Although the January transfer window is 15 years old this month, that’s only in the Premier League. Mere mortals who existed outside the elite in 2003 managed to struggle on for another three years before the restrictions on when to buy and sell players was extended to further down the football pyramid, and as such, City have only been involved in the mad scramble at the beginning of each calendar year since 2006. Most of the players we’ve signed in January during this period have been loanees, or were already at the club as loanees prior to a permanent move. But of those that walked through the door fresh as a daisy in January, not yet burdened by the cynicism and underachievement of Hull City AFC, we’ve plucked out five…
1: Jon Parkin
Despite everything that has gone down at the Circle in the last dozen years in terms of big occasions, promotions, finals, continental delights, subsequent falls from grace and, of course, major signings, the most famous January acquisition we’ve ever made, certainly among longer serving City fans, is still probably the rotund, risible Macclesfield striker on whom Peter Taylor splurged £150,000 in January 2006.
There was little doubt at the time that City, a fledgling side in the second tier after nearly 15 years away, were struggling for a regular goalscoring outlet, although wide on the left Stuart Elliott, against more brutal defences than he’d been used to, was doing what he could. Billy Paynter had arrived on loan and was bumbling along, unaware of his new surroundings (though Taylor made permanent his arrival in January too) while Ben Burgess was still not match fit after a long term injury and Danny Allsopp had been allowed to go home to Australia.
Taylor picked up the nippy Darryl Duffy when the window opened, a free scorer in his native Scotland, but he was an unknown here and reaction was minimal. Within hours, Parkin had also come through the door and the floodgates opened as aghast City fans remembered how ineffective, cumbersome and generally useless he had been when facing us in the colours of both York and Macclesfield.
Yet immediately, Parkin was magnificent.
For such an unathletic figure, he had a marvellous touch, with a sublime debut goal at home to Crystal Palace and a stunning Cruyff turn and finish at Stoke before January was over quickly showing up the doubters. He not only kept scoring but he was also performing – his best team display was at Leicester, even though he didn’t score and City lost 3-2 – right through until a memorable winner against Leeds in April 2006 that gave us our first win over the stained enemy in almost 20 years. As City clambered clear of the drop, Parkin ended the campaign out of the spotlight, his work done.
The tide turned in the close season when he reported for training quite substantially overweight, with City unable to find a shirt to fit him properly, and he was never properly convincing again either in aptitude or attitude, despite two goals against Sheffield Wednesday that earned City a (long overdue) first home win of the season in 2006/07 and a first ever win on live television.
His last act of consequence at City was a penalty at Middlesbrough in a memorable FA Cup third round replay in January 2007, by which time Phil Brown had taken over from the overawed Phil Parkinson as manager and allowed the unprofessional slob that Parkin had become to join divisional rivals Stoke on loan. Naturally, Parkin was a success there for a short time, before being recalled at the end of the season in an injury crisis and having to play against Stoke on their patch, something which angered him and, by dint of his savagely cavalier attitude on the pitch, angered City fans even more. Brown sold him to Stoke with barely a look back that summer.
He bummed around an array of lower league clubs after Stoke saw through him even quicker than we did, and left league football in the summer at the age of 35 to rejoin York, these days in the National League North. In his career he has been sent out on loan eight times and been handed five free transfers, a sure sign that his attitude was always an issue where his talent was not. Despite only 18 months at the club, Parkin’s was one of the most incident-packed, infamous careers at City of the modern era.
2: Nikica Jelavić and Shane Long
They have to come as a pair, because in January 2014 we had the usual goalscoring problems that top flight football brings to 75 per cent of the clubs in it, especially newbies like City. Yannick Sagbo wasn’t good enough and Sone Aluko was rarely interested enough, while Matty Fryatt found that the ferocious pace of Premier League football wasn’t an ideal setting to make one’s return from a long-term injury. The likes of Nick Proschwitz and Aaron Mclean had long been ruled out of providing any top tier usefulness. Serious money on serious talent needed to be invested.
Steve Bruce cleverly went to Jelavić, out of favour at Everton but absolutely proven at the very highest level, as he knew the Croatian would be desperate for first-team football in order to make his country’s squad for the World Cup that summer. Two days after clinching his signature for £6.5m, the manager then dished out £7m to West Bromwich Albion in order to put sheer pace alongside Jelavić’s predatory instincts in the shape of Irish striker Shane Long.
The duo caused enough problems over the second half of the season to up City’s game, with four goals each a reasonably healthy return for a side that didn’t create a vast number of goalscoring opportunities per match. Yet their exploits were largely forgotten thanks to an FA Cup run for which both were ineligible, allowing Mclean and Proschwitz (round three), Fryatt (round four, quarter final, semi final) and Sagbo (round five, semi final) to score the goals that took City all the way to the final.
Long stayed until just after City’s debut in Europe, playing in both legs against AS Trenčin before joining Southampton for an inexplicable £12m before the Premier League season began. His reputation for diving to win penalties had begun to grate with City fans, even though he was quite often successful in doing so. Meanwhile, Jelavić went to the World Cup, adding his name to the very short list of City players to take part in the tournament, but once it was over his attitude to the club that hugely aided his prospects visibly deteriorated, despite eight goals in the relegation season that followed. After four games and one goal in the Championship, he joined West Ham for £2.8m, starting just one Premier League game for them, prior to disappearing six months later to take the money in China.
3: Jimmy Bullard
Signed in a blaze of publicity in January 2009, it was undeniably a seriously exciting deal. But the lack of outrage from Fulham fans suggested darker stuff surrounded the chirpy, scampering and ludicrously talented midfielder, mainly to do with the condition of his knees. Whatever actually happened at his medical is anyone’s guess, but after coming on as sub at West Ham for his debut, he took something of a hospital pass from future best mate Ian Ashbee and felt some studs grind down his knee, rendering him injured for an impossibly long time while on a ludicrously high wage for a criminally long time paid by a club that didn’t, it turn out, have any actual money.
How quickly things can change.
After a year of rumour and innuendo about his off-field antics while injured, Bullard finally came back a year later and was still obviously a very gifted footballer. But a second knee injury, albeit to a different knee, put him out of action again towards the end of 2009/10 and by the time he was in any shape to return, City had been relegated and his great defender, Phil Brown, had been replaced by Nigel Pearson. Bullard had his moments in the Championship – a winner in the last minute at Sheffield United won’t be forgotten in any hurry – but his wages, his refusal to accept similar terms elsewhere as a poverty-stricken City desperately tried to get shut of an increasingly poisonous figure and his generally unprofessional conduct while injured meant that when he finally left after a clash with goalkeeping coach Joe Corrigan, which allowed City to dismiss him on gross misconduct, uncompensated, it was a blessed relief. He remains utterly reviled.
4: Dame N’Doye
Senegalese striker signed for £3m on the last day of the 2015 deadline from Lokomotiv Moscow where he had been a reliable goalscorer. Transition to the Premier League, and in an ailing side, seemed quite straightforward at first as he scored in his first three home games as City beat Aston Villa and QPR, and drew with Sunderland.
The inconsistency of the side then enveloped that of the player, although he plundered two excellent second half goals to earn City a win at Crystal Palace that seemed set to aid the Tigers towards safety, especially as it was followed by a home win over Liverpool in which N’Doye excelled at leading the line.
It all came down to what is now an infamous relegation six-pointer against Burnley, and N’Doye’s off day was replicated by the side whose defeat sounded the death knell after two eventful seasons. N’Doye joined Trabzonspor in the summer for £2.2m as the Allams began the now familiar post-demotion task of selling off anyone that another club waves to, although he was soon back in England with a loan spell at Sunderland. He’s still at Trabzonspor today as a backup striker.
5: James Chester
Often the transfer window can be dominated by the acquisition of perceived ‘glamour’ players or the departure of club legends. City, a club learning to like itself again in 2010/11 under Nigel Pearson, did a bit of both during the January window when Matty Fryatt signed for £1.2m while Ian Ashbee called time on his nine years of illustrious service and leadership by going to Preston on a free.
Within all this, Pearson had the Manchester United training ground on speed dial and brought in a stack of players from Old Trafford of enormous promise but not quite deemed good enough to make the final big step. There was a winger, an industrious midfielder, a left back and a central defender, and it was the defender who was most obviously a class act from the start.
Chester was skilful, positionally sound and an excellent reader of the game, as well as consummate in the defender’s art of tackling – one of the cleanest tacklers we’ve ever seen – and aerial domination, despite not being the tallest. Rarely did he put a foot wrong during an illustrious, hugely popular City career that allowed him to develop his game alongside the experienced Jack Hobbs, before Steve Bruce arrived and rejigged the entire squad but without any detriment to the elegant defender he’d inherited.
Chester was a star in the Premier League despite being something of a lesser name alongside the likes of Huddlestone, Livermore, Jelavić et al and his reputation rose so high that talk of him being picked for England began just before he decided to take up an offer to play for Wales.
He scored in the FA Cup final, of course, which was all the more remarkable because injury suggested that he had absolutely no right to be partaking at Wembley at all, and continued to impress and do a quietly efficient job, even though his City career ultimately ended in relegation in 2015.
Chester went to West Brom for big, but not big enough, money and barely played in his favoured position, instead featuring as a left back under Tony Pulis, who quickly sold him after a season to Aston Villa following their own relegation. He is currently captaining the Villa side under Bruce, who knows how lucky he has been to have inherited a very special player twice over. Unquestionably a bargain purchase and one of our greatest ever defenders.