The January transfer window has often been shunned by clubs and managers because of the difficulty to bring in quality players. Clubs are often unwilling to do business because they don’t want to lose a player halfway through the season, while top clubs find it difficult to improve their squads as most of the best players are frequently cup-tied in European competition.
Last year’s January transfer window was an excellent example of poor business conducted: the likes of Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll have yet to make their mark on their respective teams in spite of the millions of dollars shelled out for them.
As such, the clubs most active during the January transfer window are usually those in midtable positions, and mostly in the form of loan deals lasting till the end of the season. This year’s January transfer window however, was notable for a remarkable number of players who made prominent impressions after being brought in by Premier League clubs.
Here are the Premier League’s 10 best January transfers of 2012:
10) Pavel Pogrebnyak
The Russian striker arrived in London with an explosive bang: 5 goals in his first 3 starts, including a hat-trick in Fulham’s 5-0 thrashing of woeful Wolves. However, Pogrebnyak’s goals then dried up as he only managed a single goal in his following 9 games, and was involved in a run where Fulham lost 3 consecutive games. His performances also tailed off towards the end of the season, where he seemed to have lost his touch and confidence, and was sometimes isolated and even anonymous in attack.
Truth is, Pogrebnyak has never been a very prolific goalscorer: 22 goals in 90 appearances for his previous club Stuttgart. His most successful period came when he was at Zenit St. Petersburg, winning 4 trophies including the Russian Premier League and the UEFA Cup in a 3-year spell during which he fired in a respectable 39 goals in 90 appearances.
He initially signed for Martin Jol’s Fulham side on a six-month contract which is about to expire. His overall Fulham record of 6 goals in 12 appearances looks decent enough, and even if Fulham decide not to extend his stay at Craven Cottage on the back of some final disappointing league games, there will at least be other clubs willing to take a punt on him.
9) Thierry Henry
So many said it he shouldn’t do it for fear of ruining his glorious reputation, some said it wouldn’t work. The majority said that the worst that could happen was for Henry not to play but to teach Theo Walcott how to put the ball in the net, which sounded pretty good for Arsenal fans anyway.
In the end, no one could really have predicted that Arsenal’s all-time top goalscorer would return in such dramatic fashion: scoring the winner on his second debut in the 78th minute as a substitute in the FA Cup against Leeds United with his trademark open-up-the-body sideways finish.
Though he would only score one more goal in the 7-0 league rout of Blackburn Rovers and couldn’t prevent his beloved Arsenal from exiting the Champions League, Henry’s second coming was far from a failure. In pure sporting terms, it’s difficult to resoundingly label it as a success, but was an emotional one last hurrah for Arsenal and Henry himself.
8) Landon Donovan/Robbie Keane
Just like Henry, these were another two players who moved on short-term loan deals from the Major League Soccer to the Premier League and still made significant enough impacts to warrant a mention on this list.
Donovan returned to Goodison Park for a second stint at Everton, replicating the same transfer deal that had been done 2 years ago. The American was instantly brought into the starting XI, and completed the full 90 minutes in all the 8 games he was available for.
Once again, he showed his definite ability to play in the Premier League, laying on 3 assists for his teammates and making an average of 2.3 key passes per league game: Everton’s joint-highest in this category.
He added an important amount of creativity and intelligence with his running and passing to Everton’s hardworking but otherwise dull midfield, and has hinted at the possibility of playing permanently in England once his contract with LA Galaxy expires.
Robbie Keane’s return to English football just half a season after he had left it was seen as curious move by Aston Villa fans after their club’s manager Alex McLeish added the Irishman to their playing staff on loan. After all, Keane’s last season in England had ended rather poorly, as he struggled to assert himself at West Ham and was eventually relegated with the London side.
However, Keane made some vital contributions to a Villa side that was lacking in strikers after Darren Bent’s season-ending injury. He scored 3 goals in 5 league starts, including 2 crucial goals against former club and fellow relegation battlers Wolves in a critical 3-2 victory. Those 3 points went a long long way in helping Villa survive relegation: had they lost that match they would’ve been relegated ahead of Bolton Wanderers.
Keane’s transfer may have smacked of desperation at that time, but it was probably the only right thing the now-fired McLeish did in his short Villa tenure, and it ultimately saved Villa from spending a season in the Championship. (Of course some would argue that Villa wouldn’t need saving had McLeish not been appointed manager.)
7) Djibril Cisse
If Cisse continues his eventful start of his Queens Park Rangers career into next season and beyond, it’s highly likely that he’ll overtake Mario Balotelli as the Premier League player who most polarises opinion.
The Frenchman’s QPR record reads: 6 goals and 2 red cards in 7 appearances, and those 2 red cards have both resulted in his team eventually losing the matches. Furthermore, the 2 direct red cards caused Cisse to miss out on a total of 6 matches – which explains why he only made 7 appearances.
Nonetheless, Cisse scored some very important goals to help QPR just about stay afloat and survive relegation, including the crucial 88th minute equaliser in the 3-2 comeback win against former club Liverpool, as well as the only goal of the game versus Stoke to claim 3 massive points.
The £4 million signing from Lazio was brought to score goals and help his team stay in the Premier League for another season, mission accomplished. Rangers fans will just be hoping he continues his goalscoring streak and not his card one for next season.
6) Steven Pienaar
Pienaar’s loan move from Tottenham back to his former club Everton was a no-brainer for everyone involved: Spurs boss Harry Redknapp didn’t seem to fancy the player at all, Pienaar needed the playing time, and where would’ve been a better place to do so than at Everton where he had such a fruitful 4 years.
His return to Merseyside has prevented his career from dying out, as the revitalised South African made a tremendous contribution in Everton’s second-half of the season, even helping them finish in a higher league position than fierce local rivals Liverpool. He delivered 4 goals and 6 assists in 14 appearances, and no other Everton player made more assists and averaged more key passes (2.3) than him, a perfect illustration of the Pienaar’s creative importance to Everton despite only arriving in January.
The tricky playmaker slotted back into his favoured left-sided midfield position effortlessly, and revived his telepathic connection with left-back Leighton Baines: Pienaar drifting into central zones and dragging the opposing right-back along with him, creating space for the irrepressible Baines to bomb forward. It was like he never left.
Now that the season’s over, Pienaar’s loan has expired and his future remains uncertain. Everton’s manager David Moyes – the undoubted winner of the January 2012 transfer window – has already indicated that he wants to keep Pienaar, but parent club Spurs might not be so willing to do business. A huge fan favourite – Pienaar was fighting to hold back tears in his final emotional match in Everton’s colours this season – let’s all hope he can have the final say on where he wants to play.
5) Gylfi Sigurdsson
On loan from German club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Sigurdsson’s return to English football donning the kit of Swansea City has been a huge success. Having previously played under current Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers during their time at Reading, Sigurdsson has once again flourished with Rodgers as his manager with 7 goals and 3 assists in 18 appearances.
The Icelandic international forced his way into the Swansea starting XI, playing as the central playmaker in Rodgers’ favourite 4-2-3-1 formation. He added a whole new dimension to Swansea’s attack: while most of their players are bent on keeping possession, Sigurdsson became one of the few who were more direct and willing to take risks. His league average of 2.8 key passes was by far the highest of all the Swansea players for this season – Mark Gower was next, a distance away at 1.8 – clearly demonstrating how he had become Swansea’s primary creative outlet.
More obviously, Sigurdsson contributed goals to a Swansea team that didn’t score many. Possibly the only Swansea player who possessed a good long range strike, he also often got forward into the penalty box to get on the end of crosses when he wasn’t crossing the ball himself with his pin-point set-piece delivery.
His impact was duly recognised as he won the Premier League Player of the Month for March, and with his loan expired, there seems to be a scramble to acquire his services for next season’s campaign. Swansea and Rodgers obviously want to purchase him outright, but Hoffenheim boss ex-Liverpool defender Markus Babbel has also stated that he wants Sigurdsson to return to the Bundesliga. Sigurdsson himself has expressed his desire to play in the Premier League, and with reported interest from Manchester United, who wouldn’t?
4) Paul Scholes
When United manager Sir Alex Ferguson made the most surprising move of the January transfer window by bringing Scholes back out of retirement, many claimed that Ferguson had run out of ideas.
Whether that is true or false has yet to be proven with certainty, but what’s definitely true is how crucial the 37-year-old midfielder has been to United’s (ultimately unsuccessful) title challenge. His second debut, coming off the bench as a substitute in the Manchester FA Cup derby was pivotal in helping his team secure the win – although he did uncharacteristically give the ball away leading to a City goal.
That rare mistake is an outlier though, because Scholes’ passing remains as peerless as ever. He is United’s number one passer of the ball, attaining a league average of 93.1% pass completion – the highest out of all United players who’ve made more than 5 appearances. He won 12 out the 14 league games he’s started this season: the only 2 times he has failed to help his team pick up 3 points when in the starting line-up were the title-turning matches against Everton and City.
More than simple statistics though, Scholes’ performances have been rewarded with a one-year extension on his current six-month deal. Even more than that, there were murmurs that new England manager Roy Hodgson considered persuading Scholes to come out of international retirement for the upcoming Euro 2012. Wouldn’t that have been something.
3) Nikica Jelavic
Everton fans have been crying out for a striker for years: indeed, their team has often been forced to play midfielder Tim Cahill as an unorthodox striking role in recent years. Louis Saha was clearly a top goalscorer but frustratingly injury-prone, Jermaine Beckford sold to help raise funds despite a decent enough first impression, Apostolos Vellios too young and raw to be the number one striker, Denis Stracqualursi simply not good enough and Victor Anichebe inconsistent and out with a long-term injury. The last time Everton had at least one functioning, adequate striker was probably 4 years ago when they had both Yakubu and Andy Johnson.
Now they have Nikica Jelavic who scored 9 goals and shot his way to being the Toffees’ top goalscorer for the season despite making just 13 appearances. Jelavic, who was reportedly very close to moving to Everton’s neighbours Liverpool instead, came from Glasgow Rangers in a £5.5 million move after scoring 14 goals in 22 appearances for the financially-troubled Scottish giants.
Perhaps it was the fact that he made his name in Scotland that deterred other Premier League clubs from making a move (considering how so many top scorers of the Scottish Football League have failed to translate their success to the Premier League), but it has only been Everton’s gain.
The Premier League Player of the Month for April, Jelavic has that slippery quality that allows him to move into excellent goalscoring positions ahead of the defenders marking him, as well as the clinical ability to finish the chance with effective, little fuss: all the makings of a top poacher, which is exactly what Everton need.
2) Jean Beausejour
Despite easily being the least high-profile player on this list, every Wigan fan will tell you that Beausejour has played an immense role in helping Wigan secure a 7th straight year in the Premier League. He moved up from Championship side Birmingham to Wigan for an undisclosed fee, and has been the most underrated signing of the January 2012 transfer window.
Capable of playing at both left-back and left-midfield, Beausejour’s versatility was a crucial factor in Wigan manager Roberto Martinez’s tactical decision to shift from his failing 4-2-3-1 formation to his eventually triumphant fluid 3-4-3 shape. Beausejour played as a left-wingback in this shape, pushing forward to support the attack when chasing a goal and dropping back to form a 5-4-1 shape if necessary.
The Chilean international was responsible for the whole left flank in his wingback role, and that no team other than Wolves attacked down the left side as much as Wigan did (42%), is a strong testament to Beausejour’s offensive contributions. In addition, no other Wigan player had as many assists (5), average key passes per league game (2.3) and average accurate crosses per league game (2.5) as Beausejour. He provided the width that Wigan needed to stretch teams when attacking as Wigan’s right wingback Emerson Boyce was never as attack-minded.
The likes of Victor Moses, Shaun Maloney and even Franco Di Santo might feature prominently on the Wigan 2011/2012 Season Review DVD, but every Wigan fan will also remember that Beausejour’s arrival and performances were arguably the catalyst for Wigan’s latest Great Escape.
1) Papiss Cisse
Over the past season, Newcastle have emphatically shown the rest of the Premier League clubs that there was value in the market via their signings of Yoann Cabaye and Demba Ba, but none has shone as brightly as Papiss Cisse.
The Senegalese striker has quite simply, been unable to stop scoring since arriving in England for from SC Freiburg for a fee of £10 million. With 13 goals and 1 assist in 14 games, Cisse has proven he can handle the heavy responsibility of Newcastle’s legendary No.9 shirt.
Apart from his sheer rate of scoring, what makes Cisse stand out even more is the technique and class he exudes in socring his goals. His angled looping volley with the outside of his right boot against Chelsea was the jaw-dropping goal of the season, and even if critics point to the element of luck, they cannot deny the wonderful execution of his goals against Swansea.
In fact looking at all 13 goals he’s scored this season, Cisse has shown an impressive array of skills including crashing volleys, technical strikes, a willingness and ability to use both feet whenever necessary, aerial power, a poacher’s instinct and some nifty footwork to top it all off.
If he stays, he could very well be one of Newcastle’s and the league’s top stars.