The Football League's winners and losers in the January transfer window
For some it’s about survival, keeping the family intact, writes Paul Binning. For others it’s about excitement and anticipation. For many it’s just about watching an ever-so-slightly barmy white-haired Scotsman work himself up into a frenzy over a low-value bid for a Romanian international from a small, bottom-of-the-table club from the North West!
I won’t go into the delusional merits or otherwise of the major television event that is Transfer Deadline Day (TDD) – Gavin Barber surpassed himself finely on that score earlier in the week – so instead this is a more sobering look, after a thoughtful pause, on who the big winners and losers were once Big Ben tolled 11 times on Tuesday evening.
The January transfer window is much maligned and the impact it has on clubs and players is often negative. For sides in the promotion hunt it’s often seen as a key sign of their board’s ambition as to whether they bolster their squads or gamble by sticking and leaving themselves exposed with the current squad.
In the Championship there was plenty of ambition shown by some, with Southampton succeeding where Leicester failed by sealing a big money move for Doncaster goal-getter Billy Sharp and, perhaps more importantly, holding onto star players of the likes of Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana.
West Ham also succeeded where Leicester failed (there’s a worrying trend here for City) by signing Bristol City’s Nicky Maynard, adding to the plentiful attacking options in East London which had already been boosted earlier in the day when Ricardo Vaz Te left Oakwell after just six months to be reunited with ex-boss Sam Allardyce.
The headline signing for the Hammers though – as far as the national, Premier League obsessed media was concerned – was Manchester United’s enfant terrible Ravel Morrison. The stories about this young tearaway have made him a bit of a legend before he’s managed even five hours on a football pitch at first-team level. Many speculated that swapping Manchester for East London is not necessarily the best socio-move for a troubled youngster but one thing is for sure – if he’s as good as he claims he is then the Hammers will be the team to watch in the second half of this season – especially if they continue to defend as badly as they were whilst the ink was drying on these deals.
Amongst the other contenders Cardiff held onto star man Peter Whittingham but failed to strengthen their squad significantly, despite a highly ambitious matching of Bolton’s £3m offer for Watford’s Marvin Sordell and two failed bids for wingers, Brighton’s Craig Noone and Matty Phillips of Blackpool. A winger was signed, teenager Kadeem Harris from Wycombe, but after 60 matches at the end of a gruelling season, the Welsh club may look back on this moment as the big missed opportunity.
Birmingham will hope their march up the table won’t stall after losing two more of their highest-earners to the Premier League, Liam Ridgewell’s departure to midlands rivals West Brom particularly galling, whilst Reading, Blackpool and Middlesbrough all added forward power prior to Tuesday’s shenanigans.
The gap between top and bottom was placed into glaring focus by the fact that far from trying to sign a saviour, the weakest teams appeared to become weaker. Three of the division’s top strikers left the depths of the division for the top in January and Lukas Jutkiewicz’s move to Teeside a few weeks ago appear to have sealed the fate of the Sky Blues. His goals have been the one shining light in Coventry’s bizarre and ever-suffering season, whilst Doncaster fans would surely have swapped all of the slightly bizarre high-profile short-term deals to retain Billy Sharp’s services. Nearly half of their paltry 22 goals have come via Sharp’s keen nose for goal and a new hero will need to be found if they are to claw back the five point gap that already exists.
Bristol City seem better placed than those two clubs to cope without their star striker and the loan signing of Chris Wood earlier in the month was made under the assumption Maynard would be departing, whilst last season’s top scorer, Brett Pitman, remains unable to break into the side.
Nottingham Forest’s troubles have been extensively covered previously but whilst Wes Morgan is not the match-winner some of those mentioned above might potentially be, the captain’s move to rivals Leicester, after more than 350 games for his hometown club, mean analogies with Costa Concordia are both obvious and understandable. Danny Higginbotham’s signing looks shrewd and will allay some fears but the much needed knight on a white horse failed to materialise as an attacking option and their chances of survival look to rest on the goal scoring capability of Ishmael Miller and Marcus Tudgay, while Lewis McGugan desperately needs to rediscover his best form.
Just above the current set of strugglers, Watford will miss Sordell but will be delighted to have held onto Adrian Mariappa until the summer at least, whilst Peterborough’s sale of Ryan Bennett caught the eye, partly as it caused outspoken Chairman Darragh MacAnthony to take to Twitter to defend the club’s transfer policy in typically bullish and emotional fashion. However following the 3-0 reverse at home to Portsmouth on Saturday, Posh fans will be looking very nervously over their shoulders.
Further down the football league ladder keeping hold of key members of the squad is far more of a concern than adding exciting names and the loan transfer window ‘slamming shut’ (I guess Jim White won’t be on that night) is likely to involve far more activity for many of the pyramid’s bottom 48 sides.
In League One much of the national focus was on Huddersfield‘s goal scoring phenomenon Jordan Rhodes, but despite alleged interest from Arsenal and a string of other Premier League clubs, Rhodes will be terrorising defences up and down the country from Exeter to Scunthorpe for another few months at least and could make the difference for the Terriers, who continued to spend big with a deal worth upto £1m for a pair of Falkirk’s young stars.
Following their recent Russian takeover, Bournemouth were the biggest movers and the club-record signing of Matt Tubbs – the goal machine who has helped Crawley rise from nowhere to the brink of League One – was particularly ambitious but was only one of seven new faces to arrive in Boscombe during January.
Former England international, and title-winner with Manchester United, Alan Smith will be the man in the spotlight wherever Milton Keynes travel and, if he can stay fit, could be pivotal to a successful play-off challenge.
Runaway leaders Charlton had already added Danny Haynes and Leon Cort to their squad since the New Year and seem to be preparing for life back in the Championship and were happy focusing on their home draw with Bury instead of chasing shadows around the country, whilst Sheffield Wednesday captured a headline name in John Bostock, who will finally be hoping to make his mark on the pitch for the Owls and eradicate the memory of what he’s best known for – the tribunal fee row between Crystal Palace and Spurs when he was just 16.
At the bottom Scunthorpe appeared the most active, bringing in three players including the man-mountain Jon Parkin from Cardiff, and are clearly desperate to avoid a second consecutive drop.
How Crawley react to losing a key player such as Tubbs will be key to the League Two promotion race. They’ve spent two years battering and buying their way wherever they want to go and aren’t used to being the smaller fish, with Tubbs’ goals being such an important aspect of their play. Their ambition showed few other signs of slowing however and Karl Hawley and Arsenal loanee Sanchez Watt will be looking to combine and power the Red Devils up yet another division.
Oxford signed former Manchester United youngster Mark Wilson from Doncaster and will be hoping he has similar success at the Kassam stadium as he achieved in Yorkshire, where he ended up in the Championship.
Paolo Di Canio made a handful of new signings to bolster his ever-more impressive Swindon squad whilst Southend also added a clutch of new faces in their bid for promotion, with once-prolific ex-Torquay striker Elliott Benyon potentially key to their hopes.
Throughout League Two there have been plenty of moves in January but it’s often been a case of extending loans or signing out-of-contract players on short-term deals. Transfer fees are almost a thing of the past bar a handful of top players and richer clubs, and the general excitement of TDD largely passes by.
Just one non-move to note from beneath the Football League as it involves a player seemingly destined to feature somewhere amongst our brethren next season is Jamie Vardy of Fleetwood, who reportedly – remarkably – turned down bids of up to £1m for the man who has been ripping through defences across the non-league scene for the past five seasons.
One final, more general consideration. Surely never again should matches be scheduled for the evening of TDD for the sake of all involved. How many managers had their plans disrupted during the day as news filtered through from Chairmen and Chief Executives that bids had been accepted for a player? I’m sure some were pencilled into the team as late as 6pm, as the players were arriving at the grounds before being pulled aside and told of interest elsewhere.
What of those players who had moves collapse earlier in the day, could any of them really be expected to focus on the game in hand just a few hours later? The aforementioned Sordell would certainly have been in manager Sean Dyche’s plans whilst he was musing on his starting XI munching on his Weetabix (I bet he has three!) on Tuesday morning. Across the country thick red lines would have been put through names all afternoon as players sped away from training grounds in their 4×4’s and convertibles.
Such emphasis is now placed on this final day of January that it must be the priority of players, agents and managers alike. Even though managers are rarely at the centre of deals these days, they still have involvement in persuading players to join and shouldn’t have to plan and motivate their charges with so much going on above all of their heads.
Anyway, I can’t imagine Sky ever allowing Premier League games to be played at the same time again. The drama and razzmatazz they generate for these occasions was subdued not just by the fact that the number of £50 notes swilling around were in shorter supply than previous years, but because their own talismanic front-man was held back until 22:15 before becoming the main feature.
Jim White’s own transfer value fell dramatically without the hours and hours of insatiable coverage their viewers are normally afforded so it won’t happen again. You heard it here first!