There are just two words required to sum up the principal problem of the January transfer window, that time of doing important business while under the influence of panic: Christopher and Samba.
The sizeable former Blackburn defender was bought by Harry Redknapp this time last season with the simple requirement to keep QPR in the Premier League. As he arrived from Heathrow in the back of a chauffeured limo, his enormous contract requiring a vehicle of its own, Samba’s new team mates were told by the defender that they could rely on him. Once he had got fit and lost a couple of kilos, that is. It was clear in the wheezing, half-paced performances that followed that those were concepts marginally beyond his immediate capabilities. Within four months, QPR were down and Samba was wobbling off on his way back to Russia.
Mind, if it’s not those two words that best sum up the critical issue of the January sales, then how about Benni and McCarthy? The South African was bought by West Ham in January 2010 for £2.2million in order to provide the relegation-threatened club with the goals that would preserve their Premier League status.
Over the course of the next 18 months he played the grand total of 11 games during which he failed once to trouble the scorers. He finally departed East London having denuded the coffers at the Boleyn Ground of some £40,000 for each and every one of his 72 weeks of fruitless employment.
Those examples alone should be enough to deter all but the most desperate from airing their cheque book in January. And that is without even mentioning words like Carroll or Torres.
Because this is the real problem with January: there is no time to assimilate a new signing. There is no pre-season to get his fitness numbers up to scratch. No lengthy spell on the training ground to ease him into his new surrounds. No pre-season friendlies to help him adapt. He has to hit the ground running, fit straight into the dressing room and produce his best form immediately.
Get those things right as the New Year starts and the rewards can be long term. Luis Suarez, Patrice Evra, Andrew Cole, Nemanja Vidic: these were all sizeable pieces of mid-season recruitment. In 2007 David Moyes paid no more than West Ham did for McCarthy to bring Mikel Arteta over from Spain. Which, as even those Everton fans currently revising their opinion on all things Moyes-related would attest, was no bad bit of business.
The thing about all of those successful January signings, however, was that they were made by clubs who were not in the grip of panic. Yes, they were brought in to give new impetus to a title challenge or the dash for a Champions League spot. But they were not bought to avert crisis.
It is much harder to find a successful January transfer among those who need a quick fix. Especially when the fix generally required by those at the bottom of the league is in front of goal. When someone comes in knowing, if nothing else, that the future of the man who signed him is dependent on him producing a string of miracles and a glut of goals, the focus and attention can be debilitating.
That, of course, will not stop those at the bottom desperately looking around of the next couple of weeks for someone who could make a difference. At Cardiff and West Brom, the January splurge will begin with a new manager
My namesake at Sky can look forward to the excited reading out of a list of previously unheard of Colombians, Turks and Ghanaians heading westwards out of Heathrow. Jim White will be loudly asking “so what do we know of Cardiff’s new signing from Shakhtar?” If they prove to be up to the standard of some of usual January buys, we will soon be wondering why White bothered to ask.
If Malky Mackay gets the job at the Hawthorns, then he will be hoping some of those who made noises of support during his spat with Vincent Tan will smooth his way with a couple of helpful loans. Wilfried Zaha would be a start.
Among the other relegation-threatened clubs, Fulham are the ones most likely to be buying this month, hoping the pricey purchase of someone like Ravel Morrison or Jermain Defoe will be enough to keep them in the sunlit financial uplands of the division, the place their new owner assumed they would be staying when he forked out more than £200million last summer.
West Ham, too, are financially geared to life in the Premier League, as their porn-enriched owners will doubtless be informing their manager every day this month. Whether that manager is Sam Allardyce or not.
Crystal Palace, on the other hand, are more realistically geared financially, and thus less likely to splurge. Besides they have done their main bit of survival business, bringing in Tony Pulis to cajole their existing roster into a proper fight by sheer bullying force of personality.
All Norwich and Sunderland need, meanwhile, is that little something sides in trouble have perennially needed at this time of year. They require a goal scorer. They need someone to do what Christian Benteke did in keeping Aston Villa buoyant last season and put the ball in the net at least ten times over the next few months.
In short, what they could do with this January is a 20-goal a season forward who can be persuaded to join an under-performing team for what promises to be an almighty all-in relegation scrap. One, moreover, in the form of his life. If anyone knows where such an unlikely paragon can be found, they should get themselves registered today as an agent.