Football is a place laden with narratives and clichés. The sport loves them. Whether it be about ‘he should have scored’ or that playing the ball long shows some sort of engrained passion, they often need to be challenged. The thing is, they are often false, or at least a little misguided.
One of the most commonly peddled tales in the Premier League is that there is no value in the January transfer market. Now, this is clearly wide of the mark. Come on, there is value to be found, it might be harder to find good deals or players that clubs will sell on, but it can surely be worth it. So often you hear managers or pundits talk of the January window as a time for clubs who are panicking, or managers who are throwing their last pennies in desperate hope of keeping their job.
Some teams need the January window. Whether it be to force a push for the title or to strengthen ahead of the relegation jostling, the January window can provide clubs with the opportunity to sign players that define their seasons. They may be a little trickier to pin down, but with the correct scouting and shrewd negotiating, clubs can still acquire players for good value. And, really, its hard to tell if a higher percentage of transfers turn out to be howlers in January or not.
Marginally greater risk may be attached to the addition of a player during the winter months (often because the team will have rushed into a signing) but the rewards can be sensational. Take Liverpool this season, for instance, they will unlikely have as good a shot at the title as they do now in the next few years. A couple of the right signings could help Jurgen Klopp secure their first league title in the Premier League era. It may cost them marginally more – just because of the premium attached to taking a team’s player during the middle of the season – but it is unquestionably worth it.
Liverpool are a fine example of the ups and downs of January. Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll and Philippe Coutinho are among their recent January additions; spot the odd one out. While Carroll may have not cost quite such a ludicrous sum if Liverpool waited to the summer, he was not the right player for the club – a factor irrelevant of the timing of the signing. Suarez, meanwhile, remains one of the great bargains in Europe footballing history. That’s right, a bargain on January deadline day. Whether out of fortune or finally having the cash to stump up for a long-term target its hard to tell, but the January window is no minefield.
The premium put onto transfer fees must be balanced against the short-term need for the buying club. West Ham desperately trying to sign any player for a rock-bottom fee is foolish and not only because of their recent embarrassments. Despite the loss of several players, the Irons have no place in the January market. Slaven Bilic’s side are playing for little in the second half of this season and paying the winter tax on transfers offers no realistic reward in the short-term. They can just wait until summer, evaluate the market properly and find players who are at better value. Competing teams and struggling teams, though, do need reinforcements in the short-term and paying an extra £5 million for that striker or £3 million for that central defender could be the difference between Champions League football or not, or even the difference between relegation and safety.
As with anything, the January market can work in a club’s favour if they are sensible and balance the risk versus the reward. A blanket ban on January signings – as some clubs seem to function with – is reckless. It can jeopardise a season. Several Premier League clubs should be active in the January market in 2017, it could prove to be definitive at both ends of the table.