Rating the Premier League's top winter transfers
The January transfer window that comes six months before a World Cup always throws up some interesting moves. Last month was no different and some players, like Nikica Jelavic (Everton to Hull), Djibril Cisse (Krasnodar to Bastia) and Ji Dong-Won (Sunderland to Augsburg) made no secret of the motivation behind their switches -- wanting playing time so they can earn a place in Brazil. Others were a bit trickier to decipher.
Here is a run-down of the transfers involving Premier League sides that caught our eye last month:
1. Juan Mata (Chelsea to Manchester United, €45 million)
There are two questions that remain unanswered in one of the biggest surprise moves of January. One is where Mata will play at United. Coach David Moyes has said there will always be room for great players and it's true that Mata's arrival takes much of the creative burden off Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj, the 18-year-old who has become a key player before his time at Old Trafford.
Mata's favorite position is behind the center forward, like Rooney, but in his first start on Saturday, the damaging 2-1 loss at Stoke City, Mata started out wide with license to cut in. The Spaniard is not what United needs right now, with the defense and midfield requiring an urgent overhaul.
The other question no one asked was about the clause inserted in Mata's contract at the beginning of this season that allowed him to leave Chelsea for a fee of €45 million in January to any club except United. Why United? Surely Chelsea would be more unwilling to sell to Manchester City, a more realistic title rival, or even Arsenal, to whom Mourinho refused to allow Demba Ba on loan as he saw it as a threat. But United? It was a confusing clause -- later excluded, of course -- which invites conspiracy theorists to wonder if Mourinho harbored a secret grudge against the club for choosing Moyes as Ferguson's replacement.
Maybe it's a theory too far, but with Mourinho in charge, you never know. For United, Mata is a plaster when the team needs a bandage.
2. Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle to Paris Saint-Germain, €22 million)
Cabaye bucks the trend of players switching clubs to improve their World Cup chances. Had he stayed at Newcastle, where he was the main man in the side (and the dressing-room, by all accounts) he would be highly likely to start France's opening game in Brazil in the summer. As it is, he may get less playing time in a PSG side that is already been spoken about in France as the best to have ever played in Ligue 1.
PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said there were three reasons for signing Cabaye: "1, he's a good player. 2. He's French and it's important that we have French players here. 3. I hear he's a good bloke."
He certainly has the trust of coach Laurent Blanc, who wanted him to be the France team's Xavi Hernandez when he was in charge of Les Bleus. French media reported that Zlatan Ibrahimoivc and Thiago Silva, who have the ear of the president, would have rather the team strengthened in other areas.
Cabaye will soon win them over: he almost scored minutes into his debut last Friday night, and with Thiago Motta injury-prone and Marco Verratti suspension-prone, can expect enough playing time this season to keep his place for France, and possibly keep him a bit fresher for the summer as well.
3. Magnus Wolff Eikrem (Heerenveen to Cardiff, undisclosed) and Mats Mohli Daehli (Molde to Cardiff, undisclosed)
The idea of coaches bringing certain players along with them when they join a new club can be read one of two ways. That the coach knows what those players bring and it's one less person to explain a new methodology to; or as a sign of weakness and lack of confidence in the coach's ability to make the players he already has better.
The difference between Tony Pulis at Crystal Palace and Ole Gunnar Solskajer at Cardiff tells its own tale: with no new signings (until a deadline-day trolley dash), Pulis kept the same squad that won once in 12 games and won seven of the next 14. Solskjaer, on the other hand, bought three players he has coached before -- Jo Inge Berget is the third -- and lost his first three league games.
It's a small sample of matches and it's early days -- Cardiff did beat Norwich in a come-from-behind 2-1 win on Saturday -- but even in Norway, where Solskjaer is venerated, his transfer policy made the news, with sports paper Dagbladet pointing out that Solskjaer's agent, Jim Solbakken, also represents Eikrem, Daehli and Berget.
The major concern, though, is how it will help Cardiff: owner Vincent Tan was ruthless with previous coach Malky Mackay and sporting director Iain Moody after questioning their transfers and it will be interesting (or scary) to note his response if the Norwegians fail to shine in the Welsh capital.
4. Adel Taarabt (QPR to AC Milan, loan)
Taarabt's move from the bench at Fulham to AC Milan has to be one of the most surprising of this month, though the Italian side had a busy, if cheap, January, also signing Michael Essien (free), Keisuke Honda (free) and French center back Adil Rami (€400,000 loan deal from Valencia).
But Taarabt is the name that jumps out: maybe the recruitment team at Milan is thinking that the last time the club signed an ex-Spurs midfielder with a checkered history, in Kevin-Prince Boateng, it worked out OK. Or maybe coach Clarence Seedorf, two games into his Milan coaching career (note how Taarabt said, "Seedorf is a great coach" when he arrived in Milan, but how does he know? Even Seedorf doesn't know that yet), wants to pack the midfield with playmakers just like Carlo Ancelotti when he partnered Seedorf with Rui Costa and Andrea Pirlo back in 2003.
It is certainly a bizarre one but might just provide the career kick-start that Taarabt, whose talent no one has doubted, needs.
5. Kostas Mitroglou (Olympiakos to Fulham, €15 million)
The deal that took the Greek Super League's leading scorer to a club now bottom of the Premier League could be the parable for the modern-day transfer. Back in December, when Mitroglou was on a hot streak of 18 goals in 15 games (including a run of four hat tricks in five weeks in September-October), he signed a new contract.
It did not mean he was pledging his future to the Greek champion: quite the opposite, in fact. The new contract removed his €8 million release clause, and the player and club agreed that he could leave if anyone offered above a certain amount. And there's nothing like the threat of relegation from the Premier League and the prospect of missing out on the bumper TV windfall that ensues to encourage English clubs to spend big in January.
So Olympiakos was happy to reject Fulham's €11 million opening bid a few weeks ago, confident that it would back as the deadline drew closer. The day before the window closed, 'Mitro-Glycerine' (as Marca called him) became Greek football's most expensive signing, smashing the €10 million that Porto's Giourkas Seitaridis cost Dynamo Moscow back in 2005. He also managed to quadruple his wages to a reported €2.5 million per year.
It's the kind of deal where everyone is happy: Olympiakos probably received a little more than he is worth; Fulham gets a player who can fire it out of trouble (if he is over the knee injury that ruled him out in December); Mitroglou gets a pay rise and the profile from which he can move to a bigger club.
And Fulham coach Rene Meulensteen's former side Manchester United gets a boost as it faces Olympiakos in the Champions League in a few weeks -- without its top scorer anymore.