Image – Wikimedia
A piece I wrote for Footyplace about the very best of the last 10 years of the January transfer window. Take a look at the original here.
Christophe Dugarry, Bordeaux to Birmingham (loan) – 2003
The Premier League tried to resist the imposition of a Europe-wide transfer window, which came into effect during the 2002-03 season after pressure from the European Commission. In fact, it was a bit of a volte-face after being broadly supportive of the idea during the 1990s. British authorities hand-wringing over a perceived loss of sovereignty to European technocrats – why does that ring a bell?
Any fears Birmingham City fans might have had were quashed just two days into the new system, when they drafted in World Cup-winning striker Christophe Dugarry on loan from Bordeaux.
Dugarry was a player of rare talents, but had only really shone in his native France. Spells at AC Milan and Barcelona were short-lived failures. So although it might have looked a no-brainer for a side flirting with relegation, Dugarry initially struggled here too, particularly with the over-physicality of English defences, and didn’t score his first goal until his 11th league game. But that strike signalled a run of five in four games, in which the Blues took maximum points to drag them to safety.
A permanent move followed, but Dugarry sought an early termination of his contact half-way through the next season. Although his spell in the Midlands was short, it was ever so sweet for the Bluenoses.
Nemanja Vidic, Spartak Moscow to Man Utd (£7m)/Patrice Evra, Monaco to Man Utd (£5.5m) – 2006
It would now seem peculiar to label the signing of 50% of a defence which provided the backbone for a side which has since won five Premier League titles, three League Cups and the Champions League as panicky, but that is how it appeared when Manchester United brought in Vidic and Evra back in 2006.
Evra’s first game particularly was a horror show, pulled off at half-time during an embarrassing 3-1 defeat to rivals Manchester City. This window fell In the middle of what turned out to be United’s third season without the title, and many United fans worried that Ferguson’s era of dominance was over.
His side’s defensive woes had reached a nadir in October of that season in a woeful 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough which saw Phil Bardsley and then Kieran Richardson deployed at the back.
But it was a fear which proved to be unfounded. Vidic and Evra were gradually eased into the side which won eight games on the bounce during the second half of the season, and went on to win three consecutive titles.
Vidic became club captain, and, even at 32, there are few better left-backs around than Evra, which may look even more apparent if David Moyes is forced to give Everton another massive transfer fee for Leighton Baines.
Theo Walcott, Southampton to Arsenal (£12m) – 2006
Walcott’s crocked knee joins the confused mind of Fabio Capello in reasons why the Arsenal winger may never make an appearance at a World Cup. The closest he may ever get was his bizarre inclusion in Sven Goran Eriksson’s 2006 squad as a 17-year-old, without ever having made a top flight appearance.
That would be a sad but oddly fitting footnote to a career from which so much was expected from such a precocious youngster. Walcott has blossomed into a perfectly fine winger of growing intelligence, which, paired with frightening pace makes him one of the Arsenal’s most dangerous outlets.
But when Arsene Wenger took the 16-year-old Walcott from Southampton back in 2006, he was touted as the natural heir to Thierry Henry. He has shown fitful genius since then, but in truth it was an unfair burden to place on such a young man, who has since had to endure the frustration of Arsenal and England fans who expected so much.
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Henrik Larsson, Helsingborg to Man Utd (loan) – 2007
Before David Moyes made the short-term mid-season loan move passé with his yearly call to Landon Donovan, Alex Ferguson sprung a real surprise in 2007 when he announced that the great Henrik Larsson would be joining Manchester United from Helsingborg during their winter break.
In fact, his record at Old Trafford wasn’t all that spectacular, scoring just three goals in 13 games before returning to Sweden in March. The club even had to apply for special dispensation for Larsson to pick up a Premier League winner’s medal as he didn’t make enough appearances.
But whilst his impact on the pitch was fairly inconsequential, Ferguson believed he had a much more lasting effect on the rest of his squad. “He’s been fantastic for us, his professionalism, his attitude, everything he’s done has been excellent,” he explained back in 2007.
His admiration hasn’t faded over time either. In his autobiography, released late last year, he described Larsson as a “great football aristocrat”.
Peter Whittingham, Aston Villa to Cardiff (£350,000) – 2007
Whittingham is blessed with a cultured wand of a left foot, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor. Part of a generation of Villa youngsters who had to move clubs to find success, Whittingham has been a Cardiff City mainstay since he moved back in 2007.
In each subsequent season the Bluebirds threatened promotion, with Whittingham playing a key role. His best campaign came in 2009-10 when he grabbed 20 goals, a quite impressive feat considering his natural position wide in midfield.
They finally clambered out of the murky Championship pit last season, and Whittingham has fitted in comfortably at a higher level. At just £350,000, he stands out as one of Cardiff’s best ever signings.
Rory Delap, Sunderland to Stoke (Free) – 2007
I don’t know if Tony Pulis was aware of the full violent potential of Rory Delap’s throw-ins when he took him on a free transfer from Sunderland back in 2007 after a short loan spell. Frankly I don’t want to know. The fact that they were joined together, the perfect unity of manager, player and philosophy is enough. The rest, as they say, is history.
Asmir Begovic, Portsmouth to Stoke (£3.25m) – 2010
Probably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, Begovic now looks a steal after moving from Portsmouth for a smidge over £3million back in 2010. His ever-more impressive displays mean it has escalated from quite surprising to downright shocking that a top Premier League side has not moved to bring in the Bosnian.
After the World Cup in which he is bound to shine for Bosnia, his value is sure to increase. He’s even scored a goal this season – what more can he do?
Luis Suarez, Ajax to Liverpool (£22.8m) – 2011
When Liverpool splurged the proceeds of the sale of Fernando Torres on Suarez and er, Andy Carroll in 2011 they could never have imagined the impact that the Uruguayan at least would have.
Bought on the back of a stunning 2009-10 campaign for Ajax in which he scored 35 goals in 33 league games, Suarez was an instant hit at Anfield. Dispelling that tired old myth about useless strikers from Eredivisie, Suarez was the scourge of Manchester United in a 3-1 league win in March of the same year.
Carroll proved to be a whopping great £35million distraction, allowing Suarez to settle without the expectation of having to replace Torres on his own. Though you sense that he would have quite enjoyed that, having claimed the club’s famous number seven shirt as soon as he arrived.
Despite gaining an early reputation for wasting opportunities in front of goal, Suarez grabbed 11 league goals in his first full season and 23 last year. He’s started this season in electrifying form, and is rightly thought of as probably the Premier League’s best player.
His time in England has been overshadowed though by the racial abuse of Patrice Evra, and the way he and Liverpool dealt with that incident will always leave a sour taste. For such a fantastic talent, that’s a real shame.
Jason Roberts, Blackburn to Reading (Undisclosed) – 2012/Ricardo Vaz Te (Undisclosed), Barnsley to West Ham – 2012
If you looked at the hashtag of any Championship club during the January transfer window, you’d find the same shouty arguments being made by their fans. Their club needs players – better players, any players really.
They should be careful what they wish for. Managers of Championship clubs, particularly after the toil of the festive games, are attracted by the opportunity to bolster their squad. But too often this results in a short-term move for an out of favour and barely interested Premier League player, or leads to wasting precious cash on an in-form player from a club of smaller stature, who then wilts at a bigger club.
Well, Reading and West Ham did both in the winter of 2012 and got promoted, so go figure. Brian McDermott, then Reading boss, credited Roberts for inspiring the self-belief that propelled his side to 15 wins from their last 19 games.
Vaz Te was signed by West Ham after netting 10 goals for Barnsley in the first half of the season. It was a surprising leap of faith shown by Sam Allardyce, after Vaz Te had spent many fruitless years at Bolton. His trust paid off, though, as Vaz Te continued his rich goal-scoring form for the Hammers, culminating in the winning goal in the playoff final at Wembley against Blackpool.
Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea to Bolton (loan) – 2011, to Liverpool (£12m) – 2013
It’s now part of common football parlance that January is a bad time to do business. Clubs don’t want to sell halfway through a season, and players want to wait until the summer to assess their options. Well, Sturridge has always been a bit of a maverick, and has had the gall to make two hugely successful winter moves.
His deadline day move to Bolton in 2011 reaped immediate dividends when he grabbed an injury time winner against Wolves in his first game. Eight strikes in 11 games were key to ensuring Bolton weren’t dragged into a relegation battle. It seemed he was finally fulfilling the potential that he knew he had.
But life remained a struggle at Chelsea. Despite a promising 2011-12 season, he was told by Andre Villas Boas that his future at Chelsea would be purely as a wide player, and was allowed to move on to Liverpool.
Brendan Rodgers’ tactical flexibility has suited Sturridge, and he’s flourished as part of a front two or three. Since his move, he’s netted 19 Premier League goals, with the promise of more to come after his return from injury.