The January transfer window has seen its fair share of last-minute drama, and is known for being the realm of desperate clubs trying to save their season with panic spending sprees.
But once you get past Harry Redknapp giving interviews out of his car window, there are some red-hot deals to be found in the bitter winter. Sporting News counts down the top 20 deals in January transfer window history…
Before we get started, a whole heap of top talent has just missed out.
Dele Alli can count himself unlucky that Jose Mourinho threw his career away. Andrei Arshavin had a shout on pure theater alone. Jermain Defoe has made it, but could’ve got in twice more.
And there’s a host of other strikers to slip from our 20: Hugo Rodallega, Edin Dzeko, Benjani, Daniel Sturridge, Papiss Cisse and Olivier Giroud to name a few.
20. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Borussia Dortmund to Arsenal ($79m in 2018)
Arsene Wenger’s final ever signing was a memorable one. Former captain Aubameyang may have gone off the rails under Mikel Arteta in 2021, but there’s no escaping his electric start to life in London after a club-record transfer.
Aubameyang became the fastest player in Arsenal history to 50 league goals (79 games), winning the 2018-19 Golden Boot along the way.
Most importantly, the Gabonese speed demon drove Arsenal to 2019-20 FA Cup glory with Wembley braces against both Manchester City in the semifinal and Chelsea in the final.
19. Seamus Coleman
Sligo Rovers to Everton ($86k in 2009)
While Aubameyang burned brightly but very quickly, our next entrant has stood the test of time. Coleman was snapped up by David Moyes for what now looks like a bargain fee, and has gone on to make over 300 Premier League appearances.
Moyes is one of nine different managers the energetic fullback has played under with the Toffees, with the last four of those selecting Coleman as club captain.
18. Tomas Soucek
Slavia Prague to West Ham (initial loan in 2020)
West Ham has evolved from a circus of a football club into arguably the best performer, relative to spend, in the Premier League. Soucek has been pivotal in ushering in the new era, transforming the Irons’ midfield over the past two years.
The Czech Republic international has formed a fearsome partnership with Declan Rice, making the transition from aging club captain Mark Noble as painless as possible.
Once his loan move became permanent, Soucek played in every league game of West Ham’s sensational 2020-21 campaign, scoring 10 goals to help seal a Europa League spot.
17. Youri Tielemans
Monaco to Leicester (initial loan in 2019)
A signing which proved Leicester’s newfound status as a Premier League power, a 21-year-old Tielemans joined the Foxes as one of Europe’s hottest prospects.
The Belgian took no time to settle, with eight goal contributions across his first 13 games, giving Brendan Rodgers no choice but to make the loan switch permanent.
Oozing class in central midfield, Tielemans has been worth every penny of the club-record $50 million fee — not least by scoring the winning goal against Chelsea in the 2021 FA Cup final.
16. Emmanuel Adebayor
Monaco to Arsenal ($5m in 2006)
He’s now best known for his pitch-length sprint and celebration in front of the fuming Arsenal fans while playing for Man City, but Adebayor’s brilliant spell in North London can’t be forgotten.
Adebayor joined a star-studded Gunners side during its swansong — a Champions League final run — and within 18 months had become the leading light. The Togolese center forward scored 24 league goals as Arsenal narrowly missed out on the 2007-08 title.
A bitter ending saw him fall out with teammates and supporters alike, but the $36 million profit makes this one of many Wenger masterstrokes in the transfer market.
15. Mikel Arteta
Real Sociedad to Everton (initial loan in 2005)
After short spells with Rangers, PSG and hometown club Real Sociedad, Arteta’s fledgling career was in danger of drifting. In stepped Moyes on Merseyside, who got the very best out of the gifted midfielder in a six-year spell with Everton.
His creativity guided Everton to a top-four finish in his first half-season, before the switch from Spain became permanent. Arteta was a mainstay of the team throughout his time, notching eight assists in three straight seasons at his peak.
14. Jose Antonio Reyes
Sevilla to Arsenal ($31m in 2004)
The time to buy is when you’re already on top. It was a staple of the Alex Ferguson era at Man United — adding an extra injection of quality and keeping the roster on its toes. Wenger did this perfectly during the Invincibles season of 2003-04, sensationally signing Reyes.
The winger reenergized the side, and his goal even salvaged Arsenal’s historic unbeaten streak away at Portsmouth in May of that season. The late Spaniard, who sadly passed at the age of just 35 in 2019, also played a key role in Arsenal’s only run to a Champions League final.
13. Ashley Young
Watford to Aston Villa ($16m in 2007)
The key man in Aston Villa’s three successive 6th-placed finishes, Young was Martin O’Neill’s biggest success story.
The Watford wonderkid was an assist-machine, especially in 2007-08, as he racked up 17 en route to a spot in the PFA Team of the Year. Young became the first man to win the Premier League Player of the Month award three times in a calendar year, as he also added goals to his game.
The big dogs naturally came sniffing, with Villa making a $16 million profit on the winger when he moved to Man United in 2011.
12. Clint Dempsey
New England Revolution to Fulham ($4m in 2007)
Leaving a Revolution in New England to join a revolution in old England, Dempsey linked up with fellow Americans Carlos Bocanegra and Brian McBride at Fulham, as he became Major League Soccer’s biggest export at the time.
The versatile forward was streets ahead of his compatriots, though, becoming the Cottagers’ greatest goalscorer of the Premier League era by hitting a half-century, while he also led the minnow to a 7th-placed finish.
In the Europa League, Dempsey scored the most memorable goal in club history — an outrageous chip to knock out Juventus in a second-leg comeback. That continental run saw him become the first American to play in a European final.
11. Branislav Ivanovic
Lokomotiv Moscow to Chelsea ($20m in 2008)
Ivanovic struggled during his first year on a Chelsea roster chock-full of superstars, coming close to an early exit and not making a first-team appearance until September.
But his Blues career sparked into life by scoring a brace at Anfield in the Champions League quarterfinals, and Ivanovic never looked back, becoming a mainstay of the team for the following seven seasons.
The Russian was capable at both right back and center back, helping Chelsea to nine major trophies in total. His finest hour came in the 2013 Europa League final, scoring a dramatic late winner in a man-of-the-match display.
10. Jermain Defoe
Toronto FC to Sunderland ($5m + Jozy Altidore in 2015)
Defoe made very successful winter transfers to Spurs (twice) and Portsmouth, but his most important spell came at the opposite end of the country.
During the era when Sunderland was not so much flirting with relegation as moving in together, Defoe was one of the strikers to deny the marriage. The former England international struck arguably his finest ever goal in the Tyne-Wear Derby during his first half-season, crying as he celebrated his volley.
He helped the Black Cats survive in 2014-15, and then single-handedly kept them up next time around, with his 15 league goals directly contributing 14 points. Defoe struck another 15 the next season, though even that wasn’t quite enough to save Moyes’ men from the drop.
9. Gary Cahill
Bolton to Chelsea ($11m in 2012)
Cahill was long linked as the savior to Arsenal’s center-back problems, but ultimately joined Chelsea. He would go on to win every trophy on offer — eight in total, over the next seven seasons — while establishing himself as one of the most reliable defenders around.
Cahill played semi-injured to replace the suspended John Terry in the 2011-12 Champions League final, enjoying a career-defining win.
Perhaps his greatest achievement, though, was adapting to a back-three at the age of 31 under Antonio Conte — not only leading Chelsea to the title in the process, but also replacing club legend Terry as captain.
8. Philippe Coutinho
Inter Milan to Liverpool ($14m in 2013)
Certainly the greatest outgoing winter transfer in Premier League history, as Liverpool made over $140 million profit thanks to Barcelona’s questionable transfer strategy, Coutinho is also one of the best arrivals.
Recommended to Liverpool by former manager Rafa Benitez, Coutinho’s form in Italy was far from special. But the Reds’ gamble paid off big time, with the Brazilian being a consistent provider of both goals (41) and assists (38) in the Premier League, taking very little time to settle, despite his slight frame.
The playmaker was central to Liverpool’s play throughout his time there, winning two club Player of the Season awards, and with a penchant for spectacular strikes that will live long in the memory.
7. Nemanja Matic
Benfica to Chelsea ($35m in 2014)
After failing to make his mark during his first spell with Chelsea, Matic rejoined after being converted into a more defensively-minded player by Benfica. The positional change was an enormous success: He had a man-of-the-match performance in his first start, away to Man City, and it was a sign of things to come.
The Serbian was absolutely crucial in winning two of the next three Premier League titles, in two different systems. Tactically-aware, Matic was ever-reliable and got the best out of both Cesc Fabregas and N’Golo Kante.
6. Robert Huth
Stoke to Leicester (initial loan in 2015)
In Leicester manager Nigel Pearson’s dramatic late surge to Premier League survival, there was arguably no player more important than Huth.
The center back played in the Foxes’ incredible run of seven wins and a draw from their last nine games — and the sole defeat to Chelsea only came when Huth was forced off through injury. It was a no-brainer to make the transfer permanent for $4.5 million come the summer.
Huth was pivotal in Leicester’s miraculous Premier League title win the following season, not only forging an imposing partnership with Wes Morgan, but also famously scoring the winning goal at White Hart Lane and a brace at Etihad Stadium. The German went on to play for Leicester in the Champions League.
5. Bruno Fernandes
Sporting Lisbon to Man United ($62m in 2020)
Throughout his first 18 months in a Man United shirt, Fernandes quite simply dominated the team.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer survived a lot longer than he should have thanks to the Portuguese star, who instantly became a fan favorite, a fiery character visibly energized at Old Trafford — and then impressively continued to thrive in empty stadiums during the pandemic, as he became the leader of the side.
In 2020, the midfielder won the Premier League Player of the Month award four times (out of just eight) to break the calendar-year record. Fernandes racked up a league-leading 46 goal contributions across his first season-and-a-half, too, while also guiding the Red Devils to the Europa League final.
4. Patrice Evra
Monaco to Man United ($9m in 2006)
Now best known for screaming “I love this game” and licking raw chicken, Evra did have a career as a professional soccer player before turning his hand to social media.
The former France international was a key cog in the third of Ferguson’s trilogy of wildly successful eras, lifting five league titles across his eight full seasons in Manchester.
That all came after being hauled off at halftime of his Premier League debut and missing out on a place in his only FA Cup final, but Evra didn’t let the shaky start get to him, going on to be one of the best fullbacks of his generation. Champions League and Club World Cup glory in 2008 was the icing on the cake.
3. Luis Suarez
Ajax to Liverpool ($37m in 2011)
Having signed Suarez on the same day as Andy Carroll, at least Liverpool got one half of its Fernando Torres-replacement business right.
In fact, the Uruguayan replacing injury-prone Torres not only turned out to be a bargain, but it kickstarted the wildly successful reign of Fenway Sports Group at Anfield. January 2011 was, after all, John W. Henry’s first transfer window on Merseyside.
Suarez was a phenomenon: the best striker this league had seen since Thierry Henry. The ridiculous tally of 120 goal contributions in 110 Premier League games doesn’t even scratch the surface of what this tenacious talent gave Liverpool.
His best season came in 2013-14, winning the Golden Boot with 31 goals as the Reds agonizingly missed out on the title. And for all the memories of Steven Gerrard’s slip, the biggest ‘what if’ should be around the five games Suarez missed at the start of the campaign, as Liverpool dropped five points while he was suspended for biting Ivanovic.
2. Nemanja Vidic
Spartak Moscow to Man United ($12m in 2006)
Vidic was imperious. He made the PFA Team of the Year four times in eight seasons, the FIFPro World XI twice, lifted five Premier League titles (two as captain), won the Champions League and the Club World Cup.
The Serbian kept out of the limelight, but quietly made himself the most dependable center back around. His defensive qualities — the timing of challenges, the positioning, the tactical awareness, the raw physicality — couldn’t be topped.
But more importantly, Vidic was a leader. He led the final great team of the Ferguson dynasty by example, developing an unbreakable partnership with Rio Ferdinand and setting the standard for the entire league.
1. Virgil van Dijk
Southampton to Liverpool ($106m in 2018)
Taking top spot is a center back with similar leadership qualities to Vidic, but one who edges him by virtue of being a game-changer. Without Van Dijk, Liverpool would not have become champion of England, Europe or the world.
For all the coaching genius of Jurgen Klopp and the superb link-up of the front three, Van Dijk is arguably the most important cog in the Reds’ machine. Klopp went big with the Coutinho money, using it to break the world record transfer fee for a defender — and he’s been worth every penny.
Deservedly named the Premier League and UEFA Player of the Year for 2018-19, Van Dijk’s importance is best seen when he’s out injured, as displayed during Liverpool’s disastrous title defense of 2020-21.
The dominating Dutchman is complete: He has all the attributes of Vidic, but marries it with silky-smooth technique and composure on the ball. Van Dijk is the Rolls-Royce of defenders, and of January signings.
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