FourFourTwo's 100 Best Bargains in Premier League History
60. Toby Alderweireld – Atletico Madrid to Tottenham, 2015 (£11.5m)
Tottenham knew Alderweireld was capable in the Premier League after a fine loan spell at Southampton, but it’s fair to suggest he has probably surpassed even their expectations. In truth, the wonder is that they’ve managed to hold on to him for so long with bigger and richer clubs circling. That’s a testament to Spurs’ year-on-year improvement under Pochettino.
Alderweireld is close to the complete defender, perhaps lacking the aerial presence of Virgil van Dijk but ceding nothing else to the world’s most expensive centre-back. Tottenham will sure miss him when he’s gone. – Daniel Storey
59. Kevin Davies – Southampton to Bolton, 2003 (free)
It looked over. A £7m flop at Blackburn, back when that was big money, not even a return to Southampton had revived Kevin Davies’s career. Injury had robbed him of his pace and his goalscoring touch had vanished.
Yet when he arrived at Bolton in 2003, he was a player transformed. Now a strong and cunning centre-forward, he struck 10 goals in a superb debut season, but there was more to him than scoring. Over his 10 seasons, ‘Super’ Kevin was a leader for overachieving Bolton, menacing defenders, aiding team-mates and even winning an England cap in 2010. – Alex Reid
58. Dimitri Payet – Marseille to West Ham, 2015 (£10.7m)
Those who hadn’t watched Payet asked why West Ham were paying just under £11m. Those who had asked how West Ham were paying just under £11m. He arrived from Marseille having created more goalscoring opportunities than any other player in the world’s top five leagues, raised the Hammers’ levels and took them into Europe. Incredibly, they went into May with a real shot at Champions League qualification.
Seeing a recalled Payet score a belting late winner for France in their Euro 2016 opener, before creating the most chances at the tournament, was genuinely satisfying. – Huw Davies
57. Marc Albrighton – Aston Villa to Leicester, 2014 (free)
A reassuring example of a player taking the patient route to the top, Albrighton spent half a decade as an unremarkable bit-part player at Aston Villa before moving across the Midlands in a free transfer that flew largely under the radar.
Two years later Albrighton was a key figure in one of the most mind-blowing stories in sporting history, his diligent, no-frills wing play a vital part of the Leicester side that stormed to the title. Villa, the club who all too happily released him, were relegated. – Alex Hess
56. Pablo Zabaleta – Espanyol to Manchester City, 2008 (£6.45m)
Not just one of the best players in Manchester City’s history, but one of its best-loved, too. Signing the day before Robinho did – and for a fifth of the price – Zabaleta quickly won over the City faithful with his heart-on-sleeve defending and lung-busting exertions down the flank.
His remarkable consistency barely let up throughout his nine years at Eastlands. But it was his grace and generosity off the pitch, and his embracing of the local area, that makes him a true City legend. – Alex Hess
55. Steven N’Zonzi – Amiens to Blackburn, 2009 (£500,000)
Another testament to the rigour of Sam Allardyce's scouting network, N’Zonzi was playing in the French second tier when Blackburn tabled a low-key, six-figure bid in 2009. He quickly established himself as a midfielder without real weakness: calm on the ball, physically imperious and with the lungs of a distance runner.
He’s since moved to Roma via Sevilla and Stoke, collected a Europa League medal and played for France in last summer's victorious World Cup final. – Alex Hess
54. Freddie Ljungberg – Halmstads to Arsenal, 1998 (£3m)
It borders on the scandalous that Arsene Wenger was able to acquire his Invincibles-era midfield of Pires-Gilberto-Vieira-Ljungberg for a total of around £15 million.
Ljungberg was perhaps slightly overshadowed by the more eye-catching wing work of his French team-mate, but his poacher’s instinct and angled off-the-ball runs were, for a midfielder, a revelation to English eyes. Ljungberg was superb in the Double-winning season of 2001/02 and had a handy knack of saving his best moments for the big games. – Alex Hess
53. Pascal Chimbonda – Bastia to Wigan, 2005 (£500,000)
After Wigan’s promotion to the top flight in 2004/05, they were widely tipped to go right back down. Instead, the Latics finished 10th and reached a League Cup final – thanks in no small part to the new signing marauding forward rapidly from right-back.
Infamously, Chimbonda – so good that season he made the PFA Team of the Year – played his last game for Wigan with a transfer request stuffed down his sock. This did little to endear him to manager Paul Jewell, but it did get the France international a move to Tottenham for £4.5m (a tidy £4m profit)... where he duly bombed. – Alex Reid
52. Christian Eriksen – Ajax to Tottenham, 2013 (£11m)
Tottenham’s summer of 2013 was a disaster, as they squandered their Gareth Bale proceeds on a clutch of signings who would ultimately fail to make the grade at White Hart Lane.
But in signing Eriksen for £11m, Spurs arguably did the best piece of business in their history. The Dane has become a majestic creative influence, but a player who has also embraced the demands of Mauricio Pochettino’s system to become the complete attacking midfielder. – Daniel Storey
51. Dean Holdsworth – Brentford to Wimbledon, 1992 (£720,000)
England had a surfeit of prolific strikers in the ’90s. Andy Cole won only 15 caps for his 187 Premier League goals; Les Ferdinand, 17 for his 149; Dion Dublin, four for 111; Chris Sutton, 83 goals but one solitary England appearance. Dean Holdsworth’s 63 Premier League goals brought him zero caps.
He shrugged off the leap from third division to shiny top-flight rebrand, finishing third in the 1992/93 scoring charts with 19 goals for Wimbledon and plundering another 17 the following season. Bolton made him their record signing for £3.5m in October 1997. – Huw Davies
50. Luis Suarez – Ajax to Liverpool, 2011 (£22.7m)
Remember when we said context was key at the start? Suarez is one of the most expensive players on this list, but Liverpool made an enormous profit on him and could never have wished to get better value for their initial outlay. Famously, he signed on the same January day that Reds shelled out £35m for Andy Carroll.
Those racism and biting incidents dampened a glorious reputation, but Suarez’s goalscoring prowess places him within the very top echelon of Premier League strikers. Only Mohamed Salah has scored more goals in a 38-game Premier League season than Suarez’s 31 in 2013/14 – when he missed the first five games through suspension. – Daniel Storey
49. Demba Ba – Hoffenheim to West Ham, 2011 (£500,000)
It’s not often that a Premier League club will sign someone two weeks after he failed a medical elsewhere, but a) this is West Ham, and b) it worked.
Ba’s injury problems were so well-known that Stoke’s aborted £7m transfer in January 2011 resembled a complex insurance scam, but their loss was the relegation-battling Hammers’ gain. A four-month pay-as-you-play deal was a punt worth taking: the Senegalese striker scored seven goals in 10 league starts – enough to save his career, if not his club. – Huw Davies
48. Demba Ba – West Ham to Newcastle, 2011 (Free)
A relegation-release clause in his Hammers contract sent Ba to Newcastle, who promptly and inexplicably finished fifth. Countryman Papiss Demba Cisse arrived in January, triggering an odd quirk: Ba had nabbed 16 goals in his first 20 Premier League games for Newcastle, and both players scored on Cisse’s debut – but then Ba didn’t score again that season in 14 starts, while Cisse netted 12 in 13. Weird.
Ba was still performing, though, and the goals returned in 2012/13 (13 in 20 games) before he fetched Newcastle £7m from Chelsea. – Huw Davies
47. Cesar Azpilicueta – Marseille to Chelsea, 2012 (£6.5m)
“Jean-Claude Dassier [the Marseille president] told us he’s Spain’s future right-back. If that’s the case, I’ll eat a rat.”
So said Eric Di Meco, former Marseille and France defender, shortly after Azpilicueta joined l’OM in 2010. Within two years, Azpilicueta had joined Chelsea; within two-and-a-half, he was receiving his first Spain cap and Di Meco was eating a rat (don’t watch – it’s disgusting).
For just £6.5m Chelsea found a player who was reliable on the right, the left and in the centre. Tasty. – Huw Davies
46. Paolo Di Canio – Sheffield Wednesday to West Ham, 1999 (£1.75m)
A Dr Jekyll and Signor Hyde figure, but the Hammers saw more of Di Canio’s Hyde side than any other club. Sheffield Wednesday wanted rid of the Italian after his shove on referee Paul Alcock, hence the cut-price move to London’s East End.
His vision, skill and fiery commitment instantly endeared him to his new club’s fans. As did the goals, including a spectacular scissor kick against Wimbledon. Alex Ferguson tried to sign the thirty-something for Manchester United in 2001/02, but Di Canio stayed put until even his heroics couldn’t prevent West Ham’s relegation in 2003. – Alex Reid
45. Yakubu – Everton to Blackburn, 2011 (£1.5m)
The Yak was not a player famed for a love of tracking back, and he’d had his injury issues at Everton, but when fit the Nigerian was a proven Premier League goal-getter. So Blackburn nabbing the definitely-28-year-old striker for £1.5m always looked good business.
It looked even better on his debut when Yakubu scored twice in a 4-3 win over Arsenal. Further heroics followed, including four goals in a 4-2 win over Swansea and a brace against Manchester United. He finished the season with 17 goals from 30 league games, but thanks to the genius of Steve Kean, Blackburn were still relegated and Yakubu left after one spectacular season. Sigh. – Alex Reid
44. Michael Keane – Manchester United to Burnley, 2014 (£2m)
Another fine example of how, if judged on the consistency with which they churn out Premier League-level players, then Manchester United’s academy has been the most productive in the country for some time.
Keane may never have been destined to make it at Old Trafford, but it was at Burnley where he came of age thanks to regular exposure to top-flight football. Under Sean Dyche’s guidance he matured, blossomed and was sold on after three years for 12 times his cost. Ker-ching. – Alex Hess
43. Emmanuel Adebayor – Monaco to Arsenal, 2006 (£3m)
The last great bargain of Arsene Wenger’s reign? Adebayor’s acquisition in 2006 was, at the time, an example of the manager doing what he’d become renowned for: plucking a youngster from semi-obscurity in France and fast-tracking him to the sharp end of English football.
And while Adebayor’s career derailed some years ago – and neither is he remembered particularly fondly in north London these days – it’s worth remembering just how good he was in his unplayable pomp. He peaked in 2007/08, netting 24 Premier League goals as the Gunners went close in the title race. – Alex Hess
42. Gary Cahill – Bolton to Chelsea, 2012 (£7m)
Not many get a relegation and Champions League win in the same season. Cahill started 2011/12 at Bolton, who ultimately went down, and ended it anchoring a patched-up Chelsea defence to European glory.
He showed that January buys need not be overpriced and can have an early impact. Cahill went on to win every major English and European trophy at Chelsea, contributing valuable goals in his 289 games and, in effect, captaining them to the title in 2016/17. – Richard Jolly
41. Jussi Jaaskelainen – VPS to Bolton, 1997 (£100,000)
It works out at £188 a game. Jaaskelainen played 530 times for Bolton – a tally topped only by Eddie Hopkinson and Roy Greaves – which, for just £100,000, makes him one of the great value-for-money buys in recent history.
The Finn’s understated style generated few headlines, and he took a while to convince Trotters fans of his worth, but he was an ever-present in six top-flight campaigns and helped Bolton to four consecutive top-eight finishes. Only four foreigners have made more than his 436 Premier League appearances. – Richard Jolly