Sir Alex Ferguson made two of his best buys in a January sale, but he was right to argue this week that the transfer window just closed was not worth entering.
Six years ago, Ferguson bought Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra for a combined total of £12.5m. They have subsequently become key figures at Manchester United, but back in January 2006 none of this seemed likely. Evra was hauled off on his debut, a 3-1 defeat against a then-impecunious Manchester City, and spent the following season contesting the left-back spot with Gabriel Heinze. Vidic did not establish himself until October 2006. Which is why Ferguson said this week: "I've never seen it work, a player come in January, sign for big money and settle before the start of next season."
A glance at the major signings over the last four Januarys suggests he is largely correct. The travails of Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll are well known. Last year's third-biggest signing, Edin Dzeko, had a woeful spring and, despite a productive start to this season, his form with City remains mixed. David Luiz is settling at Chelsea, but only Aston Villa's Darren Bent and Luis Suarez at Liverpool could be said to have fitted in at their new clubs immediately.
The success of lesser buys was just as patchy. Stéphane Sessègnon is now looking well worth the £6m Sunderland paid Paris St-Germain for him, but it was not until April that he began to show his real form. Another £6m recruit from Ligue 1, Jean Makoun, is now playing in Greece having failed to make an impact at Villa Park.
Previous windows show a similar pattern.Younes Kaboul (Tottenham), Asmir Begovic (Stoke) and Victor Moses (Wigan) are now prospering, but they made little impact in their first half-season in 2010.
The prices in the 2009 window reflected Ferguson's other observation: "To go into the market in January you never get full value, people think you're desperate so ask for more." Thus Robbie Keane, Wilson Palacios (both Spurs) and Wayne Bridge (City) moved for £12m each; none could be said to be a success, and the lengths Arsenal went to to register Andrei Arshavin as January moved into February have reaped scant reward. A year earlier, arguably the worst window signing of all was made, Middlesbrough paying a club record £12m for striker Afonso Alves who had a wretched time on Teesside.
The reasons for these failures are many. Often the new signing has not been playing, either through injury or lack of first-team chances. He will thus take time to gain match fitness. Bridge was a classic example when loaned to West Ham last season.
Others have been moved on because they are out of form, such as Queen's Park Rangers' new striker Djibril Cissé, who has not scored in his last 23 appearances for Lazio. Foreign players take time to adapt to England even with the benefit of a full-pre-season, players as good as Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires began slowly. Arriving mid-season, as Sessègnon and Makoun found last year, is doubly demanding.
There have been successes, notably Jermain Defoe who has moved three times in January, and kept scoring each time.
Mark Hughes will be hoping at least one of his buys can replicate Defoe's efforts at QPR after bringing in six players. Spending £9m on two strikers aged 30 (Cissé) and 31 (Bobby Zamora) and earning big wages smacks of short-termism. Add in the commitment to buy Samba Diakité if Rangers stay up and the club pledged itself to spending £15.6m last month.
While Hughes and Everton's David Moyes look to have done well this January it may be the most successful managers will prove to be not the buyers, but the ones, like Alan Pardew at Newcastle and Blackburn's Steve Kean, who managed to avoid being sellers.
For the full list of January moves, go to independent.co.uk/football
January sales: Biggest transfers
Fernando Torres, Liverpool to Chelsea, £50m
Andy Carroll, Newcastle to L'pool, £35m
Edin Dzeko, Wolfsburg to Manchester City, £27m
David Luiz, Benfica to Chelsea, £26m
Darren Bent, Sunderland to Villa, £18m (rising to £24m)
Luis Suarez, Ajax to Liverpool, £23m
Chris Smalling, Fulham to Man U, £10m
Adam Johnson, M'bro to Man C, £6m
Scott McDonald, Celtic to M'bro £3.6m
Younes Kaboul, Portsmouth to Tottenham, £5m
Asmir Begovic, Portsmouth to Stoke City, £3.5m
Victor Moses, Palace to Wigan, £2.5m
Nigel de Jong, Hamburg to Man C, £17m
Andrei Arshavin, Zenit to Arsenal, £15m
Jermain Defoe, Portsmouth to Spurs, £15.7m
Craig Bellamy, West Ham to Man C, £14m
Robbie Keane, Liverpool to Spurs, £12m
Wayne Bridge Chelsea to Man C, £12m
Wilson Palacios, Wigan to Spurs, £12m
Javier Mascherano, West Ham to Liverpool, £18m
Nicolas Anelka, Bolton to Chelsea, £15m
Afonso Alves, Heerenveen to M'bro, £12m
Alan Hutton, Rangers to Spurs, £9m
Jonathan Woodgate, M'bro to Spurs, £8m
Martin Skrtel, Zenit to Liverpool, £6.5m
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