Value for Money: The Best Bargains of the Premier League Era
The Premier League big hitters are no longer playing second fiddle to the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayer Munich and Juventus when it comes to transfer fees and wages, in fact the Premier League as a whole has seen a huge shift in spending mentality, and with the TV deals showing no signs of climaxing it won’t be long before teams like Burnley and Bournemouth for example think nothing of shelling out 30 million on an unproven striker.
However, there are still bargains out there to be had, and with a shrewd scouting network, clubs can make a huge profit on previously unknown quantities. With that in mind we thought we’d take a look at some of the smartest, possibly a little fortunate signings in the Premier League era. With Mo Salah breaking records left, right and centre his £35 million price tag suddenly looks like a snip.
In the late eighties and at the start of the nineties, the maverick Frenchman’s career was seemingly going nowhere. His poor disciplinary record, something he would never shake off, was blighting his talent, he even announced his retirement from football altogether at the age of 25 having been banned by the French Football Federation for 2 months for throwing a ball at the referee. He was offered to new Liverpool manager Graeme Souness who swiftly turned down the opportunity before a reluctant Trevor Francis gave him an opportunity at newly promoted Sheffield Wednesday. He eventually found his way to Leeds Utd and after only 20 plus appearances was signed by Alex Ferguson for £1.2 million. He led them to 4 Premier League titles and 2 FA Cups.
Back in 1996 a gangly 20 year old midfielder was struggling for any sort of game time at Italian giants AC Milan and was in the middle of trying to negotiate wages with Ajax in order to further his stuttering career when Arsenal, in the midst of a mini crisis themselves, stepped in and took a punt with a £3.5 million offer. It turns out the soon to be appointed Arsene Wenger was the brains behind the move and what a move it was, sparking an era of huge success for the Gunners. The rest as they say is history, 3 league titles and the same number of FA Cups later, plus lynchpin status in the historic Invincible’s made Vieira both a legend and a bargain.
His recent injury problems may have curtailed his status as probably the best attacking full back in the Premier League, however with an effective recovery there’s plenty more miles in the clock for the darling of the Gwladys Street Stand. Okay there may not be a host of trophies to his name, but when then manger David Moyes splashed out a meagre £60,000 on an unknown young Irishman from Sligo Rovers, few could have expected a player from such humble roots to turn into such a stalwart for club and country. A fully fledged international, Seamus Coleman is one of those bargains the likes of which we might not see again.
Another Frenchman makes it onto the list in the form of diminutive creator par excellence, world cup winner Youri Djorkaeff, who signed for Big Sam’s Bolton Wanderers in 2002 on a free transfer and in turn sparked a raft of aging superstars to follow the not so well trodden path to the North West of England, including Jay Jay Okocha and even Ivan Campo. If the sight of Youri in a Bolton Wanderers kit is still perplexing the fact he also turned out for Blackburn Rovers is even more so. His presence at Bolton sparked a period of success which culminated in their qualification to Europe.
A product of the famed Barcelona youth academy La Masia, Fabregas sensed that opportunities might be limited at the star studded Camp Nou and as a 16 year old in 2003 made the move to Arsenal, with only a nominal fee exchanging hands. His immense talent did not take long to blossom and he soon became Arsenal’s youngest ever first teamer before adding youngest goal scorer to the list. He would go on to inherit the number 4 shirt worn by Patrick Vieira and furthermore was made captain of the club when he was only 21 years old. For a man who has won pretty much every trophy there is barring the Champions League, his time at Arsenal saw him pick up a solitary FA Cup. Still, when it comes to bargain transfers he’s right up there, not least as it was Barca’s pockets being picked.
£6 million seems like an outlay, especially when you’re talking about bargain signings, but when you consider Kompany led Manchester City to a first league title in 44 years, and became widely regarded as the best centre back not only in the Premier League but Europe, it’s chump change. Injuries have curtailed his status and are threatening his participation in a star studded Belgium team, but there’s no doubt that the towering defender was an absolute bargain when he signed from Anderlecht and might just be Mark Hughes’s one major contribution to the building of the Manchester City Empire.
Say what you will about Arsene Wenger but he really has picked out some bargains during his long career with the Arsenal. And near the top of that list must be the well travelled, yet disruptive talent that is Nicolas Anelka. Signed from now financial heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain in 1997 for a paltry £500,000 the then 17 year old Anelka was another example of Wenger picking out potential and harnessing it to full effect. At first glimpse Anelka just seemed quick, however it wasn’t long before his goal scoring talents came to the fore and after stepping in for the injured Ian Wright he won the Premier and FA Cup double before finishing top scorer in his second season. That was it for Anelka at Arsenal, too short by his own admission, following which he went on to play for well pretty much everyone.
Anybody who says they knew who N’Golo Kante was 4 years ago is a bare faced liar. Such a good signing was he that Steve Walsh now Director of Football at Everton, has forged a reputation as an unparalleled talent spotter off the back of Kante’s rise to the top. Signed from Caen for somewhere around the £5.5 million mark, Kante had only had one season of top tier football to his name at the time. Since then of course he’s won two Premier League titles and is widely regarded as the best midfielder of his type not just in the Premier League but Europe. Tenacious and hard working Kante is like two players rolled into one, not just in terms of ground covered but for his ability to break up play while also putting his teammates on the front foot with his astute distribution. He was such a bargain every club in the Premier League has spent the last two seasons searching for the next N’Golo Kanté.
There’ll always be a one season wonder tag stuck on Michu who retired from professional football at the age of 31. He was signed by Swansea City for £2 million following the departure of Gylfi Sigurdsson to Tottenham. Who he was nobody knew, but in his first full season he lit up the Premier League scoring 22 goals in all competitions and helping Swansea win the League Cup, they were heady days indeed, but no sooner had he arrived and announced himself as one the leagues top players, he was soon off again less than two years later, joining Napoli in a bizarre loan deal. He returned to Swansea due to injury but it’s safe to say the man who blazed a trail in 12/13 season has never been seen since. One season wonder and cult status tick, bargain tick, unfulfilled career unfortunately tick.
Oldham Athletic refused to shell out the necessary £100,000 it would have required to sign the giant Finn, and as if to prove everybody should have gone to Specsavers, Newcastle also didn’t take up the option to sign the towering centre back after a brief trial. No it was thanks to a freelance English camera man who worked for a Finnish TV station who recommended Hyypia to then Liverpool Chief Executive Peter Robinson. It’s a remarkable way to catch a break for a man who went on to become one of the most accomplished defenders in Europe and achieved legendary status among the Anfield faithful. The price for ten years service with the reds, £2.6 million, alongside home grown talent Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard he led Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005. One of the best bargain signings of the Premier League era without doubt.
Talk about a fall from grace, Joe Hart’s career is seemingly sliding into a oblivion, currently keeping the bench warm at West Ham It’s hard to believe this once most reliable of shot stoppers and for long the first name on the England team sheet is again going to have to look elsewhere to resurrect his once exemplary career. Signed from Shrewsbury for £600,000 on the recommendation of then goalkeeping coach Tim Flowers he went on to make 266 appearances for Man City, winning won two league titles, two league cups and an FA Cup. The safest of safe hands at his peak hopefully still at the age of 30 he can recapture some of his former glory, regardless his initial signing was the bargain of bargains.
Any bargains we’ve missed? Have your say in the comments.