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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

January transfer window 2024 review: Best signing? Biggest surprise? Move that won’t work out?

The January transfer window 2024 is done and, as the saying goes, dusted.

A far cry from the record £815million feeding frenzy of January 2023, there was far more prudence shown by football clubs in Europe’s top leagues over the last month or so as belts were suitably tightened to avoid falling foul of profit and sustainability rules.

Nonetheless, there were plenty of eyebrow-raising moves, including Jadon Sancho leaving Manchester United to return to Borussia Dortmund on loan, former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson joining Ajax from Al Ettifaq and Tottenham Hotspur agreeing a deal to sign Swedish teenager Lucas Bergvall ahead of Barcelona.

We asked senior football writer Oliver Kay, EFL writer Nancy Froston, Manchester United writer Carl Anka and Bundesliga writer Raphael Honigstein to pick out the best and the worst deals of the January 2024 window.


Oliver Kay

The best piece of January business was… 

Borussia Dortmund’s two loan deals: Ian Maatsen from Chelsea and Jadon Sancho from Manchester United. An exceptionally well-run club taking advantage of two dysfunctional clubs. Manchester United were very keen to talk up the positives of the Sancho deal — a swift resolution after a four-month impasse — but it is a desperate state of affairs when you sign a player for £73million ($93m at today’s rates) and then, two and a half years later, you are loaning him out to another club and having to cover a portion of his wages. Chelsea, at least, know the feeling. Dortmund must find it hilarious.


Jadon Sancho returned to Dortmund on loan (Leon Kuegeler/AFP via Getty Images)

The most underrated signing of the window was…

A scout, who, unlike me, monitors the Argentinian league religiously, tells me Brighton have picked up another gem with the signing of Valentin Barco from Boca Juniors. He’s only 19 but he will be groomed to take over from Pervis Estupinan if and when the latter moves on. It’s what well-run clubs do — and it’s so different to various others who sign all these teenagers with no real plan for their development.

The deal I don’t see working out is…

At the risk of sounding miserable, I don’t imagine many of the deals we’ve seen, many of them at the lower end of the market, will “work out” in any meaningful way.

Most of them are speculative moves for young players, which is fine if they’re joining a club (like Brighton or Brentford) who are very good at integrating and developing players but in many cases, these deals don’t work out. It’s what people overlook too easily when getting far too excited by transfers. Sorry.

Did profit and sustainability rules define this window?

Hugely, yes — and possibly for the first time since they were introduced in the Premier League a decade ago. I understand the frustration of those fans who are used to seeing their club able to spend, spend, spend whatever they like without fear of what it might look like on the balance sheet.

Aston Villa and Newcastle are two clubs who would have been much more aggressive in the winter market if those spending rules weren’t there — and if they weren’t already right up against the limits.

The rules are perfectly fair. What isn’t fair is that the rules entrench a financial divide in the game’s financial model, which has already been warped in favour of the very biggest clubs. I have come around to the idea of spending limits. It’s the wider financial landscape I have a problem with.

I can’t believe that…

Nottingham Forest have signed six international goalkeepers in the last four transfer windows. Actually, no, I can very much believe it. They will, of course, sign a seventh in the summer because Matz Sels, like most (all?) of the previous six, looks like a short-term sticking-plaster solution. And because Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis simply cannot resist buying players. Can you imagine what he would be like without spending controls?

Who do you expect to be targeted by clubs in the Saudi Pro League this summer?

Mohamed Salah is the obvious target. Whether they would get him this summer, it’s hard to say. I can also see Manchester United being eager to offload Raphael Varane, Casemiro and perhaps one or two others, but it is being suggested the Saudi Pro League have learned to be cautious when offered an A-list player of advancing years and declining physical condition. If that is the case, they have caught on a lot quicker than the people in charge of Manchester United over the past decade.

Describe this transfer window in a sentence…

A much-needed tightening of the purse strings after the madness of last January, when Premier League clubs spent something like £815million — much of it terribly.


Nancy Froston

The best piece of January business was…

Ali Al-Hamadi’s move from AFC Wimbledon to Ipswich Town. The 21-year-old striker is a great talent who dropped down the leagues to get regular football and had a blistering start to the season in League Two, so Ipswich have done well to pounce quickly and bolster their attack as they chase promotion to the Premier League. It is smart, helps them in the short term and, given Al-Hamadi’s potential, could be a great investment for the future too.

The most underrated signing of the window was…

Finn Azaz, from Aston Villa to Middlesbrough for a reported £2.5million. The 23-year-old has been brilliant across multiple loan spells in the EFL, most recently at Plymouth Argyle, where he scored seven goals in 28 appearances in the first half of this season. To get a player of his age, profile and potential for such a low fee feels like a steal. Well done to Boro.

Finn Azaz


Middlesbrough signed Finn Azaz from Aston Villa (George Wood/Getty Images)

The deal I don’t see working out is…

Can I say Jordan Henderson to Ajax? I do not see how he comes back from the past six months and his spell with Al Ettifaq, either reputationally or in terms of levels in his game. Add to that being thrown into a club that is going through a difficult season and there is every chance it all becomes a very flat end to his career.

Did profit and sustainability rules define this window?

For the Championship’s top few teams, yes, but for the rest of the pyramid below that, it counts for very little. For a few clubs in the Premier League, it is a lot tighter, which has reduced the number of big-name incomings but also increased the number of not-quite-first-teamers who are now being loaned and sold for reasonable fees to Championship clubs as part of the business model.

I can’t believe that…

Morgan Whittaker failed to make a positive impression at Swansea City this time last year after being recalled from his loan at Plymouth Argyle. Since returning to Argyle on a permanent deal last summer, he has proven he is worth every penny of his — very reasonable — £1million transfer fee and had Lazio sniffing around in this window. They will not have been the only admirers, so expect more of the same in the summer.

Who do you expect to be targeted by clubs in the Saudi Pro League this summer?

Salah feels like a reasonable suggestion given how hard clubs in Saudi Arabia went for him before and with things coming to an end under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool this season. Other than that, anyone Newcastle United need to shift to meet the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules…

Describe this transfer window in a sentence…

On the whole, sensible, which makes a welcome change — for the EFL, “Player X has been recalled from their loan at Club Y” feels about right.


Carl Anka

The best piece of January business was…

It’s a pity that Juventus couldn’t make the wages work to snap him up but Kalvin Phillips to West Ham United is one of those sensible bits of business that should suit all parties, even after his tricky start against Bournemouth last night.

West Ham have added a good player to a squad that is reaching a critical mass for sneakily good midfielders and Phillips gets a chance to reboot his Premier League career and drum up some interest. Manchester City also get to move on from a stalled experiment to find a backup for the irreplaceable Rodri. Gareth Southgate has an excuse to keep picking Phillips in England squads, too.

The only bit that annoys me on this deal is Phllips wearing the No 11 shirt. Surely something more appropriate for a defensive midfielder was free?!

The most underrated signing of the window was…

My answer to this last year was Malo Gusto to Chelsea, believing that, while it may take a season or two for him to get really good, other top clubs will end up kicking themselves for missing out on such a talent

In a similar vein, I’m going for the £7.9million Brighton spent on Barco. It might take until the 2026 World Cup for him to establish himself as a Premier League starter but when he does, he’s going to get quoted with some silly numbers as potential transfer fees elsewhere.

The deal I don’t see working out is…

To use internet parlance, Manchester United’s Hannibal Mejbri has ‘too much dawg in him’. His years playing under-23 games in the academy saw him kicked to pieces as teams realised 1) he was his team’s best player and 2) if you foul him, he’s likely to lash out and get himself booked.

That hotheaded nature seems to have put a six-month to Sevilla in jeopardy, where manager Quique Sanchez Flores (yes, that one) has said the 21-year-old will be given “the necessary space to understand where he is, that he is at Sevilla and what it means” before saying he will no longer be available for first-team selection.

Sevilla have since U-turned on this but this doesn’t look like a switch that goes well. Hannibal is tough and talented but may be of more value to his parent club in the profit margins than on the pitch (which is a whole other debate).

Did profit and sustainability rules define this window?

The top 25 teams in England have been penny-pinching but, as Nancy excellently explains in her answers, the EFL is full of teams making moves in an attempt to grab the brass ring. It’s hard to preach frugal financial management in a market that asks clubs to keep up with the Joneses.

I can’t believe that…

Henderson plays for Ajax now but more specifically, I don’t believe the claim on Ajax fan sites that his shirt had become the fastest-selling in club kit history. Show me the receipts. I want to see some graphs.

Who do you expect to be targeted by clubs in the Saudi Pro League this summer?

The Manchester United reporter in me wants to say Casemiro. The five-time Champions League winner is 31 and beginning to get injured in a way we never saw before at Real Madrid. He has always been more than a water carrier of a defensive midfielder but it’s also been odd to see how attacking and aggressive in his positioning he’s been in 2023-24 as well.

Casemiro, Manchester United


Casemiro has struggled to stay fit this season (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The Saudi Pro League may view adding the Brazil captain to their ranks as a cultural coup. Casemiro may enjoy playing in a more attacking role as he enters the later stages of his career.

Describe this transfer window in a sentence…

After years of reckless spending on metal credit cards, Premier League clubs have decided to be frugal upon spotting bailiffs going door-to-door.


Raphael Honigstein

The best piece of January business was…

Not one to make an immediate impact but if Manchester City’s recent success in the transfer market is anything to go by, signing River Plate midfielder Claudio Echeverri for £12.5m could well prove a superb stealth move. The 18-year-old, who has invariably been dubbed “the new Messi”, will spend another 12 months in Argentina to hone his craft before following former River Plate forward Julian Alvarez to the Etihad.

Also worth mentioning is Dortmund getting Maatsen, even if it’s only on loan. The 21-year-old has already shown he is a huge upgrade on their existing options at left-back.

The most underrated signing of the window was…

Eintracht Frankfurt had earmarked highly rated French centre-forward Hugo Ekitike as a replacement for €100million (£85m; $109m) striker Randal Kolo Muani (who moved in the opposite direction last summer) but Paris Saint-Germain asked for too much money in the summer and the 21-year-old didn’t seem that keen, either. But after seeing only eight minutes of action for the French champions, Ekitike has changed his mind.

The price has come down, too: Frankfurt’s initial loan with an obligation to buy (if certain sporting parameters are fulfilled) could end up costing €20m. Together with Sasa Kalajdzic (on loan from Wolves), he will make up one-half of the Bundesliga’s most interesting striking partnership.

The deal I don’t see working out is…

Giovanni Reyna to Nottingham Forest on loan. The American needs game time after getting stuck behind Julian Brandt and Marco Reus in the Dortmund pecking order but he won’t be guaranteed a starting spot at Forest either.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s relegation-battlers have the influential Morgan Gibbs-White in the No 10 role as well as Anthony Elanga and Callum Hudson-Odoi on the flanks. Stylistically, it doesn’t strike as the most natural fit, either. Forest play a pretty direct, counter-attacking game, whereas Reyna looks happiest in between the lines in a slower possession game. La Liga would have been a better option for him.

Giovanni Reyna


Giovanni Reyna has joined Nottingham Forest (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Did profit and sustainability rules define this window?

They did in the Premier League, certainly. English clubs’ enforced frugality had a knock-on effect on European clubs. They couldn’t count on Premier League cash for fringe players such as Timo Werner or Reyna, making do with loans instead. Their ability to strengthen was, in turn, limited too.

I can’t believe that…

  • Chelsea didn’t chuck another half a dozen players at Mauricio Pochettino’s mid-table dwellers.
  • David de Gea is still sitting on his sofa eating doughnuts.
  • Arsenal didn’t try harder to sign a centre-forward.
  • VfB Stuttgart managed to hold on to goal sensation Serhou Guirassy.
  • Bayern Munich attempted to buy 33-year-old Kieran Trippier from Newcastle United.

Who do you expect to be targeted by clubs in the Saudi Pro League this summer?

Salah will be the No 1 target and I suspect that a Klopp-less Liverpool will be quite happy to take the money. Half of Manchester United’s starting XI wouldn’t look out of place reuniting with Cristiano Ronaldo at Al Nassr and poor Mykhailo Mudryk looks so lost at the moment that a move to the desert might offer a reprieve.

Describe this transfer window in a sentence…

This window was football’s dry January: very low on volume and a bit of a bore.

(Top photos: Getty Images)



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