The Premier League’s current top-six sides spent £663million between them in the summer transfer window. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham shared a combined outlay of £40,000 in January; Cohen Bramall must be delighted.
Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino all engaged in a staring contest this winter, but none cared about being the first to blink. Each confirmed on at least one occasion that they were unlikely to sanction any signings. The January transfer window is a difficult beast to master, and so the managers with the most to lose through taking a gamble simply chose to cash out instead.
Such inaction suits Conte the best by far. Chelsea lead the Premier League table by nine points as we head into February, and the closest rival to have signed a first-team player was Everton, who are 20 points off the pace in seventh. With each of their fellow contenders opting not to reinforce, the Blues’ grip on a second title in three years merely strengthens.
Oh and they got over £50m for Oscar. No wonder he’s happy.
When the 2016 January transfer window closed, Sunderland were 19th, and had 19 points from 23 games. Sam Allardyce signed five players that winter, and eventually guided the club to Premier League safety.
When the 2017 January transfer window closed, Crystal Palace were 19th, and had 19 points from 23 games. Sam Allardyce signed four players this winter, and has been heavily backed to sustain top-flight football at Selhurst Park. Jeffrey Schlupp, Patrick van Aanholt and Luka Milivojevic augment an already lovely squad, while pushing through the Mamadou Sakho deal will delight the erstwhile England boss. He made no attempt to hide his frustrations earlier in the month, but Palace’s eventual list of signings is as impressive as anyone else’s.
It does heighten the pressure on Allardyce, who has grossly under-performed since being appointed manager in December. Palace spent eight-figure fees on three separate players; no other Premier League side did so on more than one. The 62-year-old had already inherited a group capable of a top-half finish; now it’s time for the manager to help deliver it. He has no more excuses.
An understated transfer window for Everton, but one in which they add proven and experienced first-team quality, as well as one of the most exciting prospects in the country. The Toffees outspent every other Premier League side, bar Crystal Palace.
In Morgan Schneiderlin, Everton have a player who was once one of the leading midfielders in the Premier League. He is added to a versatile, rounded and competitive midfield, and will contend with Idrissa Gueye, Tom Davies, James McCarthy and Gareth Barry for a starting position.
In Ademola Lookman, Everton have a player who has already impressed despite only being given brief opportunities. The 19-year-old provides another option as either a winger or a second striker, and was signed for the same money they received for reserve players Bryan Oviedo and Darron Gibson.
In Anton Donkor, Everton have a player who, frankly, is an unknown quantity. But his loan signing from Wolfsburg will essentially be a no-risk loan deal. Plus the fans have already christened him ‘Big Donk’, and if you don’t crack a smile at that then we can’t be friends.
The Toffees still do not boast the strongest possible squad – the left-back and striker positions require reinforcement, and a long-term goalkeeper must be sourced – but Everton are five points behind sixth-placed Manchester United and three ahead of eighth-placed West Brom, with a game in hand on the Baggies, and have a squad to reflect their transition. The club have increased financial backing, but Ronald Koeman is happy to take small steps in the right direction rather than risk slipping while taking giant strides. They have the perfect man in charge to oversee gradual improvement.
“We want to raise pounds to attack in the summer, as we did this year by signing four players.”
The cards hardly had to be prised away from Jose Mourinho’s chest. The Portuguese was more than happy to show them to anyone who would ask. Manchester United’s plan was no secret: This transfer window was the starter before the summer’s main course.
Mourinho revealing United’s course of action this month hardly weakened the club’s position. They still generated over £40m from the exits of Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay and Sean Goss, with only Chelsea, whose total was boosted by Oscar’s move to the Chinese Super League, receiving more in player sales.
As the manager says, this was simply preparation for the summer, the sort of forward thinking that his most recent predecessors could not manage. In Louis van Gaal’s first season, the club spent £145.7m on nine players; just two – Angel di Maria and Ander Herrera – would appear in their top ten appearance-makers of the campaign. In Jose Mourinho’s first season, the club have spent £145.6m on four players, and three are fixtures in the first team. The fourth, Eric Bailly, has been injured, and is a signing for the future.
So with Mourinho confirming that he has already drawn up his shortlist of targets, as well as the club inserting buy-back clauses in the sales of Depay and Goss, it points to a more sensible, pragmatic and professional approach to transfers at Old Trafford. For the first time in a long time, it feels like there is an actual plan.
A story that began in the summer of 2015 finally reaches a mutually satisfying conclusion. Saido Berahino and West Brom’s separation was uncharacteristically inconspicuous, but all three parties have reason to celebrate: The Baggies receive £12million for a reserve striker, Stoke sign a player with a point to prove, and Berahino can benefit from a fresh start.
The 23-year-old’s relief at finally leaving The Hawthorns was tangible. His attitude and commitment had been questioned, his weight and application criticised, his negative reputation merely enhanced. “I’m not a trouble-maker,” he insisted at his unveiling, still uncertain as to how many perceive him as an inconvenience.
“I was very lost,” Berahino would go on to explain while discussing his time at West Brom, and therein lies his motivation to leave his boyhood club. The striker had been reduced to little more than a commodity with a contract over the past few transfer windows.
It is easy to forget that this is a player who scored 20 goals in a season just two campaign ago, one for whom Tottenham made four separate offers, the highest of which amounted to £20m. Berahino’s natural goalscoring instincts were once rewarded with an England call-up. But his talents have been overlooked in the haze of constant transfer speculation.
A move to Stoke allows Berahino to concentrate on playing football again, not playing the transfer market. He is a fine striker, and a better fit in the Stoke system than Wilfried Bony. It is time to close the chapter on West Brom and start afresh at the Britannia Stadium.
It was perhaps the highest compliment Jose Mourinho could pay, to insert a buy-back option into the deal to sell Memphis Depay to Lyon. “We all wish he plays very, very well at Lyon and why not to come back because everyone here likes him,” stated the Manchester United manager.
There is no ill-feeling or animosity between the two parties, only regret that the Dutchman could not fulfil his considerable potential at Old Trafford. In another era he would have been afforded more time, but Mourinho is aware of the need to achieve now.
But this provides a chance for Depay to rediscover his form, to learn, to adapt, to grow away from the Premier League spotlight. It will seem disrespectful to Lyon, but his motivation should be to earn a second chance at United.
And hey, he can wear all the silly hats and drive all the fancy cars he wants now. Everyone’s a winner.
“He still has a contract. Why should I say ‘no chance’?”
Jurgen Klopp would go on to confirm that Lazar Markovic “has a future” at Liverpool, but this is the Serbian’s final opportunity to hold up his end of the bargain. This is the 22-year-old’s latest loan move since joining the club in the summer of 2014, with the previous two passing by without notice. The £20m signing will hope it is third time lucky, and his final audition will be played out in front of the watchful, unforgiving eye of the Premier League.
Fans of retro Everton
Jack Rodwell, Joleon Lescott, Steven Pienaar and Victor Anichebe, teammates at Everton for two years from 2007, are reunited at Sunderland. Fellow Goodison Park alumni Bryan Oviedo and Darron Gibson join them.
David Moyes really needs some more agent contacts, doesn’t he?
That Gabriel Jesus fella looks bloody handy.
Odion Ighalo scored three goals in his last 36 Premier League games for Watford. The Hornets sold him to Changchun Yatai for £20m. Silly.
First things first: turn up on time. And don’t take any non-banned fat-burning substances. And make Sam Allardyce happy by heading everything in plain sight.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham did not sign a single first-team player between them. Crystal Palace spent the most of any Premier League club. Oscar was the most expensive player. Hull were the busiest club.
In an era where live transfer blogs on Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United – and only Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United – are ten a penny, the January window barely even managed to whelm. The usual culprits attempted to generate interest by claiming that Antoine Griezmann was on his way to Old Trafford, or James Rodriguez had been spotted at a Nando’s in London, or Manchester City were signing Lionel Messi for the 427th time, but to no avail. Nothing really happened.
Many ploughed on regardless, including Sky Sports and transfer deadline deity Jim White. But for once, it actually felt as though the audience was not really there. Although a full set of midweek fixtures does detract from the transfer fanfare, the truth is that many people are simply losing interest. When the most-searched player on deadline day is Marvin Emnes, you have to question the hoopla.
Sunderland have been circling the Premier League drain for a number of seasons, but this might finally be the campaign they are flushed from the top flight. Years of mismanagement from the upper echelons has constantly threatened the club’s future, but even Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis’ illegitimate son would struggle to maintain their top-flight status this season.
Moyes wasted no time in making it public that he had been misled before accepting the Sunderland job in the summer. “If I’d known about the financial situation, I’d have needed to look at it in a different way,” he said in December.
He continued: “I didn’t see us having no money in January. I’m disappointed I won’t be able to do some work in January and build on what we’ve done so far.”
Moyes was undoubtedly hamstrung, a victim of Sunderland’s uncertain fate, but the Scot still managed to disappoint in the face of adversity. He took a gamble, sanctioning the sale of Patrick van Aanholt in order to generate funds necessary to improve on the squad.
To say that the subsequent arrivals were disheartening is an understatement. Joleon Lescott was the first signing, and he was quickly followed by Bryan Oviedo and Darron Gibson, who arrived for a combined £7.5m. And that was it: a 34-year-old free agent, a direct swap at left-back and a midfielder with well-documented injury problems.
“I do believe we will be stronger on February 1 than we were on January 1,” Moyes stated last week, but any improvement is negligible at best. He faces an uphill battle after an uninspiring, unimaginative and underwhelming month. The Black Cats might finally be on their ninth life.
For once, Ehab Allam’s words must have been music to the collective ears of Hull fans. “We have never been a selling club under our ownership,” the vice-chairman insisted on January 17. The message to Wests Brom and Ham was loud and clear: Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass are not for sale.
“There is no appetite to sell players,” Allam would continue. “They are our best assets and we are in a survival fight. We do not want to weaken the team and we are focused on making additions.”
Within three days, Livermore had departed for West Brom. A week later, top goalscorer and assist-provider Snodgrass joined West Ham. Allam’s use of the word “assets” was pertinent, as it stunk of asset-stripping by an owner publicly intent on selling the club.
Hull would end the winter transfer window having made more signings than any other club, but each of their seven arrivals represents a risk. Marco Silva has been tasked with navigating a sinking ship while those above blindfold him and tie both his arms behind his back.
“We need to improve the team, and the club knew a month and a half ago the players that I wanted. I always said the aim in the transfer window was to improve the squad. At the moment, we haven’t done that. We will be disappointed if nobody else comes in, but I have tried my best.”
Cue disappointment for Aitor Karanka and Middlesbrough. The month passed with rumours of Bojan Krkic, Robert Snodgrass, Gerard Deulofeu and Jese Rodriguez being targeted. Any would have been a welcome addition.
What followed was three signings that would not look out of place for a club looking to reignite an ailing bid to reach the Championship play-offs. It speaks volumes that Adelene Guedioura was unwanted by Watford and pursued by Hull, while Rudy Gestede and Patrick Bamford are not the sort of strikers equipped to strengthen a forward line that has scored at least two fewer goals than any other Premier League club this season. The pair have a combined record of one goal every 421 minutes in the top flight.
But most damning is that Karanka himself has already admitted that neither Gestede and Bamford “improve the squad”, and it is difficult to see how Guedioura differs in that respect. This window has hardly convinced discontented fans, nor will it please the manager.
Said Jurgen Klopp on November 29: “Of course, transfers will be done or not. If we have another few injuries or not, we will see. Maybe a few young lads now take the chance because of injuries of other players, so then we don’t think about it anymore.” Liverpool were second, one point behind leaders Chelsea.
Said Klopp on January 22: “It is not that we don’t want to bring players in. We do. But the thing is, the players we want because we think they help us, the clubs don’t sell.” Liverpool had slipped to fourth, with ten points separating them from Chelsea.
Said Klopp on January 30: “Different things, we need players, our players plus a few new faces.” Liverpool had just been knocked out of the EFL Cup and FA Cup, both in the space of a week.
For a man who has never made an attempt to disguise his disdain for the winter transfer window, Klopp started the year as predicted. He said no to expect any incomings, feeling that his reserves would prove their worth if necessary. But he ends January accepting that his squad needed “a few new faces”. They did not arrive.
Circumstances change. As the window opened, few held the belief that Liverpool needed more than one, perhaps two signings at most. And they would only have been additions to the squad; their first team is as good as any in the Premier League. But as the window closes, the Reds’ lack of depth and experience has been exposed. It’s funny what effect one victory in nine games can have.
Liverpool have the weakest squad of the top six; Tottenham are not far behind. Again, the north Londoners have arguably the best starting XI of any side in the Premier League, but the well-oiled car needed some spare parts and a lick of paint. The reserves proved incapable against League Two Wycombe in the FA Cup, and needed Dele Alli and Moussa Dembele to rescue them. As was proven in the 0-0 draw against Sunderland, no-one is waiting in the wings to step up if Alli, Dembele, Harry Kane and the rest of the first team suffers a rare collective off-day.
Player wants to leave? ☑
Player goes on strike in order to force through move? ☑
Club receives numerous offers from the same club for player on deadline day. ☑
Player complains of ‘broken promises’ as club reject offers. ☑
The only mark Leonardo Ulloa is missing from his ‘Saido Berahino transfer checklist’ is a refusal to play for the chairman again – although ‘Jeremy Peace’ is an admittedly easier name to grasp than ‘Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’.
Ulloa has, of course, outlined his intention to never play for Claudio Ranieri again, having been denied an exit from Leicester that he claims he was promised in the summer. Sunderland came calling for the striker on three occasions, but the Foxes ignored them.
It is an unfortunate state of affairs. A matter of months ago, Ulloa played a key role in Leicester’s incredible Premier League title win, but only as an impact substitute. He felt he had earned a chance to find first-team football elsewhere, but Ranieri did not wish to lose the 30-year-old. Now Ulloa is left stranded, and Leicester have a player who has openly stated he no longer wants to be there. A club battling relegation can ill afford any negative influences on the squad, but Ulloa’s teammates must have some sympathy for the Argentinean.
Someone always gets dragged into a relegation battle from relative mid-table safety. Leicester climbed through the transfer window six points above the relegation zone. They scramble out of it two points clear of the bottom three.
Only one bottom-half club made fewer signings than Leicester’s two, and Bournemouth currently enjoy a five-point lead over the Foxes.
Coupled with the departures of Luis Hernandez and Jeffrey Schlupp, as well as the mutiny of Ulloa, it leaves Leicester emerging from the winter window with fewer first-team players than when they entered. Wilfred Ndidi has understandably failed to oversee an improvement in results or performances since he joined. Claudio Ranieri must be hoping that Molla Wague is bloody brilliant.
When Jose Fonte handed in a transfer request, his desire to leave Southampton was likely fuelled by speculation linking him with a move to Manchester United or Liverpool. Arsenal had even been mentioned as potential suitors. A move to West Ham, one place above Saints in the Premier League table, is unlikely to have been his main motivation. The 33-year-old has undoubtedly improved his economic situation, but he has missed out on the opportunity to lead the club out at Wembley in a major cup final.
It takes a brave club to sign neither a right-back nor a striker when they have just one suitable option in each of those positions. And considering Sam Byram has already missed three months of action through injury and Andy Carroll is due some sort of setback, Slaven Bilic must be feeling awfully lucky. Playing in both positions at the same time might be beyond even Michail Antonio.
Jordi Amat. Mike van der Hoorn. Alfie Mawson. Federico Fernandez. They probably needed another central defender. Tom Carroll, Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson and Jordan Ayew are all decent signings but, y’know…Jordi Amat. Mike van der Hoorn. Alfie Mawson. Federico Fernandez.
What’s worse: Having Jordi Amat as one of only four central defenders, or bidding for Jordi Amat in a deadline day-induced panic? As tough a predicament as Swansea find themselves in, Southampton hardly fare any better. Their central defensive options are Virgil van Dijk, Maya Yoshida, Jack Stephens and Florin Gardos. And Van Dijk has been ruled out for the foreseeable future through injury.
From fourth-choice goalkeeper at Southampton to fifth-choice goalkeeper at Southampton. Are there no limits to the terrors of 2017?