January transfer window: Top five predictions
By Kieran Guilbert
Like it or loathe it, Christmas is just around the corner, only 62 days away. Even with Halloween on the horizon, supermarkets have started stocking advent calendars, cities have begun putting up their lights and pubs are showing premature festive spirit with tackily over-decorated Christmas trees. It won’t be long before the iconic Coca Cola advert appears at least twice in every single ad break while Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ blares endlessly from radio stations on an hourly basis.
Thankfully for football fans, there is one saving grace to the imminent arrival of Christmas: the January transfer window. Opening just one week after Christmas Day, it is the most entertaining and unpredictable period of the football season, and one that has served up many surprises over the years.
We have seen Arsenal and Manchester United welcome back ex-legends in times of need, with Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell and Paul Scholes all returning to the Premier League with varying degrees of success.
Teams like Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City have been relatively quiet in recent years while Everton and Newcastle have made astute signings, Nikica Jelavic and Landon Donovan joining the former, Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Demba Cisse signing for the latter.
And who could forget the infamous £35m transfer of Andy Carroll from Newcastle to Liverpool?
Although these examples demonstrate the erratic and impulsive nature of the January transfer window, I have done my best predict the top five transfers of January 2013.
1) Falcao to Chelsea
While Fernando Torres has been impressive for Chelsea thus far this season, with four goals in eight PL appearances (compared to seven in 46 previously), he has a lack of competition up front. Daniel Sturridge is the Blues’ only other recognised striker but manager Roberto Di Matteo does not rate the 23-year-old, with tabloid rumours suggesting he is ready to leave the club.
Whether to challenge or compliment Torres, Di Matteo has the funds to bring in a top class striker and Athletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao fits the bill. The Colombian 26-year-old, who has publically spoken of his admiration of the Blues, made his name at Porto where he scored 71 goals in 87 games. Since his move to Athletico in August 2011, Falcao has continued his stunning form with 47 goals in 57 games and established his reputation as one of the world’s best strikers.
A dynamic and clinical forward of Falcao's quality would be a welcome addition to the Premier League and give Chelsea strength in depth if their Spanish striker were to get injured or endure another barren run of form.
2) Huntelaar to Liverpool
Liverpool find themselves in a very similar situation to Chelsea in the striking department. While much can be said about Luis Suarez’s character, there is no doubting his ability or present status as the Reds’ most influential player. Given Fabio Borini’s recent injury, coupled with his poor form that has seen him score just the solitary goal in 11 appearances, Liverpool need to invest in another striker.
Manager Brendan Rodgers has acknowledged this issue and confirmed he will have money to spend in January. There has been endless media speculation linking the club with Daniel Sturridge and Theo Walcott, but both players are far from being the end product or reliable goalscorers, and each would command a hefty transfer fee in the region of £15m.
Having only scored eight goals in 10 Premier League games, Liverpool require serious firepower. The man who could provide it for them? Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The Dutch hotshot, who struggled at Real Madrid and AC Milan, has found his feet at Schalke 04, scoring a phenomenal 48 goals in 47 appearances last season.
The 29-year-old is an experienced finisher of international calibre (34 in 59 for Holland) whose contract expires at the end of this season. It is therefore likely that Schalke will look to cash in on him in January rather than lose him for nothing next summer. Liverpool would be foolish to miss such an opportunity.
3) Zaha to leave Crystal Palace
England Under-21 star Wilfried Zaha is currently one of the hottest prospects in English football. According to media reports, several Premier League clubs have been keeping tabs on the Crystal Palace winger. Only 19 years old, Zaha is already a household name in Championship football, having racked up 95 appearances for Palace and being voted The Football League 's Young Player of the Year last season.
This time last week, Palace co-chairman Steve Parish and manager Dougie Freedman were adamant that it would take a “special” offer in the region of £20m before the club even considered selling Zaha.
Freedman, who has known Zaha since he was 14 said: "The arrangement I've got with the club is that I will let Wilfried and his family know when I can't develop him any longer — and I will also let them know which club for him to go to."
However, Palace have just granted Bolton permission to speak to Freedman about taking over at the Reebok. Although nothing has been confirmed as of yet, history suggests that with proceedings at this stage, a deal is all but done. While the chairman may try to stand firm, will a new manager be able to keep Zaha’s head from being turned by Premier League interest this January?
While there would be no shortage of suitors, Arsenal are the club that come to mind. Arsene Wenger is renowned for developing exciting young talents, and although Walcott has never fulfilled his early promise, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has made a very impressive start at the Emirates and only a brave man would bet against Wilfried Zaha from doing the same if given the chance.
4) Bale to Real Madrid
Considering that Gareth Bale spent his first two years, 25 games and 1,533 minutes on the pitch at Tottenham Hotspur without a single victory (a record losing streak), it is hard to believe - just three seasons later- that the Welshman is now hailed as one of the world’s best players.
Harry Redknapp recently called his former player “a genuine world class player” on the same level as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
While Bale does not yet have the statistics to back up Redknapp’s claim, the 23-year-old is undoubtedly one of the most direct, productive and exciting players in the Premier League. Ever since his sensational hat-trick against Inter Milan at the San Siro in 2010, Bale’s stock has gone through the roof and he has been instrumental for Spurs, helping them to fourth place in the league last season.
Following the loss of Luka Modric, Rafael Van Der Vaart and ex-manager Redknapp, Spurs have struggled so far under Andre Villas-Boas and do not look capable of challenging Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs this season. Whether or not Gareth Bale will have the patience to stick with his current employers remains to be seen, but Modric has urged his former teammate to join him at Real Madrid.
The Spanish giants have also endured a shaky start to the season, currently sitting fourth in La Liga, already eight points behind Barcelona and Athletico Madrid. Mourinho has funds at his disposal, and a bid in the excess of £30m could be enough to tempt Spurs and give Bale the stage on which he deserves to play.
5) Redknapp to QPR
Harry Redknapp has been out of the game too long. Love him or hate him, there can be no dispute that the 65-year-old ‘Del Boy’ of English football is one of the most astute and entertaining managers to have ever graced the Premier League.
Having won the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008, Redknapp followed up this spectacular achievement by guiding Tottenham to the Champions League for the first time in their history and exceeding all expectations by reaching the quarter finals.
His departure from Spurs this summer was as sudden as it was harsh, and Redknapp will feel he still has a lot to prove, having been beaten to the England job by Roy Hodgson.
Queens Park Rangers have suffered a nightmare start to the season, with only three points from a possible 24 and not a single win to their name. Mark Hughes will be feeling the pressure as January approaches, having rehauled the squad this summer with little sign of improvement so far.
Owner Tony Fernandes is in a position to back his manager financially, but may not trust Hughes enough to let him spend freely this January. Redknapp on the other hand, would be the ideal man to bring in during the transfer window and rejuvenate a struggling squad.
Picture the scene. On the 30th of January, with QPR still rooted to the bottom of the table, Mark Hughes is sacked and Harry Redknapp is appointed as an immediate replacement. He is unveiled at a 9am press conference the following day, 31st of January, better known as transfer deadline day to football fans.
Within 10 minutes, he has identified half a dozen (or more, in all likelihood) potential signings or in his cockney drawl, ‘triffic players’ who of course, he would have tried to sign many years ago before they were established. At this point, a journalist asks him about his reputation as a ‘wheeler-dealer’, prompting him to storm off, shouting ‘Fack off, I’m a fackin’ football manager ’.
Redknapp then spends the next 12 hours driving around in endless circles while discussing the progress of his deadline day signings with any reporter who is willing to listen. As the clock strikes midnight, Redknapp winds down his window one last time and says he has managed to sign 14 ‘top, top players’ for ‘a fair price’.