100 best bargains
Everybody loves a bargain – and in our opinion, the 100 transfers here 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. 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.
So, without further ado…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 33, the Portugal international adds a vital creative force and his seniority complements Ruben Neves’s youth perfectly.
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 didn't turn many heads, but in a low-scoring side he averaged a goal or assist every other league game in the 2017/18 season. His form at St. James' Park earned the forward a £30m move to Leicester last summer, bagging his club a massive profit.
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.
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 in each 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.
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.
88. Steven Davis – Rangers to Southampton, 2012 (£800,000)
After six-and-a-half years at Southampton, Davis returned to Rangers in January 2019, where his previous spell ended badly. Indeed, some would argue he 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
80. Andre Ayew – Marseille to Swansea, 2015 (free)
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 didn't work out so well, although he had hit 12 Championship goals by the time the coronavirus saw football suspended in 2019/20. But we’ll always have 2015/16.
79. Craig Dawson – Rochdale to West Brom, 2010 (£270,000)
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.
78. Michael Carrick – West Ham to Tottenham, 2004 (£3.5m)
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.
77. Pascal Gross – Ingolstadt to Brighton, 2017 (£3m)
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.
76. Claus Lundekvam – Brann to Southampton, 1996 (£400,000)
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.
75. Josh King – Blackburn to Bournemouth, 2015 (£1m)
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.
74. Gary Speed – Newcastle to Bolton, 2004 (£750,000)
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.
73. Gareth McAuley – Ipswich to West Brom, 2011 (free)
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.
72. Niall Quinn – Man City to Sunderland, 1996 (£1.3m)
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.
71. Eric Dier – Sporting to Tottenham, 2014 (£4m)
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.
70. George Boateng – Feyenoord to Coventry, 1997 (£250,000)
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.
69. David Bentley – Arsenal to Blackburn, 2006 (£1m)
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.
68. Mark Schwarzer – Bradford to Middlesbrough, 1997 (£1.5m)
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.
67. Aaron Lennon – Leeds to Tottenham, 2005 (£1m)
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.
66. Ryan Nelsen – DC United to Blackburn, 2005 (free)
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.
65. Marians Pahars – Skonto Riga to Southampton, 1999 (£800,000)
‘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.
64. Hugo Lloris – Lyon to Tottenham, 2012 (£7.9m rising to £11.9m)
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.
He ended Brad Friedel’s insane record of 310 consecutive Premier League games, and he's far from done yet - it’s easy to forget that, despite already being a fixture in European football, he was only 25 when he joined Spurs.
63. Yohan Cabaye – Lille to Newcastle, 2011 (£4.8m)
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.
62. James Milner – Manchester City to Liverpool, 2015 (free)
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.
61. Stefano Eranio – Milan to Derby, 1997 (free)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 their victorious 2018 World Cup final.
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.
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.
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 became a majestic creative influence, but a player who also embraced the demands of Mauricio Pochettino’s system to become the complete attacking midfielder, before packing his bags to join Inter Milan in January.
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.
50. Luis Suarez – Ajax to Liverpool, 2011 (£22.7m)
Suarez may be one of the priciest players on this list, but there’s no doubt that he represented superb value for money at £22.7m. Not only did Liverpool make an enormous profit on him when Barcelona came calling in 2014, but the Uruguayan’s exploits in his three and a half years at Anfield make him one of the club’s greatest players of the Premier League era.
Those racism and biting incidents dampened a glorious reputation, but it’s impossible to argue with Suarez’s goalscoring prowess. 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.
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 West Ham’s high-risk decision paid dividends in 2011/12. Stoke’s loss – the Potters pulled out of a £7m deal in January 2011 due to concerns over the striker’s fitness – was the relegation-threatened Hammers’ gain.
Signed from Hoffenheim for just £500,000, Ba was handed a pay-as-you-play contract until the end of the season. The Senegalese stayed fit, scored seven goals in 10 league starts and helped to keep West Ham up. A win-win all round, then – unless you’re Stoke.
48. Demba Ba – West Ham to Newcastle, 2011 (Free)
A relegation-release clause in his West Ham 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.
Ba was still performing, though, and the goals returned in 2012/13 (13 in 20 matches) before he fetched Newcastle £7m from Chelsea.
47. Cesar Azpilicueta – Marseille to Chelsea, 2012 (£6.5m)
Roman Abramovich hasn’t been shy in splashing the cash since his arrival at Stamford Bridge in 2003, but one of his best ever signings arrived for a relative pittance. Chelsea paid Marseille just £6.5m to sign the versatile defender in 2012, a fee which Azpilicueta has since repaid many times over.
A winner of two Premier League titles, a League Cup, an FA Cup and a Europa League in west London, the Spaniard has thrived at right-back, centre-back and left-back under a number of different managers. Still only 30, he has plenty more to give the Blues.
46. Paolo Di Canio – Sheffield Wednesday to West Ham, 1999 (£1.75m)
After Di Canio was handed an 11-game ban for pushing over referee Paul Alcock (who did go down rather easily, it must be said), Sheffield Wednesday concluded the Italian was more trouble than he was worth.
West Ham were delighted to take the fiery striker off the Owls’ hands for just £1.5m, with Harry Redknapp praising his new recruit as a player who “can do things with the ball that people can only dream of”. He wasn’t wrong: Di Canio’s sensational scissor kick against Wimbledon remains one of the Premier League’s most famous goals, while his 51 others for the Hammers guaranteed him cult-hero status.
45. Yakubu – Everton to Blackburn, 2011 (£1.5m)
The Yak wasn’t 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. Blackburn’s nabbing of the burly striker for £1.5m always looked good business.
It looked even better on his debut when Yakubu scored twice in a 4-3 victory 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.
44. Michael Keane – Manchester United to Burnley, 2015 (£2m)
A graduate of the Manchester United academy, Keane only made a single Premier League appearance for his boyhood club. After loan spells at Leicester, Derby and Blackburn, the central defender embarked on another temporary switch to Burnley in September 2014, with the move made permanent following the club’s promotion back to the Premier League at the end of the season.
Keane was a model of consistency during his time at Turf Moor, most notably during a brilliant 2016/17 campaign as Sean Dyche’s side avoided the drop. Everton paid £25m for his services the following summer, earning Burnley a very tidy profit.
43. Emmanuel Adebayor – Metz to Arsenal, 2006 (£3m)
The last great bargain of Arsene Wenger’s tenure in north London? Adebayor’s acquisition in 2006 was, at the time, another example of Wenger 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 around the Emirates Stadium 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 in the Gunners’ last sustained title tilt.
42. Gary Cahill – Bolton to Chelsea, 2012 (£7m)
Not many players 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 backline to European glory.
The defender showed that January purchases need not be overpriced and can have an immediate impact. Cahill went on to win two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Europa League at Stamford Bridge before joining Crystal Palace in the summer of 2019.
41. Jussi Jaaskelainen – VPS to Bolton, 1997 (£100,000)
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 supporters 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.
40. Mohamed Salah – Roma to Liverpool, 2017 (£34m)
Despite his prior Premier League struggles with Chelsea, Salah was widely considered a good signing when Liverpool acquired him for £34m in 2017. No one, though, could anticipate the impact he would have in his debut season: the Egyptian broke the record for most goals in a 38-game Premier League season, netting 32 times to win the Golden Boot in style.
He's continued a similar vein ever since, finishing joint-top scorer in the league with 22 goals last season and firing in another 16 in 2019/20 to send Liverpool hurtling towards their first title of the Premier League era.
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 gave the move for 23-year-old Dempsey the go-ahead deserves a fist bump and a bro shake.
‘Deuce’ scored a crucial goal in his first half-season at Fulham, a winner against Liverpool which in effect saved the Cottagers from relegation. A fine all-round attacker and a tremendous threat in the air, Dempsey became more prolific the longer he was in west London, culminating in a 23-goal haul in 2011/12 which earned him a £6m switch to Tottenham.
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 – Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, Xavi Hernandez 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 for a fee of, well, nothing at all, is quite the deal. The German won four major trophies in London before returning to Bayer Leverkusen in 2010.
37. Christopher Samba – Hertha Berlin to Blackburn, 2007 (£450,000)
Samba was an unknown entity to English audiences when he first arrived on these shores in 2007. The colossal Congolese had been struggling for game time at Hertha Berlin before his switch to Ewood Park, but Mark Hughes had clearly seen something in the 6ft 4in stopper.
Strong in both the air and the tackle, Samba was the sort of no-nonsense, uncompromising defender every mid-table team needs. He made 171 appearances for Rovers in total, helping them to a seventh-place finish in 2007/08 and another top-half placing two years later.
36. Carlo Cudicini – Castel Di Sangro to Chelsea, 1999 (£200,000)
A series of injury problems restricted Cudicini to just 14 league outings for Castel Di Sangro between 1997 and 1999, so Italian eyebrows were raised when Chelsea brought the lesser-spotted glovesman to England, initially on loan.
Cudicini found himself on the bench for much of his debut campaign, but he was undisputed No.1 by the end of 2000/01 and won the club’s Player of the Year prize the following year. He was voted the best in his position in the league in 2002/03, but was later relegated to the bench following Petr Cech’s arrival in 2004.
35. Marko Arnautovic – Werder Bremen to Stoke, 2013 (£2m)
The Premier League may well have seen the last of Arnautovic, who seems determined to seal a lucrative move to the Chinese Super League this transfer window. He’ll certainly cost any suitors much more than the £2m Stoke paid to bring him to England back in 2013.
The enigmatic forward arrived in the Potteries with a reputation as a trouble-maker, but there was no questioning his ability. Arnautovic helped Stoke to three consecutive ninth-place finishes, before bringing in a cool £18m profit when he joined West Ham in 2017.
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.
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, Bolton had gone from unfancied newcomers to eighth in the Premier League.
33. Robbie Keane – Leeds to Tottenham, 2002 (£7m)
Keane had only recently turned 23 upon joining Tottenham in summer 2002, but that was already the fourth permanent move of his career. The former Wolves, Coventry, Inter and Leeds frontman settled down in north London, though, scoring 80 Premier League goals over the next six years.
His sale to Liverpool in 2008 boosted Spurs’ coffers to the tune of £19m, but Keane was back at White Hart Lane a few months later as the north Londoners re-signed the Irishman for just £12m. Daniel Levy: genius.
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, who 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, and he was really, really good at it too.
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 that, the goals flowed. Many of them important, most of them spectacular; Poyet nabbed a winner against Real Madrid, two FA Cup semi-final strikes to see off Newcastle and more, all while acting as manager Claudio Ranieri’s unofficial translator. He left the Blues in 2001, pulling in a £2.2m fee from London rivals Tottenham.
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 recently enjoyed a 17-goal season for Vallecano when he joined Swansea, but his debut campaign in Wales was remarkable nonetheless: 22 goals in all competitions in a year which 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.
29. Ashley Cole – Arsenal to Chelsea, 2006 (£5m + player)
Cole’s transfer from Arsenal to Chelsea wasn’t without its controversy, with the left-back fined £100,000 for attending a “tapping-up meeting” in 2005. The deal eventually went through the following year, the Blues spending just £5m – plus defender William Gallas – on a player who was already established as one of Europe’s best in his position.
The motivation for the move was widely seen as financial, but it made perfect sense in a sporting sense: while Arsenal stagnated in the latter half of the decade, Cole won a league title, four FA Cups and the Champions League in eight years at Stamford Bridge.
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, the Toffees 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.
27. John Stones – Barnsley to Everton, 2013 (£3m)
The perfect embodiment of why those clubs who 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.
Stones deserves plenty of credit too, but Everton really did find the then-most expensive defender in the world in South Yorkshire.
26. Andrew Robertson – Hull to Liverpool, 2017 (£8m)
It was surprising 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, and has a Champions League winners' medal to his name.
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 who won the league unbeaten in 2003/04 and reached a Champions League final in 2006. By the time he joined Manchester City for £14m in 2009, Toure had played over 300 games for the Gunners.
24. Philippe Coutinho – Inter 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 1700% mark-up, it’s a job well done.
23. Robin van Persie, Feyenoord to Arsenal, 2004 (2.75m)
A solitary FA Cup is all Van Persie has to show for his time in north London in terms of medals, but he contributed plenty to the Arsenal cause during his eight-season stay. And while injury problems limited his impact in his first few years at the club, he ended his Gunners career as the club’s best striker post-Thierry Henry.
After scoring 18 times in 25 league games in 2010/11, the Dutchman broke the 30-goal barrier the following season. That haul tempted Manchester United to spend £22.5m on his signature; a year later, Alex Ferguson’s men were champions and Van Persie their top scorer.
22. Tim Cahill – Millwall to Everton, 2004 (£1.5m)
After helping second-tier Millwall to the FA Cup final in 2003/04, Cahill earned a promotion to the Premier League with Everton. He ended his debut campaign as the club’s top scorer and Player of the Year, and didn’t look back from there; by the time of his departure in 2012, the Australian had played 278 games and scored 68 goals for the Merseysiders.
A midfielder by trade, Cahill was regularly deployed up front by manager David Moyes such was his penalty-box threat. Not even 6ft tall, the ex-Millwall man was one of the best headers of the ball that the Premier League has seen.
21. Ruud Gullit – Sampdoria to Chelsea, 1995 (free)
Sometimes a player’s impact cannot be measured by numbers alone. Gullit scored four Premier League goals for Chelsea. He also transformed their identity. Before him, they signed Paul Furlong and Scott Minto. After him, 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 the centre of the park.
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 had just been mentoring Ronaldinho at PSG. Yet opposites attract and 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. But it was his jaw-slackening array of rainbow flicks and skills that delighted fans and baffled opponents (just ask Ray Parlour) during his mesmerising four-season spell in the northwest.
19. Seamus Coleman – Sligo Rovers to Everton, 2009 (£60,000 rising to £300,000)
In the early 1980s, David Moyes and Willie McStay shared a dressing room at Celtic. That proved to be significant almost three decades on, when a tip-off from the latter to the former led to Everton capturing Coleman for an initial £60,000.
Little was known of the young Irishman, but Coleman soon established himself as one of the Premier League’s most impressive full-backs. Now in his 11th season at Goodison Park, the defender battled back from a broken leg last term and has since taken his appearance tally beyond the 300 mark.
18. Shay Given – Blackburn to Newcastle, 1997 (£1.5m)
Kenny Dalglish’s tenure as Newcastle boss is rarely 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, Given was a near-constant over the next 12 years. Boasting remarkable reflexes, the 6ft 1in net-minder was often reluctant to leave his line, but he was a spectacular shot-stopper who regularly bailed out an iffy defence. Given left for Manchester City in 2009, just 33 games short of being Newcastle’s all-time appearance-maker.
17. Joe Hart – Shrewsbury to Manchester City, 2006 (£600,000)
Hart’s reputation has taken a battering in the last few years, bombed out of Manchester City by Pep Guardiola and currently warming the bench at Turf Moor. Yet while his time at Champions League level is now firmly in the past, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Englishman was once among the Premier League’s top goalkeepers.
Signed for just £600,000 in 2006, the ex-Shrewsbury shot-stopper would go on to win two Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup in Manchester before his rather sudden exit in 2016.
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 everyone’s a winner.
15. Nemanja Vidic – Spartak Moscow to Manchester United, 2005 (£7m)
One of the Premier League’s greatest ever defenders – and proof that you can find value in the January market if you look hard enough. Vidic arrived in the same window as Patrice Evra and, like the Frenchman, went on to become a pillar of Alex Ferguson’s last great Manchester United side.
The tough-tackling Serbian, who formed a wonderfully complementary partnership with Rio Ferdinand in the heart of the Red Devils’ backline, won five Premier League titles, three League Cups and the Champions League at Old Trafford – which works out as £77,777 per trophy.
14. Vincent Kompany – Hamburg to Manchester City, 2008 (£6m)
In the early summer months of 2008, Manchester City was 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 was the one constant: unwavering on the pitch and statesmanlike off it. He has noticeably been missed since leaving last summer.
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 was named Premier League Player of the Month in August 1995 as Newcastle collected 12 points from 12. Blessed with dazzling skill (and hair), Ginola epitomised the Magpies’ Entertainers era. Tottenham might well argue that nabbing him for £2.5m after two seasons on Tyneside was an equally good buy.
12. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink – Boavista to Leeds, 1997 (£2m)
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was a good, physical striker who just 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 smashed in 17 more as Leeds finished fifth.
In his second season, Hasselbaink was joint winner of the Premier League Golden Boot, before a falling-out with manager David O’Leary brought a £10m move to Atletico Madrid. Given the wages Leeds would reportedly go on to pay, investing in Hasselbaink may been one of their smarter fiscal strategies.
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 mildly 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. Not bad for £2m.
10. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer – Molde to Manchester United, 1996 (£1.5m)
Manchester United’s manager has got some way to go before he tops his exploits as a player. Signed to little fanfare for £1.5m in 1996, the Norwegian sharp-shooter proved to be one of the best natural finishers that the Premier League has seen.
Injuries plagued his final few seasons in the north-west, but 126 goals in 366 matches tell their own story – as does an honours list featuring six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and, as Clive Tyldesley told us, a Champions League.
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: 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.