Act in haste, repent at leisure tends to be the way with the January transfer window. Under pressure to push deals through in a seller’s market, plenty of expensive mistakes are made at this time of year.
We’re all familiar with the difficulties faced by Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres among others, but what about those often-forgotten signings and surprise hits who bucked the trend?
John Stones (Barnsley to Everton, 2013)
Over recent years, Barnsley have earned a reputation as one of the country’s finest producers of promising young defenders. Alfie Mawson, James Bree and Mason Holgate all earned their stripes at Oakwell and left as teenagers, following in the footsteps of John Stones. On the last day of the 2013 January transfer window, Stones was sold to Everton for £3m.
He was gradually eased into the Toffees’ first team and didn’t make his Premier League debut until September that year, but soon earmarked himself as a confident, ball-playing centre-back. Stones was sold on to Manchester City for £47.5m in the summer of 2016, briefly becoming the second-most expensive defender in history.
Andres D’Alessandro (Wolfsburg to Portsmouth, loan, 2006)
Harry Redknapp has always had a strange knack for getting the best out of talented wastrels. Known more for his man-management skills than tactical insight, ‘Arry’s relaxed approach has helped to coax impressive performances out of wayward players like Ravel Morrison, Paolo Di Canio and Rafael van der Vaart.
His promotion-winning Portsmouth side was based around the creativity of an ageing Paul Merson, and when they were in danger of dropping out of the top flight three years later, he called on the enigmatic Andres D’Alessandro.
One of several signings during a manic January transfer window, the Argentina international pulled the strings to drag his side away from danger – Pompey won six of their last 10 games. He also scored a superb goal against Charlton in a brief but productive loan spell.
Sebastian Larsson (Arsenal to Birmingham, 2007)
Before the relationship between the two clubs soured following Martin Taylor’s leg-breaking challenge on Eduardo, and Arsene Wenger’s subsequent criticism of the Blues defender, Arsenal would regularly lend some of their best young players to Birmingham.
In the 2006/07 season, as Steve Bruce’s side returned to the Premier League at the first attempt, Nicklas Bendtner, Fabrice Muamba and Sebastian Larsson were important members of the squad.
Larsson’s move was made permanent in January 2007 for £1m and the midfielder impressed with his tireless work ethic, pinpoint crossing and set-piece expertise in over 200 appearances. He also helped to beat his former club in the 2011 League Cup Final, securing just the second piece of major silverware in Blues history.
Danny Drinkwater (Manchester United to Leicester, 2012)
Like so many others, Drinkwater had made it all the way through the Manchester United youth system only to find his path to the first team blocked. During a few loan spells he’d proven himself in the Championship as a midfielder capable of dictating play and driving teams forward.
In January 2012, after a successful stint at Barnsley (and a particularly good display against Leicester), he joined the Foxes for an undisclosed fee. After a patchy start, Drinkwater was eventually a key figure in their promotion to the Premier League and then helped the Foxes to an unthinkable title win under Claudio Ranieri. England caps and transfer speculation followed, which led to a £35m move to Chelsea in September 2017.
Clint Dempsey (New England Revolution to Fulham, 2007)
Fulham had already enjoyed success in the American market, having brought Carlos Bocanegra and Brian McBride over from MLS to become first-team stalwarts. But while they were merely reliable and effective, Clint Dempsey had something special. Signed for £2m from New England Revolution in 2007, he became an iconic player for the Cottagers over the course of six seasons.
Dempsey was spiky yet skilful, and neither the physical nor technical demands of the Premier League intimidated him. The attacker adapted quickly and became a valuable member of the Fulham squad, but truly came into his own in later years.
His chipped winner against Juventus on Fulham’s run to the 2010 Europa League Final has passed into club folklore, and he scored 36 goals in his final two seasons before joining Tottenham in 2012 for £6m.
David Bentley (Arsenal to Blackburn, 2006)
His career may have descended into farce towards the end, culminating in a premature retirement at the age of 29 having fallen out of love with football, but that shouldn’t detract from how good David Bentley was for a while. Suggestions that he could have been the heir to David Beckham at right midfield for England weren’t quite as absurd as they now seem.
Yet with opportunities at Arsenal limited, he’d ended up on loan to Blackburn in 2005. After a positive start at Ewood Park, Mark Hughes made the deal permanent in January 2006, and Bentley scored a stunning hat-trick in a 4-3 win over Manchester United two days later.
He was an excellent crosser of the ball, and his whipped deliveries into the box were a constant menace. Unfortunately everything started to unravel once he moved to White Hart Lane in 2008.
Yakubu (Maccabi Haifa to Portsmouth, 2003)
Portsmouth were well on course for promotion to the Premier League when January rolled around, and already had a prolific striker in Svetoslav Todorov, but Harry Redknapp has never been able to resist a deal. Yakubu was scoring regularly for Israeli side Maccabi Haifa and attracting interest from far bigger clubs after his Champions League exploits earlier in the season, including a hat-trick against Olympiakos.
So it was something of a surprise when he showed up on loan at Portsmouth, scoring within four minutes of his first start against Grimsby. After seven goals in 14 appearances, the stocky Nigerian joined permanently in the summer of 2003. Over the next nine years The Yak established himself as arguably the most reliable striker in the Premier League outside of the top four clubs.
Paul Scharner (Brann to Wigan, 2006)
The versatile Austrian initially looked set to sign for Birmingham until Wigan gazumped them, as arguments over the transfer fee dragged on. Chairman Dave Whelan had no qualms about meeting Brann’s demands and a deal was struck for £2.5m. Scharner had a perfect introduction to English football, scoring the winner against Arsenal on his debut in the first leg of a League Cup semi-final.
He spent six years in England, becoming a cult hero at both Wigan and West Brom while making a name for himself as one of the Premier League’s quirkiest characters. Solid and dependable, he was able to fill a range of positions and finished his career back at the Latics, playing his part in that remarkable 2013 FA Cup win.
Ben Mee (Manchester City to Burnley, 2012)
Eddie Howe’s time in charge of Burnley, wedged between two spells at his beloved Bournemouth, is now largely forgotten. He failed to settle and replicate the success he’d achieved on the south coast, but did at least make some significant signings at Turf Moor. In January 2012, he transformed the Clarets’ defence for the foreseeable future as two youngsters joined from Manchester City.
Kieran Trippier and Ben Mee were both previously on loan at Burnley, and were added to the ranks on long-term deals. While Trippier has since left the club, Mee has stayed put.
Aerially dominant and utterly committed, he’s been at the heart of two promotion-winning teams and is an important factor in Sean Dyche’s side currently upsetting the odds to occupy a place in the top half of the Premier League.
Nigel Reo-Coker (Wimbledon to West Ham, 2004)
There were plenty of jokes about Tony Adams’s lack of imagination last year when one of his first acts as Granada manager was to offer trials to Kieran Richardson and Nigel Reo-Coker – but both players used to be taken rather more seriously. Admittedly, that was a while ago now.
Reo-Coker was once a dynamic box-to-box midfielder who made his breakthrough at Wimbledon. In January 2004, West Ham took advantage of the club’s financial plight to sign the England Under-21 international for a cut-price fee.
Despite his tender years, he was soon made captain by Alan Pardew and led his team back to the Premier League and to the 2006 FA Cup Final. After three years of impeccable service, he left for £8.5m to Aston Villa – but was never the same again.
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