Football Features

Hit or miss? The most expensive winter transfer signings in La Liga

By Sam Leveridge, from La Liga Lowdown

Published: 16:30, 18 January 2022 | Updated: 16:38, 19 January 2022

January signings can be great successes… or tremendous failures.

Given that Spain’s record signing to date came in the winter transfer window, it would only be fair to consider which of the biggest deals have proven good value and which have crashed and burned.

1. Philippe Coutinho – €160m from Liverpool to Barcelona in 2018

Few transfers have ever been quite such spectacular failures as Philippe Coutinho’s move from Merseyside to Catalonia. Having only played 90 minutes for the side since 2019, his most memorable moment featuring Barcelona since joining came as the Brazilian scored a brace on loan for Bayern Munich in the historic 8-2 humiliation of his parent club.

The nightmare may have finally come to an end with his January exit to Aston Villa, but three years on from his landmark arrival, he’s seen as the perfect example of all that’s gone wrong at Camp Nou. 25 goals in 106 appearances later, few figures in Barcelona history rile up such controversy and fury among culés.

The verdict: Miss

2. Diego Costa – 60m from Chelsea to Atlético Madrid in 2018

An Atleti icon, Diego Costa’s second spell at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano was a disappointing one. Scoring on his return debut, he ran into the crowd to celebrate and picked up a second yellow card in the process, a moment which more or less defined his fortunes back at the club which made him a star.

An eight-match suspension for swearing at officials and serious foot and back injuries meant that Costa was clearly not the same talent that had left Madrid four years previously. Looking slow, and with even less discipline, his killer edge was there, but 24 goals in 81 appearances was far from the rate he’d achieved in his first period at the club. In the middle of Atleti’s LaLiga-winning 2020/21 campaign, Costa abruptly departed, tearing up his contract after a furious row with Diego Simeone and his staff.

The verdict: Miss

3. Ferran Torres – 55m from Manchester City to Barcelona in 2022

The latest man to join this select group in the current winter transfer window brings plenty of promise and excitement to Barcelona. Fit to make his debut against Real Madrid in the Supercopa de España, he lasted only 45 minutes as he continues to build fitness after injury.

The verdict: The jury’s out

4. Iñigo Martínez – 32m from Real Sociedad to Athletic Club in 2018

Athletic Club were not short of defensive talents when they turned to Iñigo Martínez from local rivals Real Sociedad, but what they did sign was much more than just the captain of their nemesis. A born leader, Martínez has become one of the first names on the team sheet for Athletic under every coach he has worked with.

The peak of his time at the club came with the Supercopa de España win in 2021, with some memorable displays from the defender in cup competitions in particular, but Martínez’ consistent displays for both club and country have made him a regular for both.

The verdict: Hit

5. Reinier Jesús – 30m from Flamengo to Real Madrid in 2020

It’s still early days for Reinier, who remains without a first team appearance for Real Madrid two years after he initially joined the club. Two goals in three appearances for Castilla set expectations high, with some hoping that he’d push onto the first team. A loan move to Borussia Dortmund surprised many given the options that Dortmund already had available, but was seen as a sign of his promise. 18 months into that two-year loan agreement, he has made only one Bundesliga start.

He’s still only 19, and could evolve to make his 30m fee look like peanuts, but the early indications aren’t quite as exciting as some came to expect when such a substantial fee was paid to sign him.

The verdict: Miss

6. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – 27m from Ajax to Real Madrid in 2009

Eight goals in your first 20 Real Madrid appearances isn’t a bad record at all, but when you only last eight months at the club, it’s harder to justify. Huntelaar went through a purple patch, scoring all eight goals across only five games, but failed to score in the other 15 and left much to be desired.

An administrative mix-up meant that Real Madrid could only register one of their two January signings in their Champions League squad for the remainder of the campaign, and instead opted for former Portsmouth midfielder Lassana Diarra, which started the breakdown of the Dutchman’s relationship with the club. It led to his eventual sale at a 10m loss to AC Milan before the start of the following campaign.

The verdict: Miss

7. Enzo Pérez – 25m from Benfica to Valencia in 2015

Signed as a statement of intent by Meriton Holdings, he arrived at the club at the worst possible time as their descent from European competition to relegation dogfights began. Between countless injuries and suspensions, the seven LaLiga games in a row that he played after signing was the longest streak he had while at the club.

Featuring under five different coaches in a two-and-a-half-year spell, he didn’t bring the leadership or control in the middle of the park that was expected. Such a substantial fee for a player close to their 30th birthday was always a risk for Valencia, and this one didn’t work out.

The verdict: Miss

8. Paco Alcácer – 25m from Borussia Dortmund to Villarreal in 2020

It could be harsh to classify Alcácer as a miss, but he’s yet to hit the heights that anyone expected when he arrived at Villarreal. Signed from Borussia Dortmund, he was seen as the striker who would push Villarreal to compete with Europe’s elite. The Yellow Submarine have made that step up, but it’s not quite thanks to the former Valencia man.

Gerard Moreno has cast a shadow over Alcácer’s performances, though he has still registered a goal involvement every 118 minutes for the club. Despite those figures, the arrival of Boulaye Dia and the eruption of Yeremi Pino in attack have seen Alcácer slip down the pecking order. While still a valid option for Villarreal, the fee paid to sign him may mean that his performances don’t quite match up to what the club had hoped for.

The verdict: Miss

9. Raúl de Tomás – 22.5m from Benfica to Espanyol in 2020

Signed in 2020 by Espanyol as they were threatened with relegation, RDT failed in his objective to keep the team up, but that was in spite of scoring in his first four games after joining the club.

Since then, he stayed loyal to Espanyol and fired them back to Primera at the first time of asking, scoring 23 goals in 38 games. This season, he’s already hit double figures by the halfway point and became Espanyol’s second Spanish international to make more than one appearance for his country since 2007. How far he can propel Los Periquitos before one of Spain’s top clubs poaches him will define just how much of a hit his stay in Catalonia has been.

The verdict: Hit

10. Pablo Aimar – 20m from River Plate to Valencia in 2001

One of Valencia’s all-time greats, Aimar went on to win two LaLiga titles, as well as the UEFA Cup and UEFA European Super Cup during his time at Mestalla. Once top of this list in terms of transfer fee, his achievements far surpass any other name above.

The Argentine’s technical ability, skill and eye for a pass set him apart, knocking up 55 goal involvements in more than 200 appearances for the club. 20m, or 3,300 million pesetas in the currency at the time, was a substantial fee, but Aimar was one of the few players who proved his value.

The verdict: Hit

Article produced by Sam Leveridge in partnership with La Liga Lowdown, your home for Spanish football in English with reporters based in Spain. Find them on Twitter @LaLigaLowdown

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