Manchester United manager David Moyes sounds frustrated, despite reports that he has huge sums at his disposal for the January transfer window. “The players we would like to bring in are probably not available in January, not because we don’t want to do it,” he told the British press. “I think most of the business will be more towards the summer rather than January.”
Moyes was repeating the sentiments of his mentor and predecessor at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson, who once said that the players he wanted and needed couldn’t be brought in January, and there was no point in bringing in second-rate players.
Meanwhile Moyes is having a hard time at Manchester United, and as far as bringing in players, he was never too impressive at Everton, his former club. Still, Moyes and Fergusson’s approach as to the winter transfer window is shared by many coaches and pundits. In Barcelona, it is almost official policy; In January 2011, former coach Pep Guardiola bought Ibrahim Affelay, who was the first winter acquisition for six years, and he too was bought only due to a long list of injuries in the squad. Guardiola and his successors have since refrained from shopping in the winter, not only because Affelay failed to make his mark. Huge clubs seem to prefer not to spend big in January.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Luis Suarez, Nemanja Vidic and Mario Balotelli all moved in January and were instant successes at their new clubs. There are also examples of players who made a winter move and succeeded in smaller leagues, such as Didier Drogba at Turkey’s Galatasaray, and Rade Prica at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
For many managers there are two main reasons for the unpopularity of the January transfer window: Many of the best players are cup-tied in Europe, and most players need time to settle down in a new team and a new league. “Buying in January, especially from another league, is always a risk,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, once said. “There are players who fit in quickly, but I’ve seen players who needed four months to gel with the new club, and by that time the season is already over.”
Wenger could have been referring to Jose Antonio Reyes, who joined Arsenal in the winter of 2004, and failed to impress.
Players need time to settle in, not only to a new club, new teammates, a new manager and a different style of play, but also to basic things like the weather. The Times’ James Ducker says that all managers prefer to do business in the summer and have the new players for pre-season training, adding that in the Premier League era, no January transfer has ever significantly altered the title race.
Most of the more spectacular transfers happen in the summer, but on top of the other problems, the transfer sums in January are usually inflated, for a simple reason: Winter transfers are usually sought by clubs struggling with disappointing results or a long injury list. While the purchasing club is under pressure, the selling club is well aware that they can demand a high price and the player himself knows he can demand improved personal terms.
The ultimate example would probably be Fernando Torres’ move to Chelsea in 2011, for 50 million pounds. This incredible sum was transferred from London to Liverpool, but Torres’ return in the remaining months of the season was pathetic − only one league goal. Despite moving from one huge club to another in the same league, and boasting vast experience, Torres’ move underlined not only the ridiculous sum, but all the other problems associated with a January move.
“You have to learn the new style of play and find a way to fit in,” Torres said two months after his move. “It takes time.”
Fittingly, one can also examine what Liverpool did with the transfer money. The Merseyside club spent 35 million pounds on Andy Carroll, who failed to make an impact, was often sidelined due to injuries and currently plays for struggling West Ham.
In the three years since arriving from Ajax Amsterdam in January 2011, Suarez has scored 71 goals. This season he has again proved that when concentrating on his soccer, he is one of the most prolific strikers the game has known.
The move from Manchester City to AC Milan last January was a master stroke, with Balotelli scoring 12 goals in 13 outings for his new club in the remainder of the 2012-2013 season. The Italian striker single-handedly led his new club to a Champion’s League spot. This season too, despite missing several penalties, Balotelli is on form and has seemingly matured enough to ignore racist chants against him.
Vidic is at the end of his career, but when he arrived at Manchester United in January 2006, he immediately jelled with Rio Ferdinand to form one of the most formidable duo of center backs in the Premier League, which was probably more influential than the team’s midfield or attack in their successful pursuit of titles.
Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti didn’t want Torres, who was experiencing a difficult season at Liverpool but nonetheless scored twice against Chelsea that season, causing Roman Abramovic to splash out 50 million pounds in the winter of 2011. The return that season: one goal.
Despite arrests, alcohol problems, violent conduct and the fact that he didn’t complete one full season in the Premier League didn’t prevent Liverpool from paying 35 million pounds for the striker, a record transfer for the club. Carroll eventually scored six goals in 44 outings for Liverpool.
Eight goals in 20 games is a decent return, but the “hunter” − brought in to Real Madrid in January 2009 for more than 20 million euros − was supposed to be the heir of Raul and Ruud Van Nistelroy. Several months later he moved on to Schalke.