FourFourTwo's 100 Best Bargains in Premier League History
40. Mohamed Salah – Roma to Liverpool, 2017 (£34m)
Salah is easily this top 100’s most expensive player – oh, er, spoiler alert – but many people, not least Liverpool fans, would call him the bargain of the decade. For a start, in the same transfer window, Romelu Lukaku cost £75m, Alvaro Morata £60m and Gylfi Sigurdsson £45m.
Then £34m man Salah broke the record for most goals in a 38-game Premier League season, scoring 32 times in 36 appearances, and helped Liverpool to the Champions League final, where he was murdered by Sergio Ramos. – Huw Davies
39. Clint Dempsey – New England Revolution to Fulham, 2007 (£1.5m)
A Premier League club buying a player direct from MLS is a risk, but whoever green-lit the move for a 23-year-old Dempsey deserves a fist bump and a bro shake.
‘Deuce’ scored a crucial goal in his first half-season at Fulham, a winner over Liverpool which effectively guaranteed top-flight football. A fine all-round attacker and a terrific aerial threat, Dempsey became more prolific the longer he was in west London; the 23 goals he scored in his last full season prompted Tottenham to spend £6m on him in 2012. – Alex Reid
38. Michael Ballack – Bayern Munich to Chelsea, 2006 (free)
There’s a good argument to be make that among a generation of all-time great midfielders – Keane, Scholes, Gerrard, Xavi and the rest – that Ballack was the most complete. He had brains, brawn, height, two good feet, vision, an eye for goal and a delicious nasty streak.
Crowbarring himself into a team built around Frank Lampard meant he never hit his full heights at Chelsea, but to acquire a player that absurdly good – he finished with an international record of 42 goals in 98 games for Germany – for a fee of... well, nothing at all, is quite the deal. – Alex Hess
37. Christopher Samba – Hertha Berlin to Blackburn, 2007 (£450,000)
The Congolese colossus was warming the bench for Hertha Berlin having made a handful of senior starts in his entire career when Mark Hughes brought him to Blackburn for a pittance in 2007.
He quickly became a defensive titan alongside fellow bargain Ryan Nelsen (see No.66): aggressive, dependable and emphatically no-frills. Moves to Anzhi, QPR and Dynamo Moscow brought him more dollars than they did accolades, but for his five years at Ewood Park there were few better. – Alex Hess
36. Carlo Cudicini – Castel Di Sangro to Chelsea, 1999 (£200,000)
The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro profiles a club from a tiny Italian town of 5,500 inhabitants making it into Serie B and surviving (temporarily), despite drug busts, fatal car crashes and a ‘new signing’ who turned out to be an actor.
Amid the madness (after the brilliant book was published) emerged reserve goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, son of former Roma and Milan stopper Fabio. Why Chelsea plucked the 25-year-old from Serie C1 is a mystery, but he ended up being an extremely reliable No.1 who deserves more appreciation today – only six Premier League keepers had or have a better clean-sheet ratio. – Huw Davies
35. Marko Arnautovic – Werder Bremen to Stoke, 2013 (£2m)
The problem with Arnautovic succeeding at Stoke, having arrived with a certain status (partly as Mario Balotelli’s mate), is that it convinced Mark Hughes to continue down the marquee-signing path that doomed QPR: after Arnautovic came Bojan and Ibrahim Afellay from Barcelona, Xherdan Shaqiri from Inter and Jesé from PSG, with mixed results.
But the Austrian gave Stoke fight as well as flair, becoming ever more consistent until he fetched Stoke £25m. Then West Ham made him a striker and he peaked, while Stoke slipped into the Championship. – Huw Davies
34. Youri Djorkaeff – Kaiserslautern to Bolton, 2002 (free)
Bolton’s plan to create a set of aged, discount Galacticos in north-west England didn’t always pay off (see: Jardel, Mario), but it certainly worked with Djorkaeff. And he was the first; therefore, incredibly influential to Sam Allardyce’s grand plan.
A World Cup winner with France, this exquisite between-the-lines attacker was a month away from his 34th birthday when he signed for Bolton. Yet the hurly-burly of the Premier League rarely seemed to faze a player who always found space, slid in killer passes and produced some spectacular finishes. By the time he departed, the Trotters had been transformed from unfancied newcomers to 8th-place finishers in the Premier League. – Alex Reid
33. Robbie Keane – Leeds to Tottenham, 2002 (£7m)
Consider this. 1999: Keane costs Coventry £6m to buy from Wolves. 2000: he costs Inter £13m. 2001: Leeds, £12m. 2002: Spurs buy Keane for £7m. 2008: Spurs sell Keane to Liverpool for £19m up front. February 2009: Spurs buy Keane back again for £12m up front. And 2011: Spurs sell Keane to LA Galaxy for £3.5m.
Now, you may ask why clubs kept getting rid, but the main takeaway is this: the Irishman scored hatfuls of goals for Spurs, was named their Player of the Year three times, and effectively cost them minus £3.5m in transfer fees. Top Levying. – Huw Davies
32. Patrice Evra – Monaco to Manchester United, 2006 (£5.5m)
Ashley Cole probably pips Evra to the award of best left-back in Premier League history, but the Frenchman should take that as compliment rather than insult.
It’s hard to imagine a foreign player more enthusiastic about buying into the culture of a football club than Evra – he was a cult hero by sheer personality. He won six league titles and the Champions League, but Evra also played with a semi-permanent smile. He was a reminder that football is supposed to be fun. – Daniel Storey
31. Gus Poyet – Real Zaragoza to Chelsea, 1997 (free)
One of the great free transfers of the Premier League era, Uruguay international Poyet turned up at Stamford Bridge in 1997 and promptly picked up a cruciate injury. An inauspicious start, although he did return to play in the side that beat Stuttgart in the 1998 Cup Winners’ Cup Final.
After this, the goals flowed. Many of them important, most of them spectacular; Poyet nabbed a winner over Real Madrid, two FA Cup semi-final goals to see off Newcastle and more, all while acting as manager Claudio Ranieri’s unofficial translator. The midfielder left the Blues in 2001, having scored 49 goals in 145 games, while pulling in a £2.2m fee from Tottenham. – Alex Reid
30. Michu – Rayo Vallecano to Swansea, 2012 (£2m)
Some flames burn long, slow and steady. Others spend a decade doing very little in the Spanish lower leagues before a two-year blaze of glory at the top. Michu had put in a 17-goal season for Rayo Vallecano when he joined Swansea, but his debut campaign in Wales was remarkable nonetheless: a year that made King Midas look like the Princess Bride.
Four years later he was retired, having long since returned to the Iberian anonymity from whence he came. A player firmly in the ‘brief but bright’ bracket – no shame in that. – Alex Hess
29. Ashley Cole – Arsenal to Chelsea, 2006 (£5m)
While Cole won few friends by the manner of his move – infamously recounted in his autobiography – he sure won a lot of trophies after it. Eight, to be precise, plus an enduring reputation as one of the finest English full-backs of all time.
Perhaps the Premier League’s most consistently excellent performer of the last 20 years – and the only member of England’s ‘Golden Generation’ to live up to that label on the world stage. – Alex Hess
28. Mikel Arteta – Real Sociedad to Everton, 2005 (£2m)
A midfielder defined by his haircut: neat, tidy, consistent, unwavering. Arteta’s career was in danger of drifting before he joined Everton for a miniscule fee of £2m in 2005. In that same year, Everton spent the same on Andy van der Meyde and almost three times as much as Per Kroldrup.
Arteta won the club’s Player of the Season award in his first full year, and eventually played more than 200 games for them before getting his dream move to Arsenal. – Daniel Storey
27. John Stones – Barnsley to Everton, 2013 (£3m)
The perfect embodiment of why those clubs that sit below the financially bloated elite must look to be smarter in their bid to bridge the artificial gap. Everton did wonderful business in signing Stones for £3m, partly because he was excellent at Goodison, and partly because their development of him landed them a profit of around £45m when they sold him to Manchester City in 2016.
Stones deserves plenty of credit too, but Everton really did find the (then) most expensive defender in the world in South Yorkshire. – Daniel Storey
26. Andy Robertson – Hull to Liverpool, 2017 (£8m)
It was surprising that nobody picked up Robertson when Hull were relegated in 2015, after a year in which he’d signed from Dundee United for £2.8m – a bargain in itself – and subsequently shone. But Liverpool swooped when the Tigers went down again.
The idea that Robertson settled slowly is extraordinary in retrospect: how many 24-year-olds start a Champions League final in their first season? Now he’s arguably the Premier League’s best full-back, having cost Liverpool less than half what Chelsea paid for Baba Rahman two years earlier. – Huw Davies
25. Kolo Toure – ASEC Mimosas to Arsenal, 2002 (£150,000)
The story of Toure’s Arsenal trial is the stuff of legend: hacking down Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, before the Ivorian completed his hat-trick by two-footing Arsene Wenger. A limping Wenger decided to sign Toure, claiming he “liked his desire”.
It proved an inspired move. The youngster was a superb foil to Sol Campbell in the central defence of an Arsenal side which won the league unbeaten in 2003/04 and reached a Champions League final in 2006. By the time Toure switched to Manchester City for £14m in 2009, he’d played over 300 games for the Gunners. – Alex Reid
24. Philippe Coutinho – Inter Milan to Liverpool, 2013 (£8.5m)
Raised on a diet of small-sided futsal in Brazil, Coutinho spent his early years in Europe struggling to impose his Velcro-booted skills on the expansive pitches of Italy and Spain – so when Liverpool parted with £8.5m, it was met curiosity rather than hysteria.
But five years on Merseyside transformed him into a playmaker of elite pedigree, adding responsibility and refinement to his samba flair. And when profit margins on a player represent a 1,700% mark-up, it’s a job well done. – Alex Hess
23. Robin van Persie, Feyenoord to Arsenal, 2004 (2.75m)
When Van Persie arrived at Arsenal he was a well-regarded Dutch winger, but there were major doubts over his productivity and temperament. Arsene Wenger – a man who knew a bit about Dutch creatives prone to flashes of red mist – took a punt, showed patience and was rewarded in kind.
Injuries limited Van Persie’s time at the top, but there have been few more unerring finishers in the modern age and his talismanic title win at Old Trafford – much as it will have pained Wenger – was belated reward for his dazzling gifts. – Alex Hess
22. Tim Cahill – Millwall to Everton, 2004 (£1.5m)
In 2004, a £1.5m fee actually appeared risky for a 24-year-old with no top-flight experience. Yet from the start, Cahill looked at home in the blue of Everton.
The Australian midfielder was top scorer for the club in his first season, and the goals kept coming – particularly via his head – with several against Liverpool. Following a season of dire underachievement (Everton had finished 17th in 2003/04), Cahill became the face of a revived Toffees. He departed a local hero after eight seasons. – Alex Reid
21. Ruud Gullit – Sampdoria to Chelsea, 1995 (free)
Sometimes a player’s impact can’t be measured by numbers alone. Gullit scored four Premier League goals for Chelsea. But he also transformed their identity.
Before him, they signed Paul Furlong and Scott Minto. After the Dutchman, players like Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli, Frank Leboeuf and Roberto Di Matteo headed to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea became cool and Gullit, a year after signing, their manager. While Glenn Hoddle’s attempts to use him as a sweeper didn’t work, he was outstanding in midfield and named in the Premier League’s PFA Team of the Year of 1995/96. – Richard Jolly