With the transfer window underway Premier League clubs are searching the globe for new signings. Managers say it’s tough to get a good deal shopping on English shores, so were seeing more and more foreign players coming in. There’s been many big money signings that have had a huge impact on English football – think van Nistelrooy, Drogba and Ozil. But what of the cheaper foreign imports? Who has been the best value for money since the inception of the Premier League? Read on to see the top 7 foreign signings under £5 million.
7 – Robin van Persie – May 2004 – Feyenoord to Arsenal – £2.75 million
Robin van Persie arrived at Arsenal six months after then record signing Jose Antonio Reyes, and it can certainly be said he was the better value for money. He won two trophies in his first year with the club – making his debut in the Community Shield victory over Manchester United. Van Persie played on the left wing at previous club Feyenoord, though – a la Thierry Henry – was successfully converted into a top class striker by Wenger. He wore the Arsenal colours for 8 years, and scored 30 goals in his final season for the club. A barren trophy run of 7 years led van Persie to leave the Gunners and join rivals United for £24 million – not a bad profit.
6 – Cesc Fabregas – September 2003 – Barcelona to Arsenal – free transfer
Wenger swooped to sign Fabregas on a free transfer when he was just 16, enraging Barcelona in the process. He had to wait just a month to make his debut, but when he did against Rotherham United in the League Cup he became the club’s youngest ever player. He’s also the club’s youngest scorer after netting in the following round against Wolves, though had to wait until the following season to make his Premier League debut. Fabregas only truly flourished after Patrick Vieira left to join Juventus, taking his number 4 shirt. He was part of the team that made it to the Champions League final in 2006, though they lost to his old club Barcelona. Several summers of transfer sagas and 303 appearances later Fabregas was back off to Barcelona, with Arsenal pocketing a tidy £35 million profit. He’s back in the Premier League this season with Chelsea, where it will be interesting to see how Mourinho uses him.
5 – Sami Hyypia – May 1999 – Willem II to Liverpool – £2.6 million
Hyypia spent ten years at Liverpool, and in that time made 464 appearances whilst winning ten trophies in the process. Not much was expected of him when he signed, but over the course of the next six seasons he and fellow new boy Stephane Henchoz formed a defensive partnership that many regarded as the best in the league. Hyypia, a lifelong Liverpool fan, had his dreams fulfilled in 2002 when he was made captain, however performances dipped and he was replaced by Steven Gerrard in 2003. He was a rock in defence during their Champions League winning season of 2004/2005, but left the club four years later, having made it into the top twenty appearance makers for the club. Liverpool legend Ian Rush says Hyypia has ‘got to be up there with the best signings the club has ever made.’
4 – Gianfranco Zola – November 1996 – Parma to Chelsea – £4.5 million
Zola was one of many continental signings made by Ruud Gullit during his tenure as Chelsea manager, and probably the most successful. Zola was a revelation in his first season with the club, scoring a 25 yard curling shot in the FA Cup final as Chelsea came from behind to beat Liverpool 4-2. He won several more trophies with the club, including another FA Cup and a UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup. Zola’s chances decreased when Claudio Ranieri was made manager with the mandate of reducing the average age of the squad, but he enjoyed a renaissance season in his final year with the club. Zola scored 16 goals as he led Chelsea back to Champions League, being voted the club’s player of the year in the process. Zola was considered a legend among Chelsea fans, and in early 2003 was voted the club’s best ever player. A fitting tribute.
3 – Ole Gunnar Solksjaer – July 1996 – Molde to Manchester United – £1.5 million
The ‘babyfaced assassin’ as he came to be known was a summer signing from Norwegian club Molde, where he had scored 31 goals in one season. Solksjaer was expected to play second fiddle to Eric Cantona and Andy Cole in his first season, but he went on to score 18 goals as United won the Premier League. He’s most fondly remembered though for scoring that stoppage time winning goal against Bayern Munich in 1999, which secured his club the European Cup. He formed partnerships with several strikers during his 11 year stay with the Red Devils, and could always be relied on for his efficiency in scoring off the bench. The original supersub won 13 medals with United. Solkajaer’s now attempting to bring Cardiff back to the Premier League at the first attempt.
2 – Patrick Vieira – August 1996 – AC Milan to Arsenal – £3.5 million
Vieira has to go down as one of Wenger’s best ever signings for his contributions both on and off the pitch. Despite his disciplinary troubles Vieira was a firm fan favourite (‘he comes from Senegal, he plays for Arsenal…’ was a familiar chant from the stands) at the club he stayed with for 9 years. After Tony Adam’s retirement in 2002 he was made club captain, leading them to an FA Cup in his first season in the role. He seemed to be in an everlasting feud with Roy Keane, which was brilliant entertainment for the fans. Vieira was another Arsenal player who seemed to be part of a summer transfer saga every year. After rejecting Real Madrid in 2004 he joined Juventus a year later for £13.75 million. All in all Vieira made 406 appearances for the Gunners and will go down as a club legend.
1 – Peter Schmeichael – July 1991 – Brondby to Manchester United – £505,000
Sir Alex Ferguson desribed Schmeichael as ‘bargain of the century’ in 2000, and thats why he’s number one. Though he was purchased a year before the Premier League began, Schmeichael was key to United’s domination of the league in the 90s. ‘The Great Dane’ as he came to be known won ‘World’s Best Goalkeeper’ in 1992 and 1993, after playing a huge part in Denmark’s European Championship win. He flourished at United, perfectly fitting Ferguson’s never say die attitude. In a UEFA Cup game in 1995 Schmeichael also scored that rarity for a keeper – a goal. United fans were familiar with the sight of him rushing up field whenever it was late in the game and a goal was needed. Schmeichael ended his career on a high with United, bowing out after the 1999 treble season, and he won 15 trophies in all at the club.