Settling For The Second Best – The January Transfer Window

January is the time for intense transfer speculations and a chance to indulge in tactical transfers as against the splurges of summer transfer window. Gino de Blasio looks at it to see if it is really necessary.

January! It’s a time to reflect; to make promises you won’t or can’t keep. A time for change, supposedly. Yes, January has a way of making the mere mortal look at things differently.

Football is no different in this context. You see, the football season has two silly periods. The one in the summer, where anyone can be bought for the right price; where a club who doesn’t respect financial fair play can go and do what it wants; much to the detriment of the squad, club, coaches and fans alike.

Then there is the second period. January! Yes the January transfer window has become more recognized, more tactical, more important… kind of.

But when you break down the January transfer window, what are you actually paying for?

Ex-Milan striker Pato joins Brazilian club Corinthians

Here’s my issue with the January transfer window. Are you really in a position to be buying the player you wanted, or a stop gap measure until the end of the season?

If a club finds itself buying the player they wanted, then more likely than not there was a pre-contract. A negotiation months before the move ever happened. It probably depended on the results of the squad that they were purchasing the player from. It would ensure that all parties were getting what they wanted, and that, in some ways seems fair. In some ways…

Ba joins Chelsea from Newcastle United

Then there’s the second style of transfer – The stop gap measure. This is where a player who may be in form for one team gets slotted into another, and doesn’t seem to work out for a multitude of reasons. The player may have been excelling in an inferior squad, the player may not be used to the language of the teammates, the player may be struggling to settle down. Most importantly, the player may be playing a slightly different role which, changes everything.

In a lot of ways, the January window is almost like settling for second best. Most if not all managers will do re-structuring or complete overhauls in the summer. That makes sense. They will have a budget, they will free up spaces which means losing players which means extra money. It’s a logical system. But the January window isn’t really that kind of system.

Lucas Moura has been officially unveiled in Doha on Tuesday, following the completion of his €45 million transfer from São Paulo to Paris Saint-Germain

It’s not designed for mass squad overhauls; it’s not really a good fix for teams. It’s a system which keeps some teams happy, but not many. It feels like the January system is designed for twitter speculation at its best.

I say get rid of the window altogether.

Simplify the transfer system, players who are contracted for longer than three years can only move in the summer window. Those who are less than three years can put a request in whenever they want; this frees up the whole football system and adversely brings more stability to clubs rather than simply settling for second best.

A Quiet Winter

Debopam Roy looks at what unfolded across the globe in the January transfer window. You may reach him on Twitter @rossoneri

The January transfer window is much like cooking at home for your valentine after failing to reserve that table at your favourite restaurant. Most clubs go into the transfer window to mend minor defects with their ground positioning. It is a time for injury reinforcements rather than marquee signings as they believe it is difficult for a player coming in the middle of the season to settle into a team.. Since the emergence of the petro- dollar clubs, the January window has seen some massive deals.

The 2010-11 season was a perfect example of this happening with just two transfers adding up to over €100mn from Messrs Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll. However. the 2011-12 season has seen a return to old habits. Even the English Premier League (EPL) spent just €84.5mn which is lower than what the Torres and Carrol deals had together generated. My hypothesis behind this apparent calm has been that Manchester City has not been scouring the market this January. Indeed their most pressing need was to sell Carlos Tevez and wash off the millions in wages they pay him along with the bonus he is due if City do manage to win their first ever Premiership. One of the clubs who almost clinched the Tevez deal from City was AC Milan and the Italian giants were in the market trying to procure a lot of replacements for their host of injuries. One player who did not leave Milan though was Filippo Inzaghi and it was a measure of his immense loyalty that he opted to stay on despite decreasing chances of play at Milan.

The Premiership

So, it was a quiet transfer window spiced up by some loan deals sealed by the struggling sides. One statistic to highlight this would be that six clubs ended with net transfer earnings while two (Arsenal & Sunderland) had the neat figure of zero expenditure or revenue. The six clubs with net positive cash flow included the two Manchester giants as also Tottenham Hotspur, another of the big spenders in the league. Chelsea remained the highest spenders and it was a modest €18.9mn which got them the top honours. That money was spent on only three players; two fell in the ‘promising’ category – Lucas Piazon and Kevin de Bruyne – while the third,was defender Gary Cahill who may be as error- prone as David Luiz (note the three goals Chelsea conceded when these two played as central defenders against Manchester United). The most active team in the window was Queens Park Rangers(QPR). Their transfer spend for the 2011-12 season is nearly four times the money spent in the previous season when they were in The Championship. If it allows The Hoops to extend their premiership stay, then it will be money well spent. Prominent additions included Taye Taiwo from Milan and Federico Macheda from Manchester United on loan. They also improved their firepower (or did they?) by buying Djibril Cisse from Lazio and Bobby Zamora from Fulham.

Another team, which decided to up their striking power was Newcastle United, swooping for Papiss Demba Cisse from Freiburg. Some of the money earned from the sale of Carroll last year was finally being utilised. They might have found the perfect strike partner for scoring sensation Demba Ba with his countryman Cisse who had nine goals from 17 matches in the Bundesliga in this season before his transfer. Another Bundesliga import who may turn out to be a major signing is Gylfi Sigurdsson, bought on a loan by Swansea from Hoffenheim. The 22-year old Icelandic attacking midfielder had a single assist in Bundesliga from 7 matches but already in four appearances for The Swans, has got one goal and 3 assists to his name. Add the fact that he had 3.3 shots per game, 2.3 key passes, 26.8 average passes and 81.3 per cent pass completion rate and you have a definite star buy.

The formula, which had first been tried during the Zlatan Ibrahimovic purchase – loan with a deferred payment – is now the most popular method of payment. With the UEFA Financial Fair Play (FFP) coming into effect, most clubs prefer a deferred payment in an attempt to offset the accounting processes. One such signing was David Pizarro, brought on a free loan to Manchester City and a transfer that may have gone under the radar. Pizarro is one of the best passers of the game (21.5 passes attempted on average per match, 95.1 per cent pass completion rate for the season, 1.7 key passes per match) and Roberto Mancini may have found the final piece of the puzzle to give City their first ever Premier League title. That he came for free was the major surprise. Another player who came in for free was Louis Saha, released after 115 matches for Everton in which he had thirty-four goals. It was surprising though that, Tottenham, who have been having a great season, picked him up. Goal scoring has not exactly been their problem so far as they sit third in the table, having averaged almost two goals per game.

The return of the prodigal sons

The Premiership transfer talk cannot be over without highlighting the return of two prodigal sons. Thierry Henry returned to Arsenal on a two-month loan from NY Red Bulls and promptly showed that he had not lost it by scoring the winner on his return match. One day before this Henry goal, one of his long-time adversaries, Paul Scholes had decided to restart his Manchester United adventure by coming back from retirement. His return appropriately was in a F.A. Cup Manchester derby, which United won 3-2. Scholes capped it up by scoring the winner in his premiership return against Bolton. Together, they underlined the adage – Class is permanent.

 Serie A

Serie A mirrored the spending pattern across major leagues and actually posted the net positive revenue of € 5.7mn across 20 clubs. The 2010-11 season had seen a net expenditure of € 31.78mn.  Genoa, who are known for their huge squad turnovers in every transfer window, had the highest net expenditure (€16mn) while surprisingly Inter Milan earned the highest net revenue (€10.2 mn). Genoa’s huge expenditure largely depended on their capture of Alberto Gilardino from Fiorentina for €8 mn while Inter’s major earnings were from selling Thiago Motta to oil-rich Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).

Almost all Italian teams managed to avoid any kind of cash flow and mostly dealt in loans, which could be redeemed later. This included Inter’s capture of Fredy Guarin from Porto, Angelo Palombo from Sampdoria, Roma’s capture of Marquinho, Napoli’s capture of Eduardo Vargas and Milan’s capture of Sulley Muntari from Inter. Milan also captured Maxi Lopez on loan from Catania after fellow Argentine striker Carlos Tevez failed to complete his proposed loan deal from Manchester City. One such loan move, which actually got redeemed, was for the promising Fabio Borini, who was permanently bought by Roma from Parma.

The undoubted kings of the market were Juventus and more for the personnel that they shipped out, than whom they brought in. The Bianconeri shipped out Vincenzo Iaquinta, Marco Motta, Luca Toni, Amauri and Michele Pazienza – problem children all and indeed the Old Lady‘s fans were more happy to see the back of Amauri et al than to see loan capture of Martin Caceres from Sevilla or Marco Borriello from Roma. Some of those Juventus discards can actually decide who will stay up in the league, with Iaquinta going to struggling Cesena. Amauri has the unenviable task of replacing Alberto Gilardino at Fiorentina.

La Liga

There were very few transfers in La Liga and this was another league, which ended up with net positive transfer revenue like Serie A. In reality, only two clubs ended up with net transfer expenditure – Sevilla and Granada. This tells us that most clubs either did not indulge in any kind of transfer activity and if they did, it was to sell than buy.

Sevilla brought back a prodigal son of their own as Jose Antonio Reyes returned to the Andalusian club after starting out in the youth sectors of Sevilla. Since then, Reyes has excelled at Arsenal, warmed the benches at Real Madrid, failed at Atletico Madrid and then regained some foothold with Benfica. A return to familiar setting might just be a last effort to rekindle a career, which had once promised so much. Granada spent their money mostly on highly rated left back Gabriel Silva from Palmeiras and then promptly loaned him out to Novara in Serie A.


The German teams were very busy in January with transfer revenues of €31.5 mn and an expenditure of €56.1 mn. Of the net expenditure, more than half was done by Wolfsburg alone. With the team in the mid-table rut, the owners obviously wanted as many reinforcements as possible. So in came Petr Jiracek (€4mn), Slobodan Medojevic (€2.5 mn), Ferhan Hassani (€0.7mn), Vieirinha (€4.5mn), Giovanni Sio (€5.8mn), Ibrahim Sissoko (€1.5mn), Felipe (€2.5mn) and Ricardo Rodriguez (€8.5mn). The similarity in those eight signings is that they all come from outside the Bundesliga, are not well known and have an average age of 22.25 years. The youngest of the lot – Ricardo Rodriguez is also the most expensive. At 19, the left back has had a breakthrough year with FC Zurich, scoring one goal and 5 assists.

The other club, which happened to be most active in the market, were wooden spooners Freiburg SC who brought in nine players but none of them look to be of the calibre to prevent their drop from Bundesliga. The top two teams, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich didn’t have any buys but third placed Schalke 04 acquired Chinedu Obasi from Hoffenheim, a proven and sturdy Bundesliga performer. Bayer Leverkusen lying at sixth position in the Bundesliga bought Bernd Leno, Bundesliga’s most promising goalkeeper from Stuttgart and then loaned him back; also got Vedran Corluka from Manchester City on loan.

Ligue 1

Ligue 1 were the ones to spend the third highest on players after EPL and Bundesliga, among major leagues worldwide. They had transfer revenues of €32.7mn and a net expenditure of €54.5mn. As expected, the Qatari royal family backed PSG, contributed the most by spending €20mn on Barcelona’s Maxwell, Chelsea’s Alex and Inter’s Thiago Motta. They also shipped out striker Mevlut Erding to Rennes for €7.5mn. However, this was not the highest transfer amount within the league. Stade Brest sold 23-year old striker Nolan Roux to Lille for exactly €8mn.

Marseille let Lucho Gonzalez leave for Porto on a free transfer after the expiry of his contract. It may be noted that Marseille had signed him from Porto in 2009 for €19mn. So another transfer market killing for Porto. Saint-Etienne managed to permanently capture Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was originally on loan there but owned by AC Milan. Given his performances for Gabon in the African Cup of Nations, one would have to question the Milan management’s assessment of Aubameyang as they let him go for only €1.8mn.

Rest of Europe

In Portugal, Porto managed to carry out some smart deals, buying striker Marc Janko from Dutch side FC Twente for €3mn and loaning Danilo, the much sought after full back from South American champions, Santos. Strong rivals Benfica gave free signing Yannick Djalo a contract. Djalo was left out by the third force of Portuguese football – Sporting Lisbon. Lisbon themselves only made loan signings, of which Sebastian Ribas, the Uruguayan centre forward, who came from Genoa in Italy is noteworthy.

Turkish champions, Fenerbahce splashed the cash to capture Lille’s goal-scoring sensation Moussa Sow for €10mn. Sow showed he hadn’t missed a beat by scoring in his debut for Fenerbahce in the Super Lig. One country, which still has its transfer window open is Russia and you may still see some deals go through as the teams try to finalise before deadline day on 24th February. Anzhi may be the one who might tempt quite a few footballers to shift prior to the transfer window closure. Rivals Lokomotiv Moscow, has already made a move by signing Roman Pavlyuchenko from Tottenham Hotspurs.

Flavour of the month: Senegalese strikers Papiss Demba Cisse and Moussa Sow move to Newcastle and Fenerbahce respectively

Rest of the World

Santiago ‘El Tanque’ Silva, who was sold to Fiorentina by Velez Sarsfield amid much hype, proved to be a complete flop and was sold back to Boca Juniors for €1.4mn. Boca also brought back Pablo Ledesma, the ball playing midfielder of Catania, back to Argentina.

Another Argentine striker who had a much better time was Hernan Crespo. Along with Fabio Cannavaro, Robert Pires, Jay Jay Okocha and Robbie Fowler, Crespo was auctioned and ultimately bought by football franchises in India, where he would be playing in a new tournament, the Premier League Soccer, between March-May. Crespo, being the only active footballer among them, fetched the highest auction price of €840k.. Crespo had to rescind his Parma contract for this and he was not displeased about it either.


This transfer window was more a time for consolidation and managing with cheap alternatives. The time for lavish buys will probably be limited to the summer. Newcastle’s Papiss Demba Cisse was the single biggest signing at €12mn, closely followed by PSG’s Thiago Motta for €11mn. Most of the big teams didn’t indulge in any transfer activity apart from trying to offload players. The traditional big spenders too stayed quiet. This was thought to be the effect of the FFP notices. One still has to wonder if these clubs will show similar restraint in the summer, especially with the European Championships coming up. The African Cup of Nations has been played and most top clubs had sent in their scouts to cover it. Although it has been a dry winter, expect a heavy market of transfers in the summer.