January window recap: Transfers, loans and improved teams

January window recap: Transfers, loans and improved teams

The January transfer window was a hipster’s dream. After last year’s desperate salvos — namely, Enzo Fernández and Mykhailo Mudryk moving to Chelsea for a combined €191 million — this past month was more about youngsters and fine-tuning squads. When the “Martin Braithwaite to Manchester United?” rumors began to fly late in the month, you knew this wasn’t a time for serious spending.

Whether it is because everyone’s afraid of new financial sustainability rules, the sudden stalling of the Saudi spending splurge or the fact that everyone has turned into me playing Football Manager — and falling in love with loans — it was a pretty slow month. But it was still an opportunity for teams to improve, at least on the margins.

So, let’s talk about who might have done so. Here are my favorite transfers and loans of the January window.


10 favorite transfers

1. Vitor Roque to Barcelona
Position: Center forward
Age: 18
Former team: Athletico Paranaense
Fee: €40 million

It’s the best move of the window, and it barely even counts because the deal was consummated back in July with an eye toward his arrival in Spain this summer. But Barca’s injury issues — and what has felt like a teamwide finishing slump — forced their hand a bit, and with his final season in Brazil finishing in December, he made his Barca debut shortly after the January window opened.

My colleague Ryan O’Hanlon writes a lot about how pure minutes can be a strong predictor of future success for a teenager. If a big, professional club trusts you enough to put you on the pitch a lot — but not so much that you’re risking overuse and injury (here’s your reminder that Barcelona’s Pedri and Gavi each played more than 4,000 minutes for club and country between their 18th and 19th birthdays) — that’s probably telling. Well, Roque recorded 1,767 minutes in league play and the CONMEBOL Libertadores (with seven goals and three assists) for Athletico-PR in 2022, his age-16 season, then went for 2,380 minutes in those competitions, with 16 goals and four assists, in 2023. And with Barca’s attack increasingly passive and frustrated against bunkered-in defenses, his first goal for his new club was a life-giving burst of near-post aggression.

It’s worthwhile to question whether Barcelona should be paying €40 million for anyone at this moment, given their perpetual financial issues, but if you’re going to do it, do it for an 18-year-old who already has more than 20 career goals to his name. Barca now has a thrilling teenage center-forward to go with their thrilling teenage right winger (16-year-old Lamine Yamal), their other exciting, young forward (18-year-old Marc Guiu, who has two goals in 120 minutes in all comps), their still-young midfield (Pedri is still only 21, the injured Gavi is 19 and the rising Fermín López is 20), their injured-but-proven young fullback (20-year old Alejandro Balde) and a set of young defenders who have played strong ball when asked (17-year-old center-back Pau Cubarsí, 17-year old fullback Hector Fort). Now just don’t overplay this core of youngsters — prove that you’ve learned something from your recent travails – and you could be building something special.

This was the most exciting signing of the January window. Even if it wasn’t exactly a January signing.

2. Sacha Boey to Bayern Munich
Position: Right-back
Age: 23
Former team: Galatasaray
Fee: €30 million

Konrad Laimer was signed as a midfielder, but has played nearly 1,200 minutes at right-back this season. Noussair Mazraoui is creative and exciting, but if the best ability is availability, his ability is a problem. He’s missed more than 20 matches with injury over the last year. Josip Stanisic is sturdy and solid, but Bayern loaned him to title rivals Bayer Leverkusen.

When Benjamin Pavard left for Inter Milan last season, Bayern didn’t really replace him. The club had to make a move considering Mazraoui’s ongoing injury issues, and after doing what they’ve done constantly since hiring Thomas Tuchel last spring — flirt with overpaying for a quickly aging Premier League star (Kyle Walker in the summer, Kieran Trippier in January) — they did the logical thing instead.

Boey combines high intensity with sure ball progression and decent creativity from the fullback position, and he’s both held his own in a physical, veteran-heavy Turkish Super Lig for parts of three seasons and proved his upside in the UEFA Champions League. In two Champions League matches against Bayern last fall, he combined 17 ball recoveries with 14 progressive carries, 12 progressive passes, and two chances created. He was ready for a big club move, and he arrives at a big club that immediately needs something from him.

3. Jean-Mattéo Bahoya to Eintracht Frankfurt
Position: Left wing
Age: 18
Former team: Angers
Fee: €8 million

Eintracht Frankfurt was just about the busiest team in Europe in this window, securing a decent number of upgrades — mostly through loans — while not overspending. Die Adler are currently sixth in the Bundesliga, two points behind fifth-place RB Leipzig, and fifth could be extremely valuable since the Bundesliga has basically a 50-50 shot at snaring a fifth Champions League bid next year.

We’ll see how much immediate help the speedy Bahoya can deliver while jumping from France’s second division to near the top of the Bundesliga, but he has developed rapidly in a short amount of time. After a brief cameo in Ligue 1 last season — he played 270 minutes with four fruitless shot attempts as Angers was getting relegated — he was a delight in Ligue 2, mostly coming off the bench but delivering five goals, two assists, 32 progressive carries and 23 progressive passes in just 722 minutes. He is an aggressive dribbler who is showing promising finishing ability early in his career.

Eintracht has dipped into the “sign youngsters from France before others can get a read on them” well before, thriving with Randal Kolo Muani in 2022-23 and nabbing others such as Junior Dina Ebimbe and Farès Chaïbi. This move could pay off handsomely, too.

4. Gabriel Moscardo to PSG
Position: Defensive midfield
Age: 18
Former team: Corinthians
Fee: €20 million

For all the justifiable crap we’ve given Paris Saint-Germain over the years for ignoring the wellspring of young talent within their own house and instead fixating on veterans who will steal their minutes (and probably underachieve in the Champions League), the club has slowly changed their ways. They have spent at least €20m for 12 players over the last two seasons, and eight were 22 or younger at the time of the deal. Sure, they managed to still spend €95m on the injury-troubled veteran combo of Lucas Hernández and Ousmane Dembélé last summer, but the roster core continues to get younger. Fifteen players have recorded at least 950 minutes in all competitions for Luis Enrique this season, and six are 23 or younger, compared to only three at 28 or older.

There therefore isn’t yet a spot in the rotation for Moscardo, who was immediately loaned back to Corinthians until June after signing last week. But wow, is this dude impressive. He looks the part physically, and he played 1,594 minutes in all competitions, with 63 progressive passes and eight chances created, despite not turning 18 until late in the 2023 season.

5. Mayra Ramirez to Chelsea
Position: Center forward
Age: 24
Former team: Levante
Fee: €450,000

We did see one record signing in England in this window — you just have to hop over to the Women’s Super League to find it. With Sam Kerr tearing her ACL in January, Chelsea, enmeshed in a tight league title race (they’re currently three points ahead of Arsenal and Manchester City) and on to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, needed to make a big move. They did so.

Since the start of 2022-23, Ramirez has scored 20 goals with 11 assists in 34 matches. She is aggressive on the ball — she was fourth in Liga F with 100 progressive carries last season — and she’s versatile enough to play either in the center or on the wings.

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6. Arthur Vermeeren to Atletico Madrid
Position: Defensive midfield
Age: 18
Former team: Royal Antwerp
Fee: €18 million

Vermeeren was one of Antwerp’s best performers in the Champions League last fall, producing one goal, three assists and 57 ball recoveries in 720 minutes (including qualification rounds). He’s a ball pressure machine, too. He was highly sought-after, and it was a surprise that Atletico landed him for such a low fee (and that Antwerp didn’t wait until the summer to sell). Strong move.

7. Valentín Barco to Brighton & Hove Albion
Position: Left midfield
Age: 19
Former team: Boca Juniors
Fee: €9.2 million

He played 2,314 minutes in all competitions for Argentina’s mighty Boca Juniors, and he was first on the team in expected assists (5.6), third in chances created (41), third in progressive carries (272), fourth in assists (four), sixth in progressive passes (159) and sixth in shots on goal (13). And because of a ridiculously low release clause, Brighton landed him for under €10m. That sounds like a pretty typical Brighton move at this point, doesn’t it?

8. Marcos Leonardo to Benfica
Position: Center forward
Age: 20
Former team: Santos
Fee: €18 million

He made 168 appearances for Santos FC in all competitions, and is among their top 50 all-time goal-scorers even though he won’t turn 21 until May. He has made three substitute appearances thus far for Benfica, and he scored in all three. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s probably an unsustainable pace, but Benfica may have just landed a difference-maker in a tight Primeira Liga race.

9. Tommaso Baldanzi to Roma
Position: Attacking midfield
Age: 20
Former team: Empoli
Fee: €10 million

In just 744 league minutes, Baldanzi ranked fourth on the team in chances created (13), third in shots on goal (six), third in passes in the attacking third (97), and fourth in take-ons. He made stuff happen for a relegation-threatened team desperate to make stuff happen. Now he gets to try to make stuff happen with a Roma team that is suddenly just one point outside of the top four in Serie A.

10. Radu Dragusin to Tottenham Hotspur
Position: Center-back
Age: 22
Former team: Genoa
Fee: €25 million

He’s good in the air, he’s dangerous on set pieces, he’s a safe interventionist, and a safe, if not particularly bold, passer. This might have been a hair too much to spend on a player who had just moved to Genoa for under €10 million last summer, but he’s sturdy, and, well, it’s clear that Spurs manager Ange Postecoglou likes him more than Eric Dier already. That makes him a relative upgrade.


10 favorite loans

1. Manchester United’s Jadon Sancho to Borussia Dortmund
Position: Left wing
Age: 23

In one way, this move was an admission of defeat in both directions: United simply hasn’t been able to make it work with the attacker they spent €85m to bring over in 2021, while Borussia Dortmund has run out of particularly tantalizing young attackers and had to bring one back in a push for a top-four finish in the Bundesliga.

In another way, however, it’s beautiful. Sancho returns to the club he so thrived with, averaging 16 goals and 18 assists in all competitions from 2018-19 to 2020-21, and he’s immediately seen success too, creating four chances with an assist — and three wins — in his first 184 minutes back in Dortmund.

2. Chelsea’s Ian Maatsen to Borussia Dortmund
Position: Left-back
Age: 21

After playing a huge role in Burnley’s promotion push last season, Maatsen struggled to find a niche in Chelsea’s deep (and flawed) squad. Still, he’s made an immediate impact for BVB’s rebuilt left side, creating three chances with an assist and 20 progressive passes in three matches.

3. PSG’s Hugo Ekitike to Eintracht Frankfurt
Position: Center-forward
Age: 21

That thing I said about Eintracht landing young Frenchmen above? Repeat it here. Eintracht secured a loan-to-buy deal for the lanky Hugo Ekitike, who scored 10 league goals for Reims in 2021-22 but got lost in the shuffle in Paris this season. Seemingly half the Premier League was linked to his services, but he’ll now get a few months to carve out a role in Frankfurt before the club decides whether to spend €30m for him on a summer transfer.

4. Chelsea’s Armando Broja to Fulham
Position: Center-forward
Age: 22

Chelsea couldn’t find anyone desperate enough to pay a massive transfer fee for Broja, but he could find a solid, if temporary, rhythm down the road at Fulham. His development fell off course after he arrived in west London last year — after scoring 10 goals in his age-18 season at Vitesse in 2020-21 and another six with Southampton in 2021-22, he’s played just 748 league minutes, with two goals, in a season and a half with Chelsea. But his Similar Players list at FBref.com (Alexander Isak, Eddie Nketiah, Rasmus Højlund, Evan Ferguson, Dominic Solanke, Ciro Immobile) is a reminder that his statistical profile remains strong.

5. Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reyna to Nottingham Forest
Position: Attacking midfield
Age: 21

Minutes. Reyna desperately needs them. Despite the obvious upside, the American has topped 1,000 league minutes only once in Dortmund — he had four goals and five assists in 1,976 minutes in 2020-21 — and he’s managed just 361 minutes in all competitions, with zero goals and zero assists, this season. Injuries threw him terribly off course (other, um, developments probably didn’t help) but he’s still just 21, and his ceiling remains high. He now gets a chance to prove himself both in the Premier League and a high-pressure situation: With potential financial sanctions looming, Forest stands just two points outside of the relegation zone at the moment.

6. RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner to Tottenham Hotspur
Position: Center forward
Age: 27

After thriving at RB Leipzig, Werner rather quickly fell out of form and favor in Chelsea, so he moved back to Leipzig … where he fell out of form and favor. So far so good in North London, though: In two Premier League matches, he has two assists from four chances created. If anyone can take advantage of his obvious physical attributes (mainly: speed) in a high-effort system, it is Postecoglou.

7. Manchester City’s Kalvin Phillips to West Ham
Position: Defensive midfield
Age: 28

Another player who just needs minutes. Phillips was such a vital piece for Leeds United for such a long period, but his development completely stalled at City just as he was entering his prime years. He saw just 393 league minutes in one-and-a-half seasons in Manchester, but now he gets a chance to prove himself with a West Ham team fighting for a European bid.

8. Tottenham Hotspur’s Djed Spence to Genoa
Position: Left-back
Age: 23

Gio Reyna can only hope to have the same impact in Nottingham that Spence did two years ago, when, while on loan from Middlesbrough, he served as a constant energy dispenser and interventionist during Forest’s 2021-22 promotion campaign. That prompted a big-money transfer to Tottenham, where everything conceivable has gone awry. Loan spells with Rennes and Leeds produced very little, and nothing is saying manager Alberto Gilardino will unlock anything different at Genoa. But I’m putting him on this list out of pure hope that he can get back on track.

9. Tottenham Hotspur’s Alejo Veliz to Sevilla
Position: Center-forward
Age: 20

It probably isn’t a coincidence that six of the 10 players on the Favorite Loans come from the “players from England’s Big Six who have stalled out” genre. Then again, Veliz hasn’t really been with Spurs long enough to stall. After arriving from Rosario Central, where he had scored 11 goals in 22 league matches, he managed a goal and two shot attempts in 45 minutes with his new club. Sevilla desperately needs attacking options, so this could work out for both parties.

10. Getafe’s Enes Ünal to Bournemouth
Position: Center-forward
Age: 26

After two massive years with Getafe — he had 16 goals and an assist in 2021-22, and 14 and three (respectively) in 2022-23 — the 6-foot-2 Unal has played only 140 minutes this season after tearing his ACL in May. He will back up Dominic Solanke in Bournemouth, and with an affordable (and potentially obligatory) £14m buy option at the end of the season, he could be a ready-made Solanke replacement if a bigger club comes calling for the prolific Solanke.


Most improved teams

1. Eintracht Frankfurt
January additions: Bahoya (transfer), Ekitike (loan-to-buy), forward Sasa Kalajdzic (loan from Wolves), midfielder Donny van de Beek (loan from Manchester United), left-back Nathaniel Brown (transfer from Nurnberg)

Eintracht’s moves were the ultimate in the category of low-risk, high-reward. They’re only committed to paying for the youngsters — the 18-year-old Bahoya and the 20-year-old Brown, an intriguing second-division fullback — but in Ekitike, Kalajdzic and van de Beek they have three particularly high-upside pieces for making a Champions League push in the coming months. With these intriguing moves comes extra pressure, too, but it seems Eintracht’s ceiling is quite a bit higher than it was at the end of December.

2. Borussia Dortmund
January additions: Sancho (loan), Maatsen (loan)

Sancho’s onerous contract means everyone involved seems to know that this is a rental, a four-month renewal opportunity. Maatsen, however, has a release clause in the range of €35 to 40 million, so if he continues to thrive on the left, BVB could look to land him permanently. Either way, the Sancho-Maatsen combo on the left offers a significant, if temporary, upside. It’s almost certainly too late for BVB to make a title push even if they catch fire just as they did in January-February of 2023. But they still need to secure a top-four finish, and if their sudden improvement lasts a while, they’ll play a role in deciding who wins the Bundesliga between Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern.

3. Bayern Munich
January additions: Boey (transfer), forward Bryan Zaragoza (transfer from Granada), defender Dier (loan-to-buy from Spurs)

Bayern’s January moves didn’t necessarily raise their ceiling by a significant amount, but Boey was a necessity, Zaragoza will serve as a Kingsley Coman replacement while Coman recovers from a torn MCL — he was originally scheduled to come to Bayern over the summer, but Coman’s injury made an earlier arrival a priority — and Dier offers depth and versatility at the back. This can’t hurt as Bayern continues to attempt to reel in Bayer Leverkusen in the league race.

4. Tottenham Hotspur
January additions: Dragusin (transfer), Werner (loan)

Spurs cleared out some dead weight, sending Dier to Bayern and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to LAFC and loaning out Veliz, Spenc and Ivan Perisic. Meanwhile, they made at least slight upgrades in both the back and front. They’re in excellent shape for a Champions League bid — Opta’s power ratings give them a 51% chance of finishing in the top four, but with the Premier League likely to nab a fifth UCL bid, they’ve got an 83% chance of finishing top-five — and they raised their floor a bit in January.

5. Nottingham Forest
January additions: Reyna (loan), goalkeeper Matz Sels (transfer from Strasbourg), forward Rodrigo Ribeiro (loan from Sporting CP)

I almost put Barcelona here, simply because of the impact Roque might have up front. Instead, we’ll take a flier on the semi-desperate Reds. We’re used to Forest making tens of moves at once, but they were pretty targeted in January, bringing in Reyna for a potential jolt of midfield creativity and adding the 31-year-old Sels for a much-needed upgrade between the posts. I’m not sure I understand the point of bringing in Ribeiro — who has played 75 minutes in all competitions for Sporting — for a relegation scrap, but Reyna and Sels made a lot of sense. We’ll see if it helps.