Imagine a world in which the stock market didn’t function on a daily basis. Instead, traders would be restricted to two periods per year in which they could trade up to improve their financial fortunes, one of which would be shorter and in the midst of the thickest time of competition. What would ensue would certainly be madness on an unprecedented level, no? The pursuit of fortune and prestige quite often causes mankind to descend into fits of lunacy, after all.
The prescribed scenario won’t be taking place for all to see at any point in the near future, but at this very moment the closest thing to it is under way. Precious moments tick away in the winter transfer window, with a well-placed weekend making sure this year that silly season will stretch beyond the confines of January. Suffice it to say that a quick shout out to all involved with bringing the Gregorian calendar to where it is today for securing a bonus 48 hours of insanity this time around.
What the winter window doesn’t offer in overall spending – dwarfed by the summer session in this area – it more than makes up for in desperation and drama. The need or desire to reinforce midseason sends clubs down some interesting paths, splashing the cash to find that one piece to complete the puzzle in the hunt for glory. No shortage of famous names have found themselves swapping one shirt for another with half of the campaign still to go. A fair few found themselves on the way to the promised land – others were destined for the ignominy of being labeled a high-priced flop.
Twice already in the current window have new purchases cracked into the top 15 most expensive winter transfers of all time. All but one of those making the list occurred in the past six years. Without further adieu, following are the 15 costliest moves in the first month of a new year that football has ever witnessed.
15 Kevin De Bruyne – Chelsea to Wolfsburgfor €22 Million
Is Kevin De Bruyne the Robbie Keane of a new age? Certainly he isn’t from a standpoint of their characteristics on the pitch, but the Belgian is – somewhat – transfer-wise. Keane made headlines for leaving Tottenham in the summer of 2008 for Liverpool, only to be sold back to the North London side a few months later. De Bruyne’s story was slightly different, but somewhat reminiscent. The attacking midfielder joined Chelsea in January 2012, but spent the next 18 months on loan at Genk and Werder Bremen. Returning to Stamford Bridge after an excellent season with the latter, De Bruyne was meant to come good in a Chelsea shirt and become a regular contributor. It didn’t happen. After just 131 minutes of Premier League football, he was shipped off to Wolfsburg for €22 million last January. The Blues turned a €14 million profit on a player who barely featured for them, and De Bruyne has gone on to become the star of the show for Die Wolfe.
14 Clarence Seedorf – Real Madrid to Inter for €24.5 Million
Given his elegance and permanent look of graceful wisdom, it’s hard to believe Clarence Seedorf was ever a young man. Well, spoiler alert – he was. The Dutchman was only 20 when he joined Real Madrid in 1996, but quickly became an integral part of the side nonetheless. The arrival of Guus Hiddink at the helm at the Santiago Bernabeu signaled the end of his fruitful run in the Spanish capital, however. On Christmas Eve 1999, a deal sending Seedorf back to Serie A – where he had previously turned out for Sampdoria – with Inter was confirmed. The Nerazzurri shelled out some €24.5 million for the pleasure of having the Dutchman in their ranks. It was at San Siro that the classy midfielder would truly become a legend, but not with Inter. Seedorf was sent to AC Milan two-and-a-half years later in exchange for Francesco Coco and set out stuffing his bag with silverware. Twice he won the Scudetto with the Rossoneri, also winning the Champions League on two occasions and laying claim to a Coppa Italia crown.
13 T11. Nemanja Matic– Benfica to Chelsea for €25 Million
Back in January 2011, Chelsea gave up on Nemanja Matic. Or so it seemed. The Serbian made only two Premier League appearances after arriving from MFK Kosice in August 2009, also spending a season on loan at satellite club Vitesse. Benfica gladly took him on permanently as part of the deal that sent David Luiz to Stamford Bridge, and it was at the Estadio da Luz that Matic came of age, after seeing out his remaining six months at Vitesse. Moved from an advanced role in midfield to a more recessed, defensive position by Jorge Jesus, Matic began to show his quality in abundance. He thrived in the Primeira Liga and Europa League with Benfica, beginning to re-enter the spotlight and garnering interest from around the continent. But as fate would have it, Matic was destined to find himself back in a familiar place – and this time would succeed. Chelsea wrote a hefty €25 million check to recall their former player to west London in January 2014 to fill a glaring need for a technically gifted, physical midfielder. Matic has gone from strength to strength since, winning plaudits with regularity and making a case for himself as one of the best in the business in his role.
12 T11. Enzo Perez – Benfica to Valencia for €25 Million
Just a few short weeks ago, Enzo Perez forced himself into this discussion. Or rather, Valencia forced the Argentine into it by dangling €25 million in front of Benfica, a club well accustomed to cashing in on players at premium prices. The riches of new Valencia owner Peter Lim have enabled the previously cash-strapped outfit to begin competing for expensive commodities again, Perez standing as the second most expensive purchase in club history – after the complicated third-party acquisition of Rodrigo made by Lim. Perez was a crucial part of the Benfica side that accomplished the domestic treble last season under Jorge Jesus, helping lead the Portuguese giants to a second straight Europa League final as well. He followed this up by impressing for Argentina at the World Cup after Angel Di Maria was ruled out due to injury, with Benfica able to keep hold of him through the summer window. That all changed on January 2nd when his move to Valencia was made official – Perez has so far made five appearances across al competitions for Los Che, bagging his first assist for the club at the weekend against Sevilla.
11 T11. Yohan Cabaye – Newcastle to Paris Saint-Germain for €25 Million
For quite a while, Alan Pardew seemed to be uneasily grinning to the media as other clubs eyed up his star man in Cabaye and the Frenchman admitted he missed Champions League football. The former Newcastle boss was able to lock the midfielder away from Arsenal in the summer of 2013 only at his personal insistence. Ultimately, the shoe was bound to drop as the Magpies seemed to be consistently falling short of providing Cabaye with the proper platform to meet his ambitions. Paris Saint-Germain would provide the killer blow, bringing the former Lille star back to his homeland with a successful €25 million bid that simultaneously upgraded the Ligue 1 giants’ midfield and crushed Newcastle’s hopes. The Toon lost 11 of their remaining 15 games following Cabaye’s departure to the Parc des Princes as PSG cruised to the French title without much resistance. The Frenchman continues to find himself lagging behind Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi in the pecking order for Les Parisiens, such is the embarrassment of riches PSG have at their disposal at present.
10 Luis Suarez – Ajax to Liverpool for €26.5 Million
Even before he had arrived at Anfield from Ajax in January 2011, the world at large was all too aware of the antics he’s become famous for. After all, the World Cup in South Africa the previous summer was the staging ground for potentially his most infamous transgression. Uruguay progressed to the semi-finals due in no small part to the striker’s flagrant handball that denied Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah the winner in the previous round, with Asamoah Gyan famously missing the ensuing penalty. When he returned to club football, a vicious bite on PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal in November saw Suarez incur a seven-game ban from the Dutch football authorities. He would never play for Ajax again. Liverpool moved in with a €26.5 million offer and got their man, who would go on to have a rather eventful career on Merseyside that included the good, bad and ugly. For a short time, the prolific Uruguayan stood as Liverpool’s club record signing, only to be eclipsed by a man who had far less success in a Reds shirt – but more on that later.
9 David Luiz – Benfica to Chelsea for €27 Million
It would be a few years before David Luiz became the most expensive defender in football history, but the distinctive Brazilian found his way into other good company years before. The formative years of his career were fraught with difficulty, a teenage Luiz pushed out of Sao Paolo and nearly sent packing from Vitoria for lackluster displays in midfield. Switching to center back, Luiz found his way to Europe with Benfica and broke through as a key player after taking some time to find his feet thousands of miles away from the nation of his birth. Jorge Jesus developed him into a star at the Estadio da Luz and Chelsea took notice, sparing no expense to take him to Stamford Bridge with a €27 million offer in January 2011. Nemanja Matic was of course used as collateral, later fetching Benfica a pretty penny himself as Luiz developed a reputation for being erratic at Chelsea. The two wouldn’t spend much time together in west London – just six months – as Luiz was sold for a near-unreasonable fee to Paris Saint-Germain last summer.
8 Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – Ajax to Real Madrid for €27 Million
Is there a better possible nickname for a striker than "The Hunter?" In short, there isn’t – so don’t go looking for one. Huntelaar stalked opposing defenses and goalkeepers as his prey during his time at Ajax, gaining a reputation as a lethal finisher with 76 goals in 92 Eredivisie appearances for the Dutch giants. This also made him look a potential shiny new toy to top clubs around Europe. And when there’s an expensive new gadget to be had in the shop window, Real Madrid are never far behind. Los Merengues struck in January 2009, swooping in to tie up a €27 million deal for Huntelaar. Instead of flourishing, the Dutchman looked like a square peg being jammed into a round hole at the Santiago Bernabeu. Huntelaar’s fox-in-the-box poacher style didn’t quite fit Real Madrid’s football philosophy, and as such he wasn’t long for the Spanish capital. He managed eight league goals but was shipped off to AC Milan come summer at a €12 million loss. Huntelaar looked similarly out of place at San Siro, only hitting his stride once more after moving to Schalke in 2010.
7 Wilfried Bony – Swansea to Manchester City for €32.3 Million
Alongside Enzo Perez, Bony is the second man to break into the top 15 most expensive winter transfers in the current window. Manchester City, already sitting on a strike force consisting of Segio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, and Stevan Jovetic, appear to have been under the impression this month that they simply didn’t have enough firepower in the ranks. Bony was eyed with envy by clubs all over Europe ever since he joined Swansea in summer 2013 and immediately hit the ground running with 17 goals and five assists in his first Premier League campaign. An absolute powerhouse with technical skills to match, it seemed only a matter of time before he’d be pried away from his former Welsh employers. Nine more goals in the English top flight for the Swans through January of this term were all City needed to pull the trigger, making Swansea €32.3 million richer to part ways with their star striker. The Citizens can now count on four strikers of considerable ability as they chase a second straight domestic title – how enviable, cry their rivals.
6 Willian – Shakhtar Donetsk to Anzhi Makhachkala for €35 Million
In a former life, Willian was a member of the brilliant Brazilian contingent at Shakhtar Donetsk that continues to give the Ukrainian outfit a distinct South American flavor. Now, it seems like an age ago – even though it really wasn’t at all. Willian joined Shakhtar as a raw 19-year-old from Corinthians and spent five-and-a-half years starring for the Ukrainian heavyweights before drawing the attention of a rather doomed suitor. The Brazilian was one of a number of expensive purchases made by Anzhi Makhachkala as the ambitious Dagestan club looked to covet some of football’s top talents. Willian came at a cost of €35 million in January 2013, but would only ever make 11 Russian Premier League appearances for his new club. Anzhi’s project quickly imploded as financial support was withdrawn, and just over six months after Willian’s purchase, all assets of value were put on the market. Chelsea moved in with a €35.5 million bid and Anzhi quickly accepted, bringing a close to the Brazilian’s brief time with a side already fading into obscurity.
5 Edin Dzeko – Wolfsburg to Manchester City for €37 Million
Wilfried Bony may now be gunning for Dzeko’s dwindling share of minutes at City, but the Bosnian still has him beaten for winter transfer fee. Take that, Wilfried. As a youngster Dzeko appeared headed for an early end to his football career, such were his unimpressive displays as a midfielder. He was soon converted to a striker and began to show his potential, however, earning a move to Wolfsburg and proceeding to tear Bundesliga defenses to pieces in the coming years. Dzeko was unstoppable in the penalty area for Die Wolfe and fired the side to an unlikely Bundesliga title in 2008-09 on the back of 26 goals. Another 22 the next term only increased the brightness of the spotlight on the Bosnia international, who would only play another half-season for Wolfsburg – scoring 10 more times for the club. Manchester City splashed out €37 million to bring him into the camp, and Dzeko rewarded the Citizens by scoring some crucial goals en route to a pair of Premier League crowns. It remains to be seen what will come of Dzeko now that Bony has arrived at the Etihad, as the Bosnian has already seen his playing time greatly curtailed by competition and injury this season.
4 Lucas Moura – Sao Paolo to Paris Saint-Germain for €40 Million
Brazilian sensations are nothing new, and Lucas Moura was one of the latest in a long line of hyped young stars to emerge from the South American bastion of football. Speculation raged for quite a while about where the former Sao Paulo man would end up when he made the jump to Europe. Ex-Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson conceded that he was personally interested in the youngster, which appeared to point towards Old Trafford as a highly possible destination. Inter too were reported to be hot on the Brazilian’s trail. Lucas, however, was instead destined for big-spending Paris Saint-Germain. In August 2012, PSG announced the capture of the Brazil international – but noted that he wouldn’t arrive for a few months yet. The move for €40 million was completed in January 2013 and Lucas soon made his debut for Les Parisiens, winning the Ligue 1 title in the close season. After some initial difficulties, Lucas has come on leaps and bounds of later at PSG, winning a regular starting role this season and bagging seven goals and two assists to date.
3 Andy Carroll – Newcastle to Liverpool for €41 million
Remember how Luis Suarez was Liverpool’s record signing for a few hours? Indeed, it was Andy Carroll who brought about a swift end to the Uruguayan’s reign. The Reds wanted him badly. So badly, that they committed one of what’s considered the worst moves on the transfer market of all-time in order to get him. By January 2011, Carroll had firmly established himself at Newcastle, scoring with regularity in the top flight after firing the Magpies to promotion the year before. Still, the powerful striker had scored only 14 Premier League goals in his career at that point, as promising as he looked. Liverpool saw fit to bet the farm on Carroll and threw €41 million at Newcastle to sign him just before the transfer window slammed shut, having officially captured Suarez earlier in the day. An injured Carroll would have to wait over a month to make his debut – going on to be a massive flop. He would score just six Premier League goals for Liverpool and eventually leave for West Ham after an initial loan spell. British premium, anyone?
2 Juan Mata – Chelsea to Manchester United for €44.73 Million
He was Chelsea’s reigning player of the year, adored by the fans and respected above all others by his teammates. But Jose Mourinho has never been one for sentimentality – unless it’s his sentiments at stake, of course – and wasn’t about to accept Mata as one of his own just because everyone else around him did. Upon returning to Stamford Bridge for the 2013-14 season, Mourinho stuck the Spaniard on the bench with regularity in favor of Oscar, unimpressed with Mata’s lack of defensive contribution and near-complete focus on the finesse side of the game. Mata wouldn’t stick around to be Mourinho’s whipping boy for long. As soon as January rolled around he was on the move, Manchester United jumping at the opportunity to sign him in the midst of a wretched campaign for €45 million. Despite six goals and seven assists in his first few months at United, Mata could do little to reverse the rot United had undergone with David Moyes at the helm. Louis van Gaal has brought better fortunes to Old Trafford this term but Mata’s career remains in flux to some degree, with the Dutchman yet to settle on a tactical set-up that takes full advantage of the Spaniard’s qualities.
1 Fernando Torres – Liverpool to Chelsea for €58.5 Million
As a Liverpool player, Fernando Torres was feared. His pace, technical ability and lethal finishing left defenders quaking in their boots, awaiting nearly inevitable goals at their expense. But he always had a particular weakness – Torres was somewhat injury prone, and during his time at Anfield had missed chunks of time sitting on the treatment table. To Chelsea, it didn’t matter. Torres was one of the best around, a deadly striker that needed to be captured at all costs. In January 2011, the Blues got their ill-fated wish. The Spaniard was signed for a mind-boggling €58.5 million on deadline day, and the once brilliant Torres who lit up Anfield ceased to be seen again. A reportedly slapdash medical had left Chelsea in unawares about Torres’ imperfect physical state, and he never looked right at Stamford Bridge. Torres scored just once in his debut half-season with Chelsea and became a running joke down the years in west London, more renowned for shocking misses and a complete lack of confidence than devastating play spearheading the attack. This month he finally made his way home to Atletico Madrid and has started out on the right foot – scoring three times against Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Copa del Rey. Can the magic of the Vicente Calderon spur on a player long regarded as past it to one last glorious push?