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It used to be that the winter transfer window was almost as active as the summer one, shifting the sands of club soccer like the summer one did. Those days are gone, possibly because the stakes have become so high a great many clubs are disinclined to part with major players midway through the season, for fear that a replacement won’t be forthcoming – which is all a self-perpetuating cycle.
This winter window, which closed in almost every country on Tuesday – save, most notably, for Major League Soccer, the Chinese Super League and the Russian Premier League – felt fairly busy yet just as inconsequential compared to others, with few true stars actually switching teams. The impact on the rest of the season will probably be modest, but then there were still some clear winners and losers.
China: The SPL made yet more waves this winter, adding a slew of big names to a league that has already stocked itself with more of them than anybody could have imagined in such a short timespan. First, former Premier League and Juventus star Carlos Tevez was coaxed from his beloved Boca Juniors, quite possibly making him the best-paid player in the world. Oscar followed from Chelsea, for the 10th-highest transfer fee ever, giving the league a young attacking midfielder who could become a genuine star for the glamorous Brazilian national team. Axel Witsel snubbed several big clubs, including Juve, to leave Zenit St. Petersburg. And Alexandre Pato was tempted east from Villareal.
Paris Saint-Germain: PSG, which already counted Angel Di Maria, Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore and Hatem Ben Arfa among its corps of attacking midfielders, felt that it needed to stock up further. Perhaps because its vise-like grip on Ligue 1 has softened this year, after four straight championships. And it sure did shore up the front lines. Julian Draxler was signed from Wolfsburg, and then followed 20-year-old mega prospects Goncalo Guedes and Giovani Lo Celso, from Portugal and Argentina, respectively. To make a little room, Jese, bought from Real Madrid for 25 million euros just last summer, was loaned to Las Palmas.
Ligue 1: In addition to PSG’s haul, the resurgent French league made two other splashes. Olympique Lyon rescued Memphis Depay from his bleak outlook at Manchester United, where manager Jose Mourinho plainly has no use for the winger, who was one of the most promising young players in Europe following the 2014 World Cup. Olympique Marseille, meanwhile, managed to pry Dimitri Payet back from West Ham United after a season and a half, the first real statement purchase by new American owner Frank McCourt.
Everton: There are some inevitabilities in the transfer market. One is manager David Moyes signing a player he’s managed before – so far at Sunderland this season, he has brought in eight of his former Everton and Manchester United players. The other is Everton finding a good player at the end of the United bench. A habit, it should be noted, begun under Moyes. This time around, the Toffees scooped up Morgan Schneiderlin, who was for several years one of the best two-way midfielders in the Premier League, until Mourinho saw no use for him. At 23 million euros, the price tag is steep, but then Everton badly needed a player exactly like him.
Philadelphia Union: The thinking behind the Union’s appointment of Dutch-American Sporting Director Earnie Stewart early last year was obvious. He has a strong track record of unearthing bargains and the connections to mine the European player market. Stewart had already landed U.S. regular Alejandro Bedoya and acquired budding national teamers Chris Pontius and Keegan Rosenberry in 2016. So far this off-season, he has also landed former AZ players – where he worked most recently – Giliano Wijnaldum, a left back, and Haris Medunjanin, an attacking midfielder. But that isn’t all. He also bagged experienced English striker Jay Simpson, promising American forward Fafa Picault, and oft-injured, long-time national team center back Oguchi Onyewu. And he seems to have made all of those moves at little or no expense, quickly turning the Union into one of the stronger squads in Major League Soccer — or at least one of the most exciting ones.
Chelsea: The team lost some depth in Oscar, although it collected an outrageous fee for him. Still, Chelsea wasn’t exactly hard up for cash, and the money wasn’t reinvested into the alternative striker to Diego Costa that manager Antonio Conte desires – having apparently not been too impressed with expensive summer signing Michy Batshuayi. The Blues did manage to dump Jon Obi Mikel, who was dead weight after a decade of service to the club and moved to China. Branislav Ivanovic, meanwhile, went to Zenit St. Petersburg after falling out of favor as well. But the big defeat that landed Chelsea in this column was a transfer that never happened. Diego Costa was deeply upset that he wasn’t allowed to leave for China, where an enormous offer for the Brazilian-Spaniard made him want out of the Premier League leaders. The trouble is, even though Chelsea managed to hang onto him for now, Costa seems unhappy in London. He may very well want to leave in the summer. Considering how long it took Chelsea to finally find a successor to Didier Drogba, and the trouble it’s had even landing a backup, that would be an enormous bloodletting. The wheels for that were set in motion this winter.
Ajax: In a single transfer window – a mid-season one, no less – the quickly declining Dutch juggernauts lost midfielder Riechedly Bazoer, winger Anwar El Ghazi and enforcer Nemanja Gudelj. The former two were the latest diamonds sharpened by the club’s legendary youth academy, while the latter was supposed to become a dominant player after coming over from AZ. None of them lived up to their potential though. And just this past summer, Ajax saw the departures of striker Arek Milik, winger Viktor Fischer, goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen and defender Mike Van der Hoorn. That’s an entire generation of talent that might have made Ajax relevant in Europe again out the door in the span of six months. Sure, Ajax landed promising teenaged winger David Neres from Sao Paulo for 13 million euros, the second-highest fee in club history, but it’s of little consolation.
West Ham: The aforementioned transfer of Payet to Marseille is a big blow. In Payet’s only full season with the club, he made the Premier League Team of the Year and he was even in the conversation for the Player of the Year. Then he made the Team of the Tournament at Euro 2016, after starring for France. He was a large part of the reason the Hammers finished a surprising seventh. And his more forgettable form this year – Payet has apparently been unhappy since the summer, when a move to a major club like Barcelona or Real Madrid seemed like it might be in the offing but never materialized – was equally to blame for Slaven Bilic’s side sinking into the relegation zone before getting its act together. There’s just no replacing that kind of player when you’re West Ham. All things considered, getting Robert Snodgrass from Hull City is probably the least bad outcome. But the Hammers are markedly worse coming out of this transfer window.
Wayne Rooney: Now that Wazza has delivered on the impossible expectations put on him when he came up as a teenager by becoming not just England’s all-time leading scorer but Manchester United’s as well, there really isn’t anything keeping him at a club that has already kind of moved on from him. Mourinho doesn’t seem to mind having him around, as he can fill in capably in several positions, but Rooney isn’t an automatic starter anymore. He probably won’t ever be again, even though he’s only a few months past his 31st birthday. Mourinho, however, wouldn’t let him leave this winter, with interest from China and Major League Soccer apparently abundant, should Rooney indicate a willingness to go there. It feels like Rooney is now just biding his time until the summer. Which is a sorry fate for a club legend.
Manchester City: Gabriel Jesus, who was signed over the summer but arrived this winter, is the truth. The little Brazilian teenaged forward will, unless we’re all very much mistaken, have an outsized impact on the Premier League. But he really isn’t what Pep Guardiola’s side needed, even though the Spanish manager stubbornly maintains that he asked not to sign any new players. What this team needs is capable defenders. And a holding midfielder or two. And it got neither.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.