Successful January signings
Just like mobile phones and the internet, it’s hard to imagine a world without the transfer window now we’ve become so accustomed to it. Yet it may surprise some readers to learn that it’s been less than 20 years since football clubs were banned from signing players outside a specific timeframe.
The window was introduced by FIFA in 2002, with many English clubs among the fiercest critics of the new arrangement. It’s become part of the furniture now, though, with the summer and winter markets keenly anticipated by fans of sides through the divisions.
It’s notoriously difficult to land transfer targets in the January window, with Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres among the high-profile flops acquired midway through the campaign. But what about those oft-forgotten signings and surprise hits that bucked the trend?
10. Sebastian Larsson (Arsenal to Birmingham, 2007)
Before the relationship between the two clubs soured following Martin Taylor’s leg-breaking challenge on Eduardo in 2008, Arsenal would regularly lend Birmingham some of their most gifted young players.
Larsson, Nicklas Bendtner and Fabrice Muamba were all sent to St Andrew’s for the 2006/07 campaign, with the former signing permanently for the Blues the following January. The Swedish midfielder impressed with his work ethic, pinpoint crossing and set-piece expertise, and went on to play over 200 games for the club – the most memorable of which came in the defeat of Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final.
9. Andres D’Alessandro (Wolfsburg to Portsmouth, 2006)
Harry Redknapp has always had a knack for getting the best out of talented wastrels. A successful man-manager, the former Tottenham, QPR and West Ham boss was able to coax impressive performances out of wayward talents such as Adel Taarabt, Paolo Di Canio and Rafa van der Vaart.
Redknapp won the only major trophy of his managerial career at Portsmouth, who lifted the FA Cup under his guidance in 2008. Two years earlier, the south coast side were locked in a relegation battle when they signed D’Alessandro on loan in January; the Argentine attacking midfielder didn’t take long to settle in at Fratton Park, helping Pompey win six of their last 10 games to secure survival.
8. David Bentley (Arsenal to Blackburn, 2006)
His career may have descended into farce towards the end, culminating in a premature retirement at the age of 29 having fallen out of love with football, but that shouldn’t detract from how good Bentley was in his prime. Suggestions that he was England’s heir to David Beckham on the right of midfield certainly weren’t as absurd as they seem now.
Yet with opportunities at Arsenal limited, Bentley joined Blackburn on loan in 2005. After a positive start to life at Ewood Park, the wide man was snapped up permanently the following January; Bentley celebrated the move by scoring a stunning hat-trick in a 4-3 defeat of Manchester United two days later. By the time he departed for Spurs in 2008, the seven-time England international had played 133 times for Rovers.
7. Paul Scharner (Brann to Wigan, 2006)
The versatile Austrian initially looked set to sign for Birmingham until Wigan gazumped the Blues as arguments over the transfer fee dragged on. Chairman Dave Whelan had no qualms about meeting Brann’s demands and a deal was struck for £2.5m.
Scharner enjoyed the perfect introduction to English football, scoring the winner against Arsenal on his debut in the first leg of a League Cup semi-final. He spent six years in England in total, becoming a cult hero at both Wigan and West Brom; solid and dependable, Scharner was deployed in a number of roles by the Latics and played his part in their remarkable FA Cup triumph in 2013.
6. Nigel Reo-Coker (Wimbledon to West Ham, 2004)
There were plenty of jokes about Tony Adams’ lack of imagination when one of his first acts as Granada manager in 2017 was to offer trials to Kieran Richardson and Nigel Reo-Coker, but both players used to be taken rather more seriously.
Indeed, Reo-Coker was widely seen as a talented, dynamic box-to-box midfielder during his early years at Wimbledon. In January 2004, West Ham took advantage of the south Londoners’ financial plight by signing the England Under-21 international for a cut-price fee. He was later made captain by Alan Pardew and helped the Hammers reach the FA Cup final, before joining Aston Villa after three years of impeccable service.
5. Yakubu Aiyegbeni (Maccabi Haifa to Portsmouth, 2003)
Portsmouth were on course for promotion to the Premier League when January rolled around, but Harry Redknapp has never been able to resist a bargain.
Yakubu was scoring regularly for Maccabi Haifa and attracting interest from far bigger clubs after his Champions League exploits earlier in the season, so it was something of a coup when Pompey landed him on loan. The striker helped Redknapp’s side into the top flight with seven goals in 14 games, before notching another 29 for Portsmouth in the Premier League.
4. Ben Mee and Kieran Trippier (Man City to Burnley, 2012)
Eddie Howe’s time in charge of Burnley, wedged between two spells at his beloved Bournemouth, is now largely forgotten. He failed to settle and replicate the success he’d achieved on the south coast, but the former defender at least made some significant signings at Turf Moor. In January 2012, he transformed the Clarets’ defence for the foreseeable future by landing two talented youngsters from Manchester City.
Both Mee and Trippier helped Burnley into the top flight under Sean Dyche, with the former earning a move to Tottenham after his performances in the Clarets’ subsequent Premier League campaign. Mee stayed put following relegation and has been an integral part of the team ever since, helping Burnley win promotion and consolidate their position in the top division.
3. John Stones (Barnsley to Everton, 2013)
Barnsley have earned a healthy reputation as one of the country’s best producers of talented young defenders in recent times. James Bree, Mason Holgate and Alfie Mawson have all gone on to bigger and better things after spending their formative years at Oakwell, but the Tykes’ biggest success story is England international Stones.
Now at Manchester City and on course to win the Premier League this season, the ball-playing centre-back cost Everton just £3m back in January 2013. He was gradually eased into the first-team setup at Goodison Park, only making his Premier League debut eight months later, and went on to make 95 appearances for the Toffees before being sold to City for £47.5m in summer 2016.
2. Clint Dempsey (New England Revolution to Fulham, 2007)
Fulham had already had success in the American market before the Dempsey deal, bringing Carlos Bocanegra and Brian McBride over from MLS in 2004. Both players performed well at Craven Cottage, but their younger compatriot made an even bigger impression in west London.
Spiky yet skilful, neither the physical nor technical demands of the Premier League intimidated Dempsey, who was a valuable member of the Fulham squad throughout his time at the club. His chipped winner against Juventus on the Cottagers’ run to the Europa League final has passed into Fulham folklore, with Dempsey scoring a total of 60 goals in 232 appearances.
1. Danny Drinkwater (Manchester United to Leicester, 2012)
Drinkwater certainly isn’t alone in having failed to force his way into the first-team picture at Manchester United. The midfielder didn’t make a single senior appearance during his time with the Red Devils, and instead embarked on loan spells in the Championship with Huddersfield, Cardiff, Watford and Barnsley.
Leicester, another second-tier side, snapped up Drinkwater on a permanent basis in January 2012. A key figure in the Foxes’ promotion to the top flight, the England international then starred as the East Midlanders won the Premier League title under Claudio Ranieri. After helping Leicester reach the Champions League quarter-finals in 2016/17, Drinkwater joined Chelsea for £35m.
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