The January Transfer Window Question: A Good Time to Buy? And Some of the Best and Worst January Transfers Ever

Written By Peter Taberner on December 20, 2019

It’s nearly time for the January sales once again, but for Premier League clubs bargains are not always so easy to come by. There are many aspects to the equation of buying a player in January. It’s a situation that can leave chief executives and managers, scratching their heads as to what would be the best course of action.


If you choose to open the chequebook once the Christmas trees have been discarded, it can have an unsettling effect on the team. A fresh face can cause a change in formation midway through a season that can upset the apple cart.

New signings rarely stay on the bench for long.

A player losing his place in the team can result in discord, which can cause a negative ripple effect throughout the whole squad, as a season progresses.

Conversely a new signing in January can freshen up a group of players halfway through a season.

Just look at what Eric Cantona did when he joined Manchester United in December 1992, before the January transfer window was in place. The Frenchman totally reinvigorated United, who were struggling for goals and creativity upon his arrival. Its hard to see how the Red Devils would have won their first league title in 26 years without him.

For those teams in the Champions League, a player is no longer cup tied for the knockout phase from February. Uefa decided to change the rules, and teams in the last 16 of the Champions League are allowed to register a maximum of three eligible players in January. It’s permitted to sign a player if they have played for another club in the competition.

Or if a player is signed from a club still in the Champions League.

This has left the market more open compared to when the cup tied rule was in place. If a team is battling against relegation from the Premier League, buying a player in January is a very difficult set of calculations. The transfer fee may become inflated if there is any sign of desperation from the buying club. If a team still gets relegated then the fee paid has made no difference. And you have bought another player who  commands Premier League wages. However, there can be contractual clauses that allow player and club to escape the original deal.

QPR under Harry Redknapp in 2013 broke the bank to sign centre half Christopher Samba from Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala. The fee was £12.5 million, with a salary of a reported £100,000 per week. Samba was error strewn as the West London side failed to beat the drop, and made only 10 appearances. Luckily, with QPR looking to reduce their wage bill,  Anzhi took him back for £12 million. QPR still made a loss on the transfer overall.


A player that has a struggle in new surroundings in mid-season can be excused for his performances. Usually there would be a train of thought that says he will be OK as he settles in by next season.

Nemanja Vidic started poorly for Manchester United following his move from Spartak Moscow. Yet following that half season in 2005/6, he improved his form dramatically to eventually become arguably the best central defender in Europe.

In contrast, moving to a new club in the summer allows a player to get used to his new surroundings. A pre-season tour would give him an idea of how his new team mates approach a game. Cultural barriers can also be bridged over the summer months, leaving a player more comfortable as the season begins.

When Fabinho arrived at Liverpool in the summer of last year, Jurgen Klopp ensured that he had time to adapt at his new club. Fabinho was not selected for the opening games of the season. And did not complete 90 minutes until October 27th in the Premier League, in a 4-1 victory against Cardiff at Anfield.

The Brazillian has been outstanding since that point in his defensive midfield position.

Its debatable whether the timing of signings really make a difference. Perhaps its more down to the quality of the player, man management, and the circumstances at a club at the time.


Premier League spending peaked in the January transfer window last year according to figures from Deloitte, as club’s forked out a total of £430 million. It’s a figure that significantly eclipsed the previous record in 2011, where club’s paid out £225 million on new recruits.

Yet this year there was a dip in spending, with the relatively smaller outlay total of £180 million.

Deloitte reflected that the decrease in spending can be attributed to reduced activity from the ‘big six’ of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City. Also, there was a perceived lack of value in the transfer market.

Due to the hike in recent Premier League broadcasting contracts, where the current domestic and overseas packages total around £9.2 billion, clubs are in fine financial health, with no need to sell their best talents. The broadcasting rights are for the cycle of 2019-22, but were only slightly higher than the previous cycle.

In response, Deloitte concluded that clubs were more cautious on spending big.



Suarez moved to Liverpool from Ajax for a fee of £23.8 million in January 2011. It was completed on a frantic deadline day, with Andy Carroll also being signed by Kenny Dalglish for a further £35 million.

The Uruguayan made an immediate impact, scoring four goals with five assists in 13 games. Overall Suarez scored 69 goals in 110 appearances, and nearly won the elusive Premier League title for The Reds in 2013/14. Suarez was sold to Barcelona for £75 million at the end of that season, a tidy profit over three years.


Vidic was signed by Manchester United on Christmas Day in 2005 for a relative snip at £7 million, before it was announced in January that he had joined the club. The Serbian was a powerhouse of a defender, and formed arguably the best central defensive partnership in United’s history alongside Rio Ferdinand.

Vidic won five Premier League title medals, and the Champions League in 2008 in Moscow. He was also club captain. After eight years, he left on a free transfer to Inter Milan.


Tottenham poached the precocious 19-year-old Alli for just £5 million in 2015 from the MK Dons. They then loaned him back for the remainder of that season.

Now aged 23, the attacking midfielder has already made 199 appearances for Spurs, scoring 59 times with 52 assists. And he played in last season’s Champions League final. If Alli truly fulfills his potential, his fee will look an even bigger bargain.


Coming in for what was at the time the most expensive fee ever for a defender, VVD’s deal with Liverpool initially had its skeptics. However, after leading Liverpool to the third highest EPL point total ever, and a Champions League title, van Dijk is now considered among the best January transfers ever.



Torres moved to Chelsea from Liverpool on that January deadline day in 2011 for £50 million. It was a British record at the time. He had proved himself to be debatably the best striker in the world at Anfield, where he scored 81 goals in 142 appearances.

Life was not quite the same for him at Stamford Bridge, where he scored just 20 Premier League goals in three and a half seasons. Despite this poor record he still won the FA Cup, Europe League and the Champions League in 2012. He scored the winner in the semifinal against Barcelona.


Sanchez moved to Manchester United in a swap deal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan moving south to Arsenal. It was seen as a coup at the time, as the Armenian had been underperforming at Old Trafford.

The Chilean often looked disinterested at United, and scored only five goals in 45 appearances. He was loaned out to Inter Milan this summer. Sanchez’s astronomical wages were reportedly up to £500,000 a week, with no transfer fee involved.

It has to go down as the worst contract awarded in British football history.


The Senegalese was bought by Everton for the sizeable fee of £13.5 million from Locomotive Moscow in January 2016. Niasse was given just two Premier League starts by manager Roberto Martinez for the rest of that season, without scoring a single goal.

He never convinced in the 43 league game he took part in, scoring 12 times. A loan spell at Hull City was slightly more productive with four goals in 17 matches, although it didn’t stop The Tigers from being relegated.

Niasse recently started for the Everton Under-21 side in the EFL Trophy, where Premier League youth teams play against lower league sides.

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