As we welcome in a New Year, the January transfer window gives all football fans the chance to speculate wildly about what the best business would be for their club.  There are some questions that are always at the front of our mind:

What is the ideal transfer strategy?
What is the best time for your club to make a purchase?
Do clubs actually benefit from the January transfer window?
In general, what difference does the transfer window make on the season?

Initially, we will take a look the current top 8 in the English Premier League (as of 03/01/2014), and analyse the team’s performance in the ‘11/’12 season compared with the ‘12/’13 season.  The table below shows the teams total points and league position at the end of the two seasons in question, and then the difference between the two.

For brevity we will focus less on Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool as these teams didn’t demonstrate much change in fortune in terms of league success.

  • Arsenal – Moved from third to fourth, both times claiming the last champions league spot available from the league position, and had a similar number of points between the two seasons.
  • Tottenham – Moved from fourth to fifth, both times missing out on the champions league with a similar number of points. 
    See as to why they missed out on the Champions League in ‘11/’12.
  • Liverpool and Everton – Both improved one league position but failed to qualify for Europe regardless. 

So let’s for now look at Manchester United and Chelsea, who represented an improvement, and Manchester City and Newcastle, who seemed to regress in the ‘12/’13 season.

It seems logical to consider that three transfer windows could contribute to an improvement between the two seasons:  January 2012, summer 2012 and January 2013.

Volume of Transfers

Firstly let’s take a look at the number of transfers in and out in each of the relevant windows in the table above.

Links for the data from each of the transfers can be found here:–January-2012.html–summer-2012.html

It should be noted that any players that were signed and whom didn’t appear for the relevant club before the end of the ‘12/’13 season, for example youth team players or players signed and immediately loaned out, don’t feature in the data.  So what can we take from this data?

  • Newcastle signed only three players before the ‘12/’13 season began (the fewest of the four teams) which could have contributed to their slump from 5th to 16th between the two seasons.
  • Newcastle also offloaded the fewest players, so there was less churn in the squad – so is change healthy?
  • Manchester United went on to win the title.  If we look at just the January and summer windows of 2012, although they had more churn of players than Newcastle, they have fewer players coming and going than Chelsea and Manchester City. 
  • Chelsea and Manchester United made the majority of their purchases in the summer, whereas Newcastle left many their signings until mid season, at which point it could prove to be too late (see below).

Possible conclusion: To be successful it is advised to do the majority of your business in the summer, whilst turnover of players is healthy for a club but only up until a point when it becomes disruptive.

Timing your purchase

The summer transfer window is the longest, spanning almost three months from early June to the end of August.  Clubs are frequently chastised for leaving their business too late, consequently leaving players with too little time to settle in.  See the table below for the monthly breakdown of the clubs summer signings.

It is notable that Manchester City completed 80% of their summer signings in August, whereas Chelsea’s and Manchester United’s signings are more evenly distributed across the window.

Possible conclusion: Purely considering the performance of the team it is worthwhile buying the bulk players sooner rather than later in the window.

The data for each of the relevant players’ signing dates can be found by searching

Marquee signings

It is easy to consider examples of successful players being signed late in the transfer window.  For example, Robin Van Persie in 2012 was instrumental in the title winning campaign, and Mesut Ozil has been a key figure in Arsenal’s early success this season.  However, this doesn’t necessarily contradict the hypothesis that the bulk of your signings should be made early on.

Looking forwards

With the January window now open it is worth looking at whether the January window last season proved instrumental or otherwise in the outcome of the Premier League.  The graph below compares the league position of the eight Premier League teams from the beginning of 2013 and the end of the ‘12/’13 season, and then the volume of players who were bought and sold by each team.

It is difficult to yield much from this data.  The two Manchester clubs only released players in this window, and their league positions didn’t change.  It would be difficult to pinpoint Arsenal’s improvement to the signing of Nacho Monreal.  Liverpool and Tottenham signed and released exactly the same amount of players and Liverpool improved a place, whereas Spurs finished the season a position below where they were at the turn of the year.

Two notably improved teams so far this season have been Liverpool and Newcastle.  Newcastle were very active in this January window yet their league position remained as 16th.  Liverpool signed Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho in this window: two players who have been very influential in Liverpool’s success this season.

Possible conclusion: Although the January transfer window may not be a major factor in the outcome of the current season, it is a good time to bring in players to settle them in for six months prior to the next season.

In summary

Attempting to correlate the timings of transfers with the success of a team falls short in that it doesn’t take into account the quality of the relevant players.  However, the possible conclusions that we have come across in this article are far from unreasonable.  It is also worth considering examples such as Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez; both signed for their respective clubs on the same day, Torres has won lots of trophies and Suarez has scored lots of goals, Torres is thought to have been a failure and Suarez is thought to have become one of the greatest players in the world.

Let’s revisit the initial questions and see whether we are any better informed.
Is there an ideal strategy? – Buy the majority of your players earlier.  Have ‘a bit but not too much churn’ of players in each window.
Is there an optimum point to make your purchase? – For the marquee signings; perhaps not.
Do teams actually benefit from the January transfer window? – Not necessarily in the current season, but the clubs may reap their rewards in future seasons.

We wait in anticipation of the drama of this January’s transfer window.