Another January past, and another transfer window closes as the rumor mill, hype machine, and hope-mongering all come to screeching halts. For a little while, at least. But this window did have some fascinating moves, so let's take the opportunity to break down all the transfers that caught our eye during the only time you should pay attention to this stuff: after it's finally over.
We'll focus on the five biggest European leagues. While many of the title races are all but decided at this point—Bayern Munich and Juventus are definitely going to win the Bundesliga and Serie A, respectively, Chelsea are almost certain to do the same in the Premier League, and Real Madrid are pretty strong favorites to snatch the La Liga crown from their neighbors at Atlético; who knew Ligue 1 would be the most competitive?—there's still a bunch to play for, and a few transfers could make all the difference.
The Premier League has all the money and most of your attention, so it's not a surprise that much of the action was centered here. The biggest two moves of window both involved Chelsea, who shipped off World Cup winner André Schürrle to Wolfsburg for a reported €30 million to make room for Colombia and Fiorentina stud Juan Cuadrado. Chelsea's negotiating team is quickly turning into soccer's Masai Ujiri, the guys you don't want offering you a deal because you know they'll somehow talk you into spending €10 million more for one of their players than he's worth while everyone laughs at your folly.
In the other direction, Cuadrado, bought for only a bit more than what they got for Schürrle, is a better fit than the German and will probably wind up being a key member of the squad. Whereas Schürrle was a natural left winger forced to either spell Eden Hazard or line up on the right, Cuadrado prefers playing on that side. He's not a great defender but puts in a lot more work on that end, and has even played as a right wing back on occasion. He probably won't overtake Willian as a starter this season, but he adds depth and versatility to Chelsea's attacking midfield.
The second-biggest move in the league was Wilfried Bony joining Chelsea's only real title rivals Manchester City, from Swansea for about €33 million. City are apparently unsatisfied relying only on Edin Džeko and Stevan Jovetić as strike mates for Sergio Agüero, Bony is closer to a Džeko type of straightforward target man, with little more to his game than the ability to corral the ball, move towards goal, then shoot it. Luckily, he's better than Džeko at that crucial final step, and that's basically all you need in a partner for Agüero. There's a good shot this works well for all parties involved.
Except Swansea, of course, who Bony has basically carried during his time in Wales. The Swans have been mediocre-to-poor everywhere on the pitch this season with the distinct exception of Bony and Gylfi Sigurðsson, who've balled out. We'll have to wait and see whether Bafétimbi Gomis can do a decent Bony impression in the additional minutes he figures to gain, or if Nélson Oliveira, signed on loan from Benfica this window, can finally start living up to the hype.
Arsenal were surprisingly busy this window, sending out a bunch of dudes on loans, while also buying a player in his prime at a position of need for once. That'd be 24-year-old Brazilian center back Gabriel Paulista, purchased from Villarreal for €15 million. Gabriel has emerged as one of La Liga's better defenders this season: he is fast and is an intelligent reader of attacks. At the very least, Gabriel's position in the team means, barring a rash of defensive injuries (though with Arsenal being Arsenal, that's probably too much to rule out), we've likely seen the last episode of screwball comedy Nacho Monreal, Idiot Center Half, in which our intrepid defender finds himself in a foreign land sent to fend off wave after wave of attack, but can never quite remember which side he's supposed to be helping. Depending on your rooting interest, you either greet this news with relief or despair.
Here are a few more moves of note:
- Southampton put in some work this window. Ronald Koeman has continued his plot to bring over every flair player that impressed him during his time managing in the Netherlands by signing Eljero Elia and Filip Đuričić. The club also made Chelsea loanee Ryan Bertrand an official Saint by buying his full rights. They only lost midfielder Jack Cork to Swansea, who has looked good in his limited opportunities but didn't get enough minutes to remain content. The Saints remain overflowing with attacking midfielders but a little thin in the center of the pitch.
- In getting Aaron Lennon on loan, Everton finally have a winger who can run and dribble past someone down the flanks. He automatically becomes one of their four or five best players. Hopefully his addition allows Everton to recapture at least some of the form that made them so fun to watch last season.
- Of interest to USMNT fans: Tottenham sent full back Kyle Naughton to Swansea, which pushes DeAndre "Young Cock" Yedlin, who made his Spurs move permanent earlier in the month, right up into the primary backup spot behind Kyle Walker and his papier-mâché hamstrings. U-S-A! U-S-A!
- On the other hand, Jermaine Defoe, the aged striker who made the switch with Jozy Altidore from Toronto FC to Sunderland, has in two games scored as many goals as it took Altidore 2,000 minutes to get. [Sigh.]
- Relegation-threatened Leicester will hope the 23-year-old forward Andrej Kramarić can partner well with Leonardo Ulloa to score enough to keep them in the first division. Kramarić dominated in the Croatian league, scoring almost a goal a game for Rijeka over the last year and a half.
- As a good counterexample of the transfer wizards at Chelsea, Manchester City bought Scott Sinclair for €8 million back in August of 2012 and now couldn't sell him with the wages he's on if they gave him away. He's now off on loan again, this time with Aston Villa.
La Liga's transfers this window were more focused on the future than on the present, with a couple of notable exceptions. As is typical, Real Madrid made most of the transfer headlines, most prominently by snatching up teen phenom Martin Ødegaard from Strømsgodset. Ødegaard's powerhouse tour of potential employers was one of the most fascinating storylines of the window, with teams like Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Liverpool, and more pulling out all the stops to try and woo the 16-year-old attacking midfielder. Ultimately, the Blancos won out. Like so many Real newboys, Ødegaard quickly ingratiated himself with the club by praising teammate Cristiano Ronaldo as the best player in the world, deleting any of that pesky evidence of past Messi praise.
Not content with just one potential superstar-in-the-making, Real also bought the rights to Mallorca winger Marco Asensio, one of Spain's most promising young talents. He'll remain at Mallorca for the rest of this season, but he's definitely a name for the future.
Along with those two, who won't be making first-team appearances with the big boys any time soon, Real's slightly more present-focused signing was Lucas Silva from Brazilian club Cruzeiro for a rumored €14 million. The 21-year-old is a textbook deep-lying playmaker in the Xabi Alonso mold, someone who loves sitting deep and splashing out passes to his teammates. This looked like it would spell an end to Asier Illarramendi's time in the capital, but he apparently doesn't mind twiddling his thumbs on the bench in exchange for a couple medals every season. (Go ahead, buy 'em up now, Real. FIFA's coming.)
Some other notes:
- Atlético Madrid got in on the youth movement when they finalized the purchase of Argentine forward Ángel Correa. The club actually came to an agreement on him last summer, but in the medical evaluation detected a tumor in his heart that required surgery. Correa has since returned to play, and is now in Madrid with Atléti. Best wishes to the kid, who deserves some good fortune after a tough, tough life. By all accounts, he has the talent.
- Oh yeah, almost forgot, Atlético did have another move some people were talking about. Remember that guy, Fernando Torres? No, not that one, the good one. Looks like Atlético managed to dig him up from somewhere.
- While we're on the topic of future stars, Córdoba added a guy who a handful of years ago was every bit as lauded (if on much, much less evidence) as some of the guys mentioned above. Bebé is back, baby! This time, after again failing to impress (at Benfica this time), he joined Córdoba on loan. He's looked pretty good so far, and totally mangled Real Madrid's defense in a surprisingly close 2-1 defeat. Maybe there was a reason to all the hype after all. We'll be reserving final judgement, though.
- About the only move of any immediate first-team interest was Enzo Pérez joining nouveau riche Valencia. The midfielder has been inserted right into the starting lineup of what was already a very impressive Valencia team. With his addition and the other ones made in the summer, the club looks to have enough about them to hold on to their fourth Champions League spot.
- What about Spain's other giant you ask? Well after years of stocking up their youth team with the world's best youngsters, often in violation of FIFA's youth-transfer rules, Barcelona finally had to pay a massive penalty in the form of a two-window ban. Stay strong, Pogba; we'll be coming for you in a year's time.
Let's be honest, there wasn't too much of interest on the transfer front in Italy, Germany, and France. These leagues have about six buying clubs among them, and many of those stayed quiet. Still, there were some moves to note, so here we go:
- Again, Wolfsburg got Schürrle. While he never quite meshed with Chelsea, odds are pretty good he comes back to Germany and starts wrecking shit again. Schürrle's problems under Mourinho said a lot more about his fit in that system than any lack of talent on his end, so if he's afforded a role better tailored to what he is good at with Wolfsburg, he should be back in the goals. He'll already be able to step into his preferred spot on the left, enabling him to cut in and uncork shots with his right. And as the team's second-best player behind another former young talent Chelsea flipped for profit, Kevin De Bruyne, he most likely won't be asked to do as much defensively as he was in England. Die Wölfe won't be able to catch Bayern in the league—last weekend's result notwithstanding—but they do look like firm favorites to continue along as the closest team nipping at FCB's heels.
- Borussia Dortmund are still somehow rock bottom in the Bundesliga table, and will hope the attacking talents of Kevin Kampl, brought in from Red Bull Salzburg for €12 million, will be able to score a couple more of those goals they've inexplicably failed to finish thus far. BVB's struggles are still largely down to bad luck in scoring and conceding, but whereas it earlier looked like they'd turn it around to the tune of a high upper-half of the table position, it now looks like anything outside of the bottom three will be welcome.
- Matija Nastasić will hope to show either parent club Manchester City or any other interested party that he is indeed still the defender that looked so good a couple seasons ago when partnered with Vincent Kompany, before Manuel Pellegrini decided to drop him in the depth chart for whatever reason. He joins Schalke 04 on loan.
- In Italy, AC Milan are still the circus show they've been throughout owner Silvio Berlusconi's reign, only now they're beginning to realize that a circus with decrepit strongmen and "bearded" ladies with only wispy little mustaches is more depressing than it is entertaining. In their first big, smart signing in years, they have managed to get Mattia Destro away from Roma on loan with an option to buy (should they come up with the money by the end of the season, of course). Destro is young and a proven scorer, and should walk into the starting lineup. This will move one-man highlight reel Jérémy Ménez either a little deeper or wider into his more natural position. In addition to Destro, they also added the talented attacker Suso on loan from Liverpool, which should improve their technical quality going forward. Now, none of this stanches their gaping defensive holes, so don't expect the debacle in Milan to abate anytime soon.
- Roma have replaced Destro with CSKA Moscow's Seydou Doumbia, who is pretty much a like-for-like switch as a Francesco Totti backup who knows how to score goals.
- A few hugely talented wingers changed addresses in Italy, with Inter getting Xherdan Shaqiri from Bayern, Fiorentina replacing Cuadrado with Chelsea's Mohamed Salah on loan, and Napoli buying Sampdoria's Manolo Gabbiadini. We're most excited to see whether Shaqiri thrives now that he's off the Bayern bench, or else this Shaqiri Switzerland jersey is going to look pretty stupid a couple years from now.
- Samuel Eto'o got out of his contract with Everton to come back to Serie A, this time with Sampdoria. Not even a week into his time with the club and he's already pissed off his manager by skipping a mandatory practice. Oh, Eto'o, how we will miss you.
- The biggest news in France was the strange affair of Hatem Ben Arfa. Ben Arfa began the season with Newcastle and out of favor with then-manager Alan Pardew. He never made an appearance with the first team, but did log some minutes with the U-21 reserve side. Afterwards, he was shipped out on loan to Hull, where he made eight appearances before mysteriously leaving England and refusing to play. Hull ended his loan and Newcastle terminated his contract. In this window, the attacking midfielder signed a contract with Nice and looked set to attempt to rebuild his career in his native France. Instead, that contract too had to be canceled: FIFA rules say a player cannot appear with more than two teams in any one season. While he undoubtedly played important matches for Hull, for some reason FIFA counts those U-21 minutes with Newcastle as official and have ruled that he can't play for Nice. He's now in search of anywhere willing to take a wonderful dribbler prone to periods of nuttiness.
- In happier news, promising Argentine winger Lucas Ocampos will hopefully get some more playing time after making the switch from Monaco to Marseille on loan. There he'll join his compatriot Marcelo Bielsa as they try to keep up their miraculous title push.
Welp, that's about it. We still are wary of the whole transfer speculation industry, but we have to admit, this one was genuinely intriuging. Now back to what actually matters: the dudes playing on the pitch.
Juan Cuadrado photo via Twitter
All other photos via Getty