The coronavirus pandemic made the summer transfer window very different from its predecessors but, with football back on the agenda, the January window was open as normal for Europe’s top leagues.
Though clubs spent nearly €1.5 billion less ($1.9bn) in the summer than they did the previous year, according to FIFA, a number of deals were agreed in October to be completed in January (see Jan. 2). It is traditionally a quieter month, but will the global events see some different strategies for the top sides?
Here are the grades for all the major deals. The most recent write-ups are at the top; each day is in order of highest price. If you don’t see a grade for a move that has been completed, check back later. All fees are reported unless confirmed with *.
Preston grade: C
Liverpool grade: C+
Why Preston were keen to sanction this one for such a small fee is confusing. The defender, who is a product of the club’s respected academy, has been the club’s best centre-back over the last few seasons and will leave a big gap.
Liverpool’s late decision to sign a centre-back on deadline day, after the injury to Joel Matip, smacks of panic. Davies is a cheaper option than many, but it’s hard to see how he will challenge for a first-team place when the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez return.
Schalke grade: C
Liverpool grade: B+
Schalke are struggling in the Bundesliga this season and now they’ve opted to let one of their best young players go. OK, they could land a reported €30m next summer if Liverpool take up the option to sign him but it’s a bold move. Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi is decent replacement though.
The 21-year-old has been on Liverpool’s radar for some time, so this deal makes a lot more sense for the club. He’s young, hungry and willing to learn, so it should work out well for him. It’s just that the competition for places at Anfield will soon get pretty intense.
FC Dallas grade: A
Roma grade: B
Reynolds is only 19, so the €6.5m (plus €5m in add-ons) obligation to sign him is a lot of money and Dallas can be happy with how they brought him through to progress his career. He will be missed, but it’s better for the player that he moves on.
Roma beat Juventus to the U.S. right-back and the club will offer him a clearer path to the first-team. He’s clearly got a lot to learn and isn’t the finished article yet, but he has bags of potential and Roma will be hoping he has a similar impact to that of U.S. star Weston McKennie in Turin.
Bayern grade: B
Hoffenheim grade: B
Having become the first American to start a Bundesliga match for Bayern in the 120-year history of the club back in October, Richards hasn’t had much of a chance to shine. A loan move, especially within the Bundesliga, is good for him.
The move will allow Richards to play under former Bayern reserve team boss Sebastian Hoeness again, who is now in charge of Hoffenheim. And the club get to make the most of his potential for six months. Also good.
Barcelona grade: D
Nice grade: B
This move really hasn’t worked out for Barca. Todibo was earmarked as a future star but has struggled in Spain and has spent most of the time on loan. This move back to France cuts short a loan at Benfica and cash-strapped Barca are cutting their losses on another loan with Nice having an option to sign him for €8.5m plus €7m in add-ons in the summer.
Having already landed William Saliba on loan from Arsenal, Nice are building an excellent young French core at the club. €8.5m is a bargain if they choose to take it up in a few months, as the player was worth three times that in the last window.
Arsenal grade: D-
Schalke grade: B
Having signed him from Valencia for around £35m in 2016, Arsenal have taken a massive loss on this deal. The German hasn’t been the rock in defence they expected and his errors have led to plenty of criticism. The Gunners were able to get his wages off the books, but it’s another contract termination to follow Mesut Ozil and Sokratis.
As a replacement for Ozan Kabak, Schalke have done well to land an experienced player for nothing. At 28, Mustafi has plenty of years left and should be a lot happier in the Bundesliga.
Man United grade: B
West Ham grade: A-
With only three appearances this season for United, Lingard was keen to move on and find more regular games. United may miss his versatility as a squad player but they do have plenty of options. A nice loan fee of £1.5m helps, plus having his wages off the books until the summer. It was a canny move to extend his contract and then send him out on loan.
West Ham enjoying their best start to a calendar year in their history and this signing can only make them better. If Lingard can recapture some of his best form under former boss David Moyes, the Hammers will have a superb season.
Real Madrid grade: C
Arsenal grade: B+
It seems decades ago since a 16-year-old Odegaard signed for Real Madrid and was touted as the next big thing. Now 22, the midfielder has been on loan for most of his career and now gets a chance to prove himself in the Premier League. Madrid have done well to avoid a buyout clause being attached to his loan, so if he impresses then they can bring him back or let him leave for another club.
Arsenal have been looking to replace Mesut Ozil for some time and clearly need some creativity in the No. 10 role. Odegaard will ease the burden on 20-year-old Emile Smith Rowe but he’s only young himself and may not have the kind of immediate impact expected. The Gunners failed in a bid for Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar last summer, who has more experience, but bringing in Odegaard on loan is a smart move that won’t cost them much.
Arsenal grade: D
Fenerbahce grade: A
The major positive for Arsenal in offloading Ozil is that his wages are no longer on their books. However, after handing him a new contract in 2018 things went downhill and his recent exile from the first-team did more harm than good. A good signing back in 2013 from Real Madrid, but things have soured over the past few years and Arsenal did not handle it well.
Fenerbahce have done a super deal and only have to pay him a reported €75,000-a-week, rather than €400,000-a-week that he was on at Arsenal. It’s a free transfer, so no loan fee or anything to pay, and they get a 32-year-old keen to prove himself. Once he gets back to full fitness, he should be an assisting machine in the Turkish league.
Brighton grade: C
Arsenal grade: A
With Robert Sanchez taking over the No. 1 spot for Brighton, Ryan’s last game for the club came in mid-December. A few mistakes from the Australian saw him demoted for the first time since joining the club from Valencia in 2017, but his relationship with the club was good enough to allow him a loan move. Brighton could still have used him, but didn’t want to stand in his way.
Despite signing Iceland international Runar Alex Runarsson in the summer, Arsenal still needed a backup with Emi Martinez and Matt Macey departing. Runarsson may now be allowed to get some experience on loan and Ryan can provide some competition for Bernd Leno. It’s a good deal because Ryan is a proven performer, and an Arsenal fan too.
Napoli grade: D
Marseille grade: B+
It’s been quite a fall from grace for Milik this season, having scored 48 goals in 122 games since arriving for €35m in 2016. However, after refusing to sign a new long-term contract and asking for a move, the 26-year-old was left out of both their Serie A and Champions League squads this season and Napoli opted to let him go at a pretty big loss.
Marseille have been making a push for the Ligue 1 title in France but have slipped off the pace recently and a signing of Milik’s quality will certainly help them get back on track. An 18-month loan with a reported option to sign him for €8m with €4m in add-ons is decent for the Poland international and manager Andre Villas-Boas should be able to get the best out of him.
Gab Marcotti feels Martin Odegaard may hinder the development of some of Arsenal’s youth players.
Milan grade: B-
The former Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Bayern striker terminated his contract at Qatari side Al-Duhail SC at the end of 2020 and has been on the lookout for a new club ever since. Milan is an interesting destination as they already have the free-scoring 39-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front but they do need some depth in that position. Mandzukic is 34, but he should bring plenty of experience and is a solid acquisition on a free transfer, while Milan have an option to extend his deal by a year.
Real Madrid grade: E
Eintracht Frankfurt grade: A+
Make no mistake, Jovic has been a terrible signing for Real Madrid. Having spent €60m to sign him from Frankfurt in 2019, Jovic scored two goals in 32 games. The club kept him around as backup to Karim Benzema because they didn’t want to spend anything on a replacement, but he’s unhappy, out of form, and things weren’t going to improve without a loan move. The fact it’s back to his former club is interesting.
Frankfurt banked a massive fee for the 23-year-old and now get to have him again for nothing. His 36 goals in 75 appearances for the club are what earned him his move to Madrid in the first place and if they can help him rediscover his scoring touch then it will benefit them and the player. A year ago, Frankfurt wouldn’t have imagined that Jovic would be playing for them again so soon, so it’s a dream come true.
Man United grade: C
Bayer Leverkusen grade: C+
Having made his United debut back in 2016, Fosu-Mensah would have been frustrated at his lack of first team action. The defender has played only 30 times for the club in four years and had spent time on loan at Crystal Palace and Fulham without setting the world alight. Time to move on.
Leverkusen haven’t paid much to sign the 23-year-old and he’s a versatile addition who should do OK. The Netherlands international isn’t a star but has plenty of time to develop his career and will be a decent squad option.
Julien Laurens reacts to Moussa Dembele signing for Atletico Madrid and how will improve Diego Simeone’s attack.
Lyon grade: C
Atletico Madrid grade: B+
On first glance, letting a player who has scored 44 goals over the past two seasons go out on loan doesn’t seem smart. But something is clearly wrong with Dembele’s form as his one goal in 16 games this season attests. Lyon could bank as much as €33.5m (plus €5m add-ons) if Atletico choose to sign him permanently and they have already lined up Islam Slimani to replace him, but they wouldn’t have wanted to let him go.
Atletico offloaded Diego Costa to free up some space and they could hardly have got a better striking option on loan. Dembele has shown he can perform at the highest level and, at 24, has plenty of room to develop. A loan fee of €1.5m isn’t much to pay and even the €33.5m option in the summer is less than it would have been a year ago. A good move for minimal risk.
West Ham: D
Haller moved to the London Stadium in summer 2019 for a club-record £35m, but it looked an expensive move at the time and he hasn’t hit the heights expected of him since. With 14 goals in 50 appearances in all competitions, Haller’s move wasn’t a colossal failure but the Hammers opted to cut their losses and take a £15m hit while someone was still interested in him.
Ajax don’t usually spend this kind of cash and it’s notable that the €22.5m is the most ever paid for a player coming into the Eredivisie. The 26-year-old played under current Ajax manager Erik ten Hag at Utrecht — where he scored 51 goals in 98 games before moving to Frankfurt — so he can definitely succeed. With injuries to Lassina Traore, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Brian Brobbey, Haller is a great option who will settle quickly.
Man United: B
With only a handful of games under his belt for the Italian side, the October announcement that Diallo would move to Man United came as quite a shock. Atalanta brought the 18-year-old through their youth ranks and clearly rated him highly, but an offer of €21m, with another €20m possible in add-ons, was too good to refuse. It’s possible they could have held out for another few years to see how he develops, but nobody would begrudge them taking the money in the current climate.
United are taking a gamble but their transfer policy is geared toward young players and they landed one of the most exciting wingers around. It would be a surprise if Diallo went straight into the first team, but they did well to hold off competition for a player they have tracked for a year after he impressed in the UEFA Youth League. It’s a lot of money, but at least half the outlay is based on performance.
– Karlsen: What does the scouting world make of Diallo?
Schalke are a mess and need all the help they can get after a winless run of 13 games in the first half of the Bundesliga. Bringing back a former player is a good start, while handing him the captaincy despite the fact he’s only on loan for the rest of the season is a clear sign something isn’t right. He will want to impress and can certainly help them.
Arsenal are taking a bit of a gamble on the fitness of Kieran Tierney. The Scotland defender has been excellent this season, but one injury and the Gunners may have an issue without Kolasinac. Left-back options would then be Bukayo Saka, who is better used further up the pitch, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who is more comfortable on the right or in midfield. Kolasinac was clearly frustrated about his lack of playing time (and probably also with his friend Mesut Ozil being frozen out), but letting him go in a season with more injuries than most could prove costly.
FC Salzburg: B
RB Leipzig: A
The relationship between the two Red Bull-owned clubs made negotiations here pretty simple, as it’s a well-worn path for players. It’s possible that Salzburg may have been able to get more money for the Hungary midfielder, but they will bank the cash and move on to developing their next young talent.
Szoboszlai had courted attention from some massive clubs, including Arsenal, Milan, Bayern and Real Madrid. So Leipzig did incredibly well to persuade the 20-year-old that he should continue his development in Germany. It’s probably the perfect club for him, as the style of play is similar to that of Salzburg and the Bundesliga has a reputation for enhancing the skills of young players. Expect to hear a lot more about Szoboszlai in the coming years.
€8m (£6m, $9.75m)
Partizan Belgrade: C+
Man City: B-
Partizan took the unusual step of announcing the deal with Manchester City in October without City actually confirming anything, so there remains an element of doubt over this one. The 18-year-old winger is clearly highly rated by the Serbian club he joined as a 9-year-old, as he made the breakthrough into the first XI this year after moving through the youth teams. Partizan will bank the €8m plus add-ons but may regret letting Stevanovic go so early in his career.
City’s scouts have seen something in the teenager, though it’s likely Stevanovic heads out on loan (potentially back to Partizan) for the rest of the season. While he cites Cristiano Ronaldo as his role model for style of play, he’s still far too inexperienced to make a dent in City’s first-team squad. They did well to beat off a reported 15 clubs — including Manchester United, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Chelsea — for his signature, but he’s clearly one for the future.