From Bargain Basement To Breathtaking Brilliance: Betting.org's Cheapo XI
Transfer fees seem to increase every year, with each transfer window bringing ever more bloated prices being paid for players. But some of the best signings are those that cost relatively little, or even nothing at all. Here, we’ll have a look at some of the best value-for-money signings of the Premier League era, stretching right back from the present day to the beginning of the Premier League in 1992. We’ve got some great players from the past in this line-up, plus a few who are showing just what good value they are right now.
So cast your eyes over the Betting.org ‘Cheapo XI’ and see what you think. We’re playing 3-4-3, with the emphasis on attack!
Sol Campbell was the subject of intense bitterness from Tottenham Hotspur fans after he signed for their fierce north London rivals Arsenal in 2001. Amidst all the controversy of the move, many forget that there was no transfer fee involved, with Campbell moving for free. That certainly looks like good value when his achievements with the Gunners are taken into account. The defender, whom Arsene Wenger signed because “it was as if he was indestructible, such a power spread from him,” helped the Gunners to a Premier League and FA Cup double in his first season. Later, in 2003/04, he would partner Kolo Toure at the heart of the Arsenal defence as they went through the entire Premier League season unbeaten to claim the title, and go down in history as ‘the Invincibles’.
The big Finn was signed by Liverpool from Dutch club Willem II for just £2.6m in May 1999. Ron Yeats, then chief scout for the Reds, described the deal 10 years later as: “One of the best bits of business we’ve done over the years. A steal – a bargain.” Liverpool , with Hyypia at centre back, won a trophy treble of the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup in 2001. He was also part of the team which won the 2005 Champions League in such dramatic circumstances. By the time he left the club in 2009, Hyypia had helped the Reds win 10 trophies, and made 464 appearances, scoring 35 goals. Little wonder, then, that former Liverpool striker Ian Rush said of the Finn: “He’s got to be up there with the best signings the club has ever made.”
Harry Maguire’s move from Hull City to Leicester City ahead of the 2017/18 season cost the Foxes £12m, potentially rising to £17m. That may look relatively expensive when compared with other players in this team, but the Sheffield-born defender has certainly given value for money for the East Midlands outfit this season. The 24-year-old has done more than just defend for the Foxes too, with his ability to bring the ball out from the back and play killer passes adding to his appeal amongst Leicester fans. Now almost a certainty to get picked for England’s 2018 World Cup squad, Maguire surely has a great future ahead of him. Even if he leaves Leicester, the club are surely going to be able to secure a massively profitable transfer fee for him.
The vastly experienced Argentine, who usually operates at full back but has also played in midfield, moved on a free transfer from Manchester City to West Ham United ahead of the 2017/18 season. Never a flashy performer, he has offered the Hammers steadiness and experience in what has been a difficult season for them at times. The 33-year-old has missed only one game, due to suspension, this season, highlighting his durability. He has also played in different positions, a sign of his value to the Hammers squad. A real free transfer bargain, the Argentine shows no sign of slowing down as he reaches the veteran stage of his career, and could offer experience and stability to the Hammers for a few seasons yet, making that free transfer look an ever more astute piece of business by the east London club.
Another free transfer, who moved from Manchester City to Liverpool in 2015. A steady and reliable performer, who has operated across the midfield in his lengthy career, the England international helped the Reds to a Europa League final in 2016. After playing most of the 2016/17 season at left back, the 32-year-old has been a key performer in midfield for the Reds this season. His impact has been particularly felt in the Champions League, where he has made the most assists in the competition, with six, better than the likes of Reds team-mate Roberto Firmino, and stars like Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne and Paris St Germain’s Kylian Mbappe. Another free transfer bargain.
The Australian international was signed by Everton from Millwall for just £1.5m, ahead of the 2004/05 season. He went on to make 226 appearances for the Toffees, scoring 56 goals, before leaving for the MLS in 2012. Known for his great heading ability, especially in the opponent’s penalty area, despite being relatively short at 5’10” or so, Cahill established himself as a cult hero to Everton fans. Able to play in midfield or up front, he gave his all for the blue shirt. His quality was shown by his being named as one of 50 nominees for the prestigious Ballon d’Or. The Australian was the first Everton man to appear on the list for 18 years. In December 2008, he became the first player since the legendary Dixie Dean to score in three Merseyside derbies against Liverpool. Few players have ever been taken to the hearts of Everton fans as much as the Australian was in his time at Goodison. That £1.5m fee looked a very good deal by the time his spell at the club ended in 2012.
Robertson signed for Liverpool for £8m, a fee which is already beginning to look a massive bargain, ahead of the 2017/18 season. Although it took him a while to cement a place in Jurgen Klopp’s team, he has subsequently established himself as the Reds’ first-choice left back. A player who has a great left foot, Robertson is the perfect modern full back, able to attack and defend effectively. His ability to hurt the opposition are complemented by his tackling ability, and he is rarely caught out of position at the back. His crossing is a particular highlight of the Scot’s offensive game. Robertson also became the first Liverpool player to score for Scotland since Kenny Dalglish in 1984, when he netted against Lithuania in September 2017. Scotland fans are every bit as excited about the former Celtic youth player as Liverpool supporters are. In years to come, that £8m fee could look like very good business indeed, given the huge amounts of cash that are spent on very average players in the current era.
Given his reputation as one of the English Premier League’s greatest ever players, it can be hard sometimes to remember that Eric Cantona was regarded as a bit of misfit at various times during his career. Having helped Leeds to win the last First Division title in 1992, the Frenchman’s transfer to Manchester United for just £1.2m in December 1992 looked a little strange at the time. The move came about because of an inquiry by Leeds about the possible availability for transfer of the Red Devils’ Irish full back Denis Irwin. Irwin was not for sale, but Man Utd still signed Cantona. The enigmatic and often controversial French star became a true United legend, playing 143 games and scoring 64 goals before his retirement from football in 1997, at the age of just 31. His manager at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson, once said of the forward: “He [Cantona] illuminated Old Trafford. The place was a frenzy every time he touched the ball.” In his first season at the club, Cantona helped Man Utd to the first Premier League title, which they won by 10 points. That was just a sign of things to come, and they would win the league in 1994, 1996 and 1997 too. They would win the FA Cup in 1994 and 1996. Although he would also kick a racist fan in the head at Crystal Palace, and receive a lengthy ban for it, in 1995, highlighting his propensity for controversy, he has to be considered one of the Premier League era’s truly great players. Anyone who remembers the charismatic Frenchman’s strike against Sunderland in 1996, and the iconic arms aloft celebration that followed, would surely agree.
Nicholas Anelka has been a somewhat infuriating player throughout his career, and is a man who has also gone through his share of clubs. But once, he was a somewhat shy kid with explosive talent. A talent that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recognised in February 1997, when he signed the striker for £500,000 from Paris St Germain. The Gunners won the Premier League and FA Cup double in his first season, with Anelka scoring against Newcastle United in the FA Cup final in 1998. He was the club’s top scorer in 1998/99, and won the PFA Young Player of the Year award, but his tendency to sulk was already apparent. That £500,000 fee looked tiny when Anelka made his next move, joining Real Madrid for £22.3m in 1997. From there, the road was never again so smooth for the player, and spent time with PSG, Liverpool (on loan), Manchester City, Fenerbahce, Bolton Wanderers, Chelsea, Shanghai Shenua, Juventus (on loan), West Bromwich Albion and Mumbai City, before retiring in 2015. Although he consistently scored goals, he never established himself as fan favourite at any club, and there was always a sense that he somehow never quite fulfilled his full potential as a player. But that half million that Arsenal forked out for him back in 1997 still looks like a great bit of business, and Anelka would later admit that he should never have left the Gunners.
Robin van Persie moved from Dutch Eredivisie side Feyenoord in 2004 to Arsenal for just £2.75m. That fee was only just over half of the £5m that Feyenoord wanted for him. The signing would undoubtedly become another great bit of business from Arsene Wenger and the Gunners hierarchy. After a tricky start, when injury disrupted his momentum somewhat, Van Persie’s Arsenal career really gathered pace in the 2005/06 season. A superb volleyed goal against Charlton Athletic in September 2006 was hailed by Wenger as “the goal of a lifetime.” After Thierry Henry left Arsenal in 2007, the Dutchman’s career in north London really got going. He would go to skipper the club, and would make 196 appearances in eight years for the club, scoring 96 goals, before leaving for Manchester United in 2012. Despite a lack of trophies, his quality and commitment to the Gunners’ cause were never in doubt, and it is a pity that injury prevented him playing more games. Nevertheless, that £2.75m looks pretty cheap by today’s standards for such a quality player.
So there’s the Betting.org Cheapo XI, featuring some of the greatest players to have graced the Premier League, plus one or two who might well go on to be true greats. Let us know whether you disagree or agree with our selections in the comments section!