The winter window used to be something that happened in other leagues, but not this time. It might have been powered, at least in part, by the money than came from France and England — almost €300 million arrived just from the sales of Neymar in the summer and Aymeric Laporte now — but La Liga has been more active than ever before. Much, much more active.
Only Real Madrid, the traditional movers of the market, have not signed or sold a single player. Fifty-seven signings were made by Spanish clubs, with a total of €315.65m spent (and a balance of €154.62m spent). That’s almost five times more than has ever been spent in a January window and a €289.15m increase on this time last year.
Levante, Malaga and Las Palmas were the busiest with seven signings each; the league itself has signed nine players from Saudi Arabia, distributing them to seven Spanish clubs. Villarreal made €37m on breaking up the Carlos Bacca-Cedric Bakambu partnership, making the latter their biggest-ever sale and the second biggest of this window, but have been debilitated. John Guidetti is already scoring for Alaves and Barcelona have made the biggest purchase with Phillipe Coutinho, a signing that excites and satisfies, a strategic addition for now and for the future. They also managed to offload Arda Turan at last.
Valencia have signed Luciano Vietto, who scored a hat trick on his first start — an entire year after he had last scored a goal. And Malaga have quite literally brought Success: Isaac Success, from Watford. But who are the real winners and losers this winter?
Atletico Madrid: The question might be whether what Atletico have signed really counts as part of the winter window. Vitolo and Diego Costa were signed in the summer but because of the club’s transfer ban, the pair couldn’t actually play until January 2018. Both had actually arrived before then, Vitolo via Las Palmas and Costa via “Profe” Ortega’s intensive training routine, like a boxer preparing for a prize fight. That makes them a case apart, maybe, and yet the potential impact is huge. They have wanted Costa back virtually since the day he left. The problem for Atletico is that they were supposed to come in and strengthen a side competing for the Champions League. But in their absence, that chance has already gone.
Athletic Club Bilbao: This one’s debatable. It might sound strange to declare them winners after centre-back Laporte left for Manchester City midway through the season, but they immediately replaced him with Inigo Martinez from Real Sociedad, the swift reaction serving as reassurance. As a result, and the way that Laporte leaving was handled — with the Premier League giants paying his buyout clause — the departure of a key player did not feel quite as traumatic this time. Athletic also made a €32.4m profit in the process. But there’s something bigger: Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is still around. He appeared destined for Real Madrid, with reports suggesting that he had already passed a medical in the capital, but he ended up staying instead and renewed his contract at San Mames. Inaki Williams renewed, too.
Seville’s clubs: Real Betis and Sevilla made seven signings between them for a total outlay of €14m and on the face of it, while some problems have not been resolved (not least in goal) and the need to sign a lot of players suggests that they got things wrong in the summer, they represent an improvement. Sandro gives Sevilla options up front, someone who can rotate with Ben Yedder and Luis Muriel and has a point to prove, while they long wanted Roque Mesa, who has arrived from Swansea. It’s a second chance for a player who was superb at Las Palmas, but barely seen in the Premier League. How he fits with Ever Banega and Steven N’Zonzi remains to be seen.
Across the city, Ruben Castro is back at Betis and they made the late signing of Marc Bartra from Dortmund. Their defence needs him desperately; the doubt is whether a signing can really solve a problem that appears systemic, given the implicit risks in the way they play. The best news of all was the renewal of Fabian, an agreement Betis announced by jumping the shark, replicating a dating show in which the young midfielder declared his love for the club where he’s played since he was eight.
Espanyol: Espanyol have The Rock, Carlos Sanchez, whom they signed from Fiorentina, but don’t look entirely steady. Manager Quique Sanchez Flores had spoken to Stoke City about departing. He eventually announced that he was going to stay. There was a bit of the “post-marital affair” feel about the way they dealt with it. “What matters is that I’m here and I want to be here,” Flores said. It didn’t entirely convince, carrying the hints of problems heavy and underlined when he complained about the late departure of midfielder Javi Fuego, who went to Villarreal. The Rock arrived soon after, Espanyol’s only signing, but it is hard to avoid the sensation that the relationship is no longer what it was, and maybe never can be.
Real Madrid: None in, none out. Real Madrid are the only team not to have done any business at all in this window. Usually that is a good sign, evidence that everything is just fine. But everything is not fine: Madrid are 19 points behind leaders Barcelona in the league and out of the Copa del Rey. Not only that, they did try to sign. Arrizabalaga had been lined up… until Zinedine Zidane publicly said that he didn’t want him. That was quite a challenge to the board, the first hint of a split opening up, with some media close to the president quick to suggest that the coach had blocked any transfers at a time the team was supposedly crying out for them. But Zidane has been determined to back his players and demonstrated that by keeping faith with them. He also knows that new signings offer no guarantees, especially not now. If they repay him, a third Champions League would await — and these are the players that have won two in a row already. So, who’s to say that Madrid — and Zidane, especially — don’t end up proving to be the big winners? Sometimes the best thing you can do is do nothing.
Real Sociedad: A handful of clubs might feel concerned about their winter window, such as Deportivo, who desperately needed improvements that haven’t really arrived, and Las Palmas, Levante and Malaga, whose satisfaction at signing seven might be tempered by doubts about how to integrate them all. Then there’s Real Sociedad, who were struggling and signed just one player — Mexico international defender Hector Moreno — and because they had to. It’s not just that Martinez, their only Spanish international, a youth-team product and one of the dressing room heavyweights, has gone; it’s that he’s gone to their greatest rivals.
Sid Lowe is a Spain-based columnist and journalist who writes for ESPN FC, the Guardian, FourFourTwo and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter at @sidlowe.