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Top 10: January transfers

The January transfer window is perhaps the best time to be an agent and the worst time to be a chairman.

Typically players are only signed when a side either missed out the previous summer or can’t wait for the following summer. On top of that, clubs are often reluctant to let their stars leave mid-season, making it particularly hard to find value in the transfer market.

We’ve considered success, how quickly they made an impact and value for money when putting together our Top 10 January transfers.

Jesse Lingard - West Ham (loan)

Being the only loanee on the list should give you an idea of how much of an impact Jesse Lingard made at West Ham United in just five months.

Signed at the end of the January transfer window, between his debut and the end of the season, only Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United took more points than the Hammers. West Ham picked up 16 points from a possible 24 at home, only drawing to Arsenal, and losing to Chelsea and Everton.

His 13 goal contributions in 16 games – bettered only by two players – helped West Ham secure European football as they finished sixth, just two points off fourth spot.

Sadly unable to agree a permanent deal to stay with the Hammers, his time in East London was ultimately short, but very sweet.

Jermain Defoe - Sunderland (part exchange: Jozy Altidore)

Most players on this list either went on to become title winners or were sold for huge profits. Jermain Defoe doesn’t fit either category.

Defoe was a striker who’d relied on pace for much of his career, but now 31 years old with more than 600 games on the clock, his move to Toronto in January 2014 seemed to signal the end of the former Tottenham man’s career as a top-level striker.

Enter: Sunderland. In a relegation scrap for most of the 2014-15 season, Gus Poyet sought out a striker with his side desperately toothless, though he wasn’t there for Defoe’s finest hour, having been replaced by Dick Advocaat.

The Tyne-Wear derby saw one of its all-time great goals, with Defoe plucking a volley from out of the sky and lashing home from distance.

It was a moment that brought tears to Defoe’s eyes, with the Black Cats picking up 12 points from their final eight games to secure survival, with Defoe scoring 15 goals in each of his following two seasons. 

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Nemanja Matic - Chelsea (£21m)

Initially met with derision from rivals fans having let Nemanja Matic go on the cheap before paying more than £20m to bring him back, the decision to re-sign the Serbian proved to be an inspired one.

Matic made an instant impact, winning man of the match at the Etihad as Chelsea ended Manchester City’s unbeaten home run.

His first full season coincided with Chelsea’s title win under Jose Mourinho – and a place in the PFA Team of the Year – and after the meltdown of Mourinho in their title defence, the Portuguese was replaced by Antonio Conte. 

Only a few of the 2015 title winners played a significant role two years later, but Matic was one of them, winning a second league title before being sold to Manchester United for a hefty profit.

Bruno Fernandes - Manchester United (£47m)

For years you could count the number of quality signings Manchester United had made on one hand, but Bruno Fernandes felt like something of a seminal transfer. 

His impact, not just on the team's fortunes, but the individuals themselves – and, indeed, the fans – was instant. 

He’d scored eight goals from midfield in 14 games, but his tireless work ethic was perhaps his best attribute, and after years of misguided signings, United had signed a leader, something sorely missing from the Old Trafford dressing room for some time.

He won the Premier League Player of the Month after his first full month in England, winning the award three more times in 2020. 

After helping United to the top four, Fernandes won the United fans’ Player of the Year award. His 18 goals saw the Red Devils briefly launch a title challenge, eventually recording their second runner-up finish in the post-Ferguson era.

Gary Cahill - Chelsea (£7m)

Around the late 2000s, Gary Cahill had established himself as a rock at the heart of the Bolton defence, and was attracting attention from the Premier League’s bigger names.

In the end, with his contract running down, Chelsea secured his signature, and he would form part of the injury-hit backline (Cahill himself was carrying an injury) that fought valiantly in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich. 

He would initially form a partnership with John Terry as Chelsea won the title in 2015, and while no one could ever fully replace the Blues legend, Cahill would ease the transition with David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta, forming a back three as Chelsea won the title again under Antonio Conte in 2017.

As well as two Premier Leagues, two Europa Leagues, two FA Cups and a Champions League, Cahill was named in the Premier League Team of the Year in both title-winning seasons, as well as 2014. He would play nearly 300 times for the Blues, and was captain in around a quarter of those games.

Philippe Coutinho - Liverpool (£8.5m)

Philippe Coutinho spent half the 2011/12 season on loan with Espanyol, and even the following season, couldn’t break into the first team at an Inter side that would finish ninth.

So despite only paying £8.5m, the signing of the lightweight Brazilian who couldn’t get into a struggling Inter team was certainly a gamble.

But Coutinho would be the bridge between the Suarez and Salah eras. After Liverpool’s failed title bid in 2014, Luis Suarez departed and Liverpool were cast back into the wilderness.

Coutinho, who’d played a key role in the title bid of 2014, would become the Reds’ talisman, winning the club’s Player of the Year in two consecutive seasons.

2016/17 would see Coutinho reach double figures for goals with a total of 21 goal contributions, sparking interest from further afield. 

So good was Coutinho, that Barcelona forked out more than £100m in January after five seasons at Anfield. 

Patrice Evra - Manchester United (£5.5m)

Anyone thinking Sir Alex Ferguson would forgive his players for a nervy debut, particularly away in a local derby, is very much mistaken.

Patrice Evra, a new signing in 2006, was thrown in at the deep end at the Etihad on a cold January afternoon and lasted a whole 45 minutes before being hauled off. 

It was a rude introduction to the Premier League for a man who two years earlier had been in a Champions League final and two weeks earlier has been living in sunny Monaco. 

But Evra only grew in stature from there. 

He’d become one of the best left-backs the Premier League has ever seen, a regular in the France side, was named in the PFA Team of the Year three times, and won five Premier League titles and the Champions League. 

Luis Suarez - Liverpool (£22.8m)

The decline in form and fitness of Fernando Torres left Liverpool lacking star power. While Steven Gerrard was still operating at a high level, the Reds hadn’t even found a replacement for Michael Owen until Torres came along, and his departure threatened to leave a gaping void at Anfield.

But Kenny Dalglish used the money from the Torres sale to sign Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. Despite Carroll arriving with the bigger reputation – certainly in England, having bagged 11 goals for Newcastle in the first half of the season at the age of 21 – and the bigger fee, it was Suarez that would light up Anfield.

They might not have known it at the time, but Liverpool had signed one of the generation’s best strikers.

He’d scored 15 goals in his first 44 games, but his second full season saw him score 23 goals and earn a place in the Premier League Team of the Year.

Convinced to stay at Anfield for one more season, the Uruguayan scored a mammoth 31 goals in 33 games to spark Liverpool’s first real title charge in the Premier League era, falling painfully short, and leaving for Barcelona in a deal worth around £65m.

Virgil van Dijk - Liverpool (£75m)

As Jurgen Klopp compiled his title-challenging squad with the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, two clear pieces were missing: a top-class goalkeeper and a top-class centre-back.

Virgil van Dijk would solve one of those problems. Courted by Liverpool for several months, their desire to sign the Southampton man was evident after their meeting in Blackpool was revealed, putting a stumbling block in the way of any potential deal. Liverpool would have to wait until January to get their man, but his impact – and presence – was instant. 

Prior to his arrival, Liverpool were shipping more than a goal a game; after his arrival, that dropped to little over 0.5 goals per game, as Liverpool made the Champions League final.

The following season, Liverpool were in a position to mount a title challenge, with Van Dijk winning Player of the Year (becoming only the third defender in the Premier League era to do so), and though the Reds fell agonisingly short of Manchester City, they’d go one better in the Champions League. 

The following season, with all of the pieces in place, Liverpool would win their first league title since 1990, with Van Dijk again named in the Team of the Year. 

Nemanja Vidic - Manchester United (£7m)

An hour into Nemanja Vidic’s debut at Ewood Park, Manchester United had conceded four goals. This came two weeks after fellow January signing Patrice Evra’s nightmare at the Etihad, and it was hard to foresee at that point that the pair would comprise half of United’s greatest ever back four.

Sir Alex Ferguson had spent years trying to build a defence that could compete with what he had in the early and late 90s. After Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister came Jaap Stam and Ronny Johnsen. And while Rio Ferdinand arrived in 2002, it wasn’t until the arrival of Vidic in 2006 that he was able to form a formidable partnership at the back.

So important was Vidic, United won the title – after a drought of three years – in each of his first three full seasons. A series of absences the following season restricted Vidic to 24 league games as Chelsea reclaimed the title, with United hitting back the following season.

Vidic was a four-time member of the PFA Team of the Year as well as a two-time member of the FIFPro World XI. He was the Premier League Player of the Year in 2009, a five-time Premier League winner and a Champions League winner.

It took a few years for Manchester United to find an adequate replacement to Stam, but they’ve never found anyone capable of filling Vidic’s shoes.

A bargain at £7m, and a colossus at the back.

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