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Ranking Manchester United’s best and worst January transfers

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Writer Colin Damms ranks the best and worst of United’s January signings

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Since the introduction of the January transfer window, clubs have been allowed to reinforce their squad with new blood at the mid season mark, should they feel the need to do so. January is often full of more rumours than actual deals, but there have still been quite a few notable moves, particularly at Manchester United. The Reds have had their fair share of stars and flops, and this article is here to fill the void of Ed Woodward’s inaction by ranking the best and worst January transfers.

Feel free to weigh in on the selections in the comments.

Worst

5. Víctor Valdés

Manchester United v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Víctor Valdés was suddenly looking for work in 2014 after FC Barcelona decided to part ways with their long time no. 1. The three time UEFA Champions League winner was signed by Manchester United on a free transfer in January, 2015. Though he was signed as a backup for David De Gea, Valdés became publicly frustrated at the club in the summer of 2015 after a falling out with manager Louis Van Gaal, and he refused to appear for the reserve team. Attempted deals to move him from the club fell through, and he was stuck with United until a loan move was secured in January, 2016, just a year on from his arrival.

This transfer was fairly insignificant in terms of impact in the squad, but brought a lot of unwanted attention to the club in the summer of 2015, a time in which United were in negotiations with David De Gea and Real Madrid over a potential sale. The club also agreed to pay his wages in full during his loan spell just to ship him out.

4. Rodrigo Possebon

Southampton v Manchester United - FA Cup 3rd Round Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images

After the departure of Roy Keane in the 2005/06 season there began an overhaul of Manchester United’s midfield. An aging Paul Scholes didn’t have the stamina he used to, and Sir Alex Ferguson began searching for depth in the United Academy and in the transfer market. Possebon arrived at Old Trafford in January, 2008 with hopes of filling the gaps in an aging midfield.

Instead, he quickly sank into obscurity in a squad full of up and coming talent. Darren Fletcher and Ji-Sung Park had become midfield regulars, and other young talents like Darron Gibson and Anderson had broken into the squad as well. After suffering a significant leg injury from which he never fully recovered, Possebon was sent out on loan to Braga in 2009 and sold back to Brazil in 2010, concluding a short lived career in Manchester.

3. Zoran Tošić

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur - FA Cup 4th Round Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Zoran Tošić, like Possebon, had a very short-lived Manchester United career. There was some difficulty negotiating his transfer from Partizan Belgrade, a deal which was supposed to include Adem Ljajić as well, and the application for a work permits for the two players elongated the deal. Tošić was able to officially join in January, 2009, and made his debut as a substitute against Tottenham in the FA Cup.

However, the Serbian winger soon grew impatient with Sir Alex Ferguson, and requested a permanent move away from the club in 2010, after having spent a season on loan in Germany.

Tošić had several productive seasons in Russia with CSKA Moscow, winning the Russian Premier League 3 times and the Russian Cup twice, before returning to Partizan in 2017. He has stated before that he regrets leaving United before he could find his feet, and that Sir Alex Ferguson had tried to convince him to stay. He isn’t the first talented player to become unsettled at United, and will not be the last, but now fans will only be able to wonder what could have been.

2. Wilfried Zaha

A-League All-Stars v Manchester United Photo by Matt King/Getty Images

Like Tošić, this deal is one of lost potential rather than poor performances, and boy have United missed out on some potential.

Wilfried Zaha’s services were secured in January, 2013 from Crystal Palace, where he was immediately sent back on loan until the end of the season. Zaha was under the impression he’d join Sir Alex Ferguson’s title winning side as they looked to defend their crown in 2013/14. Then Sir Alex retired in May, 2013. When Zaha arrived at United David Moyes had taken charge, and saw no use for Zaha at the club. He was alienated, loaned, and eventually sent back to Crystal Palace on a permanent move by Louis Van Gaal, who also saw no use for Zaha.

Zaha didn’t sink to the lows of many players who don’t make it at a big club, and instead used the rejection as motivation to improve. He’s since become the leader up top at Selhurst Park, and has played a major role in keeping the club afloat in the Premier League. His time at United serves as a cautionary tale to any manager, and is a reminder think twice before rushing to judgement on a young player.

1. Alexis Sánchez

Manchester United v Valencia - UEFA Champions League Group H Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

This one was difficult because the player has only been at the club for a year, but what an awful year it’s been.

In January, 2018 Manchester United orchestrated a straight swap deal with Arsenal, sending the out of favor Henrikh Mkhitaryan to London for the services of the disgruntled Chilean forward. His slow start to life at United gradually turned into a bad time for everyone. Alexis’ massive wages and minimal impact made United fans turn on him quickly, and he was dropped from the starting 11 before picking up a knee injury in training late in 2018, capping off a dreadful year at the club.

Alexis Sánchez was one of the best players in the Premier League before his move to Old Trafford, but has since been only a shadow of his former self. He has done nothing to justify becoming the highest paid player in the Premier League, and could end up as one of Manchester United’s worst transfers ever.

Alexis has produced a few memorable moments, including the equalizer in the FA Cup semi-final, a great performance in United’s 3-2 Derby triumph, and the winner in the 3-2 comeback against Newcastle. He still has a chance to save his career at United, and has taken advantage of the chances new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has given him. Perhaps one day Alexis will even make it to the other side of this list, but for now it’s still a deal that hasn’t paid off for United.

Best

5. Paul Scholes

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Paul Scholes had not exactly left the club after his retirement in 2011, and had already taken on a role as a coach at Carrington. When he noticed the struggles of United’s midfielders in the 2011/12 campaign he was encouraged to come out of retirement, and was welcomed back immediately by Sir Alex and the squad in January, 2012.

Scholes helped United in their ultimately unsuccessful title push, and returned the next season as they got their trophy back from the noisy neighbours before retiring once again in 2013. Scholes was already a club legend when he retired in 2011, but his return to the side only added to his legacy, and added one more medal to his already impressive collection.

4. Louis Saha

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Louis Saha was a player whose Manchester United career was constantly in danger because of his injuries, but when he was healthy he was one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s favorite striking options.

Saha moved to Old Trafford in January, 2004 after 3 12 impressive seasons at Fulham. Saha entered a United team that had fallen behind in the title race against Arsenal’s “Invincibles,” but provided new hope for a struggling United side that would soon rebound with the coming of age of Saha’s youthful attacking partners Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. From 2005-2007 he regularly contributed goals to a side that finally overcame José Mourinho’s Chelsea and re-claimed the Premier League throne.

Saha picked up 2 Premier League medals, a UEFA Champions League medal, and a League Cup medal in his time at United, which was unfortunately cut short due to persistent injuries. He wasn’t someone who was able to stay at Manchester United for as long as many had hoped, but his 42 goals and the role he played in re-establishing United’s dominance in England cannot be overlooked.

3. Juan Mata

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Juan Mata isn’t a player whose Old Trafford career glitters with silverware, but he has nonetheless remained an important member of the squad through some very tough years. When Mata arrived in January, 2014 David Moyes was searching desperately for star talent to pick up the squad and carry them back into the top 4. It wasn’t to be for Moyes, but Mata’s United career could only go up from there. He had a breakout campaign in 2014/15 under Louis Van Gaal as United climbed back into the top 4, and provided some magical moments, including a stunning scissor kick goal at Anfield to seal a 2-1 away win.

Even as United’s league form regressed in 2015/16 and 2016/17 Mata put in some impressive performances in cup fixtures. He scored the equalizing goal against Crystal Palace in the 2016 FA Cup final, and scored the winner against Manchester City and the opener against Hull City in the 4th round and semi-final of the 2016/17 League Cup respectively. He’s picked up cup medals in the FA Cup, League Cup, and Europa League so far in his time at United.

Though Mata is no longer a guaranteed starter for the Reds he has become a leader in the locker room through some difficult seasons and 4 different managers. His humanitarian efforts off the pitch, his blog, and his all around positive influence have made him a fan favorite, but it’s his moments of magic on the pitch that make him a successful signing despite multiple failed managers.

2. Patrice Evra

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A fan favorite and club legend, no list of best Manchester United transfers would be complete without Patrice Evra.

The French full back arrived from Monaco in January, 2006 and made an immediate impact. He quickly became the first choice left back over Gabriel Heinze, and United’s form in the league showed just how impactful he and fellow January signee Nemanja Vidić were (more on him later). It was too late to catch leaders Chelsea in the 2005/06 campaign, but United’s revamped defensive line was more than ready for the 2006/07 season. United took control of the title race early through the prolific attacking talents of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, whose production was no longer cancelled out by shoddy defending.

For the next several years Manchester United reclaimed their footballing throne, winning 5 Premier League titles, 3 League Cup titles, the UEFA Champions League, and the Club World Cup. Evra became one of the leaders in the dressing room, but a tough 2013/14 under David Moyes saw many of the old guard pushed out of the club, and Evra moved to Juventus on a free transfer. It wasn’t the greatest of endings for the club legend, but his legacy was already secure from the phenomenal work he put in during his 8 year run with the Reds.

1. Nemanja Vidić

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To mount a title challenge you need both centre back positions locked down by an elite defensive partnership. For several years United struggled to find that partner for Rio Ferdinand, and a worthy candidate was finally identified in 2005.

Nemanja Vidić arrived for a fee of around £7m from Spartak Moscow as part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s defensive overhaul midway through the 2005/06 season. His aggressive approach to the position made him a perfect partner for Rio, and the two quickly gained notoriety amongst opposition. For years they held down the back line of some of United’s most successful teams, earning cult status as the Great Wall of Manchester.

Following nearly a decade of success the Serbian enforcer was one of the many casualties of poor form under David Moyes in 2013/14, which saw him forced out of the club along with Rio and Evra.