Deadline Day: bringing an end to a quiet January transfer window

BY THE AI SCOUT

Despite a late flurry of activity, the 2021 January transfer window saw clubs rein in their spending, largely due to the financial impact of the global pandemic. But faced with further fixture congestion in the second half of the season, as well as mounting player injuries and fatigue, a number of Premier League clubs dipped into the transfer market on deadline day to strengthen their squads with short term loans or cut-priced transfers.

SAVING RATHER THAN SPENDING IN THE JANUARY WINDOW

As predicted in a previous blog, January 2021 saw significantly reduced transfer spend across Europe. The mid-season transfer window is notoriously difficult to navigate at the best of times, but the added uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus pandemic has further restricted clubs’ spending power as they look to offset the impact of lost matchday revenue. This is reflected in a significant drop in total gross expenditure across the Top 5 European leagues – £240m, down from £785m in the 2020 January transfer window.

Premier League clubs were again the biggest spenders (£70m), although the vast majority of this was driven by three moves: Amad Diallo (Man Utd) Saïd Benrahma (West Ham) and Morgan Sanson (Aston Villa). Fees for Diallo and Benrahma were agreed during the summer window, meaning Aston Villa’s signing of Morgan Sanson from Marseille for £15.5m was the biggest new deal of the January window.

Ten of the 20 Premier League clubs didn’t spend anything, with only 12 permanent deals completed in January. Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal were the only ‘big six’ Premier League clubs to spend during the window, whilst the clubs in the bottom four spent £6m on acquiring new players, down from the £40m spent by clubs in the same positions last season.

 

ADAPTING TO THE POST-BREXIT IMMIGRATION RULES

Not only were Premier League and EFL clubs restricted financially by the pandemic, but they also had to adapt to the rules introduced by the FA at the start of January. As outlined in our Brexit blog, all overseas players now have to gain a GBE (Governing Body Endorsement) to play for Premier League and EFL clubs.

Six criteria are used to judge the eligibility of overseas players, including ranking domestic leagues into six bands. The higher the quality of the league, the more points players accrue and the better chance they have of gaining a GBE.

The new league bandings are anticipated to make it easier to sign players from South America compared to many European countries. Whilst the Brazilian, Argentinian and Mexican top tiers have been placed in Band 3, leagues in countries such as Poland, Denmark and Austria, as well as the German, Spanish and French second tiers, have been placed in lower bands.

Big clubs, who sign international players from major footballing nations, or those who have played in the Champions League, will be relatively unaffected by the new rules. However, clubs towards the bottom of the Premier League and EFL, who often look to lower-ranked European leagues to unearth a bargain, may now find it harder to deliver value for money in the transfer market.

 

PREDICTING THE LIKELY SUCCESS OF FIVE DEADLINE DAY MOVES

With spending restricted by the pandemic, Premier League clubs looked to short term loans and cut-priced transfers to bolster their squads for the second half of the season. Using the AiA Simulator, this blog analyses five deadline day moves, using Ai Abacus’ intelligence-driven metrics to rate the value and suitability of each player to their new team;

Playing Style Index rates the likely fit of a player based on similarities in the playing style and formation of their current and prospective team.

Player Chemistry Index predicts how well the playing characteristics of a new recruit will complement those of his prospective teammates to produce positive on-pitch performances. Click here to find out more about how Ai Abacus predict chemistry between prospective teammates.

Cost-Benefit Index rates value for money by evaluating a player’s current market value and predicted performance versus the proposed contract length, transfer fee and weekly wage.

Takumi Minamino (Liverpool to Southampton)

Liverpool snapped up the Japanese international from RB Salzburg for a fee of £7.25m during the 2020 January window following an impressive performance in a 4-3 win for the Reds in the Champions League group stages. The 26-year-old has since struggled to establish himself in the Liverpool team, starting only 12 games. Jürgen Klopp has insisted Minamino is part of his long-term plans and sees a temporary move away from Anfield as an opportunity for the player to gain confidence and Premier League game time. His strong Playing Style Index score reflects the similarities in style between Liverpool and Southampton, whilst the Player Chemistry Index score suggests Minamino’s characteristics will complement those of his new teammates. Both of which should help the player to integrate quickly and make an impact on the pitch. Despite only being a short term loan with a reported fee of £500k, the Cost-Benefit Index indicates his weekly wage of £75k might be on the high side based his current performance level.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Arsenal to West Brom)

The versatile 23-year-old has struggled for game time this season, despite his ability to play in various positions. With Arsenal keen to keep hold of the player, but open to a temporary loan move, a number of Premier League clubs were linked with the England international. Leicester were rumoured to be the player’s preferred destination, however Arsenal were reluctant to loan him to a team competing in the top half of the league. Instead, West Brom finally won the race on deadline day, and Maitland-Niles will be hoping to help his new team avoid relegation and force his way into the England squad for the Euros in the summer. His Playing Style Index and Player Chemistry Index scores indicate he could take some time to adapt to West Brom’s style and integrate into the squad, whilst a reported £500k loan fee and £35k weekly wage are a fair price to pay for a player who should add quality in either the full back or midfield positions.

Joshua King (Bournemouth to Everton)

It was only a year ago that Manchester United were linked with a £20m move for their former youth player. United’s offer was rejected, and they instead signed Odion Ighalo with King remaining at Bournemouth where he scored six league goals in a season that ended with relegation. This season, the 29-year-old failed to find the net in the Championship, although did score three goals in the FA Cup. Everton will be hoping the Norwegian international can rediscover the form that saw him net 16 Premier League goals in the 2016/17 season. Whilst King is expected to provide backup to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, his Playing Style Index and Player Chemistry Index scores suggest he could be a good fit for the Everton style and squad. With his contract expiring in the summer, Everton have signed the player until the end of the season with an option to extend for a reported £5m fee. His Cost-Benefit Index score of 88/100 indicates this deal could provide excellent value for a player who has proven he can score goals in the Premier League.

 

Ozan Kabak (Schalke 04 to Liverpool)

Schalke’s young centre back was identified in a blog back in November 2020 when analysing possible defensive options for Liverpool following injuries to Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez. At the time, a £30m fee was reported in the media, however, Liverpool managed to agree a much cheaper deal on deadline day, signing Kabak on loan for the rest of the season with an option to buy for a rumoured £20m fee. This season the 20-year-old has played in a struggling Schalke team rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga. Despite this, he has long been considered a rising star with the potential to become one of Europe’s leading central defenders. His average score of 67/100 across the three AiA Simulation metrics suggests he could offer good value-for-money and suitability, whilst his age should allow plenty of scope to improve his performance and value. However, with Liverpool’s three senior central defenders all out for the season, the Turkish international will be expected to hit the ground running and strengthen a defence that has been leaking goals.

Ben Davies (Preston North End to Liverpool)

Whilst Liverpool have been linked with Ozan Kabak for some time, their move for Ben Davies caught many people by surprise. The centre back graduated from the Preston North End academy, making his debut at 17-years-old before spending time on loan at five different lower league clubs. He has since built a reputation as one of the best centre backs in the Championship thanks to his ability to read the game and composure on the ball. Those who have watched the player regularly have expressed their surprise that a top club hasn’t come in for him sooner, backing him to make the step up to top level football. And with Jürgen Klopp keen to add depth in the centre of his defence but restricted by the financial impact of the pandemic, Davies offers an affordable option, whilst his left-foot adds balance. A relatively low Cost-Benefit Index score reflects a potential risk by handing a long-term contract to a player unproven in the Premier League, but his score of 65/100 for both Playing Style Index and Player Chemistry Index suggests he could be a decent fit for Liverpool at a time when they’re desperate for defensive cover.