EPL and the January transfer window

Every time there will be a successful January signing, there will be an argument to keep it. There are plenty of examples to show it does not work. But it takes fewer success stories to ensure its sustenance.

Defensive reinforcements are likely to be the focus of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s January transfer strategy.   -  REUTERS

Despite sharing the worst defensive record in the top seven with Liverpool, Manchester City is unlikely to make major additions. The manager Pep Guardiola is convinced he has enough at his disposal to mount a title challenge.   -  REUTERS

It was after the end of 2015’s January transfer window when Arsene Wenger finally let his restraint slip. He had dropped hints over the years but after a tepid month, he aimed at his target. Like many other modern football vices, this was another which had acquired the capability to annoy Wenger. The Frenchman, true to his style, played the role of an irritated grandpa.

“It was never such a low activity level across Europe — basically nothing happened. It shows still that financial fair play had an impact, for sure, because we have the experience of seasons before. It pushes even more an idea forward — let’s completely get rid of [the transfer window], and go from season to season with the same players. Yes [I would scrap January transfers] because it can disturb the cohesion of a group within the season. When the players don’t play in October or the end of September, they already think that they may move in January. You lose them and in our job it’s important that everybody is on board. I find the transfer window [a disturbance].”

A disturbance. Wenger was tetchy, yet smiling. The winter transfer window annoyed him. It worried him. But not to the point that it would keep him up at night. Or maybe it did, for he did make use of it. It may be a vice but a man has to earn his bread. Or three points. So, Wenger bought two players that winter. One of them, Gabriel Paulista, has gone on to earn first-team status. May be, it is not a waste of time after all. Luis Suarez, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic were even more illustrious winter signings. In football, if you mess the summer transfer window up, there are second chances.

As we approach the latest iteration of the January transfer market, it is worth wondering what can the Premier League clubs do to make this opportunity count. Some need the window more badly than others, of course.

Chelsea too, in fact. Despite winning 11 games on the trot before Christmas and building a six-point lead at the top, the Blues possess a first-team squad that could be wrecked by a few injuries to key players. Furthermore, attacking midfielder Oscar has moved to China.

However, his departure brought GBP52 million to Chelsea’s coffers. The past weeks have seen Antonio Conte and technical director Michael Emenalo watch Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko and Djibril Sidibe in action; Simon Kjaer and the Roma duo Antonio Rudiger and Radja Nainggolan have been heavily scouted too. Despite the number of clean sheets, the defensive resources seem flimsy while a creative midfielder like Nainggolan will go a long way in replacing Oscar.

Defensive reinforcements are likely to be the focus of Jurgen Klopp’s January transfer strategy as well. Liverpool has conceded 20 times in 17 matches, the joint-worst record in the top seven. With Klopp announcing that Mamadou Sakho is a persona non grata after his various misdemeanours, it would be a surprise if there are no signings to beef the defence up. The upcoming Africa Cup of Nations further complicates the matters. Although Joel Matip has announced his intention to not participate in the competition, Sadio Mane will link up with the Senegalese national side. However, Klopp remains adamant that there will be no short-term fixes.

“In this window, I would say if you don’t have the biggest injury problems in the world then you shouldn’t do things you can do in the summer. Then you solve one problem and create another for the summer. But, as always, we have our eye on the market. That doesn’t mean we can do what we want,” the German manager told the media recently.

Despite sharing the worst defensive record in the top seven with Liverpool, Manchester City is unlikely to make major additions. The side continues to battle concerns at the back but Pep Guardiola is convinced he has enough at his disposal to mount a title challenge. Mauricio Pochettino is likely to adopt a similar approach as he believes that it is difficult to find players who will improve the squad in January. Tottenham Hotspur may have already made one signing too many with the acquisition of Moussa Sissoko on the summer transfer deadline day.

For Wenger, there seems to be another, more significant issue on the horizon. The contract extensions of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are likely to provide more serious worries. While Ozil may not immediately find better suitors than Arsenal, Sanchez is likely to attract attention within and outside the Premier League. Contractual issues, sadly for Wenger, could extend beyond January. Also, Julian Draxler, who was heavily linked to Arsenal, has decided to move to PSG.

However, when it comes to the winter transfer window, there are some sides which are mired in the issues of here and now. Particularly, the ones in and around the bottom three. Hull City is in the dreaded last position at Christmas. This never ends well and it will require an overhaul at the KCOM Stadium to overturn the grim prospects. To compound the problems for manager Mike Phelan, one of the few star performers in the side Robert Snodgrass has turned down a new contract. He might be allowed to leave in January on cheap.

 

For Hull, it is not a question of where it needs reinforcements. The squad could be improved across the board and the question is how many the club can afford. The owners were strongly criticised in the summer when they refused to spend big as they sought to sell their share. It will be, therefore, interesting to see if there will be a change in approach this January. After all, the club will be less appealing to new owners if it loses its Premier League status.

Sunderland is another club which may not be able to spend big in the transfer window. With a GBP140 million debt exerting its pressure, there is little money for David Moyes to expend. In fact, the club may need to make a few sales for raising funds.

However, with another relegation fight staring in Sunderland’s face, one wonders whether it can afford to part with goalkeeper Jordan Pickford or defender Lamine Kone. The two are arguably the only ones who could be valued highly by other clubs, with young Pickford particularly attracting interest. Unfortunately for Moyes, the duo also forms a part of his core plans.

Swansea City could do with signing a defender of Kone’s calibre. Since the appointment of manager Bob Bradley, the Welsh club has conceded 25 goals in 10 games. However, the side is also looking to boost its resources at the other end of the pitch with the signing of Newcastle striker Aleksander Mitrovic.

The Serb, though, has attracted the interest of Crystal Palace as well. After sacking Alan Pardew, the club will seek to secure its Premier League status under a new direction. With the confirmation that Connor Wickham will not play again this season due to an injury, Palace has been linked with a host of strikers who could offer backup to first-choice Christian Benteke. Rudy Gestede and Leonardo Ulloa’s names have been mentioned but if Loic Remy makes a successful comeback from injury, the focus may shift to other areas of the squad. Burnley is also facing a relegation fight and it has chosen to welcome a familiar face back. Joey Barton was an influential figure in the side’s promotion push last season and, after an ill-tempered stint with Rangers in Scotland, he will seek to replicate his achievements under Sean Dyche’s leadership. However, Burnley will need more acquisitions as only two sides (Sunderland and Hull City) have a worse goal-scoring record in the league. But the club has acquired a reputation for living within its austere means and there is no suggestion that there will be a radical change in approach.

Manchester United, however, may prove to be the centre of attention this January. The club is likely to add a defender or two with the names of Swede Victor Lindelof and Jose Fonte repeatedly coming up for discussion. But there could be a major departure too as West Bromwich Albion has bid GBP18 million for Morgan Schneiderlin. It will not be a surprise if United chooses to cash in on a player who has failed to establish himself in the first-team this season.

For this January transfer window and the others, a message may lie in Oscar Wilde’s famous words — “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” The former is a suffering all club managers have experienced. But what about the latter? Every time there will be a successful January signing, there will be an argument to keep it. There are plenty of examples to show it does not work. But it takes fewer success stories to ensure its sustenance. That is a tragedy Wenger, and those who share his world view, know too well.

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