FourFourTwo's 100 Best Bargains in Premier League History
Everybody loves a bargain – and in our opinion, the 100 transfers below are the shrewdest in Premier League history.
But let's clear something up first and foremost: this list is not ordered by playing ability, but perceived value for money. Context is essential – consider, for example, that the British transfer record upon the Premier League's inception was Paul Gascoigne's £5.5m move from Tottenham to Lazio (see also: David Platt to Bari, Trevor Steven to Marseille). That fee wasn't beaten until Andy Cole's £7m move to Manchester United in January 1995.
Many of the clubs involved here bought low and sold high. Some found value while their rivals splashed immense sums on comparable players. Others simply enjoyed the talent they bought and were rewarded with years of diligent service. The lucky sides managed all three of those things.
Either way, we've had a crack at ranking our 100 favourites. Read on, then tell us your thoughts @FourFourTwo...
100. Xherdan Shaqiri – Stoke to Liverpool, 2018 (£13m)
Signing relegated players doesn’t guarantee a bargain – Sam Clucas cost Swansea more than double what Liverpool paid for Andrew Robertson (more on him later) – but it has served the Reds so well that they’ve done it four years running: Danny Ings, Georginio Wijnaldum, Robertson and Shaqiri were all prised from the grasp of sinking clubs. Shaqiri was available so cheaply thanks to a knockdown release clause that Jurgen Klopp was all too happy to trigger.
The Swiss star’s perfectly-executed bicycle kick on debut, against Manchester United in pre-season, was a sign of what was to come. Unlike Stoke, Liverpool could hardly have asked for more. – Huw Davies
99. Paulo Wanchope – Herediano to Derby, 1997 (£600,000)
It’s no longer possible for a club to have a good ‘March window’, but in March 1997, before transfers were limited to January and the summer, that term applied to Derby.
Jim Smith signed Wanchope and Mauricio Solis from Costa Rica, then Estonian goalkeeper Mart Poom a few days later. Poom (£500,000) and Wanchope more than repaid their modest fees in performances and subsequent transfers, despite their initial arrivals having caused consternation from news crews stuck in the ’50s. – Huw Davies
98. Michel Vorm – Utrecht to Swansea, 2011 (£1.5m)
There are different types of statement signings, and Vorm’s arrival showed that Swansea wanted a footballing goalkeeper who was equally capable with his feet and his hands. It transpired that he excelled with both.
He swept the board for Swansea’s player-of-the-year awards in his debut campaign to help relegation favourites finish in mid-table, and ultimately flourished for three seasons in Wales. Even his 2014 departure proved a great deal for Swansea: they got Gylfi Sigurdsson back in part-exchange from Tottenham. – Richard Jolly
97. Matt Phillips – Wycombe to Blackpool, 2010 (£325,000)
A slow-burner, this one, but in buying Phillips on deadline day, Blackpool reaped the benefits of their mad trolley dash (three days before their opening match, the Premier League debutants still had only 15 players, with Phillips following as one of a dozen late signings).
He scored on debut, and though that would be his only top-flight Tangerines goal, the teenager added invaluable impetus from the bench and some fine assists – including a particularly delightful backheel for Marlon Harewood to score against Aston Villa – before bossing the second tier and being sold for a healthy fee. – Huw Davies
96. Geovanni – Manchester City to Hull, 2008 (free)
Geovanni wore No.10 and scored spectacular goals. He played for Barcelona and Benfica. So far, so stereotypically Brazilian. But he also starred for Hull as an exotic anomaly in their unexpectedly brilliant start to the 2008/09 season.
He had scored a winner in a Manchester derby, but Phil Brown still got him on a free transfer as a 28-year-old. He scored from 25 yards in victory at Arsenal and from 30 to defeat Tottenham as Hull, briefly, went joint top. – Richard Jolly
95. Winston Reid – Midtjylland to West Ham, 2010 (£875k)
West Ham supporters have a penchant for flair players; those who have lifted the club above mediocrity and allowed them to dream – think Joe Cole, Paolo Di Canio and Dimitri Payet.
But in Reid they found an alternative cult hero, one whose impact came through his commitment and loyalty. He stayed following relegation, has repeatedly battled back after injury and stood tall as a monument to permanence while almost everything around him changed. – Daniel Storey
94. Alex Song – Bastia to Arsenal, 2006 (£1m)
In the seasons after his year-long loan was made permanent in 2006, a teenage Song struggled. Another failed Arsene Wenger gamble, the world hooted. Until 2008/09 that was, when it clicked.
A strong midfield anchor and slick passer, the Cameroonian was also comfortable in attack, where spectacular chipped assists to Robin van Persie became a trademark. After four excellent seasons, Song was poached by Barcelona for 15 times his original price – although his career never reached the heights of those lofted passes after his Gunners spell ended. – Alex Reid
93. Joao Moutinho – Monaco to Wolves, 2018 (£5m)
Wolves’s current squad has a few candidates for bargain signings, at least partly thanks to the network of contacts provided to the club by Jorge Mendes’s cosy relationship with owners Fosun.
But none may prove to be better business than the remarkably skinny £5m they paid to Monaco for Moutinho. Even at the age of 32, the Portugal international adds a vital creative force and his seniority complements Ruben Neves’s youth perfectly. – Daniel Storey
92. Ayoze Perez – Tenerife to Newcastle, 2014 (£1.5m)
‘Plethora’ means not just a lot, but too many – and mid-2010s Newcastle made a plethora of bad European signings. Amid various Frenchmen and De Jongs, however, was a 20-year-old Spanish bargain who had reportedly been courted by both Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Perez doesn’t turn many heads, but in a low-scoring side he averaged a goal or assist every other league game last season – a better rate than Messrs Shaqiri and Zaha, among others – while only five other players outside the ‘big six’ clubs contributed more in 2018. If Newcastle go down again, Perez will have more suitors this time. – Huw Davies
91. Robert Huth – Stoke to Leicester, 2015 (£3m)
“So if you’re just joining us…#lcfc are winning 3-0 and Robert Huth is on a hat-trick.” Leicester’s official Twitter feed perfectly captured the improbability of victory at Manchester City in their title-winning campaign.
But Huth’s contribution stretched far beyond those two goals – although he did also score a crucial winner at White Hart Lane against the Foxes’ closest challengers for much of that season. His old-school centre-back partnership with Wes Morgan helped Leicester keep five consecutive clean sheets in a nail-biting run-in, but he first excelled at the other end of the table: when on loan, he was vital in their great escape of 2015. – Richard Jolly
90. Scott Dann – Blackburn to Crystal Palace, 2014 (£1.5m)
Dann is one of those players who is too easy to overlook. He’s appeared in the Premier League for nine of the last 10 seasons, yet his dependency rarely makes him stand out.
But Crystal Palace have wasted good money on bad players far too often over the last half decade, so the £1.5m they gave Blackburn for Dann deserves to be shouted from the rooftops for its savviness. Head down, get on with it, no fuss. – Daniel Storey
89. Patrick van Aanholt – Chelsea to Sunderland, 2014 (£1.5m)
Losing Van Aanholt was no skin off Chelsea’s nose – he was turning 24 and had spent the previous two-and-a-half years at Vitesse, where Chelsea prospects go to die. But without them the Holland international has at least, and at last, shown his Premier League worth.
He repaid Sunderland’s faith on the pitch and then off it, netting them an eight-figure profit in joining Crystal Palace, where he continues to provide an unexpected goal threat – not many left-backs score five per season from open play. – Huw Davies
88. Steven Davis – Rangers to Southampton, 2012 (£800,000)
After six-and-a-half years at Southampton, Davis has just returned to Rangers, where his previous spell ended badly. Indeed, some would argue he’s joined a new club altogether. Davis actually joined newly-promoted Saints for nothing when Rangers went pop; a small compensation fee followed, but £800,000 still represents just £3,500 per Southampton appearance (226 of them in all).
He scored against reigning champions Manchester City within three minutes of making his debut, then offered consistency, drive and attacking movement even when playing as the world’s least threatening No.10. – Huw Davies
87. Danny Murphy – Tottenham to Fulham, 2007 (free)
In 2007, Murphy was 30. He had enjoyed a memorable seven years at Anfield, moved to Charlton and seen a big transfer to Tottenham go sour. But having played regularly since the age of 17, he could have relaxed.
Instead, he chose to move to Fulham, helped keep them up and was then a key part of a team that reached the Europa League final in 2010. In his last season, at the age of 34, he created more chances than any other Englishman. – Daniel Storey
86. Oyvind Leonhardsen – Rosenborg to Wimbledon, 1994 (£650,000)
Don’t laugh, but Magpie-baiting, Bird-abusing punchline Joe Kinnear was once a savvy manager. During Wimbledon’s early Premier League seasons, he picked up several bargain buys; none better than Norwegian midfielder Leonhardsen.
On the left wing or in the middle, Leonhardsen’s industry and eye for goal made him an instant fan favourite. Wimbledon achieved two top-10 finishes in his three seasons at the club, and it’s not entirely coincidental that, after his 1997 departure to Liverpool for £3.5m, the Dons slid down the table and were relegated in 2000. – Alex Reid
85. Brede Hangeland – Copenhagen to Fulham, 2008 (£2.5m)
Roy Hodgson made his name in Scandinavia. He made one of his finest Fulham signings there too, bringing in his former Viking centre-back and skipper Hangeland to help save the Cottagers from relegation.
Fulham got 270 appearances for their £2.5 million. With Hangeland the cornerstone of their defence, they finished seventh, eighth and ninth and reached the 2010 Europa League Final. It was the most remarkable part of his time at Craven Cottage... until Felix Magath told him to treat his injured leg with cheese. – Richard Jolly
84. Robbie Savage – Crewe to Leicester, 1997 (£400,000)
Whatever your thoughts on Sav the pundit, the Manchester United trainee proved a steal of a buy when Martin O’Neill nabbed the 22-year-old from Crewe Alexandra. With his flowing, young Jaime Lannister hair and filthy, Tyrion Lannister mouth, the combative midfielder was never dull.
He wound up opponents and racked up yellow cards, but was dynamic, committed and could play a bit as well. He featured over 200 times for Leicester as they won the League Cup in 2000, and was then bought by Birmingham for £1.25m in 2001. – Alex Reid
83. James Beattie – Blackburn to Southampton, 1997 (£1m)
Beattie was a bit-part in Blackburn’s £7m deal for Kevin Davies in 1997, yet the 20-year-old soon proved his worth. The powerful striker scored just six times in his first season, but two goals in his final three games – including a spectacular volley against Leicester – helped Saints escape relegation.
Injuries ruined his second season, but from 2000 Beattie began regularly reaching double figures. In 2002/03 he struck 23 Premier League goals and eventually joined Everton in 2005 for £6m. Not bad for a makeweight. – Alex Reid
82. James McCarthy – Hamilton Academical to Wigan, 2009 (£1.1m rising to £3m)
Impressed by the Glasgow-born central midfielder’s young, scrappy and hungry performances as Hamilton gatecrashed the Scottish top flight, Roberto Martinez’s Wigan swooped to sign James McCarthy in 2009.
He’d made his debut at 15 and won Scotland’s Young Player of the Year award, but even Wigan may not have predicted that the future Republic of Ireland international would put in such commanding displays as to attract a £13m offer from Everton, where he was reunited with Martinez and half of his Wigan team-mates. – Huw Davies
81. James McArthur– Hamilton Academical to Wigan, 2010 (£540,000)
Impressed by the Glasgow-born central midfielder’s young, scrappy and hungry performances as Hamilton gatecrashed the Scottish top flight, Roberto Martinez’s Wigan swooped to sign James McArthur in 2010.
He’d been impressive for the Accies, but even Wigan may not have predicted that Crystal Palace would later make him their record transfer. McArthur stayed and McCarthy left when Wigan went down in 2013, but the latter playing a few games before joining Everton means the Latics’ midfield in 2013/14 included McCarthy, McArthur, McEachran, McCann, McClean and McManaman. Lovely. – Huw Davies