What makes a good January transfer window?
In the spirit of the month, I decided to take this week's column and have a quick look at the past and see if we can't bring some analytical rigour to the mania of the January transfer window.
Villa's transfer business has been, let's say ‘erratic', for a while now and arguably caused the departure of Martin O'Neill and the dark times we have lived in since. And the January transfer window is known for being the most erratic as sides are hastily patched for the second half of the season and prices become hugely inflated.
However that doesn't mean that great signings haven't been made in January, even by the Villans, even by Martin O'Neill. As well as awful ones. I'm looking for some of the factors that determined those successes or failures.
Just before we begin it's worth establishing a clear idea of what we're talking about in transfer value. This recent article - http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-hidden-cost-of-a-soccer-star-1420490527 - outlines the basic point that for the club's purposes, a player's fee is spread out over the life of their contract (amortized) and added to their yearly wages to provide a yearly cost. Wages are just as important a figure as the headlines transfer fee, and the reselling or extension of a contract can be an important factor.
Aston Villa's January transfers since 2006/07
2006/2007 In - John Carew (swap for Milan Baros, Lyon), Shaun Maloney (£1m, Celtic), Ashley Young (£9.65m, Watford). Out - Milan Baros (swap for John Carew, Lyon)
2007/2008 - In - Wayne Routledge (£1.25m, Tottenham) Out - Gary Cahill (£5m, Bolton)
2008/2009 - In Emile Heskey (£3.5m Wigan) Out - Wayne Routledge (£600,000 QPR)
2009/2010 - In - none Out - Craig Gardner (£3m Birmingham)
2010/2011 - In - Jean Makoun (£6m Lyon), Darren Bent (£18m Sunderland) Out - Curtis Davies (Birmingham), Steven Sidwell (Fulham)
2011/2012 - In Enda Stevens (Shamrock Rovers) Out - none
2012/2013 - In - Yacouba Sylla (£2m, Clermont) Out - Stephen Warnock (Free, Leeds)
2013/2014 - In - none Out- Stephen Ireland (Stoke)
(All data from www.soccerbase.com - I've excluded some of the youth and free transfers)
2006/07 - Annus Mirabilis
So there's clearly one year that jumps out as the best of years largely due to the arrival of Ashley Young. However I'd contend that the signing of John Carew was just as important and arguably set up the success of Young, by providing him with a clear target man and establishing one of the key points of a successful transfer - If you make a big signing in January, be ready to build around them.
Carew and Young scored a combined 5 goals that season and then scored 22 together the next. O'Neill made an important step in swapping Milan Baros for Carew. Baros had been signed for £6.5 million just a season and half ago, but had scored only once before January. It also essentially stamped the exit of Juan Pablo Angel who left in April of 2007. This at the same time highlights another important point- a January transfer works best when there's an obvious empty space in the side. Carew could walk straight into Baros' spot and make it his own rather than wait on the sidelines.
2010/11 - Annus Horribilis
This may be a somewhat controversial opinion considering the fact that Darren Bent's signing arguably saved the Villans from relegation and certainly secured them a respectable 9th position. I'd certainly accept that it was the disastrous sales of Young and Downing in the summer and the failure to adequately replace them that really set the scene for the disastrous following seasons.
However these were the signings that arguably crippled the club in the transfer market for the upcoming season. The main problem with Darren Bent's signing was Alex McLeish's inability or unwillingness to build a side around him. A negative style of play left him isolated and forced to try and pressure, which he was unsuited to. Jean Makoun simply never had a chance to get into the side, with seven appearances before he spent the next two seasons on loan, which is astonishing for a £6 million signing.
It is with Darren Bent's signing that the true cost of a transfer becomes important. His initial fee was a reported £18 million, possibly rising to £24 million and the maximum wages that Villa were offering to anyone at the time, £65,000 a week. He was also signed on a 4 and a half year deal. That was an astonishingly long deal. It seems to now be accepted that the fee has risen to £24 million, meaning that his total price on the clubs's books was something like £39,210,000. Spread out over the life of his contract, that's £9,802,500 a year - and most importantly with incredibly little resale value with a contract that expires at the end of the season. Had Villa been able to make a decision to sell him off and cut their losses quickly it would have been very different. Leading to another conclusion - January transfers need to be offered with a sensible contract length.
Don't sell young
One factor that has cost Villa quite badly has been a tendency to chase a fee for young players in the January transfer window. Particularly noticeable here are Wayne Routledge (24 when sold) and Gary Cahill (22 when sold), both currently playing for Premier League clubs in higher positions who were both sold off seemingly on the basis that they would still command a fee after loan spells. How much would it have hurt to keep these players and give them a run-out for the second half of the season?
There are sides that make a business out of signing young players, farming them out on loan and then commanding higher fees without them ever making it through to the side - Chelsea are a particularly noticeable example. But considering that Wayne Routledge apparently managed to decrease in value by 50% between one season and the next that doesn't seem to have been the case with Villa. If there's no space for a young talent loan them out, don't chase a fee. Villa's record in the loan market has been absolutely terrible recently, seemingly unable to either break loan players into the main team or sell them off at a profit.
Onto January 2015
So what does that mean for this season? Well let's quickly summarise our guidelines:
- Be prepared to build the team around a big signing
- January signings work best when there's an obvious gap in the squad
- Make sure signings have a sensible contact length
- Loan out young players, don't chase fees
There are some pretty obvious gaps in the current squad which need filling, most of all on the left wing and central playmaker positions. If anyone is to be signed, they need to be of the kind of quality that they can genuinely walk into those positions. Scott Sinclair might fit that bill, and we won't know, but it'd be nice to see the club offer a sensible contract length - a year and half might fit the bill for a player who has been starved of first-team football for a while now. Elsewhere Callum Robinson either needs a run-out in the side or to get loaned out properly again. And while it may never happen, if Villa could squeeze out the money for a genuinely talented No.10, there's a clear gap that could radically change the look of this side.
Let me know what you think below! Could Darren Bent ever have been a success? Does Scott Sinclair fit the current gap in the squad? And will we ever see Callum Robinson on the pitch?