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FourFourTwo's 100 Best Bargains in Premier League History

Best Premier League bargains
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80. Andre Ayew – Marseille to Swansea, 2015 (free)

Andre Ayew

A particularly odd one. Swansea looked have played the transfer game perfectly when they signed Ayew on a free transfer from Marseille, watched him hit the ground running in the Premier League and then sold him a year later for £20.5m to West Ham, where his form took a downturn.

The fly in the ointment is that the Welsh side then paid almost the same again to bring him back, where it hasn’t worked out. But we’ll always have 2015/16. – Daniel Storey

79. Craig Dawson – Rochdale to West Brom, 2010 (£270,000)

Craig Dawson

Scoring goals for Rochdale is a strangely successful apprenticeship to play in the Premier League, as Glenn Murray, Grant Holt, Rickie Lambert and Adam Le Fondre can testify.

Dawson was a prolific defender at Spotland, scouted by virtually everyone and signed by West Brom for a fee seemingly plucked from the 1980s. Tony Pulis took to the centre-back, converting him to a right-back and making him a stalwart of a defence which, even in 2017/18 relegation, still only conceded 56 times. – Richard Jolly

78. Michael Carrick – West Ham to Tottenham, 2004 (£3.5m)

Michael Carrick

Of West Ham’s touted youngsters at the turn of the century, Carrick was a distant third behind Joe Cole and Rio Ferdinand. So much so that after the Hammers’ relegation in 2003, the 22-year-old was left to play a season of second-tier football.

Even after his move to Spurs in 2004, manager Jacques Santini didn’t seem to fancy him – or indeed, even know who he was at first – and it took Martin Jol’s arrival to give Carrick a platform upon which to show his classy playmaking skills. A fine second season ended in disappointment after an unfortunate encounter with a lasagne, but Manchester United had seen enough and coughed up over £18m. A decent profit for a more than decent player. – Alex Reid

77. Pascal Gross – Ingolstadt to Brighton, 2017 (£3m)

Pascal Gross

Brighton stole a march on their Premier League bottom-half peers when they managed to pick up one of the Bundesliga’s most creative players for a fee of just £3m immediately following their promotion. Gross had just been relegated with Ingolstadt, but no player had created more chances in Germany that season.

And so the playmaker merrily carried on doing exactly the same with Chris Hughton’s side in the Premier League, scoring seven and assisting eight more in his debut campaign. Scouting suddenly looked very easy indeed. – Daniel Storey

76. Claus Lundekvam – Brann to Southampton, 1996 (£400,000)

Claus Lundekvam

The 23-year-old Norwegian joined Southampton for a pittance and made 290 Premier League appearances there (which is a lot), scoring one Premier League goal (which isn’t). He retired at Saints a full 12 years later, having given them so much as a captain, off-field influence and no-nonsense centre-back, and last year was even voted into an all-time Southampton XI.

His career had an unhappy postscript, featuring alcoholism, a drug addiction and two suicide attempts, but now he works to help others enduring the same hell. – Huw Davies

75. Josh King – Blackburn to Bournemouth, 2015 (£1m)

Josh King

Bournemouth’s transfer business upon invading the Premier League wasn’t convincing: Max Gradel was an ambitious purchase that didn’t work out, while Lee Tomlin and Tyrone Mings (even allowing for injury) were overpriced and Sylvain Distin was over the hill.

King, signed on a free from Blackburn before commanding £1m at tribunal, could have gone the same way – this was a forward who’d scored six times in 90 Championship appearances – but he flourished on the south coast, peaking with a 16-goal Premier League campaign in 2016/17. – Huw Davies

74. Gary Speed – Newcastle to Bolton, 2004 (£750,000)

Gary Speed

When Speed signed for Bolton at age 34, it seemed an age since he’d been the midfield tyro that helped Leeds win a league title in 1992. Yet this veteran was far from a spent force.

Speed might have lost some of his dynamism, but his intelligence, skill, commitment, vision and eye for goal remained. In the Welshman’s three full Premier League seasons, Bolton finished 6th, 8th and 7th – with Speed contributing eight league goals in 2006/07; the season he turned 37 years old. – Alex Reid

73. Gareth McAuley – Ipswich to West Brom, 2011 (free)

Gareth McAuley

Recently appointed a MBE for his services to Northern Irish football, McAuley had to wait for his chance at the top. He was 24 when he signed for his first English club, Lincoln City, and didn’t play his first Premier League game until the age of 31.

That came after a free transfer move to West Brom, which proved to be a masterstroke. He only left in June 2018 after 203 Premier League appearances, including one surprisingly prolific 2016/17 season of seven goals. A Pulis dream. – Daniel Storey

72. Niall Quinn – Man City to Sunderland, 1996 (£1.3m)

Niall Quinn

Paying £1.3m for a striker just a few months shy of his 30th birthday looked poor business in the mid-90s – more so when Quinn’s injury-hit first season ended in the Black Cats’ relegation from the Premier League. But the arrival of Kevin Phillips and Quinn’s return to fitness revived Sunderland.

The ultimate little-and-large partnership, Phillips and the 6ft 4in Quinn terrorised the second tier, then did much the same after their return to the Prem as Sunderland finished 7th twice in a row. Quinn became a talismanic figure on Wearside, as a player and later as a chairman, when he once spent £8,000 of his own money to get stranded supporters home. – Alex Reid

71. Eric Dier – Sporting to Tottenham, 2014 (£4m)

Eric Dier

There are still some doubts as to whether Dier is a truly elite defensive midfielder or merely an effective utility player capable of filling in at right-back or in central defence. It’s also doubtful whether Tottenham could still command the £50m that Manchester United were reportedly willing to pay in summer 2017.

But what isn’t in question is that Tottenham found a gem of a player in Portugal for a fee of £4m, and one who didn’t even need to acclimatise to English football. – Daniel Storey

70. George Boateng – Feyenoord to Coventry, 1997 (£250,000)

George Boateng

Boateng played at Coventry for about 18 months, and they recouped 18 times their initial investment when selling him to Aston Villa. If Gordon Strachan (who felt the midfielder was tapped up) was unhappy to lose him, signing the Dutchman was both a financial and a footballing success.

He scored twice in Coventry’s first win at Villa Park for 63 years, struck in a victory over Liverpool and went on to play 383 Premier League games for four clubs. – Richard Jolly

69. David Bentley – Arsenal to Blackburn, 2006 (£1m)

David Bentley

Set-piece expertise, classy crossing and long-range shooting: the common denominators between Bentley and David Beckham once stretched beyond shared initials. They could capture the limelight and, in his first game after signing a permanent deal with Blackburn, Bentley scored the first Premier League hat-trick against Manchester United.

Scorer and creator, signed for £1 million and sold for £18 million, he represented brilliant business for Blackburn. It was just a shame his career declined after he left. – Richard Jolly

68. Mark Schwarzer – Bradford to Middlesbrough, 1997 (£1.5m)

Mark Schwarzer

Schwarzer is the only non-British player to reach 500 Premier League games, and for the vast majority of those, the rock-solid Aussie gloveman was in a Middlesbrough shirt. He was just 24 when he joined Boro and spent 12 seasons at the club; 11 in the top flight.

He was also present for Middlesbrough’s first major honor, the 2004 League Cup (although he’d make an uncharacteristic error in the final). After Schwarzer departed for Fulham in 2008, Boro were duly relegated in the following season. – Alex Reid

67. Aaron Lennon – Leeds to Tottenham, 2005 (£1m)

Aaron Lennon

Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs can blind us to the achievements of their predecessors, and the Argentine’s arrival marked the beginning of the end for Lennon. But while overshadowed by Gareth Bale, the Leeds native helped Spurs to seven top-six finishes, one trophy and a Champions League quarter-final.

Searingly quick and a fine crosser, he made 364 appearances for Tottenham. It was an even better deal as they took advantage of Leeds’s financial problems to get him for a cut-price £1 million. – Richard Jolly

66. Ryan Nelsen – DC United to Blackburn, 2005 (free)

Ryan Nelsen

There was a time when Mark Hughes was synonymous with bargain hunting, not moaning about referees. At Blackburn, he got a redoubtable centre-back partnership for a combined £400,000. Christopher Samba was the giant but Nelsen was the leader.

A rare case of a trialist earning a Premier League contract, the New Zealander was captain within two years of his arrival. He played 208 times for Rovers, helping them to four top-10 finishes. – Richard Jolly

65. Marians Pahars – Skonto Riga to Southampton, 1999 (£800,000)

Marian Pahars

‘The Latvian Michael Owen’ sealed cult status in his first few months at Southampton. Pahars arrived for the end of the 1998/99 season and his brace in a must-win final game at Everton capped a remarkable relegation escape for the Saints.

He wasn’t done there, though, and his 36 goals over the next three seasons proved crucial for a club struggling to survive. Niggling injuries eventually robbed him of his pace and starting spot, but by that stage he’d repaid his fee many times over. – Alex Reid

64. Hugo Lloris – Lyon to Tottenham, 2012 (£7.9m rising to £11.9m)

Hugo Lloris

Lloris has been one of the league’s best goalkeepers throughout his time in England, making him a deadline-day steal even with those add-on fees. Now, for the first time since he ended Brad Friedel’s insane record of 310 consecutive Premier League games, his starting spot at Spurs is under threat due to Paulo Gazzaniga’s excellent showings and his own occasional errors becoming more frequent.

But Lloris isn’t done yet – it’s easy to forget that, despite already being a fixture in European football, he was only 25 when he joined Spurs. – Huw Davies

63. Yohan Cabaye – Lille to Newcastle, 2011 (£4.8m)

Yohan Cabaye

Buy low, sell high. If it’s a principle that made Mike Ashley a fortune, his Newcastle gained a reputation as similarly astute traders. The Magpies quadrupled their money on Cabaye when they sold him to Paris Saint-Germain for £19 million.

They had realised that the French market was undervalued. Cabaye averaged a goal every five games and brought the creativity and class in midfield that made him a catalyst for the side who finished 5th in 2012, earning Alan Pardew the LMA Manager of the Year award. – Richard Jolly

62. James Milner – Manchester City to Liverpool, 2015 (free)

James Milner

It’s unlikely that even Liverpool anticipated just how useful Milner might be as a free transfer. He had fallen to the fringes of Manchester City’s first team having played key roles in two title-winning sides.

Brendan Rodgers offered him the chance to be a squad player at a club with lofty ambitions, but Milner has surpassed that brief under Jurgen Klopp. He played 40 times in 2016/17, largely as an auxiliary left-back, before returning to central midfield and mucking in there too. A manager’s dream. – Daniel Storey

61. Stefano Eranio – Milan to Derby, 1997 (free)

Stefano Eranio

He was either washed-up or he didn’t care anymore. Why else would a player who’d won Serie A three times, picked up 20 Italy caps and played in a Champions League final be let loose on a free to join Derby?

It turns out, Eranio was neither of these things. The 30-year-old right-sided midfielder instantly impressed with his dedication, class and ability to pick a pass or find space in a crowd where lesser players couldn’t. He spent four seasons excelling for an entertaining Derby side and even scored the first goal, a penalty, at the newly opened Pride Park in 1997. – Alex Reid

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