Every club’s greatest ever January transfer window signing

Date published: Friday 20th December 2019 8:27

Some clubs have made some sensational signings in past January transfer windows...

ARSENAL – Theo Walcott
Emmanuel Adebayor, Nacho Monreal and Kim Kallstrom push him close, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang might leave before dislodging him. But for sheer value for money, return on investment and length of service, Theo Walcott is Arsenal’s greatest ever January signing. He joined as a 16-year-old for £9.1m in 2006, left as a 28-year-old for £20m in 2018, played 397 games, scored 108 goals and won four trophies in the intervening 12 years. Arsene Wenger mourned the loss of a “mental and moral leader” when he was sold to Everton last year; he made more Premier League appearances for Arsenal than Thierry Henry, and scored more Premier League goals for the Gunners than Robert Pires.


ASTON VILLA – Ashley Young
Perhaps, in time, it will be Tyrone Mings. But for now, Ashley Young’s four-and-a-half-year stint narrowly outstrips the England centre-half’s Villa Park service. Before he became an underwhelming full-back with a penchant for bird poo, Young was a League Cup runner-up, PFA Young Player of the Year and two-time PFA Team of the Year member. It might not seem it now, but the 34-year-old really was one of the country’s brightest prospects outside of the elite.


“I think Steve will be a Championship player and hopefully that will be with us,” said Bournemouth manager Lee Bradbury in January 2012. Little did he know that the then-20-year-old centre-half would become an established Premier League regular under his Dean Court successor. Eddie Howe has found success in the January transfer window with Ryan Fraser, Matt Ritchie and Adam Smith, but a man he inherited has helped fuel the club’s stratospheric rise. Only Simon Francis has played more times under the manager at Bournemouth, whose record Premier League appearance-maker was signed from Brighton for £150,000.


BRIGHTON – Dale Stephens
Oscar Garcia lasted less than a year as Brighton manager, but still managed to leave his indelible stamp on the club. It was the Spaniard who helped them maintain their play-off standards after the departure of Gus Poyet in 2013, while he also brought in Dale Stephens from Charlton. He has been ordinary but excellent in helping the club finally break their promotion hoodoo, and then put their feet up and make themselves feel at home in the Premier League.


BURNLEY – James Tarkowski
Sean Dyche has brought in Charlie Austin, Ashley Barnes, Kieran Trippier, Michael Keane, Ashley Westwood and Robbie Brady in past January transfer windows, using the winter market to his advantage. But his most impressive purchase must surely be that of 23-year-old James Tarkowski, who transformed from Football League stalwart into fully-fledged England international at Turf Moor. Not many predicted he would be featuring for a World Cup semi-finalist while he was plodding around at Oldham and Brentford.


CHELSEA – Branislav Ivanovic
In an alternate universe, the January arrivals of Kevin de Bruyne (2012) and Mohamed Salah (2014) might have heralded a dawn of complete Chelsea dominance. But while the Blues have historically struggled to add another attacking dimension to their squad mid-season, they have fared much better with defensive reinforcements. Gary Cahill was a fantastic addition in 2012, perhaps bettered only by that of Branislav Ivanovic four years prior. The Serb spent nine years at Stamford Bridge, winning ten trophies in the process.


CRYSTAL PALACE – Wilfried Zaha
It will forever be weird that Wilfried Zaha’s first ever Premier League start was for Cardiff. He helped Crystal Palace earn Championship promotion in his final season before leaving for Manchester United in 2013. His well-documented struggles at Old Trafford meant he was loaned out twice and played just four times for David Moyes before returning to Selhurst Park on loan in August 2014. So it came as no surprise when that deal was made permanent in the following transfer window, with Zaha now Palace’s all-time record Premier League goalscorer.


EVERTON – Seamus Coleman
If it came down to sell-on value, then few could compete with John Stones – signed for £3m and sold for £47.5m within three-and-a-half years. But in terms of sheer value for money, Seamus Coleman pips his former teammate. The Ireland international joined from Sligo Rovers for £60,000 as an unknown gamble, and soon became one of the Premier League’s best right-backs. He is still going strong under his 427th Goodison Park manager at the ripe old age of 31.


LEICESTER – Wes Morgan
Three of the lynchpins in Claudio Ranieri’s title-winning band of misfits joined Leicester in previous January transfer windows. Riyad Mahrez signed from Le Havre for a nominal sum in the club’s promotion-winning season, and went on to be named Premier League Player of the Year two seasons later. But the framework for that incredible success was put in place by professional hard bastard Nigel Pearson who signed Wes Morgan and Danny Drinkwater for a combined £2m within ten days of each other in 2012. Almost eight years on, the captain is still standing. And just about holding off the challenge of Youri Tielemans in these stakes.


LIVERPOOL – Virgil van Dijk
It was once Luis Suarez, scorer, biter and racismer extraordinaire. But Virgil van Dijk has helped transform Liverpool entirely into the machine they are today. The Reds have made bountiful use of the winter window – Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Maxi Rodriguez, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Agger, Steven Caulker – with Takumi Minamino eager to join that long list.


“If the champion is City, then I would say a Man City player and if I have to choose, I choose Dzeko,” said Jose Mourinho when asked for his choice of Player of the Year in May 2014. “The kind of player he is, he’s not just a goal-scorer. He assists, he plays, he behaves, he’s fair, doesn’t dive, doesn’t try to put opponents in the stands with an accumulation of cards,” the Portuguese added, doing one of his weird winks in the general direction of eventual winner Luis Suarez. Dzeko arguably never earned the adulation he deserved at Eastlands, with a respectable 50 goals in 130 Premier League games, of which only 74 were starts. Only Sergio Aguero scored more goals (40) across the club’s first two title-winning seasons than the Bosnian (30).


The greatest January signing ever
 in Premier League terms, not just at Old Trafford. Nemanja Vidic provides stern competition but Patrice Evra, who arrived five days after his long-term teammate, pips him to the post. The Frenchman made more appearances both in the Premier League and in all competitions, establishing himself as one of the two best left-backs in England – and perhaps even on the world stage – after being substituted at half-time on his debut in a Manchester derby defeat. It’s just a shame about the whole punditry/West Ham thing.


NEWCASTLE – Martin Dubravka
Newcastle went into 2018 just one point clear of the relegation zone, but harnessed the boost provided by new players to finish in the top half. Kenedy was important, Islam Slimani was forgettable and Martin Dubravka was vital.


NORWICH – Russell Martin
The Norfolk Cafu gave no indication he would flourish at Norwich when he joined Paul Lambert’s Canaries in November 2009. It was actually a step down for Russell Martin, who considered Mark Cooper’s appointment as Darren Ferguson’s replacement his cue to leave Peterborough. The deal was made permanent as soon as January of the following year as Martin helped earned promotion to the Championship in his first season, then to the Premier League while playing every minute in his second. Named club captain in August 2013, he would give another five years of dedicated, versatile service before he left for good to join Walsall, retiring from playing altogether last month to focus on managing MK Dons.


He scored the winner at Hillsborough, for crying out loud.


Southampton knew they had pulled off quite the coup when they signed Jose Fonte from Crystal Palace for just over £1m in 2010. The club’s official website described it as a ‘significant capture’ of a player wanted by other sides ‘from a higher level’, before weirdly bragging that they had been ‘able to complete a signing in a professional and discreet manner’. They were in League One at the time; Premier League stalwart Fonte became a European champion with Portugal six years later.


Barely a single eyelid was batted when Tottenham rounded off a quiet January 2015 transfer window by making a teenage Dele Alli their only signing a matter of minutes before the deadline. The midfielder arrived from MK Dons with a huge reputation but was hardly expected to make his mark on the first team any time soon; he made his England debut later that year, is a two-time PFA Young Player of the Year, and is still eligible for that award.


WATFORD – John Eustace
Sean Dyche’s first ever captain as a manager was one of Watford’s most admired modern midfielders. Few could wear a head bandage quite as well as a determined John Eustace charging into battle with scant disregard for both himself and his opponent. After joining from Stoke in 2008, he helped steer the Hornets to mid-table safety until their promotion push in 2012/13. Watford were beaten by Crystal Palace in the play-off final at the end of what was an injury-ravaged final season at Vicarage Road for Eustace.


WEST HAM – Nigel Reo-Coker
As comparatively poor as his final West Ham season was, Nigel Reo-Coker was far more impressive than his nickname would suggest at Upton Park. He almost helped the Hammers back into the Premier League upon his arrival from MK Dons in 2004, but was part of the side that would miss out in the play-off final. They went one step further the following season, and 12 months after that he was captaining the side in the 2006 FA Cup final. Then just 22, he was actually unfortunate to only be named on England’s standby list for the World Cup.


WOLVES – Sylvan Ebanks-Blake
Since the Premier League – and therefore football itself – was established in 1992, only three players have been the top goalscorer in England’s second tier more than once. Of that trio, only two have won the Golden Boot in consecutive seasons. John Aldridge worked wonders for Tranmere in the early 1990s, and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake took on the mantle with ease over a decade later. He netted 23 times in 2007/08 despite joining Wolves from Plymouth halfway through the season, then fired his new side to the Premier League with 25 goals in 2008/09. He really is one of the deadliest Championship strikers of all-time.


Matt Stead


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