Man United Have Had Mixed Luck in January but It Is Possible to Find a Good Deal

Rob DawsonManchester United CorrespondentJanuary 19, 2014

LENS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 19:   Henrik Larsson warms up during a Manchester United training session at the Gaillette training Centre on February 19, 2007 in Lens, France.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
Phil Cole/Getty Images

Football, at least modern football, is a soap opera.

It has become as much about what happens during the week as what happens on a Saturday between 3 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.

We might not want to admit it—all of us would like to be considered purists—but we are as interested in the player who's trying to force his way out of a club as we are about technical excellence on the pitch—a great goal or a clever piece of skill.

We skim over match reports in the newspaper or online because the blow-by-blow account—who kicked the ball when and in which direction—is largely inconsequential.

MIDDLESBROUGH, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 10:  Henrik Larsson of Manchester United applauds the fans at the end of the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON Quarter Final match between Middlesbrough and Manchester United at the Riverside Stadium on March 10, 2007 in Middl
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Results, of course, are important, but it's about what they contribute to the storylines: the club in crisis, the manager on the brink of losing his job. 

At least Coronation Street and EastEnders are only aired a couple of times a week. The Premier League is seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

It's one of the reasons why there are no shades of grey when talking about football. No one wants to watch a soap opera about a few families casually going about their humdrum lives. That's why there are affairs and botched weddings written in to keep it interesting.

Things are presented in black and white. Right or wrong.

The same is true in football and especially with new signings. They are remembered as successes or failures with little gradation in between. 

Manchester United signed Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Henrik Larsson in different January transfer windows, and all made an impact, although only Larsson's was instant. Sir Alex Ferguson also signed Diego Forlan, Dong Fangzhuo, Manucho, Zoran Tosic, Ritchie De Laet and Frederic Veseli in January, but they are remembered as flops.

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - MAY 1:  Diego Forlan of Manchester United looks dejected after he misses a header in the last few minutes of the game during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United at Ewood Park on May 1, 2
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Few remember how old they were when they arrived, how much United paid or who was blocking their path to the first team during their time at Old Trafford. But in a soap opera that's not important, only whether they were good or bad. Black or white. Right or wrong.

For the record, Forlan went on to forge a successful career in Spain, winning the Europa League with Atletico Madrid in 2010. Tosic scored against Manchester City for CSKA Moscow in this season's Champions League and is a regular for Serbia. 

They are good players but struggled at Old Trafford because of a variety of different reasons. And it was nothing to do with the fact they happened to arrive in January. For one reason or another, it just didn't work out.

BIRMINGHAM - DECEMBER 6:  Christophe Dugarry of Birmingham City takes the ball past Craig Short of Blackburn Rovers during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers on December 6, 2003 at St. Andrews in Birmingham,
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

The same is true of the January transfer window itself. The general rule is that it's difficult to make signings in January that can change the course of a season. 

And while that's largely true, there are exceptions like Birmingham signing Stephen Clemence, Jamie Clapham, Matthew Upson and Christophe Dugarry in January 2003, which helped keep them in the Premier League. But then Birmingham's story doesn't suit the accepted narrative.

United, seventh in the table, need a similar change of fortune to secure a top-four finish this season. And while it's often harder to recruit suitable players in January compared to the summer, it is possible. Just as Vidic, Evra and Dugarry have proved in the past.

You just have to look a bit harder and be a little more creative. But whisper it. It's not in the script.