WINTER DEADLINE 2014

FOX Soccer Exclusive

Deadline hoopla passes without noise

Recap: Transfer window closes
Recap: Transfer window closes
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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As far as European transfer deadline days go, this one was a bust. In truth, few of them live up to all the hype and hubbub. But after much talking and shouting about potential blockbuster deals, the culmination of the winter transfer window was particularly anticlimactic as midnight in continental Europe was met with nary a whimper.

The list of reportedly imminent mega moves that didn’t happen was long. Toni Kroos didn’t leave Bayern Munich for Manchester United after all. Nor did Arsenal manage to poach Schalke’s Julian Draxler before the summer, as they had hoped. Fernando didn’t go to Manchester City. And after the deadline had crept by, it transpired that not even the mooted Yevhen Konoplyanka to Liverpool transfer had gotten done.

Because rather than procrastinate on their shopping or, on the other side of the table, leveraging the ticking clock to induce panic, the big clubs had already concluded their major bits of business a few days ago. And in this last game of musical chairs for playing time ahead of this summer’s World Cup, the loan move was as popular as ever.

Chelsea was among the most active teams. They unloaded spare attacking midfielders Juan Mata on Manchester United for some $60 million and Kevin de Bruyne on Wolfsburg for $23 million early in the month. Then they spun their profits into the purchase of FC Basel forward Mohamed Salah for $17.8 million, defender Kurt Zouma for $20 million -- although he’ll remain at Saint-Etienne through the end of the season -- and Benfica’s holding midfielder Nemanja Matic for more than $33 million. Matic, by the way, had been sold by Chelsea to Benfica just 2½ years ago for a mere for just $6.5 million. Chelsea also loaned midfielders Michael Essien and Gael Kakuta to AC Milan and Lazio, respectively.

As for the fan-favorite the Blues gave up, the Mata transfer could be long in the memory as a turning point for either club. For a time, one of the primary gripes about Manchester United manager David Moyes was a perceived inability to land world-class players, those difference makers the club so desperately needed as it remade itself in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

A slew of misbegotten summer signings -- for Ander Herrera, for Thiago Alcantara, for Leighton Baines, for Cesc Fabregas, for Fabio Coentrao, for Sami Khedira, for Luka Modric, for Mesut Ozil, for Wesley Sneijder, for Daniele De Rossi and reportedly even for Gareth Bale -- had certainly underscored that point. But landing Mata, inarguably one of the world’s finer soccer players, could turn that narrative on its head. It was a bold move by Moyes, just as it was risky for Chelsea to sell him to a rival, even if he was surplus to requirements. The Red Devils also loaned excess left back Fabio and winger Wilfried Zaha to Cardiff City, where United’s former star forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer just took charge.

The winners, it would seem, were a pair of relegation-threatened Premier League sides. In a flurry of loan moves Fulham sent striker Dimitar Berbatov to AS Monaco and unloaded defender Philippe Senderos on Valencia while bringing in Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey and Tottenham midfielder Lewis Holtby. They got Everton defender Johnny Heitinga on a free transfer and dropped $20 million on Greece’s talismanic Olympiakos striker Kostas Mitroglou. And in a very late move, they also bought United midfielders Larnell Cole and Ryan Tunnicliffe.

West Ham United, meanwhile, signed a trio of handy players, with Milan midfielder Antonio Nocerino and Napoli wing back Pablo Armero coming on loan while Roma striker Marco Boriello was signed for about $1 million.

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The losers, as far as anybody can tell on the evidence of what the tea leaves read, appeared to be Arsenal and Newcastle United. The Gunners relinquished their league lead the other day and weren’t able to get the cover at striker they so desperately need for the busy spring term. Instead, they actually dumped a forward in Park Chu-Young, loaning him to Watford, and signing midfielder Kim Kallstrom on loan from Spartak Moscow. The Magpies may have signed a solid striker on loan from Borussia Moenchengladbach in Luuk de Jong, but losing midfield metronome Yohan Cabaye to Paris Saint-Germain will sting, even at a $34 million fee.

Around Europe, the markets were noticeably quiet. The biggest move to happen in Spain was playmaker Diego’s return to Atletico Madrid on loan from Wolfsburg. In Italy, midfielder Hernanes went to Inter Milan for $20 million from Lazio. Over in Germany, Borussia Dortmund beat a slew of competitors to Partizan Belgrade’s highly-touted attacking midfielder Milos Jojic. And in Russia striker Salomon Rondon left Rubin Kazan for Zenit St. Petersburg and a $24 million fee.

Several Americans made moves. USA midfielder Michael Bradley had already left Roma for Toronto FC a few weeks ago, where he was joined by Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe at a cost of $10 million apiece. Midfielder Maurice Edu joined the Philadelphia Union from Stoke City on a loan. And on deadline day, midfield hard man Jermaine Jones went on loan to Besiktas from Schalke. Mexico winger Andres Guardado, meanwhile, found a new club in Bayer Leverkusen, in yet another loan from Valencia.

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But the bulk of the business revolved around rather uninspiring names making uninteresting moves. Cardiff and Stoke swapping strikers in Kenwyne Jones and Peter Odemwingie, for instance. Or Swansea City picking up Bolton’s David N’Gog. Or Crystal Palace bringing in Joe Ledley from Celtic -- though the move for Thomas Ince from Blackpool looks appealing at first glance. But in the absence of major last-minute moves, or indeed major last-day moves, they were what fans had to make do with.

Ho-hum.

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