Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.Warren Buffett
Overpriced and unpredictable are probably the two most common adjectives for the January transfer window if you look at its history. The January transfer market has always been seen as a market to avoid, if possible. In Economic jargon, the high demand and low supply of players have meant it has become synonymous of being overpriced, making it difficult to find good value in the market. Finance experts at Deloitte, however, stated this was the first time spending in the January transfer window had declined since 2012. Considering the inflation in the market, this is a big statement and could suggest clubs are better prepared and make more intelligent investment decisions.
Nevertheless, the unpredictability and rash decisions being made in this market can be best described by the January window of 2011. Looking back, Liverpool’s double deadline day signing of Luis Suarez (£22.8m) and Andy Carroll (£35m) explains the two extremes that can be found in the market, both in quality and value. Eight years later, one is still a dinosaur and the other has racked up over 168 goals in 227 games for Barcelona. That, ladies and gentleman, is the thin margin between success and failure in the January transfer window. Now let’s take a look at some of the most interesting signings that happened in this window.
Newcastle broke their transfer record fee with the signing of 24-year-old Paraguayan Miguel Almirón (£21.6m) from Atlanta United in the MLS. Newcastle are a team that have been seriously struggling in the final third, only Huddersfield have scored less this season. Almirón is the embodiment of the modern era playmaker. His all-round game is very well balanced. A technical dribbler that has the vision to find a killer pass but also the instinct to be in the box in the right moment. Almirón’s 13 goals and 10 assists in 38 games last season led to his nomination in the MLS Most Valuable Player Finalists list. How quickly he can adapt to a more competitive league is the only question because his quality is obvious. Still, only 24, he also has time on his side and is far from the finished product. Under Benitez’s pragmatic approach, it will be interesting to see how he develops in a system that requires players to have much less of the ball than he is used to, with Newcastle averaging around 42% of possession this season. Newcastle have used the 5-4-1 in 36% of games this season, with a flat midfield four. The next question I guess then is will Benitez adapt to Almirón and change formation, or will Almirón have to adapt to the formation, possibly playing on the right-hand side of the four in midfield. Either way, I think if Almirón displays anything like the quality he has shown in the MLS, then Newcastle will be nothing more than a stepping stone for this man.
A name familiar with all of you is Gonzalo Higuain. He has made a move that seems about 3-4 years too late, in my opinion, and Maurizio Sarri has got the man he has been craving for. Albeit against the wishes of the Chelsea board because of their strict policy on players over 30-years-old. At 31, he joins Chelsea with 8 goals in 22 appearances for AC Milan in the first half of this campaign, reasonable but not breathtaking. Nonetheless, Higuain is a world-class forward and at the peak of his powers, he knows the style of football Sarri demands which should make his integration much quicker than others on this list. Higuain produced his best ever season under Sarri at Napoli in 2015-16, scoring 36 league goals in that campaign and breaking a 66-year old record on the way. There have been some question marks over Chelsea’s recent performances and Sarri’s comments regarding the difficulty in motivating his players. However, Higuain could provide a breath of fresh air with his quality and goals, as shown with his brace against Huddersfield on the weekend. Chelsea have been cursed with ruining top-class forwards in the past but I think this one has all the right ingredients to be a success.
Now on to one of the most highly-regarded young talents in Europe, Youri Tielemans has joined Leicester on loan from AS Monaco. Still only 21-years old, Tielemans comes with a strong pedigree of European experience, captaining Anderlecht on a number of occasions as a teenager. An all-round number 8, he is most notably known for his long-range shooting and distribution of passes. Comfortable with both feet, he can provide a different dimension and creativity from deeper to this Leicester side. I don’t see him displacing Maddison in the No.10 position mid-season, so in the current 4-2-3-1 system Claude Puel prefers, he would fit in alongside Ndidi in one of the deeper holding midfield roles. He is not renowned for his defensive contributions and could leave them a bit exposed against stronger opposition when they have less of the ball, in comparison to Nampalys Mendy lets say. Perhaps this could provide an alternative to the rigid style Claude Puel has been criticized for this season, and see a switch to a 4-3-3 which would be better-suited to Tielemans attributes and talents. Tielemans is a player that needs to be allowed to express himself as much as possible to cause damage to opponents, and that is further up the pitch. The quicker Puel realises this, the better.
Another notable mention is Denis Suarez joining Arsenal on loan, with a purchase option available in the summer. Suarez is a player that offers quality in tight areas with his low center of gravity and strong dribbling technique. Deployed predominantly on the left or as an attacking midfielder, he will provide much-needed competition and options in the business end of the season for Arsenal in the race for top four. He’s only featured 8 times this season for Barcelona so will be lacking match sharpness but this is no excuse and he needs to find his feet quickly in the fast-paced Premier League. Similar to Sarri and Higuain, Unai Emery has previously worked with Suarez when the two were at Sevilla and so will have a clear idea of his strengths and weaknesses. With the isolation of Ozil under Emery, and Ramsey heading to Turin in the summer, this could be a real opportunity to earn a permanent move if he builds up some form from now until the end of the season.
January can provide different personnel for managers whose summer plans aren’t going to plan, or an injury causes them to take action. Just as well, it’s also a chance for players to take on new opportunities, especially those from the MLS and South American Leagues, whose seasons have just ended in and around December. I do hope we will see a positive impact from the players I have mentioned and any others that have made the move. But January is not that simple. In fact, January is always a complicated period. Who wants to lose or sell a player? Nobody does. As a result, clubs need to be more diligent when making decisions as they can prove costly in the long run, as some clubs have found out. Will the January market ever be respected for the right reasons then? Maybe but don’t hold your breath.