FourFourTwo's 100 Best Bargains in Premier League History
20. Jay-Jay Okocha – PSG to Bolton, 2002 (free)
It was the ultimate odd couple. Sam Allardyce’s unfashionable Bolton and a flashy Nigerian playmaker who’d just been mentoring Ronaldinho at PSG. Yet true love was found.
Okocha scored seven goals to help keep Bolton in the Premier League in his first season, including a dazzling long-range strike against West Ham. However, it was his jaw-slackening array of rainbow flicks and skills that delighted fans and baffled opponents (just ask Ray Parlour, below) during his mesmerising four-season spell in the north-west. – Alex Reid
19. Seamus Coleman – Sligo Rovers to Everton, 2009 (£60,000 rising to £300,000)
No, there isn’t a zero missing, although it’s been 50 years since top-flight English clubs habitually paid under £100k for a player.
Wigan boss Paul Cook, who was Sligo Rovers’ manager in 2009, later told The Times that they ended up getting £300,000 for the right-back – other sources say different – but arguing whether Coleman cost Everton five figures or six isn’t so much splitting hairs as dissecting atoms now that he’s closing in on 250 Premier League appearances. – Huw Davies
18. Shay Given – Blackburn to Newcastle, 1997 (£1.5m)
Kenny Dalglish’s tenure as Newcastle boss is rarely warmly recalled, but he did leave one lasting legacy. Dalglish signed Given, a player he’d originally nabbed for Blackburn, and installed him as No.1.
Through thick and thin, the Irishman was a near-constant for the next 12 years. Boasting remarkable reflexes, the 6ft 1in keeper could be reluctant to leave his line, but he was a spectacular shot-stopper who regularly bailed out an iffy defence.
Given left in 2009 to join Manchester City for £6m, just 33 games short of being Newcastle’s all-time appearance-maker. – Alex Reid
17. Joe Hart – Shrewsbury to Manchester City, 2006 (£600,000, rising to £1.5m*)
It seems ridiculous to say this about a 31-year-old goalkeeper, but we tend to forget how good Hart was before his rapid decline. He was a Premier League No.1 at the age of 20, which is just unheard of, and at his peak was consistent, organised and the league’s best stopper.
He demonstrated so in his first game upon being reinstalled at Manchester City in 2010 – after his Birmingham loan and bafflingly appearance-less World Cup – by keeping out top-four rivals Spurs with a sensational first-half performance. £600k? Wowzers. – Huw Davies
* Ex-chairman John Wardle claims the fee was much lower. “I told Shrewsbury we didn’t have any money, but I found some,” he later said. “We did some bartering with Shrewsbury and got him for £100,000. I’m not saying this to blow my own trumpet.”
16. Graeme Le Saux – Chelsea to Blackburn, 1993 (£700,000)
For club accountants, it must be satisfying to receive a substantially bigger fee from the people who sold you a player they now want back. When he’s also assisted in a rare title triumph – the club’s third and last – there’s every reason to feel quite smug.
Hence Le Saux’s inclusion in our top 20: Blackburn took him from Chelsea for £700,000 and returned him four years later, Premier League winner’s medal and all, for exactly 10 times that. The left-back was vital to their success and improved Chelsea too, so everybody was happy. – Huw Davies
15. Nemanja Vidic – Spartak Moscow to Manchester United, 2005 (£7m)
One of the most complete defenders in Premier League history, comfortable with ball at feet but at his happiest when blocking shots, making tackles and winning headers.
There was more to Vidic than brute strength and aggression, but the sheer love of keeping the ball away from his goal was incredibly endearing. As Robin van Persie said: “Nemanja puts his head where other players are scared to put their feet.” – Daniel Storey
14. Vincent Kompany – Hamburg to Manchester City, 2008 (£6m)
In the early summer months of 2008, Manchester City were in a state of flux: the takeover was still to come and the endless churn of nondescript mid-market imports had instilled identity crisis.
Ironically, the remedy was to be found in a mid-priced Belgian centre-back bought from Germany. Over the next decade of City’s trophy-hoarding overhaul, Kompany has been the one constant: unwavering on the pitch and statesmanlike off it. Now in his dotage, he has gone from peerless talisman to passable squad player. But for roughly 20% of an Eliaquim Mangala, there can be few complaints. – Alex Hess
13. David Ginola – PSG to Newcastle, 1995 (£2.5m)
That Kevin Keegan persuaded Ginola – PSG hero, French player of the year in 1993/94 and reportedly on the shopping lists of both Barcelona and Real Madrid – to sign for Newcastle is remarkable.
The impact was instant: the winger won Premier League Player of the Month honours in August 1995 as Newcastle won four games from four. Blessed with dazzling skill (and hair), Ginola was the epitome of the Magpies’ Entertainers era. Tottenham might well argue that nabbing him for £2.5m themselves, after two seasons on Tyneside, was an equally good buy. – Alex Reid
12. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink – Boavista to Leeds, 1997 (£2m)
Hasselbaink was a fine, physical striker who also happened to boast an absolute hammer of a shot. He showed that ability sporadically when he arrived in Yorkshire, scoring five goals before Christmas – until he recalled how much he hated goal nets and whomped in 17 more as Leeds finished fifth.
In his second season, Hasselbaink was joint-winner of the Premier League Golden Boot. However, a fall-out with manager David O’Leary (who said: “Some people have formed that opinion that he is a greedy son of a bitch”) resulted in a £10m move to Atletico Madrid. Given the wages Leeds would reportedly go on to pay, investing in JFH may been one of the Whites’ smarter fiscal strategies. – Alex Reid
11. Jurgen Klinsmann – Monaco to Tottenham, 1994 (£2m)
One of the most influential foreign imports of the Premier League’s early years, alongside Eric Cantona, Ruud Gullit and Juninho. Klinsmann arrived in England with a reputation for simulation and addressed the issue with a sense of humour that a xenophobic English media hadn’t expected.
The German scored 21 league goals and 30 in all competitions, was named the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year and promptly left for Bayern Munich having become a cult hero. His stellar reputation was cemented with another successful loan spell at White Hart Lane in 1997/98, when he helped save Spurs from the drop. – Daniel Storey
10. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Molde to Manchester United, 1996 (£1.5m)
A rare bargain from yesteryear where more context adds to the absurdity of the money involved. In the summer of 1996, Solskjaer’s transfer fee equated to roughly half a John Hartson, one-third of a Jason McAteer or half a Darren Peacock.
The Norwegian’s off-the-bench heroics, in Barcelona and elsewhere, would plant him firmly in Old Trafford’s hall of fame, but the ‘supersub’ tag does a great injustice to a player of sumptuous technique and tactical understanding – his late-career conversion to jobbing winger was a quiet masterstroke. The only player outside the Class of ‘92 to play for Alex Ferguson’s great United sides of both the ‘90s and noughties. – Alex Hess
9. Sami Hyypia – Willem II to Liverpool, 1999 (£2.6m)
Gerard Houllier’s greatest signing? The case is compelling. “He transformed our defensive record,” Jamie Carragher said. Liverpool conceded 49 league goals the year before Hyypia signed. They never came close to doing that during a decade at Anfield that brought 464 appearances.
Lacking pace, the Finn suited Houllier and Rafa Benitez’s low defensive lines, but he had every other attribute a centre-back required, including an outstanding disciplinary record, the knack of scoring useful goals and the resilience to start 58 games in the Treble-winning season of 2000/01. Hyypia formed outstanding partnerships with Stephane Henchoz and then Carragher in the Reds’ Champions-League winning side. – Richard Jolly
8. Dele Alli – MK Dons to Tottenham, 2015 (£5m)
Heartening proof that, for all of the Premier League’s globalisation and its clubs’ star-hungry recruitment strategies, it’s still possible to unearth a superstar in England’s lower leagues. Alli first caught the public eye when he starred in MK Dons’ League Cup humiliation of Manchester United, and it says plenty for both clubs’ nous that Spurs snapped up the midfielder less than six months before United parted with £30m for Memphis Depay.
Alli, still just 22, has now scored as many career goals as Steven Gerrard had at 27; the fearlessness and impetuosity honed in the third tier complemented by blindingly quick feet and an eye for the outrageous. – Alex Hess
7. Edwin van der Sar – Fulham to Manchester United, 2005 (£2m)
Arriving aged 34 from a bottom-half club, as the eighth goalkeeper Alex Ferguson had signed in six years post-Schmeichel, with Manchester United well adrift of the past two title races, Van der Sar didn’t set many pulses racing. But what was there to lose, paying only £2m – or two-fifths of a Taibi – for a Champions League-winning keeper who’d just won his 100th international cap and had experience of English football?
Ferguson knew the Dutchman’s quality but can’t have expected to get six years out of him. Today, Van der Sar retains the third-best ratio of matches to clean sheets in Premier League history (minimum 60 appearances) despite spending four of his 10 seasons with Fulham, finishing 13th, 14th, 9th and 13th. Going a world-record 14 games without conceding did help.
To think, he was the first Glazer signing. What a brave new world! – Huw Davies
6. Patrick Vieira – Milan to Arsenal, 1996 (£3.5m)
When Arsene Wenger’s ability to rustle up brilliant unknowns was lauded, Vieira was the first and finest example. The 20-year-old was kicking his heels in Milan’s reserves when the Gunners swooped, yet he quickly established himself as a titan; a template for what every Premier League club desired in a midfielder.
Vieira wasn’t just an enforcer able to cover ground and win the ball with his telescopic legs; he drove the attack, picked passes, dictated play and chipped in with vital goals. A leader on the pitch (and a clobberer of anyone who fouled Thierry Henry too often), he racked up the trophies at Arsenal before departing in 2005 to Juventus for £13.5m. – Alex Reid
5. Nicolas Anelka – PSG to Arsenal, 1997 (£500,000)
The deal that, more than any other, cemented Arsene Wenger’s reputation as football’s greatest economist. A £500,000 investment was converted into a £22.3 million sale in two years: Wenger only needed to spend half of that to get a greater player in Thierry Henry.
But the profit should not obscure Anelka’s importance as a player: he replaced Ian Wright as Dennis Bergkamp’s strike partner in the Double-winning 1997/98 campaign, when he scored in the FA Cup final and a further 19 times the following year to attract Real Madrid’s attention.
The Anelka effect was also seen when other clubs started to sign from France. – Richard Jolly
4. Lucas Radebe – Kaizer Chiefs to Leeds, 1994 (£50,000)
The sad news of Phil Masinga’s death aged just 49 brought a tribute from Radebe and a reminder of the pair’s arrival in Yorkshire. Leeds signed Masinga for £250,000 in 1994, with defender Radebe chucked in to keep his fellow South African happy. Radebe turned out to be a bit more than just a great room-mate.
After a sluggish start to his Leeds career (Howard Wilkinson asking him to play on the wing on debut probably didn’t help), Radebe soon proved his worth. A powerful and complete central defender and a gentleman to boot, he became captain of a rapidly improving Leeds in 1999.
Clubs such as Manchester United, Roma and Milan were linked, but Radebe stayed loyal until injuries disrupted the end of his stellar, 11-year Leeds career. – Alex Reid
3. N'Golo Kante – Caen to Leicester, 2015 (£5.6m)
Only the second player to win the Premier League in consecutive seasons with two different clubs, Kante was the fulcrum of Leicester’s monumental shock triumph and Chelsea’s unlikely canter.
If paying £5.6m for a midfielder with one season of top-flight experience and none in English football seemed a gamble, Kante quickly made such suggestions laughable. In 2015/16, his only season at Leicester, he made 31 more tackles and 15 more interceptions than any other Premier League player.
He was the best firefighter in Europe; a one-man midfield who the Foxes could never have done without. – Daniel Storey
2. Sol Campbell – Tottenham to Arsenal, 2001 (free)
Arsene Wenger is much admired for the bargains he spotted overseas, but to seal his greatest deal he only needed to jump on the tube. Campbell was the country’s dominant centre-back in 2002, and White Hart Lane was in thrall to their captain’s imperious blend of impeccable defending and unruffled leadership.
Wenger’s audacity in persuading Campbell to see out his contract was fast repaid with the Double, and the interest kept coming: two years later, Campbell was a bedrock of the Invincibles side.
The most toxic transfer in English history? Those who were there at his return to White Hart Lane – when thousands of balloons bearing the word JUDAS were released into the north London sky – wouldn’t argue otherwise. – Alex Hess
1. Eric Cantona – Leeds to Manchester United, 1992 (£1.2m)
Leeds chairman Bill Fotherby thought he was the cheeky one when calling up Manchester United to ask if they’d be willing to sell him Denis Irwin. They weren’t, of course – but would Leeds instead be up for offloading that difficult Frenchman of theirs?
It turned out they were – Howard Wilkinson was at the end of his tether. “Howard would say, ‘You, Cantona, you stand in front of the centre-half’,” recalled Fotherby in 2017. “Cantona would reply, ‘I don't do this’. He was causing a little bit of friction.”
Little did Leeds know that they were losing the greatest catalyst that the Premier League has ever seen; one who joined a United team in eighth and a club without a league title in 25 years. Cantona inspired them to the first four of 13 in 21 seasons.
If an iconic figure was at his finest in the expansive 1993/94 side, he was at his most crucial two years later, capping his return from an eight-month ban for kung-fu kicking a fan with a series of winners.
Not bad for a man signed as a replacement for the injured Dion Dublin after Sheffield Wednesday refused to sell David Hirst. – Richard Jolly
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