The transfer window as we know it today was officially introduced by FIFA during the 2002/03 season. Some countries had already used a similar system but the new regulations meant that all major leagues had to comply. As a result, two player registration periods were introduced: a 12-week window in the break between seasons and a month-long window in the middle of the season. For most European countries, the mid-season window now occurs in January.
A controversial system
The January window has proved to be the most controversial, with many top managers being vocal in their opposition to the system. There are several issues that have been raised such as players becoming unsettled at the start of the season, having already spoken to clubs regarding a January move, or certain teams strengthening having already played some sides twice but not others, possibly affecting the title or relegation races.
Another argument against the system is that it encourages spending for the sake of it and artificially inflates the prices of players as the deadline approaches and teams scramble into action. This perhaps came to a head in 2011 when January spending in the Premier League topped £200m for the first time - a leap of over £150m from 2005. The 2017 January window spend reached £218m, seven times the £68m figure it would have reached had it simply risen in line with inflation since 2003.
Hits and misses
In such an environment where clubs are panic buying and agents are out to make a killing, there are no guarantees that any transfer will be a success. And it could be argued that the January window produces more misses than hits with many transfers seemingly more about business than football. But amongst all the exchanging of paperwork via over-worked fax machines, there have been some real success stories. So, let’s take a look at some of the best pieces of January transfer window business that have been carried out over the last few years.
Ajax to Liverpool, January 2011
In January 2011, Liverpool had one of the most remarkable transfer windows in their history. On one hand, they recouped £50m from the sale of Fernando Torres to Chelsea, while, on the other, they squandered £35m on the purchase of Andy Carroll. However, just a few days prior to those deadline day deals, they agreed to a £22.5 fee with Ajax for the transfer of Luis Suarez. Had they realised just what an impact the Uruguayan would have had, would they have still been so keen to pay over the odds for Carroll? Probably not.
Suarez was an instant hit on Merseyside, contributing four goals and six assists in his 12 starts that season as the club recovered from a dismal spell under Roy Hodgson. The future England manager had also been replaced that month by club legend Kenny Dalglish, who guided the Reds from 12th when he took over to a sixth-place finish. Suarez went on to score 82 goals in three-and-a-half seasons with the Reds before making the £65m switch to Barcelona in 2014.
Inter to Liverpool, January 2013
For our second piece of business, we return to Merseyside to celebrate the transfer of Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian had struggled to establish himself as a first-team regular in three seasons at Inter but he caught the attention of Liverpool’s scouts during an impressive loan spell at Spanish side Espanyol
, where he played under current Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino. In fact, the Argentine coach tried to bring the player to Southampton in the 2013 January transfer window but lost out to Liverpool who bagged him for a tidy £8.5m sum.
Coutinho scored three goals and provided five assists in his first 13 games for the club and has since gone on to become one of the Reds' most important players, captaining the club on several occasions during the 2017/18 campaign. His first 200 appearances for the club produced 54 goals and more than 30 assists (the third highest number in Liverpool’s history). However, the Brazilian is priced at 2/5 with bookies Betway
to become a Barcelona player during the 2018 January transfer window. The Catalan club attempted to sign the player in the summer of 2017 but saw several offers rejected by the Anfield hierarchy.
MK Dons to Tottenham, January 2015
Our final transfer takes us south to North London where Dele Alli currently plies his trade. The midfielder was just 19 when Tottenham Hotspur parted with £5m for his services in January 2015. He remained with the League One side for the rest of the season, helping them achieve promotion to the Championship for the first time in their history.
He wasted no time in adapting to life in the Premier League, scoring 10 goals and providing nine assists in his first season at White Hart Lane - only Harry Kane scored more goals for the club that term. In his second season, the 21-year-old notched up 22 goals in all competitions for his club and has gone on to make 22 appearances for the England national team.
Plenty of positives
Of course, there have been plenty of other successful January transfers: Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Javier Mascherano spring to mind. So, while January is widely regarded as a difficult time to sign the right player, these examples prove that, with a measured approach, the winter market can be successfully exploited.