Everybody loves a bargain – and in our opinion, the 100 transfers below 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. Context is essential – consider, for example, that the British transfer record upon the Premier League’s inception was Paul Gascoigne’s £5.5m move from Tottenham to Lazio (see also: David Platt to Bari, Trevor Steven to Marseille). That fee wasn’t beaten until Andy Cole’s £7m move to Manchester United in January 1995.
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.
Either way, we’ve had a crack at ranking our 100 favourites. Read on, then tell us your thoughts @FourFourTwo…
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. – Huw Davies
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. – Huw Davies
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. – Richard Jolly
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. – Huw Davies
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. – Richard Jolly
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. – Daniel Storey
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. – Alex Reid
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 32, the Portugal international adds a vital creative force and his seniority complements Ruben Neves’s youth perfectly. – Daniel Storey
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 doesn’t turn many heads, but in a low-scoring side he averaged a goal or assist every other league game last season – a better rate than Messrs Shaqiri and Zaha, among others – while only five other players outside the ‘big six’ clubs contributed more in 2018. If Newcastle go down again, Perez will have more suitors this time. – Huw Davies
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. – Richard Jolly