The 50 best bargains in the history of the Premier League have been ranked

  • Kat Lucas

Up and down the football ladder, clubs are going to have to be much more astute going forward. 

The coronavirus crisis has had a fundamental impact on every team’s finances, with even giants like Arsenal growing ever more concerned about their economic stability. 

It’s almost laughable to think that we’re still talking about £200m transfers this summer. Forget it. 

Premier League clubs do have a reputation for splurging millions on new players and wasting a good deal of it.

However, they also have a history of making some shrewd buys. 

FourFourTwo have ranked 50 of the best deals in the modern era, players lifted straight out of the bargain bin and polished into a top-flight superstar. 

50. Luis Suarez – Ajax to Liverpool, 2011 (£22.7m)

Strikers from the Eredivisie can be a gamble but this one paid off spectacularly for Liverpool with 54 goals in 100 games. It worked out better than their other signing that January anyway, Andy Carroll. 

49. Demba Ba – Hoffenheim to West Ham, 2011 (£500,000)

West Ham stumbled upon Ba at the end of an impressive four years at Hoffenheim and snapped him up for just half a million. 

48. Demba Ba – West Ham to Newcastle, 2011 (Free)

That man again. The Senegal international would carve out an iconic – though short-lived in the scheme of things – partnership with Papiss Cisse in the north-east. 

47. Cesar Azpilicueta – Marseille to Chelsea, 2012 (£6.5m)

One of the Premier League’s most underrated defenders of all time, Azpilicueta would probably still be a bargain if he were to move on from Stamford Bridge now. 

46. Paolo Di Canio – Sheffield Wednesday to West Ham, 1999 (£1.75m)

Harry Redknapp was willing to overlook the fact that the volatile Di Canio had just served an 11-game ban for pushing over referee Paul Alcock, which is probably why Sheffield Wednesday let him go so cheaply. 

45. Yakubu – Everton to Blackburn, 2011 (£1.5m)

Even though he’d had injury problems, Yakubu was still far too good for a relegation-destined Blackburn under Steve Kean. He proved that with 17 goals from 30 league games. 

44. Michael Keane – Manchester United to Burnley, 2015 (£2m)

OK, so he’s been erratic at Everton. Back at Burnley though, especially in the 2016/17 season, Keane was a brick wall at the centre of Sean Dyche’s defence. 

43. Emmanuel Adebayor – Metz to Arsenal, 2006 (£3m)

Even if he became a hate figure at Arsenal, at the time Adebayor was a machine up front, scoring almost a goal every second game. 

42. Gary Cahill – Bolton to Chelsea, 2012 (£7m)

Chelsea procured their future skipper from Bolton and he went on to win two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Europa League. 

41. Jussi Jaaskelainen – VPS to Bolton, 1997 (£100,000)

When Bolton were at their peak, their stopper played 530 times for the Trotters. 

40. Mohamed Salah – Roma to Liverpool, 2017 (£34m)

Salah came back to the Premier League with a point to prove and did so by winning PFA Player of the Year in his first season back. Only Steven Gerrard, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen have scored more Liverpool goals in the modern era. 

39. Clint Dempsey – New England Revolution to Fulham, 2007 (£1.5m)

Just 23 when he arrived from the MLS, Dempsey’s best season came in the 2011/12 campaign when he scored 23 goals. 

38. Michael Ballack – Bayern Munich to Chelsea, 2006 (free)

The then-Germany captain snubbed Manchester United to sign for the champions, Chelsea, when he left Bayern Munich. 

37. Christopher Samba – Hertha Berlin to Blackburn, 2007 (£450,000)

Samba was a fine defender alongside Ryan Nelsen and was so versatile he also played up front from time to time. He was made Blackburn captain, but was later stripped of the armband after announcing he wanted to leave. 

36. Carlo Cudicini – Castel Di Sangro to Chelsea, 1999 (£200,000)

Cudicini might be remembered primarily as a back-up ‘keeper at Chelsea. Before Petr Cech, however, he won the club’s Player of the Year award.

35. Marko Arnautovic – Werder Bremen to Stoke, 2013 (£2m)

On his day, the Austrian could terrorise defences and made the Potters a cool profit when he joined West Ham for £18m. *Probably* worth the trouble (just about). 

34. Youri Djorkaeff – Kaiserslautern to Bolton, 2002 (free)

Sam Allardyce was a real master of sniffing out bargains and waited until World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff was nearly 34 before bringing him to Bolton. 

33. Robbie Keane – Leeds to Tottenham, 2002 (£7m)

One of Tottenham’s greatest players of the modern era, the Irishman finally found a home in North London after the many moves of his early career. 

32. Patrice Evra – Monaco to Manchester United, 2006 (£5.5m)

United’s finest left-back of the Premier League era. Evra became immensely popular, boosted by his six titles and a Champions League. 

31. Gus Poyet – Real Zaragoza to Chelsea, 1997 (free)

The Uruguayan had been superb at Zaragoza and even though he was nearly 30 when he signed for Chelsea, he scored numerous important goals.

30. Michu – Rayo Vallecano to Swansea, 2012 (£2m)

Something of a cult hero, nobody will ever forget that one season when Michu was absolutely unstoppable in South Wales. 

29. Ashley Cole – Arsenal to Chelsea, 2006 (£5m + William Gallas)

Boy, did this not go down well. The success he enjoyed at Stamford Bridge made it worth being taunted with ‘Cashley’ for years afterwards. Gallas was no real loss either, as by then he’d started threatening to score own goals if he wasn’t allowed to leave.

28. Mikel Arteta – Real Sociedad to Everton, 2005 (£2m)

Arteta’s greatest years came at Everton, not Arsenal. The Spanish midfielder won Player of the Season and played over 200 games at Goodison Park. 

27. John Stones – Barnsley to Everton, 2013 (£3m)

Everton made a huge mark-up when Stones joined Manchester City. The centre-back looked very, very promising as a young defender on Merseyside. 

26. Andrew Robertson – Hull to Liverpool, 2017 (£8m)

The fact Hull had been relegated did not deter Liverpool from buying up their young Scottish left-back – and what a decision that’s proved since. 

25. Kolo Toure – ASEC Mimosas to Arsenal, 2002 (£150,000)

Toure won the league with Arsenal and helped them reach the Champions League final in 2006, even if he’s become a bit more of a comical figure since. 

24. Philippe Coutinho – Inter to Liverpool, 2013 (£8.5m)

Aside from the fact that the Reds made a massive profit when they sold Coutinho to Barcelona, the Brazilian was also instrumental in Jurgen Klopp’s project, taking the club back to the pinnacle of English football – even if he’s missed out on the very best of it. 

23. Robin van Persie, Feyenoord to Arsenal, 2004 (2.75m)

Arsenal did make *one* sensible decision when it came to their Van Persie business. The Dutchman would score 96 goals in 194 games before leaving for Manchester United. 

22. Tim Cahill – Millwall to Everton, 2004 (£1.5m)

Initially a midfielder, the Australian scored 68 goals thanks partly to David Moyes’ inspiration in playing him up front. 

21. Ruud Gullit – Sampdoria to Chelsea, 1995 (free)

Gullit took Chelsea up a level and the Blues got three good years out of him, including two as player-manager. 

20. Jay-Jay Okocha – PSG to Bolton, 2002 (free)

Okocha’s technical ability on the ball was remarkable. With a bag full of tricks, the maverick Bolton star was a joy to watch and it’s one of the great mysteries why he was playing at the Reebok in the first place. 

19. Seamus Coleman – Sligo Rovers to Everton, 2009 (£60,000 rising to £300,000)

Everton turned to the League of Ireland for their captain and right-back, who has made over 256 appearances in spite of that horror injury. 

18. Shay Given – Blackburn to Newcastle, 1997 (£1.5m)

The Irish stopper had a fairly underwhelming start to his career before finding his feet at Newcastle, for whom he played 354 times. 

17. Joe Hart – Shrewsbury to Manchester City, 2006 (£600,000)

Hart kept goal for City during their first two title-winning campaigns and they enjoyed his best years as England’s number one. 

16. Graeme Le Saux – Chelsea to Blackburn, 1993 (£700,000)

The left-back won the league and did so well at Ewood Park that Chelsea soon realised their mistake and asked Blackburn for him back. 

15. Nemanja Vidic – Spartak Moscow to Manchester United, 2005 (£7m)

Arguably the best centre-back the Premier League has ever seen. The Serbian international was at the heart of United’s defence in some of their very best seasons under Sir Alex Ferguson.

14. Vincent Kompany – Hamburg to Manchester City, 2008 (£6m)

Kompany is synonymous with City’s modern success. So is spending millions upon millions of pounds. Yet the two don’t actually go together and the defender cost just £6m.

13. David Ginola – PSG to Newcastle, 1995 (£2.5m)

Nobody signs players *solely* for their shampoo advert potential, but it’s a bonus. One of Newcastle’s great entertainers in the mid-90s.

12. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink – Boavista to Leeds, 1997 (£2m)

Leeds can have had little idea what an accomplished goalscorer he would become even after a prolific spell at Boavista. 

11. Jurgen Klinsmann – Monaco to Tottenham, 1994 (£2m)

It wasn’t a universally popular move at the time due to Klinsmann’s reputation as a diver. The German soon made sure was loved at White Hart Lane with 21 goals in 41 games and the accompanying celebration. He later returned to keep Spurs up with his goals against Wimbledon. 

10. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Molde to Manchester United, 1996 (£1.5m)

The baby-faced assassin was worth the £1.5m for that winner against Bayern Munich alone. He also became the ultimate super-sub when injuries confined him to a reduced role at Old Trafford. Wonder what became of him… 

9. Sami Hyypia – Willem II to Liverpool, 1999 (£2.6m)

Jamie Carragher credited him with transforming Liverpool’s defence. And of course, the season after he arrived, he played 58 games across all competitions to help the Reds to a treble. 

8. Dele Alli – MK Dons to Tottenham, 2015 (£5m)

“He only cost five mil, he’s better than Ozil”, or so the song goes. It has a ring of truth about it, too. By the age of 22, the playmaker had scored more than Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and David Beckham at that age. While he’s been inconsistent for a couple of seasons now, he remains a testament to the wonders of the Football League. 

7. Edwin van der Sar – Fulham to Manchester United, 2005 (£2m)

The ‘keeper was already established in the Premier League and he went on to even bigger and better things at United, winning 10 major honours – including the 2008 Champions League. 

6. Patrick Vieira – Milan to Arsenal, 1996 (£3.5m)

Vieira captained Arsenal throughout their Invincible season and was the strongman in a midfield that you simply wouldn’t get at the Emirates these days. 

5. Nicolas Anelka – PSG to Arsenal, 1997 (£500,000)

Back in the day, Arsene Wenger did it like no other. Anelka came to England to replace Ian Wright up front and helped Arsenal win the Double. 

4. Lucas Radebe – Kaizer Chiefs to Leeds, 1994 (£50,000)

Radebe became a Leeds legend and stayed at Elland Road for over a decade, playing 256 games. 

3. N’Golo Kante – Caen to Leicester City, 2015 (£5.6m)

Leicester’s ability to sign world-beaters on the cheap was instrumental in their shock title win in 2016 and Kante was arguably the best of them. 

2. Sol Campbell – Tottenham to Arsenal, 2001 (free)

Very few journalists even bothered to turn up for that surprise press conference. Those who did were absolutely gobsmacked when the Tottenham captain walked through the door to be unveiled. Spurs felt he had deliberately run down his contract and taken advantage of the Bosman ruling, which meant they didn’t get a penny. Branded ‘Judas’ in that half of north London ever since, called the much nicer name of ‘double-winner’ in the other half. 

1. Eric Cantona – Leeds to Manchester United, 1992 (£1.2m)

King Cantona would never go for such a paltry fee nowadays. The French maverick scored 64 goals in a brilliant five years before hanging up his boots unexpectedly early.

Cantona’s signing was among the most influential and to think United spent so little on him is quite remarkable. 

They aren’t alone in pulling off some astute business, as we’ve seen. 

Premier League clubs will no doubt be searching for similar bargains in the coming months. 

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