Craig Fowler looks through the years to put together the very best January transfer deals made by Scottish clubs
In the context of the wider football world, January is looked upon as a time where you should be wary of chasing players. Clubs want to hold on to their talent until the end of the season, meaning prices become inflated and value for money is a hard thing to achieve. There’s also the issue with integrating someone into a new team halfway through a campaign, while there’s also a tendency to overvalue an in-form player based on a small sample scale of one-half season.
In Scottish football, however, we move to the beat of a different drum. Unless it’s Celtic or, until the last few years, Rangers, chances are you’re picking up a player for nothing regardless of whether it’s January or the summer months. And while there have been many times when the Glasgow giants messed things up in January, the fact that they can do more business in the transfer market and can recruit a higher quality of talent means they still feature in this list more times than they don’t.
When approaching this top 10 I thought it important to set out one specific rule, just to make things less complicated. That is: no player included shall have played less than one year with the club they signed for. There is one slight exception to this, but we’ll get to that later.
The reason for this rule was to get rid of the guys who were clearly very talented, too good for the Scottish top flight, some would say, but didn’t stick around for longer than six months. So there’s no Craig Bellamy or Robbie Keane, basically.
After all, what makes a great signing? Is it just a great player or is it someone who does great things at the club? Because you can do something great without actually being great. Can, for example, Dieter Van Tornhout be considered a great signing? He signed during a January window and left in the summer. Kilmarnock were not fussed in the slightest about keeping him. He wasn’t any good. However, he did score the winning goal in the 2012 League Cup final. Because of him Kilmarnock won only their fifth major honour in their history. But does that make him a great signing despite the fact he was a mediocre player the rest of the time? It surely does, but it goes against how we often judge transfers. There often needs to be something longer. Or does there? You see now why I introduced the rule.
Anyway, without any further introduction, here is my top 10. Those marked with an asterisk signify transfers where the official fee was undisclosed, but the amounts written are what is widely believed to have been paid.
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10 - Kris Doolan - from Auchinleck Talbot to Partick Thistle - January 9, 2009 - free transfer
Thistle fans would be forgiven for failing to envision such success from the striker when he arrived from Junior football. After all, in their wildest dreams they couldn’t have expected him to still be banging in the goals seven years later, having helped the club return to the top flight before contributing to them staying there.
He recently moved into 15th place in their all-time goalscorer list and signed a three-and-a-half year deal that will keep him until 2019, meaning he’ll be a Thistle player for 10 years.
That’s what cemented Doolan’s place in here. Unless he falls off a cliff in the next season or so, he’ll be considered an all-time Partick Thistle great. Not bad for a mid-season punt.
9. Ki Sung-yueng - from FC Seoul to Celtic - 1 January, 2010 - £2,100,000*
There were another couple of great Celtic January signings that just missed out on the top 10.
Georgios Samaras drew serious consideration, mainly for his heroics in Europe when he demonstrated his incredible talents to give some of the world’s best a torrid time. While Mikael Lustig also just missed out.
Ki finished ahead of them mainly because of his consistency, which Samaras lacked and Lustig has struggled with of late. Not to mention, Celtic trebled their initial investment when they sold Ki to Swansea City for over £6 million.
Completely besides the point, but it’s worth mentioning that Ki was the first signing in what would later prove to be a horrific January window from Celtic’s point of view. Also arriving that month were Morten Rasmussen, Thomas Rogne, Jos Hooiveld, Edson Braafheid, Paul Slane and Diomansy Kamara. Yeesh.
8. Michael O’Halloran - from Bolton Wanderers to St. Johnstone - 3 January, 2014 - free transfer
Quite frankly, O’Halloran gets on this list because he played a role in St Johnstone winning the only major honour in the club’s history.
Sorry, that just trumps a lot of other players that were in contention, many of whom aided in Dundee United’s 2010 Scottish Cup triumph (Danny Swanson, Morgaro Gomis and Jon Daly).
O’Halloran also played a huge role in St Johnstone taking fourth place last season, getting them back into Europe. It didn’t look possible until he started to come out of his shell.
That’s the thing with O’Halloran. Some will say he’s overrated and, who knows, he might be, but he makes such an impact on that St Johnstone team and I really fear for their future without him.
7. Mark Reynolds - from Sheffield Wednesday to Aberdeen - 6 January, 2012 - loan
This is the example I eluded to earlier as a bit of a cheat, because Reynolds returned on loan to Sheffield Wednesday after the conclusion of this deal.
However, he soon came back to Aberdeen for a second loan spell and signed permanently for the club the following January, so it’s almost like he never left.
He’s been superb for the Dons since that time, always viewed as a first-team regular and even captaining the team on occasion. He also played in the League Cup final win in 2013.
6. Barry Ferguson - from Blackburn Rovers to Rangers - 31 January, 2005 - £4,500,000*
Ferguson is further down the list purely because of his transfer fee. That’s another wrinkle of the ‘how do you judge a signing?’ ramble I had earlier. It’s widely interpreted that a free agent makes a better transfer than someone signed for £5 million if those players are of similar ability. So at what point in this scale does a multi-million pound deal become better than the free? If he’s twice the player? Ten times the player?
I’ve probably done Barry a disservice. Or, in the eyes of those who often derided his high percentage passing approach, I’ve been far too kind by including him in the top 10. I’m sure you’ll let me know either way in the comments section. And I promise to read them all thoroughly.
For what it’s worth, I think Ferguson was ahead of his time in terms of his playing style. Critics looked back at his early exuberance and insisted he should have been like that all the way through his career. I’d say he was more valuable to his side as the player he evolved into, when he would dictate the tempo of the whole team and play with his head, rather than his heart, in the centre of the park.
5. Adam Rooney - from Oldham Athletic to Aberdeen - 23 January, 2014 - free transfer
Rooney is a guaranteed goalscorer on a team that plays outside of Glasgow. Look through the last 15 years for such players, someone who you know will score at least double figures, if not 15-20 goals a season, and you’ll find those guys are a real commodity. He’s also one of those signings that you knew was going to be great right away - after all, he’d already done it at Inverness - meaning it was all the more satisfying when he did.
He also netted the winning penalty in their 2013 League Cup final victory. It felt, at the time, that particular triumph was going to be the start of an Aberdeen dynasty, at least as far as the cup competitions go. As time ticks on, however, and as Aberdeen squander this window of opportunity, that moment is becoming increasingly iconic.
4. Kris Boyd - from Kilmarnock to Rangers - 1 January, 2006 - £400,000*
The top four were an absolute nightmare to separate. The only way I could eventually get them in some sort of contented order was to pick holes in each of their careers, which is hardly fair or in-keeping with the tone of this article, but there you go.
That is why Kris Boyd is in fourth place despite the fact he’s the highest goalscorer in SPL history. Because there was a time, early in his Rangers career, where a goal was just guaranteed if he was on the park. You’d go into the game knowing your team needed to score two because Boyd wouldn’t definitely get at least one.
Although, that fear didn’t apply if you supported Celtic or a team from Europe. Boyd, particularly in the latter part of his first spell at Ibrox, didn’t always play in those bigger matches. His perceived lack of all-round skills saw him as something of a liability in the eyes of Walter Smith, who often left him on the bench in these scenarios.
Still, there’s no denying his incredible record. According to Soccerbase he netted 126 times in 166 domestic matches across those initial four-and-a-half years. That is incredible.
3. Kris Commons - from Derby County to Celtic - 27 January, 2011 - £300,000
Similar to Boyd, Commons finds himself at the No.3 spot because he hasn’t always been someone Celtic managers could rely on. There was that full season where he barely kicked a ball and seemed on his way out of the club after a rumoured falling out with Neil Lennon, and then there’s Ronny Deila’s hesitation to use him over the past 18 months - not to mention the shouting match in Molde.
The reason he places above Boyd is because he’s definitely done it in bigger matches, as evidence by some of his key goals for Celtic in Europe.
In Scottish football over the last 20 years or so, there have been few players capable of scoring goals as frequently as Commons, and he isn’t even a striker. In the 2013-14 campaign he netted 27 league goals. Again, that’s incredible.
2. Leigh Griffiths - from Wolves to Celtic - 31 January, 2014 - £1,000,000*
It’s easy to imagine a time in the near future where the decision to put Griffiths at No.2 in this list is going to be viewed as a ridiculous blunder on my part. With a contract stretching into the next decade, he’s got the means and opportunity to turn himself into a Celtic legend and, whisper it, potentially even surpass Henrik Larsson on the club’s all-time goalscorers list.
I still harbour some doubts whether he is the man Celtic need to compete in Europe, but he’s still improving as a player and I almost expect to be proven wrong when he’s unleashed on the competition once again next season.
However, it was just too soon to put him at No.1. He was decent in his first six months under Lennon before being out of the picture for an initial period of time after Deila came in. He’s only really been this form of Leigh Griffiths, the man who every team in the country is terrified of, for around a year now.
1. David Weir - from Everton to Rangers - 16 January, 2007 - free transfer
And so we’re left with Davie Weir. He lost his way a bit in his final season - playing, er, once - but then he was (literally) 41 at the time, so it’s not something that should be held against him.
When Rangers initially picked him up from Everton he was viewed upon as something of a stop-gap, which is why they only gave him a deal until the end of that season. Instead, he remained with the club for five years, won eight major honours and played a vital role in the stingy defence which propelled Rangers into the Uefa Cup final. (Prediction: that’s the last time a Scottish club will reach a major European final for a long, long time).
Also, he was a free transfer! As discussed previously, when in doubt over which signing is better, go with the one that cost nothing.
So that’s it. I’d like to wrap this up by apologising to Russell Anderson, Bruno Aguiar, Alan Archibald (to Partick Thistle), Thomas Buffel, Steven Hammell, Kane Hemmings, Chris Killen (when Hibs signed him), Shaleum Logan, Henrik Ojamaa, Stephen Pearson (Celtic & Motherwell), Tom Rogic and all the others mentioned in the text above. You were all considered.
Oh, and Jim Goodwin too.
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