15 January 2019, by: Zach Lowy

The Best January Transfer Deals So Far

We’re halfway through the January transfer window, and although there is still plenty of time for more consequential deals to be completed, we’ve already seen several teams make big-time acquisitions. Here are BET Central’s top four January signings so far:

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Mattia Caldara to Atalanta

Three years ago, just as the general footballing world was beginning to turn their attention to Gian Piero Gasperini’s high-flying Atalanta team, Italy’s big hitters launched a shopping spree in Bergamo. The first to depart was Roberto Gagliardini, who joined Stefano Pioli’s lowly Inter side for €28 million. The second was Mattia Caldara, who signed for league leaders Juventus for an initial fee of €15 million, rising to €25 million.

Unlike Gagliardini, who had spent the past 15 years developing alongside Caldara in Atalanta’s academy, Caldara didn’t join his buying club immediately – he never even played a minute for them. After spending the next 18 months on loan at Atalanta, Caldara was used as a makeweight in a swap deal for Leonardo Bonucci, who had arrived at Milan just a year prior.

Milan had broken their transfer record (€42 million) to sign Bonucci from Juventus in 2017, but they gifted him back to La Vecchia Signora a year later, receiving Caldara on a permanent deal and Gonzalo Higuaín on loan in exchange. The idea was clear: pair two of Italy’s most promising centre backs together — Alessandro Romagnoli and Caldara — and build the future of the Azzurri and the Rossoneri defence.

Alas, if only it could’ve been that simple. Caldara only started twice for Milan before returning to Atalanta on loan for the next 18 months, a loan in which Milan will pay a fair amount of Caldara’s wages. Atalanta retains an option to buy for €15 million — which would present a loss of €20 million on the fee that Milan paid Juventus 17 months prior.

Caldara cost Milan €8.45 million per match and nearly €110,000 per minute played but never made his mark at the club. To replace him, Milan brought in Denmark captain Simon Kjaer from Sevilla, who cut his loan spell at Atalanta short after being used sparingly under Gasperini.

Best case scenario: Caldara stays fit and wins back his starting spot, benching Berat Djimsiti in the back three. Worst case scenario: the physical damage from Caldara’s successive ACL tear and Achilles injury is irreversible, and Atalanta decide not to buy a player for whom they weren’t even paying all of his wages. Either way, it’s a shrewd piece of business from Giovanni Sartori and Gabriele Zamagna, one that could allow them to secure top four again and mount a Cinderella Story in the Champions League.

ALSO FROM ZACH LOWY: THE 5 WORST TRANSFER DEALS OF THE DECADE

Erling Haaland to Borussia Dortmund

As the top scorer in Europe, all eyes were on 19-year-old Erling Haaland to see where he would end up next after shooting himself to stardom at Red Bull Salzburg. The likes of Manchester United, RB Leipzig and Juventus were interested in the Norwegian forward, but it was Borussia Dortmund who won the race for him, paying the teenager’s measly €20 million release clause and tying him to a contract until 2024. Sporting director Michael Zorc and CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke went against club policy by including a £51 million release clause in his contract, while also giving him a hefty salary of £130,000-a-week.

It’s easy to see why certain teams refused to work with superagent Mino Raiola on a deal for the youngster, but it’s also easy to see why the biggest breakout star of the season chose a move to North Rhine-Westphalia over more glamorous destinations. There’s no guarantee that Haaland would’ve beaten out Yussuf Poulsen or Gonzalo Higuaín for a starting spot, and Manchester United has been a graveyard for several young talents recently. In contrast, Dortmund have a dire need for a centre forward to lead the line in Lucien Favre’s 3-4-2-1, and Haaland can be just the right medicine.

He won’t have anywhere near the same kind of spotlight attached to a move to United or Juventus, and he’ll be allowed to have a few bad games without having his reputation obliterated on social media. Few clubs have done a better job of moulding raw young talents into elite centre forwards than Dortmund, and Haaland was a lot further along in his development than both Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang when they made the move to Germany.

Dortmund have invested an incredible amount of money to bring him to the club – around €100 million when taking into account Raiola’s commission and other external fees, per German outlet Kicker – but if he ends up providing the firepower to pip Leipzig, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and Bayern Munich to the title, he’ll be well worth the outlay.

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Diego Demme to Napoli

Even in today’s cynical footballing landscape, there is still some room for romance. That was the case with Diego Demme, who joined Napoli for a reported fee of €12 million this month. Demme’s father, Enzo, supports Napoli and even named his son after Maradona for his heroics at the San Paolo. What’s more, Demme’s footballing idol is Gennaro Gattuso, who currently manages Napoli.

Demme is currently in the prime of his career at 28, and his deal was set to expire in 2021. RB Leipzig tends to sell off their veteran players rather than giving them comfortable renewal packages, so selling him before he’s due for a big payday makes financial sense for the Bundesliga leaders. That said, this could have negative repercussions for Julian Nagelsmann’s side, who are looking to win their first ever league title as well as make noise in the Champions League knockout round.

Demme has been a guaranteed starter in Nagelsmann’s 4-2-2-2, and apart from Poulsen, he’s the only player who has stuck with the club since their days in the third division. Leipzig will miss Demme, but they’ll be hoping that Kevin Kampl, Amadou Haidara, Ethan Ampadu, and Tyler Adams, the latter of which recently returned from an injury that had kept him out of action for the entire Hinrunde, will be able to soften the blow.

Between new arrivals, Stanislav Lobotka and Demme, as well as Napoli’s other midfielders — Allan, Fabián Ruíz, Elif Elmas and Piotr Zieliński, Demme is the best equipped to anchor Gattuso’s 4-3-3. Leipzig will receive a sizable return for the €350,000 they paid Paderborn for his services six years ago, while Napoli get a desperately needed holding midfielder who can provide quality immediately, and whose adventure at Napoli has been destined since birth.

ALSO FROM ZACH LOWY: TOP 5 AFRICAN FOOTBALLERS OF THE DECADE

Raúl de Tomás to Espanyol

In truth, this move came six months too late. Espanyol, currently bottom of La Liga with 11 points, have paid the price for failing to replace Borja Iglesias, who left the Pericos in the summer for Real Betis for a fee of €28 million. Although Iglesias scored 17 league goals in 2018/19 to fire the club to Europa League qualification, Espanyol did little to replace him, bringing in the ineffective Jonathan Calleri on loan, who has scored 1 goal in 11 league matches. Only SPAL have scored fewer goals than Espanyol (14) in Europe’s top five leagues, so it’s no surprise that with the threat of relegation imminent, the club doubled their record transfer fee to bring in Raúl de Tomás from Benfica.

Having risen through the ranks of Real Madrid’s academy, de Tomás impressed on loan at relegation battlers Rayo Vallecano, netting 14 goals for the side, who eventually dropped down to the second division. Benfica took notice, signing him for €20 million as their replacement for João Félix, who swapped paths with the Madrileño, going from Lisbon to Madrid for the tune of €126 million.

The issue was, as manager Bruno Lage soon found out, de Tomás isn’t a second striker like Félix, but a target man who can lead the line. With Haris Seferović and Carlos Vinícius ahead of him in the pecking order, de Tomás never got the chance to play in his most comfortable position and returned to Spain after scoring just 3 goals in 17 appearances.

Benfica have, at the very least, gotten their money back, selling him for €20 million, €2 million in add-ons, and a 20% sell-on fee. Espanyol, on the other hand, gets a young Spanish forward who has already proven he can provide goals in a relegation scrap. A player who, after a difficult spell in Portugal, will have the chance to prove himself in his most natural position.

ALSO FROM ZACH LOWY: THE BEST AFRICA XI

Raúl de Tomás to Espanyol

Julian Weigl to Benfica

Guido Rodríguez to Real Betis

Victor Camarasa to Deportivo Alavés

Patrick Cutrone to Fiorentina

Munas Dabbur to Hoffenheim

Marcelo Saracchi to Galatasaray

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