While the January transfer window is known for an inability to sign the best players, there is, however obvious candidates for the finest crop of January signings (2011 was a vintage year), whittling down the moves proved more challenging.
Jaap Stam (Willem II to PSV, 1996)
Mr Stam was only at Willem II for six months but made such an impression that PSV, seeking to end three seasons without silverware, swooped. The 23-year-old helped them to the Dutch Cup in his first campaign and the Eredivisie title in his second before joining Manchester United in 1998 for €18m – a then record for a defender.
Dejan Stanković (Lazio to Inter, 2004)
Financial problems meant Lazio could not refuse Inter’s offer of €4m plus inducements; it was quickly apparent the Nerazzurri had got a bargain. Mr Stanković established himself as a firm fans’ favourite by scoring from a corner against rivals AC Milan within weeks of arriving. He went on to win five Scudettos and the 2010 UEFA Champions League.
Nemanja Vidić (Spartak Moskva to Manchester United, 2006)
Sir Alex Ferguson beat competition from Liverpool and Fiorentina to sign the Serbian defender and the cause of his determined pursuit was immediately evident. There was no catching Chelsea in 2005/06, but Vidić’s partnership with Rio Ferdinand provided the bedrock for an era of dominance alongside another arrival in winter 2006, Patrice Evra.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Heerenveen to Ajax, 2006)
This €9m signing was a double coup for Ajax: the most promising striker in Dutch football and a player PSV once had on their books to boot. Huntelaar scored 105 goals in 136 outings for the club before leaving, three winters later, for Real Madrid. He commanded a €27m fee.
Marcelo (Fluminense to Real Madrid, 2007)
“A pearl that half of Europe wanted,” president Ramón Calderón said of Marcelo’s arrival aged 18. Over a decade on and four Liga titles and three UEFA Champions League winners’ medals later, that sense of satisfaction has only amplified. Another acquisition from South America that winter, Gonzalo Higuaín, also proved a bit of a catch.
Andrea Barzagli (Wolfsburg to Juventus, 2011)
The best €300,000 Juve ever spent. Barzagli was not a complete unknown – he had 25 caps to his name and helped Wolfsburg to the 2008/09 Bundesliga title – but his career had stalled. The Bianconeri weren’t put off, drafting him into a defensive unit alongside Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon. They have won six successive titles.
Luis Suárez (Ajax to Liverpool, 2011)
The Reds wasted no time spending the €57.5m from Fernando Torres’s sale to Chelsea, bringing in Andy Carroll (€40.25m) and Suárez (€26.5m). Carroll managed 11 goals in 58 games before departing a year and a half later. Suárez fared rather better with 82 in 133 outings, including 31 as Liverpool fell just short of the 2013/14 Premier League title. It took Barcelona €82.3m to prise him away.
Ivan Rakitić (Schalke to Sevilla, 2011)
The Swiss-born Croatian international went on to become the first foreign captain of the Andalusian outfit since Diego Maradona and led them to the first of their historic treble of UEFA Europa League titles in 2014 before he too joined Barcelona.
Juanfran (Osasuna to Atlético Madrid, 2011)
A tricky winger with Navarran side Osasuna, Juanfran was reinvented as a full-back at the Calderón and has been Mr Reliable on the right of Atlético’s fearsome defence for the past seven years. Not bad for a man who was once on Real Madrid’s books.
Nemanja Matić (Chelsea to Benfica, 2011)
A proper coup. Signed as part of the deal that took David Luiz to Stamford Bridge, the Serbian was immediately converted from a playmaker into a defensive midfielder and was at the heart of a side that fell just short of UEFA Europa League glory in 2013 – denied by the Blues. He commanded a €25m fee when Chelsea re-signed him the following year.