Ranked! The Premier League's 20 biggest bargains
The phenomenal global popularity of the Premier League has raked in so much revenue from sponsors, broadcasters and supporters that a frankly eye-watering amount of money has been spent on players who haven't always been worth the price-tag.
However, on the other hand, some signings have seemed relatively bargainous. Here we present 20 purchases which even the most parsimonious bank manager couldn't help but applaud.
20. Steven Davis (Southampton): £800,000
Southampton snared themselves a bargain when they snapped up Davis in July 2012. The Northern Ireland captain had spent more than four years with Rangers in the Scottish Premier League and signed a five-year extension with them in 2011.
The Glasgow club’s slip into insolvency a few months later, however, opened the door to Saints, who quickly swooped. The midfielder has been a model of consistency in the last few years and is arguably one of the division’s most underrated players.
19. John Stones (Everton): £3m
Everton’s acquisition of Stones in January 2013 went under the radar at the time; with the centre-back not making a single appearance for the remainder of the season, he didn’t make many headlines in the months that followed either.
The Barnsley academy graduate soon made his mark on the first team, though, and by the summer of 2015 several clubs were sniffing around him. Stones stayed put for another year, before joining Manchester City for £47.5m and earning the Toffees a very healthy profit.
18. Paolo Di Canio (West Ham): £1.5m
Many managers wouldn’t have touched the controversial Di Canio with a bargepole in January 1999, when he had only just returned from a ban for pushing over referee Paul Alcock while at Sheffield Wednesday.
Yet West Ham boss Harry Redknapp felt the Italian was worth the risk – and it proved to be the right decision. Di Canio went on to score 52 goals during his four-season spell at Upton Park, with his scissor-kick strike against Wimbledon still one of the greatest ever goals the Premier League has seen.
17. Tim Cahill (Everton): £1.5m
Cahill almost joined Crystal Palace in 2004, but the club’s then-chairman Simon Jordan refused to pay the required agent fee, allowing Everton to steal in and capture the former Millwall man for £1.5m.
It proved to be an inspiring signing, Cahill making an instant impact at Goodison Park. His 11 goals in 2004/05 helped Everton secure a top-four finish; although he never hit double figures in the league again, the Australian remained a key player for the Toffees until his departure in 2012.
16. Nicolas Anelka (Arsenal): £500,000
Something of an HR disaster in waiting during his numerous stints in English football, Anelka was nevertheless a fantastic player. The Frenchman’s first taste of life on this side of the Channel came at Arsenal in the late 1990s; Arsene Wenger landed his compatriot, who had made just 12 professional appearances in his fledgling career, for £500,000 from PSG.
Anelka struck 28 goals in his two full seasons at Highbury, a return which convinced Real Madrid to splash out £22.3m on the striker in 1999.
15. Vincent Kompany (Manchester City): £6m
Fitness issues have dogged Kompany in the last couple of years, but his contribution to City cannot be question. Signed for £6m just days before the Abu Dhabi United Group’s momentous takeover in September 2008, the Belgian has shown the solidity, leadership and resolve essential to the club’s recent success.
Now in his testimonial year, Kompany remains as important as ever to City’s pursuit of silverware. He’ll be desperate to toast the landmark by adding to the two Premier League titles he’s already won.
14. Michu (Swansea): £2m
Swansea’s signing of Michu for £2m in 2012 was such a good deal that the Spaniard soon became a measure of currency against which other transfers could be compared.
The ex-Rayo Vallecano forward hit the ground running in south Wales, scoring four times in his first three outings for the Swans. Michu ended his debut campaign with 22 goals to his name in all competitions, but his second season at the Liberty Stadium was disrupted by injury and he departed for Napoli in summer 2014.
13. Sami Hyypia (Liverpool): £2.6m
A Liverpool fan as a child, Hyypia fulfilled his lifelong dream when he signed for the Merseysiders in 1999. Many Reds supporters didn’t know much about the former Willem II centre-half at that stage, but any doubters were soon silenced as he cut a commanding figure in the heart of the backline.
Hyypia spent a decade at Anfield, making 464 appearances and chipping in with 35 goals. The Premier League title may have proved elusive, but the Finn did manage to get his hands on two FA Cups, two League Cups, a UEFA Cup and a Champions League.
12. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester United): £1.5m
Many United fans were miffed when Solskjaer was signed in 1996, the summer that leading target Alan Shearer decided to join boyhood club Newcastle instead. The ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ cost 10 times less than the England international, though, and won his new club’s supporters over when he demonstrated he could locate net with ball on a regular basis.
Solskjaer hit 126 goals for the Red Devils in total, despite often being used as a super-sub. His 11 seasons at Old Trafford yielded six league titles, two FA Cups and a Champions League, with the striker later becoming United’s reserve team manager.
11. N’Golo Kante (Leicester): £5.6m
Many Foxes fans feared the worst when Esteban Cambiasso decided to depart in 2015, but said supporters needn’t have worried. New signing Kante may not have had quite the same quality in possession as the Argentinian, but he more than made up for that with his contributions off the ball.
The Frenchman soon established himself as the Premier League’s foremost ball-winner, as Claudio Ranieri’s men launched an improbable challenge for the title. Riyad Mahrez may have won the PFA Player of the Year award and Jamie Vardy the FWA equivalent, but Kante was arguably the biggest influence on Leicester’s extraordinary success; certainly they have been a fraction of the team since his £32m switch to Chelsea – who, perhaps uncoincidentally, took the title off Leicester too.
10. Dele Alli (Tottenham): £5m
“He only cost five mil, he’s better than Ozil,” sing the Tottenham fans of an attacking midfielder relatively unknown when he signed for the capital club in February 2015. While the last part of that chant is a matter for (endless) debate, there’s no doubt that Alli has already repaid his transfer fee several times over.
Still just 21, the England international has room to grow further as he seeks to help Spurs end their 57-year league championship drought this season.
9. Ashley Cole (Chelsea): £5m
Cole didn't exactly win widespread sympathy when he declared that Arsenal’s £55,000-a-week contract offer had left him “trembling with anger”, but Chelsea didn’t hesitate to swoop in and take the left-back across London in 2009.
The defender was a model of consistency at Stamford Bridge, where he added another Premier League winner’s medal to his personal collection, as well as four more FA Cup gongs. The crowning glory came in 2012, when Chelsea won the Champions League for the first time in their history.
8. Joe Hart (Manchester City): £100,000
It's somewhat ironic that after spending an astronomical amount of money on new players, one of Manchester City's greatest buys cost only £100,000.
Signed from Shrewsbury Town in 2006, Hart only managed to break into the Citizens’ first team four years later, but he subsequently asserted his credentials as a top-notch goalkeeper with three consecutive Golden Glove awards from 2011 to 2013. Pep Guardiola might not fancy him, but Hart was an instrumental part of City’s two Premier League title triumphs.
7. Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United): £500,000
Many people’s pick as the greatest goalkeeper in Premier League history, Schmeichel cost United just £500,000 in 1991. Alex Ferguson later labelled him the “bargain of the century”, having happily reversed his determination to sack Schmeichel following a blazing dressing-room row at Anfield in 1994.
Schmeichel was a mainstay between the sticks throughout his time at the club, winning 10 major trophies in eight years – not to mention numerous individual awards and plaudits. He ended his United career on the biggest high possible, playing a starring role in the club’s unprecedented treble in 1998/99.
6. Lucas Radebe (Leeds): Less than £250,000
Funny what you pick up while you're shopping. Rumour has it that Leeds didn’t even intend to purchase Radebe in 1994; the Yorkshire outfit were so keen on Kaizer Chiefs striker Phil Masinga that they ultimately accepted a £250,000 package deal which also included the central defender, who was represented by the same agent as his fellow South African.
While Masinga only lasted two seasons at Elland Road, Radebe became a Leeds legend after over a decade of service. The defender played more than 250 times for United, even staying on following the club’s relegation to the Championship in 2004.
5. Patrick Vieira (Arsenal): £3.5m
One of Arsenal’s greatest-ever players, Vieira signed for £3.5m shortly before Arsene Wenger took charge at Highbury. Such a fee wasn’t quite as cheap back then as it may seem today – Alan Shearer was the world’s most expensive player at £15m, while Barcelona signed the original Ronaldo for £12.8m – but it still represented a bargain for a midfielder who could do it all.
Vieira won three Premier League crowns and a trio of FA Cups during his time in north London, which came to an end when he joined Juventus for £13.75m in 2005.
4. Seamus Coleman (Everton): £60,000
Coleman may have only been playing for Sligo Rovers at the time, but it’s remarkable that Everton managed to pay just £60,000 for the right-back in 2009, given the level of interest from various teams including Celtic.
The Irishman has since been a guaranteed pick whenever he’s fit, impressing under managers as different as David Moyes, Roberto Martinez and Ronald Koeman at Goodison Park. He’ll almost certainly pass the 250-appearance mark later this season.
3. Kolo Toure (Arsenal): £150,000
According to Ray Parlour's retelling of Toure's trial at Arsenal, the Ivorian wiped out Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and even Arsene Wenger himself – but his no-nonsense style clearly attracted rather than repelled the Gunners boss.
The Ivorian centre-back cost just £150,000 in 2002, as the soon-to-be Premier League champions plucked him from Abidjan-based ASEC Mimosas. Toure played 326 matches for Arsenal during his seven-year stay, winning a league title – the famous Invincible season of 2003/04 – and two FA Cups.
2. Robin van Persie (Arsenal): £2.75m
Van Persie may have only managed to win a single trophy during his time at Arsenal, but no-one could argue with his scoring figures. The Dutchman’s early career in north London was hampered by injuries, but he still managed to chip in with goals and, by the time he left for Manchester United in 2012, had racked up 132 in 277 appearances.
His best season at Arsenal was his last, with Van Persie netting 30 Premier League goals in a team which was only good enough for third place.
1. Eric Cantona (Manchester United): £1.2m
It’s tempting to wonder how different the history of the Premier League would be had Alex Ferguson landed his top target, David Hirst, when Dion Dublin's broken leg forced him to seek attacking reinforcements in late 1992. Sheffield Wednesday’s refusal to sell the Yorkshireman for £4m prompted United to try their luck with the Frenchman, for whom an impromptu deal was agreed after Leeds phoned the Red Devils to enquire about the availability of Denis Irwin.
It’s hardly an exaggeration to state that Cantona transformed United from contenders into winners. His 70 league goals in four-and-a-half seasons certainly helped, but the striker’s aura and work ethic were just as integral to the club’s title triumphs in 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997.
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