The January transfer window, it’s fair to say, is not the most popular of the game’s recent innovations. Those smaller clubs reliant on a few star players tremble at every ‘phone call; clubs with money panic-buy to fill gaps in their squads that they’re not quite sure are there; and the aristocracy look on with feigned disinterest – how often do we hear Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger claim that it is somehow not designed for them, that their scouting will take until at least the summer? Steve Coppell goes even further: in his time at Reading, he called for the abolition of the window, claiming that it condoned “scurrilous” transfer behaviour. Perhaps it does: football’s equivalent of the crush in the January sales.
But a January transfer doesn’t necessarily mean panic-buying of the Afonso Alves kind. It can be inspired, it can be lucky, and it can be, in a strange way, quite touching. So let BPF countdown 10 of the best transfer window purchases…
10. Brede Hangeland to Fulham, 2007: A case of what might have been to kick us off. Plenty of clubs sniffed around the FC Copenhagen defender following Champions League heroics, before Fulham plucked up the courage to bring him to England in 2007. That move reunited Hangeland with Roy Hodgson, who had been his coach at Viking Stavanger in Norway. Together, they instilled iron discipline in a Fulham defence that saw the club reach its first European final, in the Europa League 2010.When Hodgson took the Liverpool job, the speculation was that he would return to buy Hangeland again. Given the chronic defensive displays that cost him job at Anfield, it is tempting to imagine what could have been had the rumours come true.
9. Osvaldo to Espanyol, 2010: He’s part of one of the most impressive teams in Barcelona this season – and he plays in blue and white. One of the unassuming stars of the second team in Spain’s second city, Osvaldo has flourished under coach Mauricio Pochettino to the point where Espanyol sit in the Champions League spots in La Liga. Initially signed on loan, the Italian-Argentine striker (he opted to play for Italy U21s in 2007) has come to be a lynchpin in the side, preventing the club becoming a collector of players with great futures behind them (Rui Fonte and the Israeli Ben Sahar have been sent out on loan). This might not always have been the plan, as Espanyol’s new signings have been almost uniformly injured this season, but it might not matter if Osvaldo keeps scoring at his current rate of a goal every two games.
8. Henrik Larsson to Manchester United, 2007: A late-career cameo in our list, for a footballer who refused to ever be obvious. In all the debate over defences in the Eredivisie with the transfers to England of players like Mateja Kežman and Afonso Alves, it is reassuring that such an undoubted talent as Larsson was not prolific there, nor in his native Sweden. The fact that he found a home in the Scottish Premiership will always count against him when compiling lists of the greats, but it didn’t stop Barcelona picking him up towards the end of his career, nor Man Utd when a little experience was required in the second half of the 2006-7 season. After Sir Alex Ferguson brought in one of the surprise transfers of that window, Larsson provided cover up-front at a crucial time, and scored int he FA Cup, the League and the Champions League. Then there was the dignified ending: having said he would return to Sweden at the end of that season, Larsson did just that, despite United making obvious that they wanted to extend his contract.
7. Wilson Palacios to Spurs 2009: How could we create a list of transfer window signings and not include Harry Redknapp? However much he may not like it, the man embodies the kind of quick-wittedness and risk-taking that kept West Ham in the Premiership for so long. At Spurs, the kitty might be bigger but the manager’s canniness remains true. For all the glamour of Tottenham’s midfield, with the cultured play of Huddlestone, Modric and Krancjar, the club’s long-awaited push into the top four coincided with the purchase of the terrier-like Honduras star. There were no worries about a foreigner adapting to the Premier League, either. A Fans’ Player of the Year award in his first season, including a Man of the Match performance against Arsenal in only his second game, saw Palacios become the natural heir to the likes of Vieira and Roy Keane.
6. Matt Derbyshire to Olympiacos, 2009: A striking case of a young English player having success abroad. This seems all too rare nowadays, but then Derbyshire always seemed a little different. He joined the select band of players who turned down interest from Man Utd in his youth, opting for Blackburn Rovers, where he worked in the club’s community office, coaching youngsters.
In January 2009 Derbyshire was loaned out to Greek side Olympiacos, where he managed five goals in seven games. His time in Greece brought him a League and Cup Double, as well as the nickname ‘The English Killer’. His good relationship with the fans started early, as he scored in extra time on his home debut to take Olympiacos through to the Greek Cup Final. In that final, he was brought on at half time, with his team 2-0 down to hated rivals AEK Athens. Derbyshire scored within three minutes of coming on, and again in injury time to level the score at 3-3. He only knew that he had scored by the cheering of the fans, as he had suffered severe concussion in an earlier collision. Olympiacos went on to win the final 15-14 on penalties.
5. Stephen Warnock to Blackburn, 2006: Football is rare on sentiment, and, it could be argued, even rarer at allowing players the opportunity they might deserve. Stephen Warnock is coming close to proving the exception to the rule, playing himself by force of will into consideration for England and his boyhood club. On the national scene, he has been unlucky to be born into the same generation as Ashley Cole, the acknowledged star on the left of defence. At club level, a couple of January transfers might be combining to tell a fairytale.
Warnock left Liverpool in January 2006, escaping the cold and remote management style of Rafa Benitez, who left him out of the squad for Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League victory with no support or commiseration. Since then he has done sterling work, first at Blackburn (picking up Player of the Season in 2008/9) and Aston Villa, where he finished as runner-up in the FA Cup. A Liverpool fan first and foremost (with a sense of respect for the club who stood by him when he broke his leg three times in the reserves), rumour is that Kenny Dalglish’s hunt for a left-back will return Warnock to Anfield.
4. Kevin Nolan to Newcastle, 2009: A real slow burner of a transfer. After 323 games for Bolton, Nolan moved to Newcastle for £4m, and went down to the Championship. Not only that, but injury kept him to only 11 appearances for the Magpies, with no goals. He was by no means the team’s worst performer, but this was a player who had managed to score important goals before; after scoring against Man Utd at Old Trafford for the second season in a row, it was reported that Sir Alex Ferguson was scouting the midfielder. But Nolan bounced back from the lower division in style, discovering a scoring touch that returned Newcastle to the top flight immediately. His 18 goals over the season, including his first hat-trick, made him more vital than Newcastle might have imagined when they signed him. Nolan was voted Championship player of the year, a prize he celebrated with the scissor kick against Sheffield United in the final game. He has brought his taste for goals back into the Premiership with him, most notably with a hat-trick in the Tyne-Wear derby under Chris Hughton, and more recently with the first goal of Alan Pardew’s tenure, against Liverpool.
3. Mascherano to Liverpool Jan 2007 loan: And the prize for the most convoluted January transfer goes to…who else? Javier Mascherano, the ‘Little Chief’, has managed to go from being one of the best players who couldn’t get a game at a club who play in claret and blue, to being one of the best players in the world who couldn’t get a game at a club who play in claret blue.
Mascherano signed for Liverpool from West Ham, and also, when making his loan move permanent, from Mystere Services and Global Soccer Agencies. Under Alan Pardew, then manager at Upton Park, he was chronically underplayed (only five appearances), leading to conspiracies that West Ham couldn’t afford the payments that game-time would trigger. Liverpool were more wary when attempting to sign Mascherano: they applied to FIFA for special clearance, as usually players are not allowed to play for more than one club in a year, and Macherano had played for West Ham and Brazil’s Corinthians. It took until February 2007 for the loan deal to be ratified by the FA. West Ham, for their part, were fined a record £5.5m for breaking rules regarding third party ownership.
At Liverpool Mascherano hit the ground running, ending the 2007 season as a runner-up in the Champions League, and going on to win a second Olympic Gold at Beijing the following year. He is the first man to win two footballing golds since 1928, and only the second Argentine to ever win gold twice. When it came to signing him permanently, he created a transfer window of his own, as technically he was not signed to any club.
Mascherano decamped to Spain, following his former midfield partner Xabi Alonso. Now, he struggles to get into Barcelona’s team nearly as badly as in his London days, and his debut against Hercules marked Barca’s first home defeat for 16 months. But for three seasons the Argentina captain ruled any pitch he walked on.
2. Anelka to Chelsea, 2008: How many players have been through the clubs that Anelka has, and yet could be considered a bargain at £15m? The resurgence in Chelsea’s style and performance under Guus Hiddink had much to do with a happy Anelka, whether playing on the left (as he has refused to do at regular times in his career) or as a replacement for the regularly injured and banned Drogba.
Given that his natural ability and place were never in doubt, it seems only his black moods kept him from claiming top spot in this list. Not only did his signing prove that Chelsea might not restrict themselves to ‘marquee’ names, it went some way to proving the talent of the player who has talked himself out of more teams than most. Ending 2008 with the Barclays Golden Boot served to underline the class of Anelka, who has now won League and Cup Doubles with both Arsenal and Chelsea, accumulating a combined transfer fee of nearly £90m along the way. And who can forget him ‘retiring’ from the French squad after going on strike at the World Cup in South Africa? Life would certainly be more boring without him.
1. NemanjaVidic to Manchester United, 2006: When you Google Vidic, pictures of him come up even before his Wikipedia page. And looking at him, it strikes you that he was born to be a top defender. Athletic, strong, tactically aware and a constant danger at corners, the Serb has more than repaid the £7m it took to bring him to Old Trafford from Russia, where he was the most expensive defender in league history. Lucky for Manchester United that a cut-and-dried deal to take him to Fiorentina was held up by the Italian club having to find a way of accommodating another non-EU player.
Since his move, Manchester United have won three League titles, the Champions League, the World Club Cup and three League Cups. It’s not as if his success is don to the quality of players around him either, though he formed an enviable partnership with Rio Ferdinand in the centre of defence. Vidic was already making waves on the international scene when Utd signed him, as part of the ‘Famous Four’ defence that took Serbia to the 2006 World Cup whilst conceding only one goal. Qualification was repeated for South Africa 2010, ahead of more established nations France and Romania.
Vidic was rewarded for his form by being given the captaincy this season, in Ferdinand’s absence, and it is testament to his strength of character that this first game as captain was against Liverpool, whose Fernando Torres had so tormented him in previous meetings that Vidic had been sent off in their last three meetings. But then, he has appeared in three PFA Teams of Year running, as well as being voted Fans’ and Players’ Player of the Year. For a player so beloved and admired at his club, three reds versus Liverpool was hardly going to hurt, were they?