It’s that time of the year again. The January sales. Except, of course, when it comes to football, there’s one major difference.
While for most people the phrase "January sales" implies the canny acquisition of a low-priced, must-have bargain, in footballing terms the dreaded phrase "January window" represents the last desperate roll of the dice for many managers and clubs alike.
It is a month of madness when clubs with the money—and, more worryingly, sometimes those without it—go on a buying (and selling) frenzy as they chase those elusive honours, or look to find the secret ingredient that will keep them in whatever division they happen to be playing in at the time.
And just like anyone who has ever gone out to do last-minute shopping knows; very often—although not always—when you buy in haste, you repent at leisure.
There have indeed been some wonderful signings during this period, but not one that I can find that was the great panacea, the immediate changer of fortunes. The January window is no quick fix.
The signings of Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic have gone on to prove themselves to be wonderful acquisitions for Manchester United early in 2006 but they still weren’t enough to permit United to reel in Chelsea that season.
Daniel Sturridge or Philippe Coutinho also turned into excellent buys, but it also needs to be remembered that at the end of the season after he joined Liverpool in January 2013, the club finished seventh despite the striker scoring 10 league goals in 14 appearances.
Considering everything else that campaign, it was more or less where you expected Liverpool to finish anyway.
Mikel Arteta’s loan move from Real Sociedad also proved to be a good move, not least for the fact that over the next six-and-a-half years he established himself as a firm favourite with the Everton fans before being sold for a whacking £8 million profit to Arsenal in 2011. But there was no immediate consequence to his arrival, just a good platform for the following season.
In Spain, Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain took a over a season to find his feet at Real Madrid, scoring just twice in his 19 league games after debuting in January 2007, while Fernando Gago also had a shaky start after joining at the same time—although, to be fair, it should be said that Real Madrid won La Liga the year that both players arrived at the club.
Nihat Kahveci and Sander Westerveld both signed for Real Sociedad during the January 2002 window. They both went on to perform manfully for the small club from San Sebastian—not in their first season where they finished 13th, but the following year when they finished up as runners-up.
However, if we’re looking for the January transfer turkey of all time, then Andy Carroll’s move from Newcastle to Liverpool is the mother hen to look over them all. With £50 million—the proceeds of Fernando Torres’ move to Chelsea—burning a hole in their pocket and the clock ticking down, Liverpool contrived to double an offer made for the player hours earlier, finally securing his services for £35 million.
The rest, as we know, is history.
Speaking of Torres, the Madrid striker’s move to Chelsea was followed by a 900-minute wait for a goal, and although he had the last laugh, scoring the goal that put Chelsea into the Champions League final and picking up a winners' medal in the resulting final, the additions to the Chelsea trophy room did not take place in the season of his arrival.
While this World Cup may well encourage more players to move than might in normal circumstances, in search of playing time that might propel or keep them in the national reckoning (for instance, Cristian Tello would be happy to leave Barcelona for this reason, but the club want him to stay), the truth is that at this time of year most top players are just where they want to be.
The window is a perfect opportunity for "showtime," where fans, not content with merely watching and enjoying the game, become excited by impossible dreams, embroiled in a mass of rumour, counter rumours and intrigue, and we in the media add fuel to the flames.
What ever happened to proper analysis of the game? How about spending more time in the needs of coaching, instead of the changing of faces?
Over at Old Trafford the talk is that Koke will be leaving Atletico Madrid to join Manchester United. Which begs the question: Why, with his team in the last 16 of the Champions League, joint top and in with a real challenge of winning their first La Liga since 1996, would he?
The answer, of course, is that he won’t. The players that finally do move elsewhere in January may or may not go on to great success, but fans and clubs alike should realise and accept that great success is rarely immediate.
The secret of an improvement halfway through the season, more often than not, is usually found in the coaching abilities of the managers—not the technical abilities of any new faces.