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January window recap

A relief in some respects now that the January window has been and gone.

During the month (and leading up to it I guess) we were very much the hot topic in the media, with plenty of negativity (jealousy?) surrounding us and our attempts at reinforcing the side. So much has been written and speculated that trying to keep up with everything going on was a tough task.

We arrived at the opening of the window in a state of flux, criticism of Hughes from fans and media alike growing and were soon dumped out of the FA Cup with a dismal performance at home to Nottingham Forest.

Despite some bumps along the way, what is clear is that we are in a far stronger position as bid adieu to January than we were at the beginning of 2009. The quartet who have been signed are of a similar disposition - solid internationals, experience at the top level but still with good years ahead of them.

In addition to the new arrivals, we also have three of our long term injured players in Michael Johnson, Valeri Bojinov and Martin Petrov on the way back, players we have clearly missed over the first half of the season and should provide a real strength in depth to the squad.

Who arrived?

Wayne Bridge, Nigel de Jong, Craig Bellamy and Shay Given arrived during January, and all four strengthen not only the squad, but the first choice eleven. Bridge, although culpable for two goals so far, is a better option than Javier Garrido, and most definitely an upgrade on Michael Ball. Nigel de Jong's impact will be two fold. Both as an impressive holding/defensive midfielder in his own right, but also in allowing Vincent Kompany to drop back and improve the central defensive area.

I wasn't overly enthused with the prospect of Bellamy the footballer arriving (let alone Bellamy the person), wondering how he would fit into the line-up, but having seen him in two games so far he does offer something different than the other forwards we have on the books. My misgivings about Shay Given have been well documented, but he is a good goalkeeper. Quite how good he is, and how much of an upgrade over Joe Hart he will be is something I will be keen to see, but if Hughes was intent on bringing in a 'keeper then unless we were going to splash £100 million on Gigi Buffon then Given is clearly the best option that we had.

Who didn't arrive?

Two big names - Kaka and Roque Santa Cruz, both of which ended frustratingly. The pursuit of Kaka was well documented with some of what was written about our attempt to sign him bordered on the disgraceful.

Perhaps we did make our approach for him too early in our 'project', but when you have an opportunity to sign arguably the best player in the world you cannot pass that up. Yes, it was always going to be a long shot, but one that was surely worth exploring.

Today's Roque Santa Cruz news was a microcosm of the whole pursuit of the player. The signing being off, then on, before falling through at the last. The reported fee of £25 million was way in excess of what his value is, but we are not operating in a normal market. We do need the player, and without an alternative being brought in run the risk of lacking the presence Hughes so desperately wants over the course of the season.

Seeing some of the deals that have been concluded, you do wonder though why both ourselves and Santa Cruz (given his desire to sign for us) weren't more forceful in pushing the signing through.

If Hughes is still keen on landing Santa Cruz in the summer though, Sam Allardyce and Blackburn could rue turning down the reported £20 million as I don't see them getting an offer anywhere near that figure in the future.

Without question though, this is now very much Hughes's side. The team is now made up of players he has either brought to the club or his type of player. His future is still unsettled though as the season so far has been a disappointment overall.

Heading into February, we are sat in mid-table and despite the talk of relegation for me that is not an issue. Looking up, we are five points off 7th position at present with FC Copenhagen in the UEFA Cup in a couple of weeks time.

The owners have shown a patient approach so far since taking over the club, and the January signings do point to being Hughes's ones as opposed to the marquee signings believed to be favoured by ownership.

Clearly questions remain at this point, and Hughes has a job on his hands to win over the many doubters amongst the fan base, and with no off-field distraction now the window has closed, focus will firmly be on what happens on the pitch.

Putting a positive spin on our current position though we do have an opportunity to ensure that the 2008/09 season ends up being a relatively succesful one.

For Hughes's long term future prospects, it may need to be.