Let’s get one thing straight: this transfer window has been unlike any before as the spread of COVID-19 has limited travel and the economic impact of the pandemic has hit football clubs hard.
In January 2020, according to transfer tracking website Transfermarkt, Premier League clubs spent just over €242 million on 88 arrivals; in January 2021, the difference is clear, with spending of just €85m on 46 arrivals.
Europe sees a similar story with German Bundesliga clubs (€196m in 2020 vs. €48m in 2021), Spanish La Liga clubs (€152m vs. €36m), Italian Serie A (€215m vs. €77m) and French Ligue 1 clubs (€124m vs. €29m) all doing the same.
It may seem harsh to judge anyone in these times, but by now clubs are fully aware of the parameters in which they need to operate. So this assessment is less about who spent the most money, or brought in the biggest names, rather who was able to do the best in the circumstances.
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Bringing in a centre-back was the one clear objective for injury-hit Liverpool and instead of going for one big marquee signing — which would have been difficult anyway — they went for two players that will prove good options for Jurgen Klopp.
Preston defender Ben Davies’ arrival came as something of a shock but the 25-year-old’s strong positional skills, ability to play with a high degree of focus and fine left-foot should prove a valuable addition, while Sepp van den Berg will get valuable loan experience as his replacement. Also out of the blue came a loan deal for Schalke’s Ozan Kabak, with a possible €30m option in the summer. Liverpool have been monitoring the 20-year-old for some time, but it’s a low risk move with Joel Matip out for the season. If Kabak can overcome the challenge of resetting mentally from a losing environment at Schalke, then the aggressive defender has the potential to become a fine Premier League centre-back. Allowing Takumi Minamino to get some much needed game time on loan at Southampton was also a decent decision. — TKK
The club did well to move on a host of players who weren’t contributing and were draining resources with hefty wages. Mesut Ozil has given a lot to Arsenal over the years and it was sad to see his career decline in the way it did, but his £350,000-a-week salary was too much to handle and a free transfer to Fenerbahce was good for everyone. Likewise, Shkodran Mustafi’s move to Schalke and Sokratis’ exit for Olympiakos allowed a clean break for all. However, the trio were released from their contracts for nothing, which isn’t the best business.
The Gunners were more frugal this time and added the creativity they needed with a loan move for Real Madrid midfielder Martin Odegaard, while also landing an experienced backup goalkeeper in Brighton’s Mat Ryan. They also shipped out Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock and William Saliba on loan to gain more experience. By letting Sead Kolasinac move to Schalke and failing to land a backup left-back before the deadline, the club are only one Kieran Tierney or Cedric Soares injury away from a possible defensive crisis but manager Mikel Arteta is building something and he now has players to call on who will be central to his “culture.” — JMC
Mark Ogden believes Amad Diallo will make Manchester United’s first team this season following an impressive U-23 debut.
When you only have 24 minutes of first team football behind you, it’s hard to imagine that you’ll land a move to one of the world’s biggest clubs. But Manchester United clearly liked what they saw in Atalanta winger Diallo and they agreed a potential €41m move for the 18-year-old in October.
After landing a work permit, which is no easy task under the current Brexit regulations in the UK, Diallo made his debut for the U23 team at the weekend and promptly scored twice in a 6-3 win over Liverpool. Much more is expected of the exciting forward and it won’t be long before he is worrying Premier League defenders, but if he really hits the ground running then maybe United might rethink their €120m pursuit of Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho. — JMC
– Karlsen: What does the scouting world make of Diallo?
Usually known for bringing through emerging talent, Sevilla broke that pattern by signing the 32-year-old Alejandro “Papu” Gomez for around €5m from Atalanta as his contract was entering the final six months. The Argentine midfielder, who famously fell out with manager Giampiero Gasperini at half-time during a Champions League game two months ago and was frozen out of the side afterward, could prove valuable for Julian Lopetegui’s team. With his creativity, intelligence and ability to score goals from distance, Gomez has been one of the most effective playmakers in Serie A over the past few season and adding such a quality player in mid-season is a real boost for Sevilla. Pound-for-pound, Gomes is the best player to move in this January transfer window.
Another plus for the 2020 Europa League winners was their ability to hold on to mercurial, yet prolific striker, Youssef El-Nesyri. The 23-year-old had long been linked with a move away from Sevilla but will now have the added benefit of being supplied by one of the top attacking midfielders in the game. — TKK
In a time of prudence, AC Milan have added to their strength in depth. The Serie A frontrunners adopted a slightly different transfer strategy this month: whereas in the summer youngsters with sell-on value were the main focus, it’s been all about consolidation and (relative) experience in January. Defender Fikayo Tomori joined from Chelsea in a loan move, while Soualiho Meite — initially on a loan from Torino — has already shown signs of adding graft and power to the centre of their midfield and should provide cover for an area where team has looked thin.
Mario Mandzukic may not have played much competitive football since he left Juventus in May 2019 (he only registered five appearances for Al-Duhail in Qatar before terminating his contract) and the 34-year-old is still is some way off peak fitness — as witnessed from his first two substitute appearances — but his arrival, both in terms of playing style and on-pitch persona, could have a similar impact to that of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. — TKK
The rise of young American players like Weston McKennie and Giovanni Reyna has been a real theme over the past year and January’s business showed how important the country is in the market now. There are now 54 U.S. stars operating in Europe’s top leagues and FC Dallas right-back Bryan Reynolds, 19, became the second most expensive MLS academy player to leave the league (behind Bayern’s Alphonso Davies) when he moved to Roma for €6.75m plus another €5.65m in add-ons.
Swansea snapped up D.C. United’s Paul Arriola, having also signed Jordan Morris from the Seattle Sounders on loan. There was a loan move for Bayern’s Chris Richards, who will get increased opportunities at Hoffenheim, while Orlando forward Daryl Dike celebrated his debut for USMNT on Sunday by sealing a late loan to Barnsley. The Turkish league also saw two moves as DeAndre Yedlin went from Newcastle to Galatasaray and Tyler Boyd swapped Besiktas for Sivasspor in search of more playing time.
Even 19-year-old Schalke striker Matthew Hoppe can’t stay out of the news as he was rewarded for his breakthrough into the first team by winning his first professional contract. And watch for New York Red Bulls’ 17-year-old Caden Clark heading to RB Leipzig in 2021 to become the next big Bundesliga star. — JMC
Gab Marcotti says Lionel Messi’s leaked contract looks like a ploy to reignite his desire to leave the club.
The Manchester City defender couldn’t have done much more to show that he wanted to leave the club. Refusing to extend the terms on his contract that expires in the summer, Garcia made it quite clear that he wanted to rejoin former club Barcelona. The problem? Barca are in turmoil, with €1.7 billion debt, no president or board to make decisions and a complete inability to get anything done this month.
Garcia reportedly even offered to play for free in order to get his move, but that didn’t work either. He will get his move to Camp Nou in the summer on a free transfer, assuming that Barca’s new president signs off on the deal, but it’s going to be an awkward few months at the Etihad for the 20-year-old.
Barca’s only business was to move on two players — Jean-Clair Todibo to Nice and Carles Alena to Getafe — while the leak of Lionel Messi’s four-year contract, signed in 2017, which gave an intricate breakdown of the €555m he would receive if all add-ons were met, only added to the PR nightmare engulfing the club and could damage the relationship with their greatest-ever player beyond repair. — JMC
The transfer of Bayern defender David Alaba would have changed this assessment, but Real Madrid will have to wait until the summer for a new arrival and even then there are plenty of other clubs who will be trying to land the Austria international once his contract expires.
For a club of Madrid’s size, it seems incredible they haven’t made a move — especially as they are trailing city rivals Atletico by 10 points in La Liga and were recently booted out of the Copa del Rey in an embarrassing manner by third-tier side Alcoyano — if only to freshen up the squad. Of course, nobody would advocate a desperate last-minute signing just for the sake of it and their financial situation is almost as bad as Barcelona’s, but Madrid could have improved their squad without breaking the bank.
While loaning Odegaard to Arsenal made sense (provided that he’ll eventually pick up minutes for his new club), letting Luka Jovic return to Eintracht Frankfurt without any adequate back-up for Karim Benzema seems a big gamble. Big spending was never on the cards in this transfer window as they plot moves for Kylian Mbappe, Eduardo Camavinga and Erling Haaland in the summer, but it seems that Madrid have decided to forfeit this season and are already planning for their summer rebuild. They also failed to get captain and club legend Sergio Ramos to sign a new contract and could lose him for nothing in six months. — TKK
The out-of-favour Tottenham midfielder faces a long way back into Jose Mourinho’s good books after missing out on a loan move to PSG. Alli, who has started just one league game this season and had a meagre half an hour against minnows Marine in the FA Cup, was heavily linked with a January move to Paris after former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino took over at the French giants.
The financial crisis in French football, which has forced even perennial free spenders PSG into thinking about austerity first, as well as their inability to move their unwanted midfielders out to free up space, stopped the move from materialising. Sources also told ESPN that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy was reluctant to let him go without a replacement. The 24-year-old has three years to run on his contract and now has no option but to fully focus on getting back into Mourinho’s plans to resuscitate his faltering career. — TKK
Steve Nicol believes Thomas Tuchel will take some positives from Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Burnley.
Starting a new job as a football manager is never easy, but starting one when your predecessor has spent over £220m on six players makes it even harder. Spare a thought for Tuchel who, after arriving on Jan. 26 with a week left in the window, must have been watching the January transfer window pass by without a second thought as Chelsea were never going to give him any money to operate in such a small space of time.
The German coach has to work with what he’s inherited, and while that’s not terrible given the quality of players at his disposal, he must have been longing to make his own impact on the team. On the plus side, Chelsea moved on flops Danny Drinkwater and Lucas Piazon but they also left him one defender short by allowing Tomori to move to Milan on loan. — JMC
The window itself
As explained above, clubs across Europe haven’t been able to spend as they usually would due to the COVID-19. In these times, a more careful approach to money is required (even inside the financial bubble that is football) and there have been precious few deals to get fans excited about. Obviously there are far more important things in the world to deal with currently, but football transfer gossip and the intrigue of “Deadline Day” offers a mental escape route for many throughout the year. The trends from 2020 weren’t promising and after January it appears that 2021 isn’t going to get much better on the transfer front. — JMC