Africa's transfer window: The diamonds and the duds

The January transfer window shut this weekend, as teams across Europe had one final opportunity to finalise their rosters before the closing stretch of a testing season.

It was a chance for title hopefuls to bolster their sides, for continental hopefuls to add the finishing touches to their squads, or for beleaguered sides to give themselves a final boost in relegation dogfights.

The January window also represented an opportunity for clubs to ship out unwanted players, or to cash in on those nearing the end of their contracts.

Since the inauguration of Europe's winter window, African players have regularly been central to the January transfer narratives, either for positive reasons -- such as Yakubu Aiyegbeni to Portsmouth in 2003 -- or for not quite so positive reasons -- Savio Nsereko to West Ham United in 2009.

- Ed Dove: Africa's best and worst moves in January transfer windows

With the January 2020 window now in the books, Ed Dove picks out the African transfers that particularly caught the imagination during an intriguing month of moves.

Grade: A+

Mbwana Samatta to Aston Villa

A high-profile African striker made his arrival on English shores during the window, as Aston Villa parted with £10 million to sign Mbwana Samatta from Belgian club Genk.

The striker became the first Tanzanian player to play in the Premier League when he made his debut against Bournemouth on Saturday, and the fact he scored should assuage fears that he'll take his time to adapt to English football.

He'll certainly need to fare better than Wesley, who netted just five goals in 21 league games after arriving from Club Brugge in the summer, only to suffer a season-ending cruciate ligament injury.

The 27-year-old Samatta is a relative late bloomer and only moved to Europe at 23; he's a trailblazer, beloved in his homeland -- witness the remarkable scenes of Tanzanian fans supporting Villa en masse and deliriously as he made his debut at the weekend -- while his movement off the ball and aerial threat will ensure he causes problems for Premier League defences.

However, he'll need to develop a strong rapport with Villa's creator-in-chief Jack Grealish -- and quickly -- if Villa are to pull clear from the dropzone.

Jonathan Kodjia to Al-Gharafa

Heading the other way out of Villa Park is Ivorian striker Jonathan Kodjia, who sealed a permanent switch to Al-Gharafa SC of Qatar.

It's a disappointing step away from the limelight for the 30-year-old, who struggled to rediscover the form he showed at Bristol City then in his first season at Villa after breaking his ankle in April 2017.

He's only scored 10 league goals in the subsequent three seasons, and struggled with the pace during his 112 minutes of Prem action this term.

"He wasn't up to the standard, in my opinion," said Villa manager Dean Smith, as per the Express & Star, in a curt epitaph for Kodjia's time at Villa Park.

"He hadn't got to the level of fitness that, for me, was required for the Premier League. That's the minimum standard to play Premier League football."

Odion Ighalo to Manchester United

Odion Ighalo's move to Manchester United on Friday livened up a fairly tame deadline day, and perhaps partly because of this, he arrived as Old Trafford on a wave of goodwill.

There's certainly a lot to be positive about; Ighalo is a well natured, God-fearing and humble character, he's enjoyed a fine scoring record in China since leaving the Premier League, and as a widely circulated photograph of him as a youngster suggests, was a United fan before his playing career took off.

Ighalo has already demonstrated his character since hitting the big time -- notably when bouncing back from the abuse he received after missing a key chance against Argentina at the World Cup to top score at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations -- and he certainly has the experience to have a good influence on some of United's younger players.

However, the positivity that surrounds his signing cannot mask the fact that his arrival, at 30, and from a relative footballing backwater, is indicative of where United find themselves in the world footballing hierarchy at this point in time.

Similarly, Ighalo's hideous loss of form at Watford -- he failed to net in 599 minutes of Premier League action in early 2016 and scored just one in 18 in the 2016-17 season -- cannot be ignored.

Considering United had reportedly been keen on Borussia Dortmund new boy Erling Haaland before he opted for the Bundesliga, the late move for Ighalo can certainly be seen as something of a panic buy, even if the loan move mitigates some of the risk.

Grade: A

Leon Balogun to Wigan Athletic

Nigeria's Leon Balogun is another seeking a fresh start following an underwhelming spell in top flight football as he leaves Brighton & Hove Albion for Wigan Athletic on loan, dropping into the Championship in the process.

When the Super Eagles stopper moved to the south coast in May 2018, it was clear the he'd have his work cut out to break up the Seagulls' defensive axis of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk.

Eighteen months later, with only five Premier League starts under his belt, and having lost his place in the Nigeria starting XI, Balogun must now make up for lost time, having failed to muscle into Brighton's first team under two different coaches.

At 31, it's imperative he puts together a run of games if he's to salvage the peak years of his career, and having battled Bundesliga relegation during his time with Mainz 05, he has the experience to help 22nd-placed Wigan pull clear of the drop.

Tariq Lamptey to Brighton & Hove Albion

As Balogun departs Brighton, Chelsea's Anglo-Ghanian defender Tariq Lamptey arrives, having not done enough during his 31 minutes of Premier League action to date to prove that he has a part to play in Frank Lampard's youthful revolution at Stamford Bridge.

"With his pace and technical ability, Tariq provides us with another option on the right side of the pitch both at right-back, where we already have good competition, and also further up the pitch," Seagulls boss Graham Potter told the club's official website.

Grade: B

Ayub Timbe to Reading

Also in the Championship, Reading have made an unlikely addition in the form of Harambee Stars wideman Ayub Timbe on loan.

The determined winger is tenacious and capable of beating his man to whip in an effective cross, while he also provides a goal threat too, having scored seven in 14 for Beijing Renhe during 2018.

Kevin-Prince Boateng will hope for better luck -- and more playing time -- having moved on loan to Bestikas, a year on from his ill-fated move to Barcelona, and the 32-year-old has the personality and the charisma to be a big hit in Istanbul.

Henry Onyekuru to Galatasaray

Similarly, Henry Onyekuru returns to Turkish football with Galatasaray in search of more playing time following a frustrating spell at AS Monaco. The wideman started just two games in Ligue 1 during the first half of the season, but will have fond memories of the Super Lig, where he netted 14 in 31 for Gala during the 2018-19 campaign.

Benjamin Moukandjo to Valenciennes

Cameroon's 2017 Africa Cup of Nations-winning captain Benjamin Moukandjo has the quality and experience to help promotion-chasing Valenciennes enjoy a late-season surge in Ligue 2 after arriving on a free transfer, while Nigeria's John Ogu can also make up for lost time at Saudi strugglers Al Adalah, where he will be used in a deeper role.

"I'm settling in well," Ogu told ESPN. "The team are in a tight situation in the league, so the objective is to help stay up for next season.

"There are good people here, and we've got internationals from Mali, Senegal and Madagascar."

Musa Barrow to Bologna

In Italy, three deals have also caught the imagination, with Fiorentina securing the long-term future of Hellas Verona loanee Sofyan Amrabat from Club Brugge and Christian Kouame from Genoa, and Bologna bringing in Atalanta's Musa Barrow on loan with the obligation to buy.

All three are in their early 20s and have the potential to take their game to another level over the next three years.

Barrow, part of Tom Saintfiet's exciting Gambia team, netted on his second Bologna outing against SPAL 2013, while Kouame could prove to be an absolute bargain for La Viola after arriving on loan with an obligation to buy for a minimum €10 million in the summer.

The young Ivorian striker is injured for the rest of the campaign after damaging his ACL at the U-23 Afcon, but he'd already made eight decisive contributions (five goals, three assists) in 11 Serie A outings, and marries finishing ability with lightning pace, and an aerial threat.

It will be fascinating to see how Kouame fares competing for a place alongside the likes of Patrick Cutrone, Franck Ribery, Federico Chiesa and Dusan Vlahovic when fit next term, although in time, his transfer could prove to be the most astute African signing of the January window.