The 30 best free transfers in Premier League history

Liverpool FC v SSC Napoli: Group E - UEFA Champions League

Premier League sides are going to have to get a bit more financially savvy when football returns.

England’s top-flight clubs do have a track record for spotting bargains in spite of their reputation as big spenders.

That’s partly down to the one and only Jean-Marc Bosman, who set a precedent for free transfers in 1995 and changed the game forever.

Players signed at the end of their contracts with another club might be seen as undesirable – but really, they often represent the biggest bargains and still have plenty to offer.

GIVEMESPORT have taken a look through the Premier League’s history books at some of the most successful. 

Note: We’re not counting Teemu Pukki, or Tom Heaton, for example, because they were signed by Norwich and Burnley respectively when they were still in the Championship. 

Here’s the lowdown on 30 of the best.

30. Vicente Guaita | Crystal Palace 

Guaita has established himself as Crystal Palace’s first choice ‘keeper and earlier this season, was named man of the match three times in four games. 

Chelsea FC v Crystal Palace - Premier League

29. Esteban Cambiasso | Leicester

Newly-promoted Leicester couldn’t believe their luck when they signed the legendary Cambiasso, who had won five Serie A titles with Inter Milan and La Liga with Real Madrid. The Argentine played 31 times in his sole season in England. 

Stoke City v Leicester City - Premier League

28. Pablo Zabaleta | West Ham

Although Zabaleta no longer has his pace, the full-back is still a useful asset at West Ham and is now in his third season with the club. 


27. Gareth Barry | Everton

Admittedly, Barry’s best days were behind him by the time he joined Everton. However, he had done enough during his loan spell from Manchester City to make the move to Goodison Park permanent and they got good value out of him as the midfielder made 99 appearances.

Everton v Stoke City - Premier League

26. Kolo Toure | Liverpool

It’s unfortunate that Toure was such a comical figure because it’s often meant he wasn’t taken seriously. Though he made errors, the Ivorian did bring some composure to Liverpool’s defence when he got there in 2013. 


25. Sead Kolasinac | Arsenal

Kolasinac has admittedly been erratic at Arsenal, but who hasn’t in that defence? The full-back has shown signs of promise and was enjoying another revival under Mikel Arteta before his injury.


24. Fabio Aurelio | Liverpool

Aurelio cemented a spot as Liverpool left-back. Sadly, he was hopelessly unlucky with injuries which limited his time on Merseyside.

Liverpool's Brazilian defender Fabio Aur

23. Crystal Palace | Mile Jedinak

The Australian was an unknown quantity when he came from Turkey but became Palace skipper and played 165 times for the Eagles. 

Crystal Palace v Valencia: Pre-Season Friendly

22. Craig Bellamy | Liverpool

Bellamy was arguably more trouble than he was worth, his first spell at Anfield probably best remembered for that golf-club incident involving John Arne Riise. However, his return in 2011 cost them nothing at all and he scored a further six goals under Kenny Dalglish.

Liverpool's Welsh player Craig Bellamy (

21. Didier Drogba | Chelsea

Of course, we’re talking about Drogba’s second spell, when he only scored four goals but was given a hero’s welcome and brought his title-winning experience to the 2014/15 side that would emerge victorious once again under Jose Mourinho.

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

20. Samuel Eto’o | Chelsea

Eto’o at Chelsea was the definition of short but sweet. The legendary forward scored nine goals, including in some big derbies against Tottenham and Arsenal.


19. Joel Matip | Liverpool

While limited by the emergence of Joe Gomez, Matip has been a solid addition to Liverpool’s defence, joining from Schalke in 2016. 

Manchester United v Liverpool FC - Premier League

18. Aston Villa | Thomas Hitzlsperger

One of the greatest left foots in Premier League history, Hitzlsperger took time to adjust but then came into his own as Aston Villa made the top six under David O’Leary. 

Arsenal's Freddie Ljungberg (R) follows

17. Brad Friedel | Tottenham 

Friedel became Spurs’ first choice goalkeeper having impressed at Aston Villa. The American was still a handy stopper even though his spell at Spurs came at the end of his career. 

Colchester United v Tottenham Hotspur - Pre Season Friendly

17. Bacary Sagna | Man City

An astute signing from Arsenal, Sagna wasn’t part of one of the great City sides but he was there for some important rebuilding campaigns and played 54 league games overall.

Manchester City FC v Celtic FC - UEFA Champions League

16. Josh King | Bournemouth

A classic example of a striker who didn’t make it at Manchester United, but who’s plenty good enough elsewhere. King is coming up to a half-century of Premier League goals.


15. Gianluca Vialli | Chelsea

Vialli was an exciting signing, even if he was no longer in his prime by the time he got to Chelsea. He won an FA Cup, League Cup and a Cup Winners’ Cup, though he also had fallings out with manager Ruud Gullit. More on him later.

Newcastle v Chelsea Gianluca Vialli

14. Gary McAllister | Liverpool

Despite being well into his thirties by the time he joined Liverpool, McAllister was a key part of their treble-winning side in 2000/01.

Gary McAllister

13. Mathieu Flamini | Arsenal

Arsenal managed to snap up Flamini on a free twice. The reliable midfielder won two FA Cups with the Gunners and spent a total of seven years in north London.


12. Everton | Alan Stubbs

A boyhood Evertonian, Stubbs’ dreams came true after beating cancer and signing for the Toffees. The centre-back was at the heart of their defence in the early days of the David Moyes era.

Alan Stubbs of Everton passes the ball as Diego Forlan of Manchester United looks on

11. Mario Melchiot | Chelsea

Melchiot took a little time to settle in west London before the full-back established himself as one of the most important players of the pre-Abramovich era. 

Southampton v Chelsea

10. Demba Ba | Newcastle

After seven goals in 12 games at West Ham, Newcastle quickly snapped him up and saw him form a formidable partnership with Papiss Cisse, before Chelsea made their move. 

Newcastle United v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League

9. Jay-Jay Okocha | Bolton Wanderers

‘So good they named him twice’, as Bolton fans used to say. A bargain from PSG signed the summer after the 2002 World Cup, Okocha gained cult status with his panache at the JJB. 

Carling Cup Quarter Final Match: Bolton Wanderers v Southampton

8. Christian Fuchs | Leicester

Fuchs was part of the Leicester miracle in his very first season and has been pretty solid ever since. The full-back has now made over 100 appearances for the Foxes, albeit in a reduced role in the last 18 months or so.

Leicester City v Watford FC - Premier League

7. Marc Albrighton | Leicester City

Albrighton may not be the most glamorous midfielder, but Leicester couldn’t possibly have predicted what he’d go on to achieve at the King Power when they brought him in 2014, ahead of their return to the top flight. Since then, he’s made 164 appearances and won the league. 


6. Gus Poyet | Chelsea

Poyet arrived from Real Zaragoza and quickly became a legend at Chelsea, where he score 36 goals in 105 games. 

Gustavo Poyet

5. Michael Ballack | Chelsea

Ballack was instrumental in that great Chelsea side of 2009/10 and won five major honours overall after leaving Bayer Leverkusen. The Blues were particularly lucky to have him as he turned down reported interest from Real Madrid and Manchester United. 

Chelsea's Michael Ballack (Foreground) c

4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic | Manchester United

A double cruciate tear sadly ruined what might have been an even more goal-laden spell. Ibrahimovic arrived from PSG and was one of the shining lights of the Jose Mourinho era at Old Trafford, scoring 17 goals in the 2016/17 season. 

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United - Premier League

3. James Milner | Liverpool 

Acquired as a title-winner from Manchester City, Milner is now a European champion and is likely to help Liverpool to their first title in three decades soon. He’s been exceptionally reliable, not to mention his versatility, having spent a season filling in at left-back. 

Liverpool FC v AFC Bournemouth  - Premier League

2. Ruud Gullit | Chelsea 

Gullit was only pipped to Footballer of the Year by Eric Cantona as he brought his brand of Total Football to Stamford Bridge. Their new-found ties would come in handy too, when he was named manager. 


1. Sol Campbell | Arsenal 

Campbell’s decision to move from Tottenham to Arsenal prompted arguably the most controversial transfer in Premier League history, too. It proved to be the correct one, as the England international won the double and became one of the top flight’s greatest ever centre-backs. Mind you, it didn’t go down too well with his old fans…

fans Tottenham
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