Liverpool showed the Boot Room sort of lives on, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were backed to the hilt and Newcastle passed the first test.
Don’t forget the losers of the 2022 January transfer window.
Two years is a relatively short period but for Christian Eriksen it must feel like a lifetime. The version of him that left the Premier League in January 2020 has had more than a few system updates by his January 2022 comeback.
There are the superficial additions of a Serie A championship to his C.V., as well as a Europa League runners-up medal. A brief return even brought his 100th Denmark cap as the only scorer in a 1-0 win over England at Wembley 15 months ago. But there is little point in skirting over Eriksen’s biggest change; indeed, that has become the most endearing part of his remarkable story.
Brentford might ordinarily represent a career step down from Ajax, Tottenham and Inter Milan for a 29-year-old Champions League finalist but this is undeniably a gargantuan leap up that was unimaginable as he lay prone on the Parken Stadium pitch shortly before half-time of the Euro 2020 opener last June. Anything from that point is a bonus but to get this far back is testament to both his physical and mental endurance.
It might be that his Brentford spell amounts to a handful of substitute cameos with fleeting and momentarily frustrating glimpses of his innate brilliance. That would be fine: it will be fair to reflect on what could have been. But in the context of what almost was in the summer, this is already a beautiful union.
“At the hospital, they kept saying I’d received more and more flowers,” Eriksen said earlier this month of his recovery. “It was weird, because I didn’t expect people to send flowers because I’d died for five minutes.”
But as the old adage goes, it is important to give people their flowers while they can still smell them. Whether this amounts to six more months or six more years, let us not take a single extra second of Eriksen for granted.
That treacherous and trap-laden first transfer test has been navigated well, all things considered. Newcastle spent £92m or so this winter – not a great deal short of the combined £102m outlay incurred over 14 January windows under Mike Ashley. Setbacks were suffered over Sven Botman, Diego Carlos, Jesse Lingard, Hugo Ekitike and more but the response has left Eddie Howe with a far, far stronger hand than the one he was dealt to begin with.
Prior to this month, the manager’s biggest January signing was that of Dominic Solanke in 2019; he is acutely aware of how hazardous the market can be, particularly in a frenzied mid-season attempt to stave off relegation. Yet a practical and responsible path has been followed and it should guide Newcastle to safety.
There are no excuses after Kieran Trippier and Matt Targett improved their full-back options, Dan Burn enhanced the centre-half position exponentially, Chris Wood upgraded their attacking choices and Bruno Guimaraes delivered a touch of genuine class.
Those first four players are all either in their 30s already, will be later this year or are on loan. They have a crucial current part to play without ending up as millstones on the wage bill or in the squad when the club inevitably takes the next step up. Guimaraes, however, provides a tantalising glimpse of what should be to come now Newcastle have finally been able to use the cheat code they unlocked in October.
It was not a perfect month. Another forward would have been received favourably. And it turns out all the money ever still isn’t enough to coax Kylian Mbappe up north. But considering no-one at the club had ever taken on such a challenge before – and bearing in mind how laughable their manager search was in similarly tough circumstances – it represents a success.
In the future we'll sign loads of top players but we'll never forget Bruno Guimaraes and Trippier taking the leap of faith whilst we are at serious risk of relegation. They'll be club legends and captains one day, that I'm sure of #nufc
— 🅁🄾🄱 ⚫⚪🇧🇷 (@BrunoGnufc) January 29, 2022
Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? And does the £5.1m signing of a Serbian teenager lead to the £37m purchase of a Colombian forward in Argentina six years later? Probably not but a convoluted trail can be tracked from Jurgen Klopp’s first Liverpool transfer to his most recent.
Marko Grujic never really worked out at Anfield but Liverpool more than doubled their money on a player who made 16 appearances for them when selling to Porto in the summer. The Diaz groundwork was laid then: Liverpool registered their interest in the forward soon after and were given an insight into the Portuguese club’s financial difficulties when they struggled to make the necessary payments for Grujic.
It is the sort of leverage and information Liverpool have become accustomed to using to their advantage. It might anger certain executives at other clubs but the Reds are masters at keeping favours in the back pocket in case it might benefit them further down the line. Expect those Fabio Carvalho snags to be ironed out in the summer after Fulham get six prolific months out of loanee Neco Williams and are reminded of Harry Wilson’s post-Anfield success.
There was fear when plans for Michael Edwards to step down as sporting director emerged at the end of August, concern that he might take an irreplaceable expertise with him. But this winter suggests the famous Boot Room at Liverpool has simply been renovated into an air-conditioned office for laptop gurus. Deputy and successor Julian Ward is said to have navigated the deal alongside Edwards and head of recruitment Dave Fallows, suggesting the Reds remain in perhaps the safest hands in the market.
“I also must make clear my appreciation to our ownership and football operations team for how they have managed to act so decisively to get this done,” came the glowing reference from Klopp after the Diaz deal. It’s been the sort of seamless transition that puts some of their supposed rivals to shame. And after the Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak mess of 12 months ago, it is a welcome return to imperious form.
Considering the first three signings of his entire managerial career were directly from Burnley, Hull and Brighton, it is easy to surmise that Steven Gerrard favours a certain type of background in his players. But his field of vision is no longer restricted to Scott Arfield, Allan McGregor and Jamie Murphy for a combined £1m. Aston Villa do not suffer the same market limitations as Rangers and their new manager revelled in the opportunity to branch out while retaining the same general idea.
The four new arrivals at Villa Park share one thing in common: prior experience of the Premier League. That trait can often be overblown and deserves derision and mockery when sold as a player’s main trait, but none of Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Digne, Robin Olsen or Calum Chambers have joined specifically because they Know The League. Rather, it is simply an added benefit to some sensible purchases.
They all fill squad gaps that needed addressing, with the central midfield issue able to be put off until things are clearer in the summer. Coutinho brings variation and a necessary surprise factor. Digne provides more refined forward play from wide. Olsen offers suitable cover. Chambers should fulfil a similar role in multiple positions.
And while experience was not the explicit reason they were all targeted, it was clearly a factor. Before this month, only four Villa players had made 100 or more career Premier League appearances (Ashley Young, Danny Ings, Matt Targett and Tyrone Mings). Coutinho (152), Chambers (151) and Digne (113) double that number when taking Targett’s loan exit into account. As familiar as those incoming names are, they still feel fresh, exciting and progressive.
January. 🤝 pic.twitter.com/bhUy0L13K0
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) January 31, 2022
In the last 18 months, Manchester City have sold a dozen players for a fee and at least doubled their initial outlay five times, with Ferran Torres following Ivan Ilic, Jack Harrison, Angelino and Felix Correia. Three of the others – Lukas Nmecha, Thierry Ambrose and Tosin Adarabioyo – were academy graduates. Only twice since summer 2020 have the Blues offloaded a player for less than they signed them. And even then, getting eight figures for 32-year-old Nicolas Otamendi was witchcraft, which makes Patrick Roberts’ departure on a free transfer to Sunderland the only blot on their copybook.
The Manchester City tax is real and rewarding. They broke the British transfer record in August and their net spend for the season is still well under £30m at no cost to their squad quality or quantity. That is what clubs are competing with.
There are many ways to tell that a club is established in the Premier League. Keeping your best players out of increasingly overbearing clutches is one; Brighton have at least a few more months to see how far they can go with Yves Bissouma and Tariq Lamptey. Receiving £13m for a 29-year-old who sits roughly in the middle of your centre-half pecking order, while reinvesting all of that and more in the current Jupiler Pro League top scorer Deniz Undav and the exciting teenager Kacper Kozlowski, is another clear sign of a club with an ambitious vision for its present and future. Shuffling former record signing Jurgen Locadia out of the door takes care of the past, too.
Between summer 2018 – the first since 1967 in which Burnley could attract players with the promise of European football – and last July, each of the 13 first-team players the Clarets signed were either British, Irish, Erik Pieters or Matej Vydra. From August onwards, Sean Dyche has spent roughly £25m on a pair of forwards from the continent whose concept of windy midweek evenings at Stoke is limited to say the least.
It feels like an age ago since they were relegated on the basis of selling their best striker and playing no matches, but Burnley have managed to navigate the Chris Wood situation impeccably: they drew the only fixture they have played since selling him over a fortnight ago and his replacement, who is taller and younger, came at half the price with elbows twice as pointy. If Wout Weghorst is even a fraction as fruitful as Maxwel Cornet, those 427 games in hand should prove productive.
Talk about a running start. Some managers struggle to persuade their clubs to invest in the transfer market but Frank Lampard inherited more than £30m worth of Rafael Benitez’s winter signings and further adorned that squad within hours of his deadline day appointment.
“I had a really positive meeting with the new coach,” Donny van de Beek said in his new Everton blue. “We have the same ideas about football and he had a lot of influence on my decision.”
The managerial pull is real and proved effective with Dele Alli, despite the late attempt at a hijack from Newcastle. Lampard is said to have recommended the Tottenham midfielder and personally contacted him to help facilitate the move.
In comparison to Benitez’s stuttering, stumbling start, Lampard has sprinted out of the blocks as Everton manager. That momentum could prove crucial and, regardless of opinions formed by his spells at Derby and Chelsea, there is no doubting the “hunger” and “passion” he spoke of at his unveiling. The Toffees showed much the same with their late captures of two players who should thrive under a new coach with whom they share obvious stylistic similarities. It is more than enough for them to pull away from trouble and move forward.
Mikel Arteta and Edu
Pretty sure they could convince the Kroenkes to convert all their Arsenal shares into Gunnersaurus NFTs at this point. Imagine how much sway Mikel Arteta and Edu would have at the Emirates if they were higher than sixth.
Maduka Okoye joined as their biggest winter signing and was loaned straight back from whence he came. Hassane Kamara and Edo Kayembe were drafted in from Nice and Eupen early enough to play in crucial matches against Newcastle and Norwich, neither of which Watford won. A deal for Yaser Asprilla was announced in August but the last public statement the Hornets made on the 18-year-old was that he has yet to be granted a work permit. Samuel Kalu arrived after playing ten Ligue Un minutes for 17th-placed Bordeaux since the beginning of November. Samir cost an undisclosed fee from Udinese.
There has never been a more Watford transfer window.
Bloody good month for it.