January 2003 saw the Premier League’s first foray into January transfers. Twelve years on, we examine the best and worst signings of the first ever January transfer window.
The January transfer window is a frenzy filled period. It is a time when Sky Sports kicks into overdrive, gossip columns become even more ludicrous and all of us develop an opinion about what managers should do.
Despite only existing for a little over a decade, the January transfer window has undoubtedly changed the nature of English football. Few would argue for the better mind you. From Arsene Wenger to Harry Redknapp managers in England have lamented the nature of the one month long window and argued that it has driven up transfer fees to unsustainable levels.
It all began thanks to a FIFA ruling prior to the beginning of the 2002/2003 season which stipulated that permanent moves made during the season had to be limited to a one month window. The 2002/2003 season was thus the first Premier League season to experience the January window.
Today we look at some of the best and some of the worst signings from the inaugural transfer window.
Christophe Dugarry, Bordeaux to Birmingham (loan)
Dugarry arrived at newly promoted Birmingham with an impressive CV. Spells at AC Milan and Barcelona had been coupled with World Cup and European Championship wins. Unsurprisingly eyebrows were raised when the Frenchman turned up at St. Andrews. Fans of the club were excited but intially it looked like Dugarry would be a flop.
His first ten games saw Dugarry struggle to hit the target but just when hope was lost Dugarry found his feet late in the season to help the Blues avoid the drop. Five goals in four games proved enough to save Steve Bruce’s side. It was undoubtedly one of the best signings in January and Dugarry has gone down as a legend despite his brief spell at the club. Reflecting on the loan signing many years later Steve Bruce commented:
“There has not been a better player ever to play for this club.” – Bruce on Dugarry
Fans agreed and in 2010, Dugarry was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame. Not bad for a loan signing.
Yakubu, Maccabi Haifa to Portsmouth (loan)
‘Feed the Yak and he will score.’
In 2002 Yakubu was hot property. Having netted five goals in the Champions League for Maccabi Haifa that season, plenty of European clubs wanted the Nigerian on their books. Few expected that Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth would be his destination however. Pompey at the time were angling to gain promotion to the Premier League and it was hoped that the Yak would help push them over the line.
Seven goals in 14 games saw Portsmouth gain promotion from Division One to the Premier League and Yakubu signed for £4.2m for the club’s inaugural Premier League campaign.
Jonathan Woodgate, Leeds to Newcastle (£9m)
Woodgate’s departure from Leeds United to pastures new was not easily accepted by fans of the Whites. Having already seen an exodus of stars from the side, Woodgate’s move was for many the last straw. It signified how desperate the club’s financial situation had become.
For Bobby Robson’s Newcastle, £9m was a steal. Although hampered by injuries, Woodgate turned out 28 times for the Magpies and was so impressive that he soon attracted the attention of Spanish giants Real Madrid. The club made a tidy profit when Woodgate was sold to Real for £13.4m in 2004.
Robbie Fowler, (Leeds to Manchester City, £3m rising to £6m)
Fowler’s transfer to City was a risky one. He hadn’t played a full ninety minutes for Leeds that season and had already turned down City’s advances early that season. It took a visit from Kevin Keegan, then City manager, to persuade Robbie to move to Manchester.
14 months earlier Leeds had paid Liverpooll £11m for the England striker but with Leeds struggling financially, City got Fowler for roughly half that price. What may have been a bargain soon became problematic. Fowler’s time at City was plagued by injuries and in three years at the Eastlands, he managed 20 League Goals. It was a less than respectable return given the high standards Fowler had set for himself at Liverpool.
Michael Ricketts (Bolton to Middlesbrough, £3.5m)
A year earlier Ricketts had earned his first England cap and hopes were high at Middlesbrough that Ricketts would prove a deadly signing. The Bolton striker had only scored three league goals since his England debut but clubs were still interested. Middlesborough had even beat off Totenham to sign the twenty-four year old.
Ricketts was thrown into Steve McClaren’s side immediately after signing but never really seemed comfortable leading Boro’s line. Ricketts failed to find his feet at the Smoggies and left in 2004 having scored four times.
Malcolm Christie (Derby to Middlesbrough, £3m – including Chris Riggott)
Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren thought he had pulled off a coup that January. In the summer he had been quoted £9m for Christie and £10m for Ricketts. When Christie was signed on the deadline day, McClaren could barely contain his excitement.
Sadly Christie’s time at the Boro was no better than Ricketts. Injuries, including two broken legs, severely curtailed Christie’s chances and the frontman was released in 2007.
Whilst the transfer fees were significantly smaller than what we are now used to, the stories were no different. Each year’s transfer window sees clubs succeed and clubs flounder. The best we can hope for is that it’s not our club!
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena