The annual New Year scramble by clubs across Europe to secure the signing that could steer them clear of relegation, lead them to a league title or secure a money-churning spot in the Champions League has come to an end.
With the dust now settling and any last-gasp dashes for the fax machine now sadly in vain, it’s time to evaluate how some of the Premier League clubs faired.
Arguably the most intrigue going into the window concerned the potential activity of the notoriously frugal Gunners. Having been knocked out of the League Cup by fourth-tier Bradford and facing a real challenge to earn their annual financial accounts boom provided by a Champions League spot, Arsene Wenger’s assertions that his squad has enough quality is surely hard for many Arsenal fans to swallow.
Wenger finally acted on deadline day and only after an injury to Kieran Gibbs left him staring at the frightening possibility of Andre Santos having an extended run in the team. Having said the signing of Nacho Monreal from Malaga is likely to prove a shrewd bit of business. While it is a blow that he won’t be available for the Champions League, the Spain international will become a lot more than a reactionary signing to Gibbs’ injury but rather an upgrade on the still inexperienced Englishman.
Still, it cannot be ignored, that parts of the side remain obviously short of quality. Doubts remain about the heart of the defense but the biggest concern should be in the center of midfield. Arsenal are a different proposition when Abou Diaby is providing dynamism through the middle, yet, despite Diaby’s sad luck with injuries striking again to rule him out for much of the first half of the season, Wenger again appears to have gambled on the France international’s fitness.
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Arsenal could also pay for not successfully identifying another forward target after it became obvious that David Villa could not be pried away from Barcelona.
Sir Alex Ferguson is not a fan of the January transfer window and he fulfilled his promise of not adding to his squad. A deal was done, though, for exciting Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, with the 20-year-old going back on-loan to the Championship club for the rest of the season. His signing raises question marks over all of United’s wide players. Nani has long been reported to soon be on the way out with his contract entering its final 18 months. Antonio Valencia has had a significant drop of form of late, while Ashley Young is yet to fully convince that he can be a consistent force at the top level.
Unsurprisingly, United’s glaring weakness for more than three years—the lack of a dynamic midfielder—remains unresolved. The absence of a robust compliment to the passing qualities of Michael Carrick is unlikely to matter in the Premier League, where United’s quality elsewhere should be enough to beat off competition in a season of weak competition.
In the Champions league it could be a different story. The attacking pace of Real Madrid could pose real problems as soon as the first knockout round and, even if they get through that, United remain no closer to their recent nemesis Barcelona.
This was always going to be something of an odd transfer window for Chelsea with an interim manager and their hopes already over of retaining their Champions League or mounting a serious challenge for the Premier League.
There was little value perhaps in going after the man that likely remains the club primary target—Radamel Falcao. Instead the affordable option of Demba Ba was signed, who had Premier League experience meaning he could hit the ground running. Ba is also not such a grand signing that he would demand selection for every match and further deflate the seemingly fragile mental state of Fernando Torres. Having said that, it is clear that Ba is a much better option for Chelsea for the rest of the season and the remaining months must provide the final confirmation to Roman Abramovich that he will never get value for his £50 million.
Perhaps the most glaring weakness in the side currently is in central midfield, which are only heightened by the current unavailability of Oriol Romeu and John Mikel Ob. If Chelsea had still been in the running for the major prizes, they may well have pushed the boat out to land reported target Paulinho of Corinthians, but that could now be left until the summer.
It is going to take several transfer windows for Brendan Rodgers to overhaul the Liverpool squad to his liking. Last summer’s activities left a lot to be desired, not least because of their failure to sign another forward after the departure of Andy Carroll.
That has now been corrected by the signing of Daniel Sturridge and the early signs have been promising that he can add a new dimension to the attack in tandem with Daniel Sturridge. The jury remains out, though, on a player that all too often has his eyes staring down at his own feet rather than what’s around him. A fee of £12 million is also a lot of money for a player that has achieved little for a player aged 23.
The other January signing, Philippe Coutinho, perhaps represents better value, although the Brazilian too has still only showed glimpses of fulfilling his potential. There is a big upside to the former Internazionale man, though, and he could potentially provide the devilment to unlock Premier League defenses and link up with Luis Suarez.
Queens Park Rangers
There cannot be a discussion of the transfer window without mentioning the activities of QPR. Just weeks after manager Harry Redknapp lamented the club’s business last summer that saw a huge number of players arrive on big wages, QPR has gone on an even more spectacular and bewildering spurge. In total six players arrived, with the signing of Christopher Samba embodying the rash nature of the spending.
Samba is a good, steady Premier League defender and should certainly help QPR for the remainder of the season. However, paying a club record £12.5 million to sign the former Blackburn player on a four-and-a-half-year contract worth, according to some reports, £100,000 a week when you lay four points adrift of safety at the foot of the Premier League is an astonishing gamble.
Add the fact that, according to reports, Samba and many of QPR’s signings do not have a clause in their contract to reduce their wages in the event of relegation and the spending represents recklessness of perhaps never before witnessed proportions.
The other headline signing, Loic Remy, should also boost the team, although one can only wonder why the France international elected to choose a move to QPR over Newcastle.
Make no mistake, if Redknapp fails to keep QPR up, it will not have been a valiant effort, but an unmitigated failure given their activities in January and could leave the Hoops heading in the same direction as one of his former clubs Portsmouth.
Tottenham strengthened their challenge for a top-four spot by bringing forward the planned summer deal for German international midfielder Lewis Holtby. Less encouraging was that Spurs again missed out on long-time target Leandro Damiao. While chairman Daniel Levy’s refusal to pay what he feels is over the odds is admirable, if Tottenham fail to qualify for the Champions League due to a lack of firepower he will only have one place to look.
Manchester City failed to make any additions as they continue to try and comply with financial fair play. There was a major outgoing, with the club finally deciding that Mario Balotelli’s talents no longer justified the disruption he also brought to the table. That could leave City short up front, although it could mean the exciting young Swede John Guidetti getting a look in as he returns from injury. City’s major spending looks likely to be left to the summer, when there may also be a change in the dugout.
Meanwhile, toward the bottom of the table, Aston Villa fans are unlikely to be overly encouraged that their ailing fortunes can be turned around by the signings of midfielder Yacouba Sylla from Ligue 2 side Clermont Foot or attacking midfielder Simon Dawkins, who had been at MLS side San Jose Earthquakes.