A look at an underwhelming 2016/17 January transfer window

Roll up, roll up, have I got a deal that is perfect for you this transfer window, here for one month and one month only get your hands on exactly the player that your club needs. Brimming with Premier League quality, a guarantee of reaching their full potential and I’ll even throw in an extra player that is equally as suitable for your club as a one-time special offer. Blink and you’ll miss I kid you not,  get them whilst you can because they just don’t make them like this anymore! In fact, just because you’ve gone about your business so quietly and been so kind in business in the past, I’ll even get the chairman to knock a couple of million off the transfer fee, how does that sound? Do we have a deal? Well I tell you what how about a short term loan deal as well with an option to buy at a later date to cover that position you can’t really afford to fill right now? Let’s shake on it then… Deal! You’ve caught me at the right time and got yourself the bargain of a lifetime there, I’m telling you. And remember – you know where I am the next time you need a player that ticks all the boxes right?

Clearly if all transfer windows worked like your local Saturday morning market, negotiating and conducting business might be much friendlier but certainly nowhere near as dramatic and as enjoyable as it often can be every summer and winter window. For football supporters at least, as Sky roll out the red carpet and fish out the gold ties from the back of the wardrobe, it’s the anticipation, uncertainty, delirium and often disappointment that makes reading daily transfer rumours and staying glued to the television during deadline day all the more appealing. Will they? Won’t they? Why not? Surely not? Often fans can be demanding and players can seem both greedy and selfish but the transfer window perhaps highlights everything we already know but perhaps need reminding of in the modern game.

In what has traditionally proved to an exciting few weeks for football fans as the football season heads into a new calendar year, the January window has in the past had its fare share of surprise moves, dramatic late business and transfers which go on to change the course of a clubs second half of the season. In what you would think is a valuable opportunity for clubs both title-challenging or even fighting to avoid relegation to go out and strengthen halfway into the season, the January window is perhaps more about necessity more so than stockpiling youth players or making luxury signings. The first opportunity in the football season for players to leave in search of first-team football elsewhere as well as the first chance for managers to part with unhappy individuals disturbing squad morale or even unwanted players who find themselves outside of the managers and the clubs future plans. Clubs throughout the English game have to favour pragmatic transfers over merely buying players for the sake of it, giving the winter window a much greater dimension thanks to its counterpart in the summer.

Yet going off the barrage of negative quotes and remarks made by numerous Premier League managers this January, it is clear that in comparison to previous winter transfer windows that there is something not quite right this time around. Aside from the usual hype and rumours aplenty there has been very little in what you could label ‘actual transfer business’ being done with several clubs bemoaning the lack of opportunities to purchase players that offer either quality or value for money this January. A year ago it was Everton and Newcastle United that spent big on Oumar Niasse and Jonjo Shelvey respectively whilst in the 2014/15 winter window Manchester City and Chelsea spent over £50m between them. Chelsea have repeatedly spent big and been active players in the January transfer market, most notably during the 2013/14 winter window parting with just under £50m and selling Juan Mata to Manchester United for an impressive £31.7m. Besides who will ever forget the late drama on deadline day during the 2010/11 winter transfer window which saw Fernando Torres swap Liverpool for Chelsea for a staggering £50m with Andy Carroll replacing the Spaniard, joining Liverpool for £35m shortly before the 11:00pm deadline. Therefore despite often looked at as the summer window’s less popular relative, there’s no denying that the January transfer window can and has provided drama over the five years at least.

The worry for the Premier League however must be whether the lack of transfer activity this January is just a one-off given the record breaking amount of money clubs spent in the summer or could it be a sign that times are changing in modern football? With China beginning to look like a future force to be reckoned with when it comes to recruitment and spending big, could the Premier League have a fight on its hands to ensure that the January transfer window avoids becoming a winter washout as it largely across mainland Europe?

It isn’t uncommon for managers to publicly come across as coy, even reluctant to address any speculation about potential incomings and outgoings at their club for numerous reasons. Whether that be in respect to the individual, to take pressure off the chairman and those behind the scenes or to simply revert the focus back onto the football on the pitch rather than the amount of money spent away from it, unless a move has all but been confirmed it is therefore very rare that Premier League managers even acknowledge the January window at all. However personal frustration can only bubble beneath the surface for so long until a manager eventually erupts; a field day for the press and a cry for help in front of the preying media aimed at those up in higher places to sanction some much needed spending. And the further down the Premier League table you go, the more and more the January transfer window seems to be toiling with those fighting desperately to avoid the drop this season.

Swansea City may have brought in Dutch winger Luciano Narsingh for less than £5m but the cautiousness of appointing new manager Paul Clement before the window opened highlights the need to get it completely right with such limited time and often resources available at what is now the halfway point of the season. Likewise the need to be assured when undertaking winter recruitment is key with the clubs supporters already questioning how parting with their money on Narsingh addresses the clubs defensive woes at all? Similarly selling the dream; a move to Swansea City and a chance to play in the top-flight is incredibly difficult with the very real threat of them ending up playing in the Championship next season, making the winter window that bit harder than a similar deal in the summer. Ultimately time is precious, as is money with relegation looming and the need to spend wisely is vital making January more important than the summer in terms of making sure that you get it right

Fellow strugglers Sunderland have also fell victim to the January transfer window blues this 2017 with the club intent on spending next to no money despite the need for squad-wide reinforcements. With recent paper talk suggesting that chairman Doug Ellis may be restricting spending this window with one eye on permanently selling the club this year, the Black Cats are crying out for new blood and manager David Moyes knows it. Yet by repeatedly refusing to verbally comment on any transfer business and merely answering his critics with the arrival of trialist Joleon Lescott on a free transfer, the strain of modern football looks like it has taken its toll on Sunderland – a club that fans of the drama the transfer window as a spectacle within the sport itself would have been pinning their hopes on this January, expecting a flurry of transfer activity if all was well away from the pitch. Similarly there’s no denying that the media would be relying on clubs like Sunderland and Swansea City to launch a serious attack on the January transfer window with the hope of providing some much needed excitement. Disappointingly however, both club’s reluctance to spend not even excessively but even whatsoever this month certainly hasn’t helped spark the window into any proper action.

As well as a widespread reluctance to spend which in seems to have stemmed more and more throughout the Premier League, new Crystal Palace boss Sam Allardyce has bemoaned the lack of quality on offer this January for the reason why his struggling side have done very little this January. Although in signing Jeffrey Schlupp, Patrick van Aanholt and possibly Carl Jenkinson you could say that Allardyce’s side have been one of the more active clubs this January, his comments on the scarceness of quality players around and available to purchase further reflects just how quiet of a window that it has been. If anything it has proved a battle for the former sides of both Schlupp and van Aanholt, relegation battling Leicester City and Sunderland to keep hold of their star names. None more so than Marco Silva at Hull City who despite offering some optimism that the window hadn’t been perhaps as boring as we may think in bringing in Evandro from FC Porto for an undisclosed fee alongside the pair of Merseyside loans in Everton and Liverpool forwards Oumar Niasse and Lazar Markovic respectively, Hull City have continually faced a battle to keep hold of their best player this season Robert Snodgrass. Shoots of transfer activity therefore offers some optimism but it’s fair to say that it really hasn’t been a classic transfer January transfer window this time around.

The whereabouts of Dimitri Payet and his fallout with West Ham United meanwhile has been about as dramatic as it gets so far, not forgetting the eventual departure of everybody’s favourite pantomime villain Saido Berahino after years of repeatedly asking will he or won’t he? Heading up the league to those challenging at the top and it has often been the similar line to the press, repeatedly stating they’re somewhat unprepared to spend this January unless star quality becomes available. In what often feels like a waiting game, anticipating one team has the courage to take the plunge and move for a player, without any of the title contending sides willing to make the first move, ultimately the league misses out on the chain reaction of subsequent high-profile moves that would inevitably follow. The likes of Pochettino, Wenger and Guardiola may tell the press ‘never say never’ when it comes to potential transfer business but outgoing loan deals or a flash of youth recruitment by Wenger’s Arsenal unfortunately looks as exciting as it will get this January.

Southampton and Stoke City may have been able but equally both have been particularly unwilling to spend this January with a mid-table finish looking likely for both clubs this season. Although Stoke have been busy by bringing in West Brom’s Berahino at a meagre £12m, the impending departure of Bojan could provide some much needed transfer activity with Middlesbrough reportedly waiting in the wings. Likewise as a feature of what we can agree on often comes down to purveying the mood around the rest of the Premier League, Italian forward Manolo Gabbiadini could yet be the late protagonist of the window with several top flight clubs linked with the Napoli player since the start of the month. Meanwhile Bournemouth and Burnley’s moves for Asmir Begovic and Joey Barton may show some willingness to spend but offers very little in terms of the high-profile razzmatazz that as fans we have become so accustomed with. Similarly Middlesbrough’s and Watford’s transfer business may outnumber that of many of their top flight rivals but aside from all but Watford’s recent acquisition of AC Milan forward M’Baye Niang on loan until the end of the season, their activity does little to really enhance the word-class quality we have come to expect in the top tier of English football and consequently, the amount of drama we’ve had this January.

Nonetheless without the tantrums of Diego Costa and Dmitri Payet as well as the Chinese Super League making its presence firmly known – linked with what feels like every Premier League star as well as actually luring away the likes of Oscar, John Obi Mikel and possibly Odion Ighalo in the next fortnight perhaps, there would be very little to even discuss. Everton and West Bromwich Albion do however deserve credit for their attempts in using the window wisely with both clubs featuring from the very first day in their tussle for Morgan Schneiderlin. Everton boss Ronald Koeman’s eagerness to bring young quality has been clear to see with the purchase of the former Manchester United midfielder as well as Charlton Athletic’s promising striker Ademola Lookman, as has Tony Pulis’ desire to strength at West Brom with the Baggies reportedly still keen on significantly adding to their squad with a matter of days remaining. And just as West Brom look to build on their impressive season by all accounts, so do Antonio Conte’s Chelsea and a late flurry of transfer activity may well be on the cards to help try and secure their second league title in three years. With Fernando Llorente, Adama Traore and Craig Gordon poised to join Conte’s high-fliers before the month is out, there could yet be some drama albeit without the glitz and glamour players the transfer window desperately needs to make it one to remember.

Clearly you therefore can’t always get what you want but in a sport that is so dominated by money nowadays, you’d expect it to talk no matter what part of the season that we may be in. However with numerous managers seemingly criticising the current window at an alarming rate by bemoaning a general lack of quality, value for money and players simply unwilling to swap their current clubs for the Premier League this January, there’s no denying that the 2017 winter window has been one that has so far failed to live up to expectations. Albeit you may never know what’s around the corner in English football but honestly, it’s highly likely that in the short-term at least, it probably won’t be all that exciting, making the summer window even more interesting. Here’s hoping it isn’t as underwhelming as this January and that it can recapture the magic of previous seasons.

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