Skip to main content

January transfer deadline underwhelms, provides a dud to an expected degree

There were no last-minute blockbusters across Europe on transfer deadline day, though clubs fighting relegation in England maneuvered to try to stay up and three Americans found new homes.

Another transfer window has come and gone, and much to nobody's surprise, it shut across the vast majority of Europe's major leagues hardly making a sound.

Despite weeks of rumors and transfer fee figures making the rounds, the transfer window closed without a major blockbuster. That's not to say millions upon millions weren't spent, but the home run signings that fans may have been bracing for never materialized.

The Premier League had the added wrinkle of a full slate of midweek action being played during the final hours of the transfer window, and Burnley even announced a club-record signing while it was in the middle of its match vs. Leicester. That was about was wacky as deadline day got, though–a day sadly devoid of a memorable car interview.

Here are the major takeaways from the latest edition of Silly Season:

No major splash

Fans expecting a move along the lines of Antoine Griezmann to Manchester United or Wayne Rooney and Diego Costa to China are going to have to wait for at least another half a season. And they shouldn't have been anticipating a jaw-dropping signing to begin with.

As has become the norm, the winter transfer window is not typically a time for contenders to make major moves (to be fair, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid were both banned from signing new players in this window), and it would have taken some serious money and philosophical shifting (or, in the case of Dimitri Payet, a steadfast refusal to play for his club) for teams to part ways with an upper-echelon player at this juncture of the season. The most fierce speculation surrounded Celtic's 20-year-old rising star Moussa Dembele, who was in London on Tuesday, sparking buzz of a potential £30 million move to Chelsea. Celtic poured cold water on that by stating he was there merely for a scan on his knee and returning to the club. 

The biggest winter signing may have been one completed over the summer, with Manchester City inking rising Brazilian star Gabriel Jesus and waiting six months for his arrival from Palmeiras. In short order, he has appeared to acclimate quite well and could be a true difference maker for Pep Guardiola's side as it claws for Champions League positioning. 

After many misfires, Manchester City under pressure to get its spending right

Among the other names of note to change addresses this winter: Payet having his demands met and returning to Marseille (along with Patrice Evra); Julian Draxler heading to PSG from Wolfsburg; Jese Rodriguez leaving PSG on loan for Las Palmas; Goncalo Guedes taking his talents and potential to PSG; Memphis Depay leaving Manchester United for Lyon; West Brom finally letting Saido Berahino go (to Stoke); Jose Fonte trading Southampton for West Ham; Morgan Schneiderlin leaving Manchester United for Everton Mamadou Sakho finally being freed from Liverpool and reportedly joining Crystal Palace on loan; and Borussia Dortmund beating Real Madrid to the punch for 17-year-old Swedish forward Alexander Isak.

Wait until this summer for the fireworks when Griezmann, Rooney, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Diego Costa, James Rodriguez, Alvaro Morata and others have a more realistic shot at being a part of the headlines entering a World Cup year.

China (somewhat) reels in the spending

For the last few weeks it seemed every day there was another report claiming a world-record bid for a player in Europe. Cristiano Ronaldo, Aubameyang, Costa, Rooney, Yaya Toure and–of interest on this side of the Atlantic–Sebastian Giovinco were among the names being thrown around. What the Chinese Super League was left with, after a series of regulations passed to limit the audacious spending, was Odion Ighalo and Alexandre Pato.

Nothing against the two forwards, but those are not exactly along the lines of the eye-opening moves that cost in the tens of millions earlier in the winter, such as Oscar and Carlos Tevez. Has the Chinese transfer craze plateaued? It certainly seems to have quickly trended that way. The CSL's window is open until the end of February, though, so perhaps we haven't heard the last of the "unsettling" offers for world-class talent.

Watch: Wijnaldum equalizer, Mignolet PK save help Liverpool draw Chelsea

The completed moves that do matter

As opposed to title contenders filling out their rosters with reinforcements, the most impactful moves came at the bottom of the table, with clubs hoping to secure safety from relegation.

In England, Hull, Sunderland and Crystal Palace all reworked their rosters, though, in one instance, at the expense of one another. Sunderland lost Patrick van Aanholt to Palace (which also landed Luka Milivojevic from Olympiakos and Sakho on loan) and used some of that cash windfall to land a pair from Everton in Bryan Oviedo and Darron Gibson. Hull sold off one of it's top assets, sending midfielder Robert Snodgrass to West Ham, but it managed to bring in Andrea Ranocchia from Inter Milan to fortify its defense.

After beating the title odds last season, Leicester is desperately fighting the drop and doing so from a strategic standpoint. It refused to sell Leonardo Ulloa to Sunderland despite the player's wishes to exit and despite Sunderland meeting the asking price. In terms of adds, the Foxes signed Mali center back Molla Wague on loan from Udinese.

In France, Marseille did some nice work by plucking Payet from West Ham and bringing Evra home from Juventus. The French internationals should help the club's quest to return to the top tier in Ligue 1. Lyon, another club in the league hoping to recapture past glory, did well to snag Memphis, a player with plenty of talent and in desperate need of a change of scenery.

Liverpool's slump, Inter's rise, Barcelona's gripe headline weekend around Europe

American impact

The transfer deadline didn't yield any blockbusters for Americans abroad, but a few were directly impacted by late moves. Gedion Zelalem was loaned from Arsenal to VVV Venlo in the Dutch second division; Fafa Picault was released from his contract with 2. Bundesliga's St. Pauli to pursue a move, the club says, to the Philadelphia Union and MLS; and Rubio Rubin moved from FC Utrecht to Silkeborg in Denmark. 

For Zelalem, the move is far from sexy, but if it yields first-team playing time and builds confidence, then it'll be useful. Zelalem's loan to Rangers last season didn't propel him to first-team level at Arsenal, where he was primarily a U-23 fixture. It's tough to see six months at a poor level like the Eerste Divisie suddenly having him compete for the top spot in Arsene Wenger's midfield, but it's better than not playing meaningful minutes at all. And Venlo is vying for promotion, so the environment should at the very least be competitive and upbeat.

Christian Pulisic signs extension with Borussia Dortmund through 2020

For Picault, a move back stateside after he starred in NASL in 2014 is intriguing. He earned a call-up from Jurgen Klinsmann last May to face Puerto Rico and he looks set to join a Union side crafted by former U.S. standout Earnie Stewart that has a number of U.S. hopefuls or past veterans. It's easy to see why leaving the last-place club in Germany's second division became a priority, but competing in a league with the majority of U.S. attacking players will allow for a more easy apples-to-apples comparison for Picault and his competition, and it won't take much to determine whether the 25-year-old is U.S.-caliber again.

For Rubin, it's not really a move that'll wow anyone, swapping mid-table Eredivisie for mid-table Danish SuperLiga, but he needs games, and he wasn't getting them with Utrecht's first team. The 20-year-old's deal runs through the end of the season, Utrecht says, and then perhaps another move will be in the works. Like so many young Americans abroad before him, finding stability is key.

Elsewhere in recent moves of note concerning the region: Bayer Leverkusen dipped back into the CONCACAF pond and signing Jamaican winger Leon Bailey from Genk for a reported £12 million; and Liga MX's Tigres UANL lured Chile forward Eduardo Vargas from Hoffenheim.