Primera División, Liga BBVA, or, as it’s commonly known in the English-speaking world, La Liga, is the highest level of competition in Spanish soccer. Each season features 20 teams that compete to be that year’s champion, including Real Madrid and Barcelona, two of the strongest and most popular clubs in the world. Clubs from La Liga have excelled in European competition, putting in sublime performances in the Champion’s League and winning the title of European champions more than teams from any other nation. The aforementioned duo of Real Madrid and Barcelona in particular has put fear into the hearts of their European opponents for decades, while maintaining the fiercest rivalry in modern soccer, ‘El Classico’. Their success, in addition to inspiring performances by Atlético Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla and Malaga, has led to La Liga being ranked first in the UEFA league coefficient rankings.
The January transfer window would be different without the press linking top players from all over the world to the Spanish giants. Although it’s common to see elite talent like Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale making the move to Spain, more often than not the Spanish teams mine South America for the next wave of players, like Barcelona’s Neymar. Spanish teams have a tendency to spend more during the summer than in the winter, unlike some other leagues, but there are still some notable winter transfers that have taken place in the past. Real Madrid and Barcelona, being by far the two richest clubs in the league, have the lion’s share of the transfer records. With that being said, let’s take a look at which players opted to seek out greener pastures in January, and which teams were waiting with open arms and an open checkbook.
10 Gonzalo Higuaín - €12,000,000 ($16.3 million USD)
Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain joined Real Madrid from native club River Plate midway through the 2006/2007 season for €12 million. He would spend 6 ½ seasons with Los Blancos, initially struggling to find his form but eventually improving towards the end of his tenure and winning over most of the fans in the process. In the summer of 2013, after 121 goals for Real, he would depart the club and sign with Serie A side Napoli.
9 Pizzi - €13,500,000 ($18.4 million USD)
Some players seem to get lost in loans and transfers, shuffled about endlessly as if trapped in a deck of cards, especially early on in their careers. Portuguese winger Pizzi (born Luís Miguel Afonso Fernandes) was 22-years-old when he was sent to Atlético Madrid on loan from his native club Braga in 2011. The loan included a €13.5 million buyout clause, which Atlético, impressed by the performance of the young winger, decided to exercise. Despite his performance, his stay at Atlético was brief. He went out on loan to Deportivo La Coruna for the 2012/2013 season and afterwards signed with Portuguese club Benfica. Benfica immediately sent him back out on loan to Spanish team Espanyol, where he plays today. Presumably, Pizzi keeps some reliable movers in his contacts.
8 Éver Banega - €18,000,000 ($24.5 million USD)
In January 2008, Argentinian midfielder Éver Banega signed with Valencia from Boca Juniors for €18 million. The 19-year-old quickly established himself as a key member of the squad. As the club began to sell off star players because of financial difficulties, Banega’s importance to the first team squad rose. Today he plays a crucial role and is the 3rd vice-captain of a team that is traditionally one of Spain’s greatest as they struggle with debt issues that keep them from competing at the highest level.
7 Lassana Diarra - €20,000,000 ($27.2 million USD)
The transfer of French midfielder Lassana Diarra was the 10th most expensive January transfer in Premier League history, and 7th in La Liga’s. After playing for Le Havre, Chelsea, Arsenal and finally Portsmouth, he attracted the attention of Real Madrid. The €20 million man made 117 appearances for Real Madrid before pursuing more playing time and higher wages at wealthy Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala. Initially on loan, Diarra was signed on as a permanent member midway through the 2012/2013 season.
6 José Antonio Reyes - €20,000,000 ($27.2 million USD)
The Spanish winger José Antonio Reyes was a product of the Sevilla youth academy, joining the club when he was only 10 years old. He worked his way from the youth reserves and became a regular member of the first team squad. Although Sevilla’s coaching staff wanted to hang on to their product Reyes, he opted to join English side Arsenal in search of new challenges. Sevilla received €20 million in compensation.
5 Fernando Gago - €20,500,000 ($27.9 million USD)
Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain were both young Argentinian prospects eyed by Real Madrid. Los Blancos finalized Gago’s deal a few weeks before Higuain’s, and he left his home club of Boca Juniors for the stadiums of Spain for a fee of €20.5 million. The defensive midfielder started strong, but his playing time decreased significantly when José Mourinho was appointed coach, and so he decided to move on from the club after five seasons in 2012, signing with Valencia.
4 Geovanni - €21,000,000 ($28.6 million USD)
Brazilian forward Geovanni (born Geovanni Deiberson Maurício Gómez) joined Barcelona in January 2002 for €21 million from Brazilian club Cruzeiro. The then 21-year-old was showing flashes of brilliance, and rejected reported advance from Arsenal and Juventus to sign with the Catalonian juggernaut. However, his potential never fully materialized. He spent a season and a half in Barcelona before being sold to Portuguese team Benfica, and he would eventually return to Cruzeiro a few years later in 2006.
3 Pablo Aimar - €21,250,000 ($28.9 million USD)
In the early 2000s Valencia was in fine form, but lacked skilled offensive midfielders. Argentinian Pablo Aimar fit the bill for what they were looking for, so they picked him up from River Plate for €21.25 million in January 2001. He would go on to help them reach the finals of that season’s Champion’s League (where they lost to Bayern Munich) and to win La Liga the following year. He spent five successful years in Valencia before departing to Real Zaragoza in 2006.
2 Clarence Seedorf - €24,500,000 ($33.3 million USD)
Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf is the 2nd most expensive January transfer in La Liga history as well as Serie A history. Inter Milan shelled out €24.5 million in January 2000 to take him away from Real Madrid, where he had won accolades such as the Champion’s League in 1998. He would accomplish little at Inter, but his move to their rivals AC Milan sparked a decade-long relationship that saw him win the Champion’s League again, as well as the Scudetto (the championship of Serie A).
1 Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - €27,000,000 ($36.8 million USD)
Real Madrid burns through star players like no other club in history, due in large part to the Galácticos policy of club president Florentino Pérez that encourages the signing of elite players at huge costs. However, Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar may have had the fastest turnover of any major signing in Real Madrid history. He was signed in January 2009 for a fee of €27 million, the same year as Lassana Diarra. Because they had both appeared for their old squads in the UEFA cup, only one could be used during that year’s Champion’s League. Real Madrid selected Diarra, and Huntelaar, frustrated, responded by angling for a transfer. He was sold to AC Milan in August 2009, just 9 months after joining Real.
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