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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Bad for Business: Ranking the Worst Transfers from the 2021 January Window

Worst Transfers January window
35-year-old Mario Mandzukic has returned to Serie A. Matteo Bazzi/EPA.

Player transfers took a hit during this January transfer window as clubs continue to react in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that heavily affected business last year.

The change has had a knock-on effect in 2021 as many clubs were even slower to conclude deals this past month, even by the usual January standards.

That being said, there were still sufficient deals to pick out the best and worst of the bunch, with many teams opting for loans and free signings as a means of cutting costs. Certain manoeuvers look like bad value on paper, but some have the potential for far-reaching consequences, from crippling budding careers to backroom resignations.

10. Olivier Ntcham (Celtic to Marseille)

Transfer Fee: Loan

There’s little wrong with Olivier Ntcham’s loan move to Marseille from a playing perspective—but no transfer can be deemed a success (at least not straight away) if it leads to a manager offering their resignation.

As if the Stade Velodrome hadn’t endured enough bumps this season, Andre Villas-Boas proposed he quit after the Celtic midfielder joined on temporary terms, insisting he didn’t want Ntcham, via ESPN FC:

The poor placement of this transfer shouldn’t reflect badly on Ntcham, who’s still young at 24 and has shown plenty of promise at Celtic, both in midfield and more advanced roles. However, the divisiveness shown by Marseille’s decision-makers as a result has bad news written all over it.

9. Gedson Fernandes (Benfica to Galatasaray)

Transfer Fee: Loan

Heads were scratched from the moment Tottenham Hotspur announced Gedson Fernandes would join from Benfica on an 18-month loan last January, with an option to make the move permanent for $60 million. One year and zero Premier League starts later, Benfica terminated the loan spell and sent the midfielder to Turkish titans Galatasaray until the end of this season:

There’s an air of desperation around the deal from both sides given Fernandes was permitted to complete the deal despite testing positive for the coronavirus, per The Athletic.

The 22-year-old was chauffeured via ambulance throughout, which may not raise alarm considering elite sport has a habit of being able to circumvent ‘the rules’. But something just doesn’t sit right about such efforts being made to conclude a deal so focused on preserving a player’s price-tag when he already had a contract at a time when medical services are so strained.

8. Kenny Lala (Strasbourg to Olympiakos)

Transfer Fee: $3 million (£2.2m)

A superb steal if you’re an Olympiakos fan, but there’s a hint of “what were Strasbourg thinking” after learning Kenny Lala’s transfer fee to the Greek Super League topped out at $3 million.

One of the most in-form full-backs in Ligue Un over the last couple of seasons, questions have to be asked of what happened during negotiations for the figure to be that low. One imagines the defender’s desire to play in the UEFA Champions League played a hand, but even at 29, there seems a possibility Lala should have been sold for twice, perhaps even three times the final sum.

Olympiakos can look forward to the Frenchman bombing down their right side in the near future, but one can’t help wonder if Lala could have prolonged his stay in one of Europe’s more prominent leagues.

7. Lisandro Lopez (Racing Club to Atlanta United)

Transfer Fee: Free

Major League Soccer has steadily improved its reputation as being more than a retirement patch for past-their-best veterans, so it was a surprise to see Lisandro Lopez join Atlanta United from Racing Club in January.

The transfer will conjure up the usual comments that Lopez—who turns 38 in March—will bring valuable experience to the team while bringing a quality touch, all of which is true. However, there’s a cap on how much one can expect from such an old player in a position that demands high energy, especially when MLS often provides young talent such a great platform to break out:

It’s no coincidence Lopez’s move from Racing Club came not long after his former Argentina team-mate, Gabriel Heinze, was unveiled as Atlanta coach.

A win for the 2008 Football Manager addict, but a loss for any younger assets who might have offered Atlanta more—both in the short and long-term—during the upcoming campaign.

6. Islam Slimani (Leicester City to Lyon)

Transfer Fee: Free

As far as downgrades go, Lyon swapping Moussa Dembele out for Islam Slimani looks awfully short-sighted even considering the former’s substantial drop in form the first half of this season.

To Slimani’s credit, the veteran enjoyed a renaissance at AS Monaco last season after joining on loan from Leicester City, scoring nine goals and registering seven assists in only 18 appearances on the French Riviera. But that deal worked so well partly because all involved knew it was on a short-term basis; Lyon should be aiming higher in their long-term vision, and getting Dembele back to his best should be a key part of that project, rather than casting the 24-year-old aside.

Slimani—who turns 33 in June—will provide cover behind the likes of Memphis Depay, Karl Toko Ekambi and Tinotenda Kadewere—who have a combined 31 goals in Ligue 1 this term—but his spot would be better off belonging to a player with more of a shelf life.

5. Mario Mandzukic (Free Agency to AC Milan)

Transfer Fee: Free

Not that we don’t want more Mario Mandzukic playing in a major European league (we definitely do), but AC Milan’s quota of past-their-peak, slowing forwards already looks full. After all, Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be the first to say he requires no backup, or some such platitude.

Mandzukic, 35 in May, returned to Serie A more than six months after terminating his contract with Qatari club Al-Duhail, where he scored once in seven appearances. That came after he failed to feature in the first half of the 2019-20 campaign while Maurizio Sarri was manager of Juventus, so it shouldn’t be a surprise the 2018 World Cup winner has looked a bit fragile early on in his San Siro stay.

As if Mandzukic didn’t have enough going against him back at the top of Italy’s ranks, he’s also picked a number that’s been cursed for the Rossoneri in recent years:

At a time when Milan have done so much right in remodelling a fresh lineup with refreshing talent, the decision to move for Mandzukic comes across as a potential backwards step.

4. Lincoln (Flamengo to Vissel Kobe)

Transfer Fee: $3 million (£2.2m)

The best thing about Lincoln’s winter transfer to Japanese outfit Vissel Kobe is that he’ll be the second-most valuable player on the team, behind Barcelona and Spain legend, Andrés Iniesta.

Unfortunately, that’s also the most disappointing aspect of his move.

Sadly for the forward, his reputation at Flamengo took a hit following a wide-open miss in the 119th minute of their 2019 FIFA Club World Cup final clash against Liverpool:

Following Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior off Flamengo’s production line, Lincoln—who only turned 20 in December—has been tipped as one of Brazil’s major prospects in recent times. The youngster made his Brasileiro Serie A debut at 16 and made 49 appearances for the club, racking up six goals and three assists.

At such a critical stage of his development, the J1 League doesn’t strike as the optimal setting to hone his craft.

3. Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal to Schalke)

Transfer Fee: Free

Not content with signing one Arsenal export from yesteryear, Schalke recently followed up their reacquisition of Sead Kolasinac from the Gunners by bringing in his team-mate, Shkodran Mustafi.

Kolasinac has helped rejuvenate the Miners since moving back to Gelsenkirchen, providing an authoritative yet calming presence in defense and even captaining the club since his return. The same shouldn’t be expected of Mustafi, however, who may have already seen his best years despite being just 28.

Unlike the Bosnian, Mustafi hasn’t displayed the same attributes in mental toughness after a few years as the butt of many a joke in the Premier League. The Evening Standard detailed Arsenal agreed to terminate the final six months of Mustafi’s deal, with the Gunners ultimately pleased to get rid of their error-prone central defender:

A long way from the player who won the 2014 World Cup with Germany, Schalke can hope Mustafi will get back to that level in the Bundesliga. However, swapping out a promising talent like Ozan Kabak—who joined Liverpool on deadline day—for Mustafi looks like a severe downgrade.

2. Danny Drinkwater (Chelsea to Kasimpasa)

Transfer Fee: Loan

After a torrid three-and-a-half years with Chelsea that included a drunk-driving offense, fighting a team-mate on loan at Burnley and a highly publicised brawl in a nightclub (via FourFourTwo), a move to Istanbul is exactly what the doctor ordered for Danny Drinkwater.

In all seriousness, a loan spell to Süper Lig club Kasimpasa could, in theory, provide Drinkwater with the platform to relaunch his career, but a quieter destination than Turkey’s capital might have been the wiser choice.

The 30-year-old—who played a key role in Leicester’s charge to the Premier League title in 2016—has yet to debut for Kasimpasa a fortnight into his stay, reportedly suffering a swimming-pool injury as he looks to make his mark at his latest club:

The capital club sit 12th in the Süper Lig and won only two of their first eight games in 2021, with Drinkwater looking unlikely to be their savior if his start at the club is anything to go by.

1. Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate to Shenzhen FC)

Transfer Fee: $10.8 million (£8m)

Juan Fernando Quintero would have ruled as king in an alternate universe, one player who long seemed destined for great things but has instead lived out an obscure career. The Colombian’s career took another strange turn in January when he joined Chinese Super League outfit Shenzhen FC from River Plate, yet again robbing European fans of his abilities.

Not only that, but after signing a three-year contract at 28, it’s likely Quintero could see out what should be his prime years in China, meaning the dream is over for many a fan of the player.

The 5’7” maestro runs hot and cold in his performances and has blind spots to his game, but Quintero is elite in his on-ball talent, as well as being a top-bracket threat from a dead ball. Few will forget his under-the-wall free-kick for Colombia against Japan at the 2018 World Cup, a reminder of the outside-the-box thinking that makes him such a joy to watch:

Quintero didn’t hit the heights hoped for him during previous stints at Porto and Rennes, instead showcasing his best bits with the likes of River and Independiente Medellin.

Of course, there’s a lot to be won in soccer outside Europe, but it still feels like the player—who is often compared to Lionel Messi—will be somewhat wasted at Shenzhen. At the very least, Quintero is almost certain to have a lot of fun facing defenders in China.

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