Biggest winners and losers from January transfer window
EPL

Biggest winners and losers from January transfer window

Feb 4, 2024

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Another transfer window is officially in the books. Below, theScore picks out the biggest winners and losers from a muted January signing period.

Winners: Jadon Sancho and Kalvin Phillips

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Nobody needed a move more desperately than these two.

An increasingly bitter – and alarmingly public – feud with headstrong manager Erik ten Hag turned Sancho’s Manchester United spell into a nightmare. The English winger, who joined the club for €85 million, had been frozen out of the squad since August before sealing a merciful return to Borussia Dortmund on loan. The beaming smile that accompanied his official unveiling by Dortmund said it all. Sancho, for the first time in months, was happy. He was “home,” surrounded by familiar faces and people who have seen him at his very best, when he was one of the most electrifying young players in world football. He’s made an immediate impact at Dortmund, shaking off the rust after nearly four months on the shelf to instantly become a key player for Edin Terzic.

His compatriot, and fellow Euro 2024 hopeful, was in a similar boat. Phillips’ 2022 transfer to Manchester City was, in no uncertain terms, a disaster. He started just two Premier League matches in 18 months under Pep Guardiola, and new midfield arrivals made any prospect of increased playing time highly unlikely. England manager Gareth Southgate still believes in his abilities, but continuing to rot on the City bench was obviously detrimental to his hopes of playing any role at this summer’s tournament. Along came West Ham United to rescue him. David Moyes will give the 28-year-old every opportunity to play and showcase, for Southgate and any other interested parties, that he’s still capable of performing at a high level.

Loser: Jordan Henderson

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Tail tucked firmly between his legs, Henderson is back in Europe.

By any possible metric, his surprising decision to sign for Al-Ettifaq in the summer backfired spectacularly. Just six months, and a measly 17 appearances, after claiming he was in the Middle East “to stay” and help the Saudi Pro League grow, he hightailed it to Ajax. His family apparently had reservations about his move to the Middle East to begin with, but he charged forward anyway, and, after being one of the sport’s most prominent supporters of the LGBTQ+ community during his time at Liverpool, he torpedoed the goodwill he had built.

And for what?

The midfielder took a significant pay cut to terminate his Al-Ettifaq contract and join the struggling Dutch giants. Because he reportedly backloaded a large amount of his salary, he didn’t even cash in like some of his peers, which always seemed to be the sole motivation in the first place.

Winners: Atletico Madrid

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Half of Europe was tracking Arthur Vermeeren during the January window, with some of the continent’s top sides trying to formulate ways to sign the ascendant 18-year-old either immediately or, more likely, in the summer. In the end, Atletico Madrid beat them all to the punch, landing the prodigious midfielder for what looks like a very modest fee; Vermeeren will reportedly cost €18 million up front, with Royal Antwerp potentially collecting an additional €5 million in bonuses.

Diego Simeone has been craving a deep-lying player who can help rejuvenate his midfield, and the blossoming Belgian, already with extensive first-team experience at Antwerp despite his youth, fits that bill. Vermeeren was handed the start at the first opportunity after joining Atletico, showing that Simeone has no qualms about throwing him into the fire right away. The manager, and the club, think he’s ready right now. While other young players have faltered in the past at Atletico, their newest gem looks set to thrive.

Losers: Napoli

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When navigated properly, the January transfer window can be a turning point in a club’s season. With some nimble moves, teams can either put themselves over the top and ignite a push for silverware or, if they’re struggling, get a timely boost and get back on track.

That’s precisely what Napoli needed. They didn’t get it.

The rudderless Serie A champions, 22 points off the summit this season, failed to land top target Lazar Samardzic, and a potential deal for solid defender Nehuen Perez never materialized. Cyril Ngonge is an intriguing addition up front, but their other signings all come with questions: Leander Dendoncker and Pasquale Mazzocchi, who was sent off on his debut, are little more than depth pieces that don’t move the needle; Hamed Traore still has potential, but he’s recovering from malaria and may not play much of a role at all this season. Worst of all, their best player, Victor Osimhen, appeared to confirm that he’s already planning his eventual exit. Not ideal.

Winners: Benfica

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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Benfica have made a very profitable habit out of scouring the South American market for young talent, signing some of the continent’s most promising players for modest sums, and then flipping them for extravagant fees to clubs across Europe. See: Fernandez, Enzo. Sticking with a similar formula, the Portuguese outfit landed Brazilian striker Marcos Leonardo from Santos and Argentinean winger Benjamin Rollheiser from Estudiantes de La Plata in January. They paid under €30 million combined for the two; the latter arrived on an initial loan that will become permanent in the summer.

Don’t be surprised if one, or both, are on the move to one of Europe’s leading sides in the very near future. Leonardo, in particular, will be in high demand if his scoring exploits from Brazil translate to Europe, with Benfica setting his release clause at €150 million in anticipation of the phone ringing. Perhaps striker-needy Chelsea will come calling again in the summer?

The South American pipeline, in general, came to the fore in January – Paris Saint-Germain spent a combined €40 million to acquire Lucas Beraldo and Gabriel Moscardo from Sao Paulo and Corinthians, respectively – but few teams operate as skillfully as Benfica in that area.

Loser: Karim Benzema

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In what’s quickly becoming a familiar refrain among players who moved to Saudi Arabia in search of bottomless riches, Benzema made his displeasure with his situation at Al-Ittihad very clear. The former Ballon d’Or winner, the Saudi Pro League’s prized summer signing, reportedly went AWOL and returned to Jeddah from the league’s midseason break 17 days late, apparently in the hopes of engineering a transfer back to Europe.

There were rumblings of interest from Lyon, his former team, and Chelsea. Neither amounted to much at all. Al-Ittihad remained adamant that the unsettled striker wouldn’t be sold, which was apparently the impetus for a tense meeting with manager Marcelo Gallardo. And, after all that, here we are. Benzema, unlike Henderson, didn’t get his move. Al-Ittihad retained their biggest star, but his mood and outlook are unlikely to change overnight, if at all. The player is unhappy, the club has a fractured relationship to try and mend, and the league, after wooing so many high-profile names just six months ago, has to try and convince onlookers that, actually, everything is fine and the project remains on course. There are no winners here.

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