How can clubs make the most of the January transfer window?

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With the start of a new year, football clubs across the country have resumed the endless quest of improving their playing squads, as the January transfer window has officially opened. Whether it is Arsenal, battling to maintain their position at the top of the league, or Sunderland, desperate to get off the bottom, all clubs will come under pressure from their supporters and the media to splash the cash in January, to improve their chances of success come May.

And there are big opportunities for clubs to improve their squads, particularly if they have a well established scouting structure, and resist the temptation to get carried away.

Here’s how:

1) Clubs can accelerate the business they had planned for the summer

The majority of Premier League clubs now have tiers of senior management who direct, or have a significant role in directing, their recruitment, underpinned by long term business plans. But when performance on the pitch either exceeds or fails to meet the expectations laid out in these plans, clubs are sometimes faced with the need to accelerate the recruitment of reinforcements.

For example, in January 2013 Newcastle United were enduring a difficult season grappling with Europa League football, and a Premier League campaign. Having finished 5th in the previous season, they were struggling at the other end of the table at the turn of the year.

The club took the decision to move planned summer transfer business to January in the hope of arresting this form and providing manager Alan Pardew with more playing resources to combat his team’s busy schedule by bringing in five new faces.

Although the Magpies continued to struggle  during the second half of the season, the new signings were able to have an impact, particularly when they first arrived, securing critical points for Newcastle and ensuring they remained in the Premier League.

Looking at the current Premier League table, clubs at both the top and the bottom of the league may feel the need to do likewise, in order to capitalise on their early season good form, cover for unanticipated injuries or suspensions, or try and arrest poor performance that could cost them their Premier League status altogether.

2) Players with contracts due to expire may be available early

There are other potential opportunities open to clubs in January too. For example, players who have either six or 18 months left on their contracts could be available for transfer at a reduced price, meaning those clubs who are well prepared can bag a bargain.

Most clubs will try to avoid being caught in this situation, and ensure that any players they want to hold on to have a minimum of 24 months left on their contract.

Nevertheless, as we look ahead to the deals we can expect to be made in the current window, stars such as Xabi Alonso, Patrice Evra and Robert Lewandowski have just six months remaining on their contracts. It is therefore reasonable to expect big clubs across Europe to be negotiating furiously to secure their signatures throughout this transfer window.

3) Loan signings can minimise the financial risk to clubs

Finally, clubs can also seek to exploit the potential to loan new players for the remainder of the season, thus covering a short term resource requirement, or minimising the financial risk of boosting their playing squad for the current campaign.

New players are likely to be available for loan come January, as clubs throughout the division and across the globe have a better sense of their first team squad, and those players who have been on the fringes of the action for their team seek the opportunity to play regular football elsewhere, without leaving permanently.

In January 2012, we saw the likes of Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan return to the Premier League on loan from the US – exploiting the different football calendars of the two countries – to boost Aston Villa and Everton respectively. In that same window, Manchester City loaned David Pizarro, while Sunderland loaned former England international Wayne Bridge.

And a quick glance at recent newspaper headlines shows how attractive this option can be, even to top clubs. In the current January window, Tottenham Hotspur are already being linked with a loan move for Manchester City’s Joelon Lescott, and Arsenal are rumoured to be looking to address their striker shortage with a loan move for Real Madrid forward Alvaro Morata.

Conclusion: opportunities exist, but caution is advised

There are a number of ways clubs can take advantage of the January transfer window and emerge stronger for the remaining games of the season.

However, as we have previously explored at Hit Row Z, signing players is an inherently risky business, particularly when big money is involved. Many marquee signings flop, and given the host of factors that can impact the performance of a new signing – injuries, suspension, squad harmony, changes to tactics – clubs would be well advised to approach the coming transfer window with caution.

First, new signings take time to integrate – Newcastle may well have saved their season by signing five players in the 2012 January transfer window, but the implications of such a fundamental shake up of their squad during the season were far reaching, and beyond an initial bounce, their form did not significantly improve.  It has taken over six months for manager Alan Pardew to integrate the new arrivals, and settle on a system capable of succeeded in the Premier League.

And of course, it can all go wrong, particularly for clubs at the bottom of the table. Take the example of QPR last season, who were persuaded to gamble on surviving in the Premier League, and invested big on Christopher Samba and Loic Remy. Although Remy in particular starred, team performances barely improved, and the club were relegated anyway.

Any side that feels they can transform their sides by spending big in January – Vincent Tan’s Cardiff could be the key example here – would be well advised to consider these examples and think again.

Second, top quality players tend not to be available in January – Many have attributed Arsenal’s rise to the top of the Premier League this season to the arrival of Mesut Ozil in the summer. Players of his quality do not become available very often, and are even less likely to make transfers in the January window.

Liverpool may have secured the signing of Luis Suarez in January 2011, who despite his various controversies and taking some time to mature his playing style, has become one of the best signings in the club’s recent history. But at the time of his signing, he was not an elite player.

One season later, Newcastle United and Everton each invested in new strikers in the January transfer window – Papiss Demba Cisse and Nikica Jelavic respectively. Both had an instant impact, scoring freely, and transforming their new sides’ season. However, both have tended to struggle since their debut season, and it is no longer clear that either represent successful signings.

Third, prices can be higher, meaning that the risk is too – Part of the reason that Liverpool were able to play hardball with Chelsea over the sale of Fernando Torres in 2011 was that this was a transfer taking place during a Premier League season, and as such, they knew that any club they approached for a replacement would require significant compensation to let their players go.

As a rule, and assuming that a player is under a lengthy contract, clubs will expect to be compensated for the disruption any transfer out from their squad will cause to their campaign. This means a higher sale price, and therefore, a higher risk to the buying club that money invested will potentially be wasted if the transfer does not yield immediate benefits. The signings of Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres are now familiar examples, but there are others too – just consider Darren Bent’s ill fated move from Sunderland to Aston Villa in 2011 for £18m.

Despite these risks, the rewards of success and the costs of failure in the Premier League are so high, it is almost certain that we will see at least a handful of clubs gamble on investing in January to improve for the remainder of the season. But like all gambles, there is no guarantee it will pay off.

Comments

  1. You know it is interesting how Mata will be a great player to Manchester United. He was once an asset to Chelsea and Manchester has always been a great football team. It’ll going to be a perfect mix. 🙂

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