Original article published 17 October 2022
As part of our Top 10 series, we’re looking at the Top 10 Premier League transfers.
While some massive names have had to miss out, a variety of factors have been taken into account, such as transfer fee paid, transfer fee received, longevity, legacy, silverware, personal accolades, and impact at the club.
Let’s get started.
Smashing the domestic transfer record, big-spending Blackburn moved to sign the best young English striker in the game, as Alan Shearer moved to Ewood Park for £3.6m
Despite a serious cruciate ligament injury ending his debut season on Boxing Day, Shearer had raced to 16 goals from just 21 games, and would still finish as the Premier League’s fifth-highest goalscorer, just six behind Teddy Sheringham, and was named in the PFA Team of the Year, despite missing half the season.
Any concerns about how the injury would affect the 22-year-old Shearer were short-lived, as he’d smash through the 30-goal mark in each of his next three seasons, as Blackburn would topple Manchester United to claim the 1994/95 Premier League title.
Across his four years at Ewood Park, he would win the Golden Boot three times and pick up two Player of the Year awards, before being sold to boyhood club Newcastle at a massive profit of £11.4m.
A Champions League winner with Barcelona, Yaya Toure was one of the first true marquee signings of the Sheikh Mansour era, arriving for £24m. A colossal powerhouse with the precision of a surgeon, Toure would be instrumental in so much of Manchester City’s early Premier League success.
You’d struggle to count on two hands the number of massive goals Toure scored for the club in his eight seasons at the Etihad. In his first season he would score the only goal in the FA Cup semi-final against arch-rivals Manchester United, and the only goal in the final, to deliver City’s first silverware for 35 years.
The following season he’d score an important late equaliser against Stoke before scoring the only two goals in their penultimate game of the season at Newcastle en route to their first Premier League title.
In the title-winning season of 2013/14, up against a rampant Liverpool, Toure would score the clincher at Selhurst Park to put the Blues back in pole position, as he’d score 20 league goals.
With equalisers in the EFL Cup final against Sunderland and the winning penalty against Liverpool, it’s inconceivable that City would have had as much success over the last decade if not for Toure.
After impressing for West Ham as a youngster, Frank Lampard made an £11m move to Chelsea aged 23.
Within three years of Lampard’s move to Stamford Bridge, Chelsea had been taken over by Roman Abramovich, with just three of his initial colleagues still regulars in the side. So many of Lampard’s records speak for themselves.
He’d score 10+ goals in 10 consecutive seasons and was named FWA Footballer of the Year and Fans’ Player of the Year in 2005. He was named in the PFA Team of the Year in three straight years between 2004 and 2006, remarkably missing out in 2010, despite scoring 22 goals and winning the league and FA Cup.
In 13 years at Stamford Bridge, Lampard would play under nine different managers, set the record for consecutive Premier League appearances (with 164), score 147 league goals and lay on 90 assists, winning the title three times, as well as every other major honour at club level.
Remember when Tottenham signed a hotshot left-back called Gareth Bale from Championship side Southampton for £5m, and how it took him two-and-a-half years to be on the winning side for his new club?
Who could have predicted, when the young Welshman was becoming a figure of fun in the Premier League, that 18 months after his first winning start – at the 23rd time of asking, no less – he’d be named Player of the Year?
It took a long time for Bale to find a home for himself in North London, with him eventually thriving on the left wing due to the good form of regular left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Harry Redknapp moving Bale further up the pitch would prove to be a masterstroke.
The 2010/11 season, Bale’s third at White Hart Lane, would proper Bale to stardom. His performances against Inter, where he put Brazil right-back Maicon to the sword, scoring a hat-trick in the San Siro, as well as his goals in the Premier League.
The highlight reel Bale put together at White Hart Lane rivals the very best. The volley against Stoke, the long range efforts against West Brom, Manchester City, Sunderland and countless others, as well as that match-winning thunderbolt at Upton Park.
Two years after winning Player of the Year for the first time, Bale was attracting international attention. He’d win the Player of the Year once more, as well as the FWA Footballer of the Year and Young Player of the Year (yes, he was just 23 years old at the time), scoring 21 goals, before moving to Real Madrid for a world-record £85m.
Few Premier League defenders, if any, have had such an impact for their club as Vincent Kompany did at Manchester City. Signed pre-Sheikh Mansour for just £7m, Kompany was one of just five regular fixtures of the 2008/09 squad still around to win the title three years later.
The Belgian would be named Premier League Player of the Season in 2011/12 – when he’d also be given the captain’s armband – and his performances were a huge part of City’s title success.
Defenders are typically more remembered for the goals they prevented rather than the goals they scored, but the abiding memories of Vincent Kompany for Manchester City are the times he came up with the goods at the other end of the pitch.
The 2011/12 season saw Kompany score the winner in the pivotal Manchester derby which would bring about City’s first title.
In 2013/14, he scored the equaliser against title rivals Liverpool as City would win 2-1 – and win the league.
And of course the greatest of them all, in 2018/19, with the title on the line and the breakthrough looking impossible to come by, that postage-stamp thunderbolt against Leicester.
Kompany was no longer a regular member of the City side at this point and would leave at the end of the season, but he had no troubles stepping into the side having made just 11 starts all season and producing a moment of that quality, signing off on his time in Manchester.
One of only 10 players in the Premier League 150 club, and one of only two foreigners, Sergio Aguero remains without doubt one of the league’s greatest-ever strikers. Of all the players with 100+ Premier League goals, only one players has a better goal-per-game ratio (more on that later).
Arriving in England as a 23-year-old, to a Manchester City side finally primed for a title bid, Aguero would be tasked with the man scoring the goals to take them to the pinnacle.
There’d be no bedding-in period with the Argentinian, coming off the bench to score twice on his debut. He’d score eight goals in his first five games, and of course, the legendary title-winning goal at the end of the season.
Throughout his first eight seasons at the Etihad, Aguero spent around 65 games on the sidelines, meaning he’d only win the Golden Boot once.
But despite a litany of knee and muscle injuries, his consistency in front of goal was remarkable. He’d finish amongst the league’s top five goalscorers seven times and the top three goalscorers four times, and remains the only player to reach 20+ six times in a 38-game season.
Far from a flat-track bully, nearly a quarter of Aguero’s 184 Premier League goals came against Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool, all of whom would have been glad to see the back of him.
Signed as a teenager for £27m, no small fee at the time, Wayne Rooney would achieve everything there was to achieve at Manchester United.
His debut was marked by an unforgettable hat-trick, as he stepped into a struggling United side, who’d finished third the previous season, and would not win the title for either of Rooney’s first two campaigns, marking the Red Devils’ longest dry spell since first winning the Premier League in 1993.
Rooney’s second season would see an improvement, though United would still finish a distant second behind Chelsea. Personally, however, Rooney would win Young Player of the Year for the second consecutive year, as well as Fans’ Player of the Year, and be named in the Team of the Year.
Across the next three seasons, Rooney would be a key part of arguably the greatest Manchester United team ever, as they won three consecutive league titles, reaching two Champions League finals, and winning one.
The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo would see Rooney play in a new role, tasked with replacing Ronaldo’s goals as an out-and-out centre forward. He’d score 26 goals, missing out on the Golden Boot to Didier Drogba, who plundered a massive 29. Despite Drogba’s Chelsea pipping Rooney’s United to the title, Rooney would sweep the Players’ Player of the Year, FWA Footballer of the Year, and Fans’ Players of the Year.
A Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League winner, and a five-time Premier League winner. A Manchester United and Premier League legend.
Replacing David Beckham was no easy task for Manchester United. The seven-time Ballon d’Or nominee, and one-time runner-up, who’d graced the right wing at Old Trafford for eight years had departed for Real Madrid, to be replaced by a rather gangly teenager from Portugal.
Initially shying away from the fabled #7 shirt, it was imposed upon him by Sir Alex Ferguson, and Ronaldo rose to the standards set by the likes of Beckham, George Best, Bryan Robson and Eric Cantona.
Ronaldo’s first spell in Manchester could be quite evenly divided in two halves. The first would show us the dazzling, if inconsistent youngster, with all the tricks whose end product was at times lacking. Despite that, he’d still be named Manchester United’s Player of the Year at the end of his first campaign.
The second half introduced us to the Ronaldo that would become the world’s best player.
Coming back into hostile territory after his role in Wayne Rooney’s sending off at Euro 2006, Ronaldo would take the league by storm. Scoring 17 goals, from the right wing, United would win a first title in four years, and Ronaldo would sweep every individual trophy in the league, missing out on the Ballon d’Or to Kaka.
The season after was better still. Ronaldo won four more individual awards (somehow missing out on Young Player of the Year), would be named the world’s best player, and won a league and Champions League double, scoring the opening goal in the final.
United managed to convince Ronaldo to hold off on his desire to move to Real Madrid for another 12 months, as he’d reach another Champions League final, and win another Premier League, before being sold for a world-record £80m.
One wonders how Thierry Henry’s career would have panned out if not for his transfer to Arsenal in 1999. A supremely gifted teenager, who was already making waves on the European and indeed world stage, earned a move to Juventus. Having spent six months wearing a jarring #6 shirt and playing on the wing, Henry was reunited with former manager Arsene Wenger the following summer.
It did take a few months for Henry to adapt to his new role as a centre-forward and the rigours of English football, failing to score in his first seven games, and scoring just one in his first 12, but the back end of the season would be a stark warning to England’s defenders. With Euro 2000 around the corner, Henry finished the season scoring nine in his closing seven games.
In Henry’s second season, Arsenal would come up short to United once again, but Henry would find a place in the PFA Team of the Year for the first time. Through the mid-00s, Henry was quite simply the player of the Premier League. He’d win PFA Player of the Year in 2003 and 2004, and FWA Footballer of the Year in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
From 2001 to 2006, Teddy Sheringham, Ruud van Nistelrooy (twice), Alan Shearer, Andy Johnson and Wayne Rooney would be named as forwards in the PFA Team of the Year, but Thierry Henry would be the constant throughout those years.
Henry’s third season would see more improvement, as Arsenal finally toppled United to win the title, with the Frenchman’s 24 goals winning him the Golden Boot.
The fourth season saw yet more personal improvement, as Henry matched his previous 24 goals, but managed a phenomenal 20 assists, becoming the first Premier League to reach 20+ goals and assists in a season and finishing second in the Ballon d’Or.
His status as a great of English football would be cemented further as he’d win a second title, becoming the third player to reach the 30-goal mark in a 38-game Premier League season.
Remarkably consistent over his eight years in England and immortalised in bronze outside the Emirates, Henry remains one of the greatest players – if not the greatest – player in Premier League history.
Top of the list is Eric Cantona. Snatched away from arch-rivals and reigning champions Leeds United, Cantona was the catalyst for the most dominant period of football ever seen by an English club.
Manchester United in the autumn of 1992 were a side well-primed for a first league title since 1967, wondering how they’d let the previous season slip away from them.
It was threatening to happen again; through their first 14 games, they’d endured a seven-game winless run, scoring just 14 goals, failing to score five times. Alex Ferguson knew a forward was needed, and having failed in his attempts to lure David Hirst away from Sheffield Wednesday, chanced his arm at Leeds’ enigmatic forward.
With manager Howard Wilkinson happy to see Cantona leave Elland Road, a deal for just £1m was struck.
After a year with Manchester United, he’d won the Premier League and would be named third that year in the Ballon d’Or standings. The following year, he won PFA Player of the Year, and upon his return from suspension in 1995/96, he won FWA Footballer of the Year.
Aside from being both a goalscorer and a creator, he had a massive impact on Manchester United’s fledgling Class of ’92. His dedication off the pitch was as important to a transitioning and youthful side as his performances on it.
As well as the late winning goal in the 1996 FA Cup final, Cantona would score the winner in a series of 1-0 wins as Manchester United hunted down Newcastle to capture a league and cup double.
He’d win four titles in his five seasons at Old Trafford, only missing out in 1995 when United came up short to Blackburn following the Frenchman’s suspension, as well as two FA Cups, but perhaps most importantly of all, he would provide the platform for United’s future successes.
After announcing his shock retirement in 1997, United surrendered the title for only the second time in six years. But the foundations for greater things had been laid. The following season, not seven years after Cantona’s arrivals, United went from nearly men to all-conquering treble winners.