How much?! The top 4 Premier League bargains
November 27, 2017
It’s probably fair to say that ‘value for money’ is not a term that can be ascribed to most Premier League transfers of recent times.
In an age where an earnest but limited player like Danny Drinkwater can cost you an eye-watering £36 million, true bargains are hard to find for England’s elite football clubs. This is true both at home and abroad, as the renowned riches of the EPL’s top flight teams encourage clubs to hike transfer prices at every opportunity.
Still, there have been some truly stunning bargains in the EPL era, and deals that transformed ailing teams into champions. In this post, we’ll explore the top 4 Premier League bargains, and ask how they provided value for the money invested in them?
- Eric Cantona, Leeds to Manchester United for £1.2 million, 1992
Believe it or not, £1.2 million was a relatively large sum of money to pay for a player back in 1992. Despite, this, Manchester United’s signing of the maverick Frenchman remains one of the best bargains of all-time, not least because it provided a catalyst for the Reds’ stunning transformation from title challengers to dominant champions.
After missing out to a Cantona-inspired Leeds in 1992, United were struggling to score goals in their inaugural Premier League campaign and had slipped to 10th at the beginning of November. Then came a call from Leeds United enquiring about the availability of Irish full-back Denis Irwin, which ended with the Yorkshire club considering the sale of a talented but wayward striker who had recently fallen out with manager Howard Wilkinson.
United swiftly concluded a deal for Cantona, with Sir Alex Ferguson relying on his renowned man-management skills to bring the best out of the forward. His faith was quickly rewarded, as Cantona provided the attacking flair that United craved while supplying nine goals and numerous assists in 21 starts during the second half of the season.
Arguably the catalyst for the Red’s domination of the EPL, Cantona won four titles in five seasons at Old Trafford (and five in six during his time in England) before retiring as an Old Trafford legend in 1997.
- Patrick Viera, AC Milan to Arsenal for £3.5 million in 1996
While Arsene Wenger hadn’t yet joined the Gunners as manager in the summer of 1996, you suspect that he had a hand in the £3.5 million signing of the 20-year old Frenchman Patrick Viera from AC Milan. A tall and purposeful power house with superb technique, he arrived at Highbury as a raw talent and left club as one of the finest midfielders that the EPL had ever seen.
After a solid first season in which Viera made 39 first-team appearances and helped Arsenal to finish third in the Premier League, the star came of age in the following year as he (and his new midfield partner Emmanuel Petit) drove the Gunners towards an unlikely EPL title. Despite Manchester United opening a 13 point lead at the top of the table in March, the Gunners won 10 consecutive matches to overhaul their rivals and deliver the first trophy of the Arsene Wenger era.
The club then completed the double with a 2-0 win over Newcastle United in the FA Cup final, while Viera was propelled from obscurity into the limelight as one of the world’s most complete midfielders.
The Frenchman dominated the midfield at Highbury for more than a decade, winning three EPL titles and three FA Cups during his time. He, along with Manchester United’s Roy Keane, set a new standard for excellence in the middle of the park and elevated the standing of the English game across the globe.
- N’Golo Kante, Caen to Leicester City for £5.6 million in 2015
While our first two deals involved transfer fees that were still relatively large for their time, our next selection is a bargain in more ways than one. Not only did the French midfielder add considerable value to his new side after joining from Caen, for example, but he also cost a snip at just £5.6 million. To put this into context, fellow Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin cost Manchester United around £25 million, while Liverpool spent £32.5 million on Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke.
Despite being a relative unknown, Kante adapted to the Premier League superbly well, while forging an energetic and aggressive midfield partnership with Danny Drinkwater. The Frenchman quickly became renowned for his boundless energy and relentless pressing, which afforded outstanding protection to his back four and provided the launchpad for the Foxes rapid counter-attacking style.
Kante’s influence undoubtedly added an extra dimension to Leicester’s play, enabling a side that barely escaped relegation the previous season to win the most unlikely of Premier League crowns after starting as 5000/1 shots.
Interestingly, Kante was recruited by Chelsea the following summer, once again for a relatively competitive price of £30 million. His influence was obvious in partnership with the sturdy Nemanja Matic, as the Blues romped to a superb title win while Kante himself won the coveted Player of the Year award at the end of the season.
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Molde to Manchester United for £1.5 million in 1996
A player who coined the term ‘super-sub’, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a complete unknown when Manchester United signed him in the summer of 1996. Purchased for just £1.5 million from Norwegian club Molde, he was expected to play a support role to more established talents including Andy Cole and the aforementioned Eric Cantona.
Instead, he took the Premier League by storm, scoring 19 goals in 46 appearances as the club retained the EPL title. In more than a decade at the club, the deadly Norwegian actually scored 126 goals in 366 appearances, many of them as a game-changing substitute (and some as a wide attacker in a fluid 4-2-3-1 system later in his career).
The player was also well known for scoring extremely important goals from the substitutes’ bench, including the stoppage-time winner during the 1999 Champions League final. Solskjaer also scored four goals in 20 minutes having arrived off the bench during an EPL game at Nottingham Forest in January 1999, while plundering the winner against Liverpool in a third round FA Cup tie at Old Trafford during the legendary treble winning season.
These goals helped Solskjaer to become a true icon at Old Trafford, and fans continue to sing his name to this day. A keen student of the game, the Norwegian often made the difference when he played and remains one of the best bargains of modern times.