in January. As is the nature of football, goalscorers in particular are judged with merciless polarity. Either a flop or a hero, with few exceptions or allowances. For every buy such as Everton’s snapping-up of Nikita Jelavic for £5m, there is a figure such as Afonso Alves.
The Brazilian set Middlesbrough back a princely £12m, and despite flashes of magic such as his brace against Manchester United, he ultimately failed to deliver and faded into Qatari football after a season and a half as Middlesbrough were relegated. Papiss Cisse’s arrival at St James’ Park pushed Demba Ba out of the limelight, if only temporarily, as the Senegalese amassed 13 goals in 14 league games to help Newcastle to 5th, their highest Premier League position of the decade.
Arsenal have had mixed fortunes; Jose Antonio Reyes joined for £10.5m in 2004, but proved to be one of Arsene Wenger’s less astute dips into the market. The January 2006 window remains the club’s most fruitful period with the purchases of Theo Walcott, Emanuel Adebayor and Abou Diaby.
Wenger did not return to the market for another three years, until a then-club record splurge of £15m on Andrei Arshavin in 2009, and although the Russian made an explosive start, with six goals and seven assists in his 13 League games he has subsequently fallen from form and grace and out of favour.
Wenger has since resisted the allure of the January windows to make significant additions to his squad – characterized by short-term deals that have brought former club legends Sol Campbell and Thierry Henry to the Emirates in recent seasons.
The tragi-zenith of the January window arrived in 2011 where absorbing drama mixed with unfathomable price tags, on a transfer deadline day that has gone down in folklore. Fernando Torres moved to Chelsea for a staggering £50m and has somewhat flattered to deceive since, whilst Andy Carroll becoming the most expensive Englishman in the game; the £35m paid for him, the result of hard bargaining by Mike Ashley, continues to baffle.
Both clubs have barely recovered since, Liverpool this year spending £12m on Daniel Sturridge and Chelsea raiding the Magpies for Demba Ba at a cost of £7.5m. The gulf in price tags in just under two years illustrates the hangover effect felt by both clubs, whose respective record signings capped off a mad-cap 24 hours.
There are lessons to be learned from a decade of mid-season transfer activity. Probably first and foremost is don’t spend £35m on Andy Carroll. But for every failure there is a gem; scalps such as Birmingham luring World Cup winner Christophe Dugarry in 2003 will go down in club folklore, as they fought off relegation and climbed to the lofty heights of 13th in the top flight.
A close look at some of the Premier League’s miracle survivals shows the significance of a shrewd January recruit. Kevin Campbell arrived at West Brom in 2005 with hope almost abandoned, but the striker was given the captain’s armband and the Baggies became the first club to stay in the Premier League having been bottom on Christmas day.
As Portsmouth repeated the great escape the following season, Pedro Mendes was recruited with the choruses of Auld Lang Syne still ringing, and the midfielder remains a Pompey hero for his part in their 2005-6 campaign; his two goals which earned Harry Redknapp’s side a dramatic victory against Manchester City proved the catalyst for a particularly spectacular Houdini act.
James Beattie was a January signing for Everton in 2005, but his unheralded switch to a struggling Stoke City four years later, which yielded seven goals, transformed the Potters’ season and inspired them to mid-table security.
For every club there is a player signed in January, whose name would mean nothing on Christmas day a week before their signature but is still sung years on. Arteta for Everton, Hangeland and Dempsey for Fulham and Michael Dawson for Spurs are four such examples.
The window is oft criticised for not providing value for money and fuelling a fire-sale – but the examples of Vidic, Evra, Adebayor, Agger, Skrtel, Jelavic and Cisse would beg to differ. The trend so far this year of shifting deadwood – Joe Cole, Marouane Chamakh and Johann Djourou – appears to have the spectre of Financial Fair Play in mind, but it will be interesting to see how many ex-players Harry Redknapp brings to the mess at Queens Park Rangers.
There are those spectacular underachievers who are remembered – Savio – and those success stories who are forgotten – Ilan – but this should not detract from the fact that many a season has been salvaged by a January recruit, and there is little more exciting than a breaking transfer story.
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