Top 10 Transfers of the January Window 2021

By Zach Lowy

It has been one of the quietest January transfer windows in recent history. Now more than ever, teams are feeling the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, with only three players arriving for transfer fees north of €20 million this month (Sébastien Haller, Dominik Szoboszlai and Krépin Diatta). Nevertheless, there are plenty of teams that have made cunning moves in January that have the potential to change their seasons. BET Central takes a look at the 10 (unranked) best transfers of the January window.

Papu Gómez to Sevilla

As Felix Brych blew the final whistle at the RheinEnergieStadion, a sense of relief and euphoria enveloped the Sevilla players. The Andalusian side had just won a record sixth Europa League trophy, defeating CFR Cluj, Roma, Wolves, Inter, and Manchester United in the process. There must have been a feeling of bittersweetness, too; Éver Banega had played his final match for the club before jetting off to Saudi Arabia. Banega, who had won the 2015 and 2016 editions of the trophy before departing for Inter Milan on a free transfer, and who returned a year later and served as the team’s midfield metronome under five different managers, had announced his decision to join Al Shabab on a free transfer upon the end of the tournament.

To replace the diminutive midfielder, Sevilla splurged €13.5 million to purchase Óscar Rodríguez from Real Madrid, whilst also bringing back ex-captain Ivan Rakitić from Barcelona for a nominal fee of €1.5 million. However, with both players struggling to fill the Argentine’s vacancy, Sevilla sporting director Monchi turned his sights to Alejandro Darío “Papu” Gómez from Atalanta.

Born four months before Banega, Papu and Banega began playing just a short drive away from each other at Arsenal de Sarandí and Boca Juniors, respectively. However, whilst Banega joined Valencia as a teenager, Papu would have to wait until he was just two weeks away from his 33rd birthday before making the move to Spain. The move comes after a legendary spell at Atalanta followed which saw Papu lead the club to their first-ever appearance in the UEFA Champions League, set the single-season record for assists in a Serie A season (16), and shepherd La Dea into the quarterfinals of the Champions League. However, after coming to blows with manager Gian Piero Gasperini, Papu put in a transfer request in December.

Sensing a unique market opportunity, Monchi pounced and completed the purchase of Papu for €5 million + €3.5 million in add-ons on a contract through June 2024. He has made an immediate impact under Julen Lopetegui, starting on the left-wing in three of Sevilla’s first four matches and coming off the bench to grab a goal against Getafe on February 6. With Los Nervionenses currently seven points clear of Real Sociedad in fourth place, 90 minutes away from the Copa del Rey Final, and set to face Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, Papu is just the X-factor that Sevilla need to handle the pressure of a jam-packed season and go the distance under Lopetegui.

Luka Jović to Eintracht Frankfurt

“He is the only man who does to ruin his career. He was lucky that Adi Hütter gave him a shot at Eintracht and then made the biggest transfer in Serbia’s history and went to Madrid. Jović works against himself.”

Those were the words of retired Serbian footballer and former Eintracht Frankfurt coach Dragoslav Stepanović on March 28, 2020, after Luka Jović breached self-isolation measures in his home country to attend his girlfriend’s birthday party. It was only nine months after he earned a €60 million move to Real Madrid on the back of a breakthrough season that saw Jović net 27 goals and 7 assists in 48 appearances and take Eintracht within inches of the Europa League Final. However, Jović failed to impress in the few appearances that he was granted under Zinedine Zidane, and after 19 months at the Spanish capital, he returned to Eintracht on loan until the end of the 2020/21 season.

It didn’t take long for Jović to announce himself at his old stomping grounds. Hütter subbed him on for Erik Durm in the 62nd minute; within 10 minutes, he broke the deadlock against Schalke, and within 30 minutes, he had scored as many goals in his return at Eintracht as he had registered during the entirety of his time in Madrid. Six days later, he scored the final goal in Eintracht’s 5-1 thrashing of newly promoted Arminia Bielefeld.

Whilst Hütter mainly utilized a 3-4-1-2 during his initial season at the Waldstadion, with Ante Rebić playing in the #10 role and Sébastien Haller partnering Jović in attack, he has been forced to tweak his formation to a 3-4-2-1 to cope with the aforementioned players’ departures. Daichi Kamada and Amin Younes have played alongside André Silva in the front three, and the Portuguese striker’s excellent form (18 goals in 20 appearances) currently finds him second in the Torjägerkanone race behind Robert Lewandowski. Thanks to a red-hot Silva, Die Adler have taken 25 out of a possible 27 points since December 19, catapulting themselves from a mid-table position to third in the table.

As long as Silva keeps banging in the goals, Jović will have to settle for a super-sub role, but at this point in his life, playing 20 or so minutes in the Bundesliga each week may be just what he needs to get his career back on track. At 23 years of age, he still has plenty of time left before he reaches his prime, and if there’s anybody who can unlock his potential, it’s Hütter.

Jesse Lingard to West Ham

“He is 19, came through our youth system and is built like Jean Tigana was for France. But he never got into the limelight there until he was about 24, and I think that will be the same with Lingard. He will become a player when he’s 22 or so. As an attacking midfielder he has got a really good talent. I think he will be a player we have high hopes for, definitely.”

After four loans and 15 years of biding his time in the Carrington academy, Sir Alex Ferguson’s prophecy from 2012 ended up ringing true as Jesse Lingard broke into the Manchester United first team under Louis van Gaal. Despite being a late bloomer, Lingard reached incredible heights for club and country, starting in midfield as England advanced to the 2018 FIFA World Cup semifinals, scoring THAT goal in the 2016 FA Cup Final to defeat Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace, and becoming a regular in Manchester United’s attack. However, coupled with Bruno Fernandes’ arrival from Sporting and Mason Greenwood’s emergence, his opportunities became limited in 2020 under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In desperate need of a move to revive his fortunes ahead of the upcoming Euros, Lingard joined West Ham United on a loan until the end of the season.

Reuniting with David Moyes, the same manager who sent him on loan to Birmingham City and Brighton Hove & Albion during the 2013/14 campaign, Lingard has quickly found a new lease on life at East London. He made his Hammers debut at Villa Park, starting as the attacking midfielder in Moyes’ 4-2-3-1 and scoring his first brace since December 2018 as West Ham took all three points in Birmingham. After a stalemate at Craven Cottage, the 28-year-old forward assumed a protagonist role on Monday as West Ham defeated Sheffield United 3-0 to climb to fifth in the Premier League table. His tireless pressing saw the Hammers win a penalty before halftime, which was converted by Declan Rice, and his blossoming partnership with Manuel Lanzini caused the Blades’ all kinds of issues throughout the match. For the first time in years, Lingard is playing with bags of confidence, and his performances could earn him a surprise recall to Gareth Southgate’s national team this year.

Pol Lirola to Marseille

It has been a whirlwind season for Olympique de Marseille. After finishing second last season, Les Phocéens finished bottom of their UEFA Champions League group and currently sit ninth in the Ligue 1 table, leading to the incendiary incident of January 31, where 18 fans stormed the club’s training ground, hurling flares and firecrackers onto the pitch and setting the nearby trees ablaze. To cap it all off, manager André Villas-Boas resigned in disgrace on February 2 due to a disagreement with the board; specifically, the club signed Olivier Ntcham on loan from Celtic after Villas-Boas informed the club leaders that he did not want the French midfielder.

Nevertheless, there is one reason for Marseille fans to be optimistic: the loan arrival of Pol Lirola from Fiorentina. Born in Barcelona, Lirola began his career at Espanyol’s academy before joining Juventus’ academy in 2015, where he would last just a few months before heading to Sassuolo. Developing his skills under the likes of Eusebio Di Francesco and Roberto De Zerbi, Lirola became one of the most promising right-backs in Italy, earning attention from Fiorentina, who signed him on loan with an obligation to buy for €12 million on August 1, 2019.

Whilst Lirola was a regular performer under both Beppe Iachini and Vincenzo Montella, he was frozen out of the team by Cesare Prandelli, who took over for Iachini on November 9. The former Azzurri manager preferred both Martín Cáceres and Lorenzo Venuti in the right wingback position, forcing him to seek greener pastures in the January window.

Marseille have struggled in large part due to a lack of creativity and dynamism in the fullback positions, with Hiroki Sakai, Jordan Amavi and Yuto Nagatomo failing to provide a consistent threat in attack, and Lirola’s arrival has come as a breath of fresh air. Even Villas-Boas could not help but marvel after the Catalan right back’s debut against Paris Saint-Germain: “The introduction of Lirola helped us a lot, I am very happy with his first minutes with us.”

William Saliba to Nice

After a stellar start to his budding career, William Saliba joined Arsenal on a five-year contract on July 25, 2019, with Unai Emery’s side beating out Tottenham Hotspur to complete a £27 million deal for the 18-year-old contract. While he spent the following season on loan at boyhood club Saint-Étienne, he headed to Arsenal eager to convince manager Mikel Arteta of his worth. However, Saliba never played a single minute under Arteta, forced to bide his time in the reserves and cope with his mother’s death in a foreign country. It was inevitable, then, that when the January transfer window opened, he returned to France, joining OGC Nice on loan until the end of the season.

Despite bringing in a star-studded cast of recruits, Les Aiglons have gone from qualifying for the UEFA Europa League to hovering above the relegation zone this season, with Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira being relieved of his managerial duties on December 4. Both Vieira and interim manager Adrian Ursea have struggled to find a reliable defensive duo or trio, with Robson Bambu, Stanley Nsoki, Flavius Daniliuc being tested alongside captain Dante, who suffered an ACL injury on November 1.

However, those defensive worries have been eased by the arrival of Saliba, who was handed the club’s Player of the Month award for January. Whilst Ursea originally played Saliba in the middle of a back three, he switched to a back four following the loan arrival of Jean-Clair Todibo. Like Saliba, Todibo had only played a few months of professional football at Toulouse before joining Barcelona, and after struggling for minutes under Ernesto Valverde, he has since embarked on three separate loan spells to Schalke, Benfica, and now Nice. With Saliba and Todibo manning the defence, Nice have mounted a promising run of form, defeating Angers in league play, eliminating Nîmes from the Coupe de France, and putting in an impressive, albeit futile display at the Parc de Princes as PSG clawed their way back from the eyes of defeat and snatched three points via a late goal from Moise Kean — another young player who struggled to make an impact in England and who has bounced back on loan in France.

Martin Ødegaard to Arsenal

Before he achieved the historic feat of lifting three consecutive Champions League trophies, before he led Real Madrid to the La Liga title, Zinedine Zidane’s first opportunity at the managerial level came in the Segunda División B with Real Madrid Castilla. It was there where he crossed paths with a 16-year-old Martin Ødegaard, who arrived from Strømsgodset on January 21, 2015. The Norwegian became a regular starter under Zidane in the 2015/16 season, leading Castilla to first place in Group 2 of the Segunda B. It would seem natural, then, that after Ødegaard’s breakthrough 2019/20 campaign with Real Sociedad, he would become a regular under Zidane for the Real Madrid first team.

But football, like life, is rarely that simple, and after starting Real Madrid’s first two league matches of the season, Ødegaard quickly found himself frozen out of the first team. It’s why, on January 27, Ødegaard joined Arsenal on loan until the end of the season. After being limited to substitute appearances against Manchester United and Aston Villa, Mikel Arteta gave Ødegaard his first start on Valentine’s Day, playing him as the central attacking midfielder in the 4-2-3-1. Whilst Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang took home the match ball, Ødegaard stole the show with his impressive combination with Real Madrid teammate Dani Ceballos and stellar link-up play with Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka in attack as Arsenal defeated Leeds United 4-2.

His performance earned praise from Saka, arguably Arsenal’s Player of the Season thus far, who remarked: “He’s amazing. He has a lot of quality. I’m looking forward to playing more with him and scoring some goals, assisting him & having some fun. He’s an amazing football player and I hope he does well for Arsenal.”

Takumi Minamino to Southampton

Back in the prehistoric days of social media, one of the most ubiquitous football-related memes took aim at Liverpool’s incessant Southampton-based recruitment strategy. “They said we could be anything, so we became Southampton,” juxtaposed with Liverpool’s crest. “Liverpool bid £15m for Doris, Southampton’s tea lady.” A personal favourite was a picture of Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, and Adam Lallana with the words “How We See Southampton,” on top of another picture of a supermarket aisle with the words “How Liverpool Sees Southampton.”

It has been three years since Liverpool signed their last Southampton player, a little-known Dutch defender by the name of Virgil van Dijk, and this time, the roles are reversed. Unable to find consistent minutes under Jürgen Klopp, Takumi Minamino has swapped Anfield for St Mary’s Stadium, joining the club on loan until the end of the season.

The Japan international had previously dazzled in attack for Jesse Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg, grabbing a goal against Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League group stage and earning a £7.25 million move in January 2020. However, having made just eight appearances for Liverpool this season, he decided to pack his bags for Southampton, where he has linked up with another product of the Red Bull coaching tree, Ralph Hasenhüttl.

Playing in the 4-2-2-2 system that he had grown accustomed to in Austria, Minamino enjoyed a red-hot start at Southampton, receiving a pass from Ryan Bertrand, dinking the ball past Isaac Hayden, and firing a rocket of a shot past Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow. With both Moussa Djenepo and Nathan Redmond struggling with injuries this season, Minamino could nail down a starting spot on the left flank under Hasenhüttl and attain the consistency that has eluded him during his time in North West England.

Fikayo Tomori to AC Milan

From Jérémie Boga to Declan Rice to Jamal Musiala, there are plenty of Chelsea academy products that have found success after leaving south London for more playing time. The next player to do so could be Fikayo Tomori, who, at 23 years of age, is already making a name for himself at Milan.

Born in Calgary, Canada to Nigerian parents, Tomori moved to England as a toddler and joined Chelsea’s academy in 2005, rising up the Cobham ranks and leading Chelsea to back-to-back triumphs in the UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup. He was subsequently sent out on season-long loans to Brighton & Hove Albion and Hull City, before joining Derby County on loan for the 2018/19 season. With Tomori in the heart of defence, Frank Lampard’s side qualified for the Championship play-offs and defeated Leeds United in the semifinals, but they succumbed to defeat in the Final against Dean Smith’s Aston Villa. Nevertheless, Tomori’s performances for the Rams saw him win the club’s Player of the Year award, beating out the likes of Mason Mount, Harry Wilson and Jayden Bogle in the process.

It seemed as though Tomori would join Everton on loan for the 2019/20 campaign, but after David Luiz forced a deadline day move to Arsenal, the move to Goodison Park was scuppered at the last minute. After a shaky start to the season which saw Chelsea conceded nine goals in their first four matches, Tomori was given his debut in a 2-2 draw v Sheffield United. Bit by bit, he became a regular in defence under Lampard, impressing both in a back three and a back four, earning a new five-year contract, and landing a maiden call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England national team.

However, his fortunes took a turn for the worse during the holiday period as he was exposed for both goals in Southampton’s 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge. The following match, he was beaten in the air by Calum Chambers as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang opened the scoring for Arsenal; after Tomori was subbed off in the 59th minute for Tariq Lamptey, Chelsea went on to snatch victory from the jaws of the defeat via late goals from Jorginho and Tammy Abraham.

Tomori would have to wait another two months before making his next Premier League appearance, starting on the left side of a back three against Bournemouth, but he would last just 64 minutes before being hauled off for Willian after the Cherries took a 2-1 lead at the Vitality Stadium. Rather than embark on his fourth loan, with Everton and West Ham linked as potential destinations, Tomori chose to stay and fight it out for a first-team spot, but the arrival of Thiago Silva only served to limit his opportunities even more. After playing just 45 Premier League minutes in the first half of the season, he elected to join Milan on loan until the end of the season.

The Rossoneri had found themselves light at the back for the first half of the season, with French fullback Pierre Kalulu often deputizing in the centre of defense to cope with Milan’s scarcity of rotational options. Having missed out on Ozan Kabak and Mohamed Simakan, they turned their attention to Tomori, reserving an option to buy with a fixed price of £25 million and £5 million in add-ons. After coming off the bench in a Coppa Italia match against Inter, Tomori started in place of the injured Simon Kjær and impressed in defence as Milan defeated Bologna at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara.

The following match, he started in defence alongside captain Alessio Romagnoli as the Rossoneri kept a clean sheet and defeated Crotone. Whilst he dropped to the bench following the Danish defender’s return from injury, he could find himself in line for a starting spot against Crvena Zvezda after both Kjær and Romagnoli failed to cover themselves in glory for Milan’s 0-2 loss to newly promoted Spezia at the weekend.

Josh Maja to Fulham

Six months after sealing promotion in Wembley Stadium, Scott Parker’s Fulham could be set for an immediate return to the Championship. The Cottagers currently sit 18th in the Premier League, having scored just 18 goals in 23 matches (only Burnley and Sheffield United have scored fewer), and are seven points away from safety (with a game in hand). However, their fortunes may be about to change with the incorporation of Josh Maja.

Born in Lewisham, England to Nigerian parents, Maja bounced around from Fulham, Crystal Palace and Manchester City before joining Sunderland’s academy in March 2015. Whilst he made his professional debut on September 21, 2016, he would have to wait another 15 months before making his second appearance, coming off the bench for James Vaughan in a Championship fixture against Fulham. After just five minutes, Maja snuck into the box, received a pass from Adam Matthews, and fired the winner past Marcus Bettinelli. However, Maja would fail to register another goal in the 16 Championship appearances that followed, as the Black Cats suffered a second straight relegation.

With Sunderland dropping down to League One, Maja broke into the starting line-up, scoring 16 goals in 30 appearances and grabbing the attention of Girondins de Bordeaux, who took advantage of his expiring contract to sign him for a reported fee of £1.5 million. Maja struggled for consistency during his two years in France, scoring 9 goals in 45 Ligue 1 appearances and failing to nail down a starting spot under Paulo Sousa and Jean-Louis Gasset. Having remained on the bench for three consecutive matches, it was little surprise when Maja headed back to Fulham in the waning hours of the transfer window, joining on loan with an option to buy for €10 million.

After making a late cameo appearance in a stalemate against West Ham, the Nigeria international was given the start at Goodison Park, playing up top with Bobby Decordova-Reid in Parker’s 4-4-2. It didn’t take long for Maja to leave his mark on the match; as Ola Aina raced down the left flank, his compatriot stuttered his movement before changing direction, gaining separation from Mason Holgate, and converting Aina’s cross into the back of the net. 17 minutes later, Maja snuck behind the ball-watching Everton defenders and pounced after Harrison Reed’s shot rebounded off the post, tucking the ball into the empty net.

As the club’s only January signing, the pressure will be mounting on the 22-year-old forward to provide the reliable goalscoring output that has eluded Ademola Lookman and Aleksandar Mitrović so far this season. However, if his first start is anything to go by, Maja may just be the penalty box poacher that Fulham need to stay afloat in the Premier League.

Joakim Mæhle to Atalanta

Since taking charge of Atalanta in August 2014, technical director Giovanni Sartori has masterminded one of the most innovative, forward-thinking recruitment strategies in Europe. Working alongside sporting director Gabriele Zamagna, Sartori’s effective scouting and organization has seen Atalanta go from a mid-table Serie A side to back-to-back qualifications to the UEFA Champions League knockout round.

Working with a tight budget and a limited wage bill, Zamagna and Sartori always think three steps ahead of the competition, planning out the next sale, the next player exodus, and the next move before it has even happened. When Atalanta sold starting right wingback Andrea Conti to Milan for €24 million and Matteo Pessina, they did not need to scour the market and find a market; they had already signed him six months prior. Since arriving from Groningen for €1 million, Hans Hateboer has become a key cog in manager Gian Piero Gasperini’s 3-4-3, marauding up and down the right flank and providing an extra threat in the final third. However, with his contract set to expire in 2022, it seems Atalanta may need to find a long-term replacement for the Dutchman sooner rather than later.

Enter: Joakim Mæhle.

Born in Østervrå, Denmark, Mæhle began his professional career at AaB, making his debut in a 2-1 victory against FC Nordsjælland. He would last just nine months before earning a move to Genk, replacing Timothy Castagne after the Belgian joined Atalanta for a fee of €6 million. Following Clinton Mata’s departure to Club Brugge, Mæhle nailed down a starting spot as Genk won the league title. He quickly emerged as one of the most promising right-backs in Europe, attracting interest from Marseille. The French club looked set to bring him in on deadline day following the sale of Bouna Sarr to Bayern Munich, reaching an agreement to sign him for a €2 million loan fee and an €8 million option to buy. However, Genk changed their minds at the last minute and demanded €15 million up front, forcing Mæhle to remain in Belgium for the time being.

Four months after missing out on a move to Marseille, Mæhle joins Atalanta on a five-year contract for a fee of €10 million, bringing in proven quality to a position where Atalanta have desperately lacked depth this season. After selling Castagne to Leicester City, La Dea brought in Fabio Depaoli, Johan Mojica and Cristiano Piccini, all of whom failed to convince before their loans were cut short in January, with Atalanta electing to put all their eggs in the Dane’s basket. With Hateboer at risk of missing the rest of the season with a metatarsal injury, Mæhle could be expected to assume the starting right wingback position sooner rather than later.

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