Whilst many people hype up the January transfer window and eagerly anticipate the arrival of the new year just so they can see their team delve into the market for a much needed boost to their squad, quite often it fails to materialise. In fact this transfer window has become something of a damp squib in recent years, with 2011 being the only anomaly that immediately springs to mind. Juan Mata may have switched clubs but other big deals look unlikely.
January, first and foremost, isn’t a very good time to do business. Unlike in the summer, the season itself is well under way. In fact it’s beyond the half-way point and every team in every league in every country have a far better idea of where they realistically are and will be at the end. Inevitably, no matter where your team is in the league, the priority has to be to hold on to your most influential and most important players. To do that, and to keep the vultures at bay, price tags have to be set. In the majority of cases, the ridiculously inflated figures that are touted for players are simply a means by the club to deter other clubs from putting bids on the table. It isn’t their actual valuation of the player. As a result of clubs’ desperation to keep hold of the players that can either shoot them towards glory or save them from the dreaded drop or simply revitalise their campaign, not many high-calibre deals are done. Add in the fact that in just one month, a club selling one of its prized assets has very limited time to find a good enough replacement and also, whoever they’re going to pursue the signature of will be equally as difficult to obtain for exactly the same reasons as explained above.
Whilst 90% of teams find it difficult to add any fresh faces, this type of market ultimately benefits the other 10% of clubs who have the mega bucks. The main team in the Premier League to have been flexing their financial muscles this month have been Chelsea. Having parted with Juan Mata, they’ve done their usual trick of hijacking other clubs’ moves for players. In this case, it was FC Basel winger Mohammed Salah. The Egyptian international appeared to be heading to Liverpool, until the wealthy London club stepped in. The same happened in the summer when Willian decided to forget his initial transfer to Tottenham, which was all but completed, in order to move to Stamford Bridge. I wonder what could have potentially swayed him? Unfortunately for everyone else lacking this much power and influence, clubs who do have it in abundance tend to dictate the market and have the final say on who goes where. If they want a player, they just nonchalantly go out and buy them with barely any negotiating required.
As a result, January is a month which sees the clubs with an embarrassment of riches become even more overloaded with talent and this causes the gulf between the top and the bottom halves of the league to widen even more. Less affluent clubs simply can’t compete with the financial powerhouses, especially in January when the top players (and even some mediocre ones) are going at prices bordering on the irrational. The only types of deals other clubs are likely to pull off are:
• Loan deals for other teams’ fringe players. These are likely to be from clubs with bigger squads (like Chelsea).
• Loan deals for players who are playing in other countries where the season isn’t in full swing (such as the American MLS).
• Cheap deals for players who are out of contract in the summer and the selling club is looking to cash in.
• Deals for players who “want out” of their current club for various reasons.
One saving grace for this year’s January window is that it will be the last chance for players to move before the World Cup in the summer. Whilst many people may question whether modern day footballers are as committed to serving their national side as their club, it cannot be questioned that every player wants to be on their nation’s plane to Brazil (if their country has qualified, of course). In order to give themselves the best possible chance of doing so, they need to be playing regular football at a good level for the rest of the season. As a result, they may need to move away from their current club if they’re not playing regularly there.
Therefore, it has to be said that the January transfer window is something which most clubs would actually prefer to do without. Whilst it can prove to be useful to bring in a fresh face or two (if possible), the majority of the business done is only out of real necessity. One club in this situation is West Ham who are simply looking to add depth to their squad amidst their current injury crisis. It certainly doesn’t inject much excitement into the season as the only teams who are able to spice things up in it are the financial powerhouses. For every club outside the top six or so teams in the Premier League, their marquee signings are made in the summer as that’s the only time they can realistically chase after the targets they want. Swansea broke their record transfer fee paid for a player when they splashed out on Wilfried Bony in the summer, in January all they’ve managed to do is to sign Bolton’s David N’Gog.
With only the clubs with the already big squads (and deep pockets) being able to sign anyone of real note, is it really worth having a January window at all? If the majority of the business is loan deals, then why don’t the Premier League just have longer “loan” windows open during the season, like the Championship and lower leagues? Clubs who have smaller squads like West Ham would then be able to add depth if needed. Also, clubs with squads the size of Chelsea’s should be able to survive throughout the whole season without needing to permanently recruit any new super stars. If injuries strike, then maybe (just maybe), give one or two of the fringe/young players a chance? It’s wishful thinking I know…