Following the usual flurry of deadline-day business, the winter transfer window is closed for another year.
While there were fewer wacky narratives to follow this January – Harry Redknapp wasn’t around to bring Christopher Samba out of the wilderness, unfortunately – there were plenty of fascinating deals struck over the month that deserve recognition.
Honorable mentions: Josh Maja (Sunderland to Bordeaux, $4.56 million), Rabbi Matondo (Manchester City to Schalke, £11 million), Lucas Paqueta (Flamengo to AC Milan, €35 million), Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal to RB Leipzig, loan)
10. Leonardo Balerdi
Boca Juniors to Borussia Dortmund for €16 million
Balerdi is a gamble. He was signed after only 450 senior minutes for Boca Juniors and was in Germany for a brief time before flying out to join Argentina Under-20’s Sudamericano campaign. He will prematurely return to Dortmund early next week after suffering “a cut to his upper lip” at the tournament, and can now acclimate to his new surroundings and challenge for a place in a defensive department that already lacks experience. It will be fascinating to see how Balerdi develops compared to Under-20 comrade and Atletico Madrid’s January buy Nehuen Perez.
9. Timothy Weah
Paris Saint-Germain to Celtic on season-long loan
Weah was unveiled at Celtic a day after Old Firm rivals Rangers had brokered an 18-month loan deal for Jermain Defoe, who is double the age of the American attacker. It almost made a mockery of Steven Gerrard’s designs on Celtic’s seven-year stranglehold on the Premiership title. Weah scored off the bench in each of his first two appearances wearing the famous hoops and looks set to provide the firepower required to secure league and Scottish Cup honors. The 18-year-old’s pace and technique could also give Valencia a scare in the Europa League round of 32. This is a short-term measure, but it could be immense.
8. Chris Mepham
Brentford to Bournemouth for £12 million
This, admittedly, isn’t very exciting. Nevertheless, the acquisition does mark an eventual end to Bournemouth‘s long-running interest in Mepham and means Nathan Ake isn’t always partnered by a portly ex-League One regular at the back. Although the Welsh international is only 21, he quickly developed a reputation as one of the wisest defenders outside the Premier League. His comfort in possession should be a springboard for the Cherries’ rapid counter-attacks for years to come. As an aside, the loan pinch of Nathaniel Clyne was another intelligent piece of January business on the south coast.
7. Michy Batshuayi
Chelsea to Crystal Palace on season-long loan
Crystal Palace sensationally made an 11th-hour swoop for the underappreciated Batshuayi on transfer deadline day. Following a disappointing half-season spell with Valencia, the Belgian can now expect regular minutes on loan at a team that has been in desperate need of a focal point between Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha in Roy Hodgson’s attack. The four strikers who have appeared for the Eagles this season have combined for one league goal; Batshuayi, who scored 33 times in 78 Marseille appearances before leaving for Chelsea, would do better blindfolded.
6. Miguel Almiron
Atlanta United to Newcastle United for £21 million
How did Rafa Benitez manage to encourage Newcastle‘s tight-fisted owner Mike Ashley – who is openly trying to sell the club – to part with a club-record fee for Almiron? The Magpies trumped their previous biggest outlay which stood for 13-and-a-half years (when Michael Owen joined from Real Madrid) to purchase the Paraguayan from Atlanta United, supplying a welcome unpredictability and invention behind Salomon Rondon in the starting lineup. Entertainment has been on short supply during large chunks of Ashley’s regime, but Almiron could help address that.
5. Diego Lainez
Club America to Real Betis for €12 million
Real Betis produced another impressive piece of business by bringing in Lainez this January, where he links up with compatriot Andres Guardado. Lainez is a raw talent – his tactical awareness needs fine-tuning and he strongly favors his left foot – but, given he turns 19 in June, his natural low center of gravity and ability to bewilder defenders is certainly worth investing in – especially because he cost just €12 million. Quique Setien has quickly displayed trust in his fresh arrival, involving him from the first whistle in their last two matches, the latter of which was a vital Copa del Rey showdown with Espanyol.
4. Gonzalo Higuain
Juventus to Chelsea on season-long loan with option to buy
In 64 minutes of Wednesday’s humbling 4-0 loss at Bournemouth, Higuain didn’t muster a shot, nor did he play a key pass or even draw a foul. As first league starts go, it was torrid. But the Argentinian’s goal-scoring exploits on the continental are impressive and, in striking a loan deal, Chelsea addressed the need for a No. 9, appeased Eden Hazard by returning him to his preferred inside-forward berth, and now have great freedom in the small print of Higuain’s temporary contract. If there are comparisons with Chelsea’s prior signings from Serie A, expect more of a Hernan Crespo impact than a dud like Andriy Shevchenko or Adrian Mutu.
3. Leandro Paredes
Zenit St. Petersburg to Paris Saint-Germain for €40 million
Is Paredes the ball-winner Paris Saint-Germain have been lacking in midfield? Not exactly, but he is an early replacement for the seemingly outgoing Adrien Rabiot and, at 24, can rapidly become an integral member of PSG’s starting XI for the next decade. It was a surprise that Paredes ended up at Zenit St. Petersburg in the summer of 2017, but he regularly stitched the Russian side together with his velvet touch and smart use of the ball. He may not be the big-name signing club owner Nasser Al-Khelaifi tends to favor, but he should bring some balance to a top-heavy team.
2. Krzysztof Piatek
Genoa to AC Milan for €35 million
Following a league debut from the bench against Napoli three days prior, Piatek was afforded his first Milan start in the Coppa Italia against the same opposition on Tuesday. He certainly made his mark with a brace, the second of which featured some dogged individualism before an emphatic finish. His deal was affordable in today’s market – therefore potentially bringing sell-on value if the Rossoneri find themselves beset by more financial issues – and, with performances like the one in midweek, he’ll soon consign memories of Higuain’s disappointing spell to the history books.
1. Frenkie de Jong
Ajax to Barcelona for €75 million
Barcelona will have to wait for De Jong – the Ajax youngster will meet his teammates in July – but over the intervening months, they should bask in the glory of beating Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, and others to one of the most coveted signatures in world football. It’s difficult to avoid comparisons to fellow Dutchman and Barcelona great Ronald Koeman when it comes to De Jong – his vision from deep-lying positions is mesmeric – and he has the ability to rapidly establish in the club’s starting XI. It’s a lot of money, yet worth every penny.
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