Best XI – January Transfer Targets

The winter transfer window is on us and this episode of Best XI sets out to look at XI players who moved in the January window and proved to be masterpieces.

The January transfer window is a kind of anomaly as pointed out by Gino listing out the reasons behind the existence of the window. Without going into the veracity of the necessity of the window, one can safely say that clubs strain their necks to pick up hidden jewels and place punts on players to see through a rough patch that their club may have been going through.

This month’s Best XI is going to pick on a XI which have already moved this January or should be moving shortly, given all indications.


Goalkeeping is a spot that demands continuity and acclimatization with a team so this is a spot that seldom features moves in the winter window.  Classic cases of when, a prominent goalkeeper has moved in the winter transfer window, has involved him failing continuously in his club leading to a move out. Some prominent names who have made such a move includes Tim Howard (Man Utd to Everton), Jens Lehmann (Milan to Borussia Dortmund).The other end of the move is from a demand point of view where a prominent club has the requirement of buying a backup keeper and hence gone after a big name move in the winter. Some prominent names who have made such a move includes Shay Given (from Newcastle to Man City), Anders Lindegaard (Aalesunds FK to Man Utd)

For 2013 window, there has been only a handful goalkeeping move and so we would be pointing at a goalkeeper who hasn’t yet moved (as of 20th January) but his position in his current club is untenable and would be on the verge of a move.

Maarten Stekelenburg has been Holland’s #1 since the retirement of Edwin Van der Sar and when he moved to Roma in the summer of 2011, it was thought of as a end to the uncertainty that prevailed at the Italian capital where several goalkeepers – Doni, Julio Sergio, Bogdan Lobont had been tried without anyone of them securing the #1 spot. Stekelenburg has played 43 times for Roma since his transfer but only 10 of them have come in the current season. With the advent of Zdenak Zeman as the manager, Stekelenburg has been often shunted out and it is Mauro Goicoechea , the former Montevideo goalkeeper  who switched to Roma in the summer who has been favoured appearing 12 times already. The Dutchman would not take a #2 billing for long and his continued absence from the first team shows that a January move is imminent. Expected destinations could be Fulham, but more interesting theories link him to CL opponents Milan or Barcelona, both of whom feel a new #1 is required.


We have 4 defenders in this team and the first of them is Pablo Armero, the 26 year old Colombian who switched from Udinese to Napoli. Armero had a breakout year in 2011-12, amassing 12 assists in Serie A which was second highest in the league behind Andrea Pirlo’s 13 assists.

Based on such stupendous performances and given Udinese’s policy of buying low and selling high, it was expected that Armero would be cashed upon soon. That he stayed 2012-13 season was a surprise and he couldn’t reprise the same level of performance of previous season. There were only 2 assists and Udinese punted on a winter move apprehending that the value may fall further. Finally he moved to Napoli, who are flying high in the league, just behind league leaders Juventus. As is almost traditional of a January transfer, it is a loan with redemption value and Napoli has paid 1 mn € for the loan.

Domagoj Vida is a 23 year old Croatian central defender who has already seen career highs and lows. Back in 2010, on the back of stupendous season for local team NK Osijek and Croatian U21 team, Vida had earned a transfer to German giants Bayer Leverkusen for 2.5 mn€. But it was to be a terrible time for the young man and he featured in a handful matches in Bundesliga. Sold back to Dinamo Zagreb in 2011, for just about half the value that Bayer had paid, Vida set about repairing his reputation.  He racked up 8 goals and 5 assists in a season and a half for the Croatian champions. This time a equally illustrious European club in Dynamo Kiev came calling and paid 5 mn € for the centre back.

The tale of Johan Djourou is one of unfulfilled promise. Bought as a 17 year old in 2004, the Ivory Coast born central defender with Swiss nationality, played over 130 matches for Arsenal scoring once and assisting 6 goals. In the 8 years, he only spent only half a season away from Arsenal (on loan to Birmingham). But with injuries and off form plaguing him, his place in the team was long gone. A loan move to Hannover 96 would give him the time and space to recover fitness and form and with no redemption option in the loan, Djourou is expected to return to Arsenal in the summer.

Mathieu Debuchy was probably one of the few players who emerged 2012 Euro championship as a French player who enhanced his reputation. His performance especially in the opener with England (which France drew 1-1) was hailed as outstanding by the British press. A move to the Premier League was mooted but didn’t materialise. But it was only a short wait and 6 months down the line, Newcastle United have put their faith on the man who had spent his entire career of 10 years at Lille. The right back signed a 5 and half year deal with the Magpies costing them 6.2 mn € on the transfer fee.


It might be the year of the home-coming for the Brazilians. A whole host of young Brazilian players who had started promising careers in Europe, stuttered and opted to return to homeland. The most prominent such player is Alexandre Pato of Milan, but another player who had established himself in Europe – Renato Augusto of Bayer Leverkusen. Once hailed as a prodigy from the stables of Flamengo, Renato captured the fan’s hearts with his creativity in passing, ball control, pace and dribbling. In 5 seasons at Leverkusen, he scored 12 times and provided 27 assists. But terrible luck with injuries meant that he played only 11 times this season.

Corinthians which bought Pato, also swooped in for Renato Augusto, paying 3.5 mn €, roughly half his market value. Like Pato, it is expected that this will be a brief sojourn in the Brazilian league for this talented playmaker and soon he would be back to Europe.

Another talented Bundesliga midfield playmaker who has opted for pastures anew is Ivan Perisic. Like the other transfers, this too was a step down in the sense that Perisic went from champions Dortmund to struggling Wolfsburg. Bought for close to 5 mn € in 2011 when he signed a 5 year deal for Dortmund, Perisic has been a moderate success scoring 12 times and providing 7 assists in his 64 matches over a season and a half at Dortmund. But with the 23 year old struggling to get a consistent spot in the Dortmund side, it was felt that a 8mn € to Wolfsburg, making him the most expensive Bundesliga acquisition of this January window, a win for everyone.

When Perisic joined Dortmund, one of the player he was expected to make up for was Nuri Sahin. The Turkish born player had an outstanding season with Dortmund, propelling them to the Bundesliga and on the back of it had earned a 10 mn € move to Real Madrid. But in a team of superstars, Sahin hardly featured. After a year of struggles, he chose to go out on loan to fallen English giants Liverpool but Anfield didn’t turn out happy hunting for him. Liverpool paid 5 mn € but only 12 appearances (thought he scored 3 and assisted 3) was scant reward. Halfway through his 12 month loan, Sahin chose to go to his old pastures – at Dortmund and this time on a one and a half year loan. The move, even if makes sense for Dortmund, slightly shows up Sahin’s adaptability issues and any future move out of Germany would be highly debated.

Our next midfield player is one of the most sought after – Yann M’Vila. A Rennes youth product, he has been highly sought after for some seasons now but the expected move to a Premiership club (especially Arsenal, given Arsene Wenger’s influence) never materialised. Disciplinary problems, which forced him out of the French U21 team, may have been one of the factors. But with big money clubs like Rubin Kazan along with mandatory EPL interest from the likes of Fulham ensures, that M’Vila will probably have played his last match in for his childhood club.

The final midfielder in our XI is Wesley Sneijder. Probably the most talented Dutch midfielder of his generation, he has now been shunted out of two European bigwigs – Real and Inter. At 28, he still has a good 3-4 years at the top but once one of the prime targets of Sir Alex Ferguson, has finally been sent to the European backwaters of Galatasary. A dismal Euro 2012 and tactical inflexibility along with huge wages forced his move out of Inter and no considerable interest from any club in the big 5 leagues of Europe.


Our sole forward will not play anytime soon and is probably one of the biggest (and may turn out to be the smartest) gamble of the window. Fiorentina, had completely overhauled their team in the summer and brought in the one of the brightest young manager in Italy – Vincenzo Montella. A great half season, in which they sit in the top 6, means this team is on the verge of European qualification. But they do lack a positive goal getter. Luca Toni is on his last legs and Stefan Jovetic is a wonderful talent but is more a second striker with creative instincts. The capture of Giuseppe Rossi from Villareal for 10 mn € is thus a great gamble, since Rossi is still out injured and would not be fit to play till at least April. The Viola have though backed Rossi, to regain the form which saw him score 32 times for Villareal in the 2010-11 season before injury struck him in the 2011-12 season.

It will be a great story if Rossi manages to bring Viola back to European football only a year after they finished 13th and reinstate a career which has promised so much.