Well … that was something. The 2018 January transfer window is shut. But while it was open, it brought more activity than perhaps any of its winter predecessors.
Four megadeals broke records, each in its own way. The madness began when Liverpool forced the window open a few days early and made Virgil van Dijk the most expensive defender ever. Attention then turned to Philippe Coutinho, who became the most expensive player in Barcelona history, and to Alexis Sanchez, he became the highest-paid player in Premier League history. It all concluded on deadline day with Arsenal securing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a club-record fee.
Arsenal’s late business is still fresh in everybody’s minds. But now that the dust has settled, it’s time to take a look back at the month as a whole. Who made out well? Who didn’t?
It’s all in our January transfer window winners and losers:
In: Philippe Coutinho, Yerry Mina
Out: Javier Mascherano, Gerard Deulofeu (loan), Rafinha (loan, option to buy), Arda Turan (loan)
Barcelona’s only imperfect move – not bad, but flawed – was for Coutinho. The price was high. The need was not urgent. Barca didn’t have to pull the trigger now.
But the rest of its window was excellent. It had to shed wages, and did. It apparently earmarked five players for the exit door, and jettisoned four of them, with only Aleix Vidal still around. Would it have liked to find permanent destinations for Turan and perhaps Deulofeu? Probably. But those can wait for the summer.
And then there’s Mina, who, at around $15 million, could prove to be the signing of the window. He won’t prove that immediately, but he won’t have to. He was one of the top center backs in South America. He’s 23. He’s going to start for Colombia at the World Cup. He’s athletic, he’s skilled. He arrives at the ideal point of his developmental trajectory. He could be an unquestioned Barca starter in three years. And again, only $15 million! Mina pushes Barcelona to the top of this list.
In: Alexis Sanchez
Out: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
That right there says it all, doesn’t it? Alexis in. Mkhitaryan out. Net spend of zero. Beautiful.
Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that. United is paying Sanchez an exorbitant salary that he almost surely won’t be worth in two or three years. There’s also the thought that Sanchez doesn’t really solve Jose Mourinho’s problems, which lie deeper in midfield.
But United has money to spend. It swapped a frozen-out player on high wages for a legitimate star on higher wages. That’s a net win. No doubt about it.
In: Ross Barkley, Emerson Palmieri, Olivier Giroud
Out: Kenedy (loan), Michy Batshuayi (loan)
Antonio Conte has spent the vast majority of the window – or at least whenever he’s in front of a microphone – moaning about the club’s transfer policies. But what the heck does he want? Sure, Chelsea could use a Kevin De Bruyne or a Naby Keita. But no realistic deal would have provided a necessary, meaningful upgrade on what Conte already has.
The concern entering the season was depth. Chelsea now has that. It has five center backs and four wing backs. It has five central midfielders, three wingers and two strikers. It has capable cover at every single position. The January signings filled in the final holes, and gave Conte one or two new dimensions as well.
The Italian boss claimed Wednesday, after a 3-0 home loss to Bournemouth, that he’s “exploiting this squad at the maximum level.” He’s wrong about that. He has the squad. He did an outstanding job with a similar one last year. He’s doing a less than stellar job with this one. Time to step up yourself, Antonio.
Chelsea —> Borussia Dortmund (loan)
Players can be winners or losers, too. Batshuayi is Exhibit A. He was buried on Conte’s bench. It’s not entirely clear why. He’ll now at least get the opportunity to claim first-choice duty at Dortmund. He won’t be guaranteed the No. 9 spot every week, with Andriy Yarmolenko and Maximilian Philipp capable of playing centrally. But BVB should provide a far better situation for the 24-year-old Belgian.
In: Sandro Wagner, Leon Goretzka (pre-contract, summer)
So for around $15 million, Bayern got a solid backup striker and a 22-year-old central midfielder who could be a six- or seven-year starter. Not fair.
In: Lucas Moura
Out: Georges-Kevin N’Koudou (loan)
Nothing earth-shattering here. Just a good, solid, sensible signing with significant upside that fills a need. And in this market, that upside is worth more than $35 million.
In: Kenedy (loan), Islam Slimani (loan), Martin Dubravka (loan)
Out: Aleksandr Mitrovic (loan), Jack Colback (loan)
Newcastle fans will probably dispute this. But given the uncertainty around the club’s ownership situation and the obvious lack of available funs, the Magpies probably did enough to stay in the Premier League. They found three interim solutions to problems. Kenedy and Slimani should start every game. Dubravka is an unknown, but it won’t take much to be an upgrade on the current goalkeepers. So, all things considered, Newcastle did just fine for itself.
The Reds got a good price for Coutinho in the end. But they would have been better off agreeing one for the summer, even if it was $10 million or so cheaper.
Liverpool got worse in January. There’s no way around that. And it overpaid for a van Dijk. There’s no way around that, either. It would have been one thing to pay $100-plus million for a sure thing. But van Dijk isn’t, because he’s never played in anything even resembling a Jurgen Klopp system before.
Oh, and Liverpool didn’t address the goalkeeper situation.
All in all, it wasn’t a disastrous window. And the next one, when Naby Keita arrives, along with perhaps a keeper, will in part make up for it. But it certainly wasn’t a good window on the red half of Merseyside.
In: Lassana Diarra
Out: Lucas Moura
This has nothing to do with Diarra, who’s a solid, cheap backup defensive midfielder. It has everything to do with the “Out” list, which is nowhere near as long as it should be. PSG is in hot Financial Fair Play water. It needs to balance its books – if not to avoid immediate penalty, to free itself up to spend next summer and beyond.
It has several valuable attacking assets that presumably could have fished significant returns. In addition to Lucas Moura, at least two of Javier Pastore, Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler and Hatem Ben Arfa had to go. They had to. And for some reason they didn’t. Their hefty wages are obviously problems. But skilled transfer market maneuverers find their way around that. PSG didn’t.
In: Marko Pjaca (loan), Baba Rahman (loan)
Out: Leon Goretzka (pre-contract, summer)
Schalke didn’t really lose the January window as much as it lost the summer one. It should have sold Leon Goretzka in August. Instead, it made the roughly $50 million mistake of holding out hope that it could sign the young German international to a new contract. Once Bayern enters the picture, that might as well be a pipe dream. And now Goretzka will leave for free in five months.
Remains at Leicester City
He desperately wants a move away from Leicester. He didn’t get it, despite handing in a transfer request and reportedly going AWOL on deadline day. And now he’s apparently threatening to never play for the club again. Not great!
In: Daniel Sturridge (loan), Ali Gabr (loan)
A striker and a 31-year-old center back. Exactly what West Brom didn’t need!
Alan Pardew and the Baggies’ recruitment department committed the classic mistake of automatically assuming the way to address a dearth of goals was by bringing in a striker. In reality, striker, occupied by Salomon Rondon, is the one attacking position at which West Brom is set. It needed a winger. It needed a creative midfielder. It got neither, and is probably the most likely of any Premier League club to go down.
In: Jordan Hugill, Joao Mario (loan)
Out: Andre Ayew, Diafra Sakho
The signings were fine. This isn’t. It’s very, very bad.
WINNER AND LOSER
In: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Out: Alexis Sanchez, Francis Coquelin, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, Mathieu Debuchy
Oh, Arsenal. Does anybody have any clue what to make of the Gunners?
They made some very questionable moves, but also some unquestionably outstanding ones. Let’s start with the good. Offloading Coquelin and Walcott for a combined $45 million was wizardry. Signing Mesut Ozil to a contract extension was massive.
But Arsenal, for a net spend that was slightly in the red, didn’t get better. And it only barely got younger. That’s the worry. It’s still entirely unclear whether the club has a plan that extends beyond the next six months. Mkhitaryan is the wild card. There’s a chance Wenger/[insert new manager here] can help him recapture three-plus years of his Dortmund form. If he does, Arsenal is a winner.
But it almost surely would’ve been better off taking $50 million for Alexis, and the $65 million from its other three sales, and investing that in players that will have some semblance of value by the time their contracts run their course – in other words, not a 28- and a 29-year-old.
So Arsenal is neither winner nor loser. Instead, it remains an inconclusive mess.
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