A trio of signings from last winter break into this list, including the feelgood signing of 2022, while Theo Walcott has been usurped as Arsenal’s best January recruit…
ARSENAL: Martin Odegaard
Two years after joining Arsenal, initially on loan from Real Madrid, it is time for Odegaard to dethrone Theo Walcott as the Gunners’ king of January. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ran Walcott close as one of the few top-class winter signings Arsenal have made, but Odegaard’s influence on the most exciting side the Emirates has seen for too long makes him a worthy choice. The Norwegian was handed the captaincy in the summer following Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette’s departures and Odegaard has flourished with the added responsibility. He has been one of the Premier League’s most creative players this season, especially on the dribble, and no Gunner has scored more Premier League goals. Whether he maintains his current form will go a long way to determining how far Arsenal can go.
ASTON VILLA: Tyrone Mings
This is a tough call. It really should be Philippe Coutinho – but it isn’t. It was Ashley Young up until two years ago when Mings usurped the versatile wideman who finds himself back at Villa Park. Does Mings still warrant such status? It’s been a tough year for the centre-back, losing his England place, the Villa captaincy and, briefly, his Villa starting spot too, with Steven Gerrard apparently not a huge fan. But Diego Carlos’s injury gave Mings an opportunity he has seized and despite still only ever being a moment from calamity, the defender has been one of Villa’s better players this season. So, yes, he retains this title, if not the armband.
BOURNEMOUTH: Steve Cook
“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 found success in the January transfer window with Ryan Fraser, Matt Ritchie and Adam Smith, but a man he inherited helped fuel the club’s rise. Bournemouth’s record Premier League appearance-maker was signed from Brighton for £150,000.
BRENTFORD: Christian Eriksen
Arguably the most wholesome January transfer of all-time, Eriksen joining Brentford a year ago was move we could all get behind. Barely six months after suffering a cardiac arrest at the European Championships, the Denmark star joined the Bees as a free-agent. He quickly found his feet and played a starring role in helping Thomas Frank’s side move away from a relegation fight with a goal and five assists in 11 games. Brentford would have preferred that he stuck around rather than join Manchester United in the summer, but that shouldn’t sour a rare feelgood story.
BRIGHTON: Alexis Mac Allister
Two years ago, this title belonged to Tariq Lamptey and the wingman would still be worthy of it, despite an injury-hit year that has seen his stock fall slightly having not long ago been one of the most sought-after young players in Europe. In that time, Caicedo became the next player most likely to net Brighton a huge profit, despite being slowly eased in by Graham Potter after joining from Independiente del Valle in January 2021. Caicedo followed a similar path as Mac Allister, who signed for the Seagulls in January 2019 before being loaned out. He established himself in Potter’s XI last season, scoring five goals, a total he already matched before popping off to win the World Cup with Argentina.
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 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 comfortably now Palace’s all-time record Premier League scorer with 67 goals, 32 ahead of Christian Benteke in second place.
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, Coleman pips his former team-mate. 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 reasonably strong under his 427th Goodison Park manager at the ripe old age of 34.
FULHAM: Brede Hangeland
The Cottagers have done well out of the January market. Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey arrived in the mid-season window, as did Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is pushing Hangeland hard for his crown. But the centre-back left a huge mark on Craven Cottage. He was one of Roy Hodgson’s first signings at Fulham in 2008 from FC Copenhagen and the defender became a stalwart through one of the greatest periods in the club’s history, with all of his seven seasons at Fulham spent in the Premier League. He made 270 appearances before he was released by Felix Magath, who Hangeland later claimed had instructed him to ease a thigh injury by placing a block of cheese on his leg. “I always try to see the good in people,” Hangeland said. “But Magath was an awful human being.”
LEEDS UNITED: Pablo Hernandez
United signed Hernandez initially on loan in summer 2016 but half a season was all it took to convince Garry Monk to make it a permanent arrangement in the first week of January 2017. In the subsequent three-and-a-half years, the Spanish midfielder became Leeds’ talisman, playing a huge role in their successful promotion campaign. The veteran became a peripheral figure in the Premier League due to injuries and Marcelo Bielsa’s refusal to take any sh*t in the wake of a petulant response to being hooked in a match against Leicester. But his legacy was secure when he departed Leeds last year to return to Spain.
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 Morgan and Danny Drinkwater for a combined £2million within ten days of each other in 2012. Morgan spent nine and a half seasons at Leicester before retiring after lifting the FA Cup last year.
LIVERPOOL: Virgil van Dijk
It was once Luis Suarez, scorer, biter and racism-er extraordinaire. But Van Dijk helped transform Liverpool entirely into title winners and European champions. The Reds have made bountiful use of the winter window – Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Maxi Rodriguez, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Agger, Luis Diaz, Cody Gakpo, Steven Caulker – but Van Dijk remains the best investment of the lot.
MANCHESTER CITY: Edin Dzeko
“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 the Etihad, 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).
MANCHESTER UNITED: Bruno Fernandes
Fernandes had to go some to edge out Daniel Storey’s best January signing ever but he did just that by establishing himself as the most transformative arrival of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. After making his debut in February, in a Covid-hit year, the recruit from Sporting Lisbon was our Premier League Player of 2020 and, two managers later, he remains United’s most important player.
NEWCASTLE: Bruno Guimaraes
January was generally a dark month, as most of them were, under Mike Ashley. Then the Saudis turned up and showed what can be achieved mid-season if you’re willing to fork out more than a tenner with a couple of Sports Direct tea vessels chucked in. There wasn’t a bad buy among the five Eddie Howe made last winter but Guimaraes, signed from Lyon for a then-club-record £38million was the best of the lot. “He’s absolutely a bargain because he’s had a huge effect on the team and the club,” said Eddie Howe recently. “In today’s market, that is a relatively modest sum – which I can’t really believe I’m saying – but it is. It’s an amazing thing for us to have him, it’s not just the player, it’s the person as well. I can’t say how good a person he is.”
NOTTINGHAM FOREST: Keinan Davis
Davis wasn’t at Forest for a long time, but he played a large role in making it the best time at the City Ground in bloody ages. He was signed on loan from Aston Villa last January, which prompted an underwhelmed reaction from the Forest faithful unimpressed by his three-goal haul in 73 league appearances. But he quickly became a firm favourite, scoring five goals and offering three assists while adding a different dimension to Steve Cooper’s attack. Somehow wasn’t among the 427 signings made last summer, with Watford hoping he could replicate his impact at Vicarage Road.
SOUTHAMPTON: Jose Fonte
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.
TOTTENHAM: Dele Alli
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, became a two-time PFA Young Player of the Year and was twice named in the PFA Team of the Year. Then it went woefully, inexplicably pear-shaped. To the point he’s now being booed off while being borrowed by Besiktas. But for a while Alli was a sensation.
WEST HAM: Jesse Lingard
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t fancy Lingard much and the attacker appeared determined to prove the then-Manchester United manager wrong when he was allowed to join the Hammers on loan in January 2021. In 16 games, Lingard scored nine goals – more than he’d ever managed for United in a single season – and assisted five more. With his point seemingly proven, Lingard returned to Old Trafford, where Solskjaer still refused to pick him. Ralf Rangnick wasn’t minded to either, so when he left United as a free-agent, it was expected he would return to West Ham, who made a decent offer. Not just as a decent as Forest’s.
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.