While some of the richest football teams in the world have no problem smashing the world transfer record every summer, everyone else needs to be a little more careful with their budget. If you practice a little careful shopping, you can snag yourself a world class player for a bargain basement price. If you’re Leicester City, you can take the extreme coupon approach by adding Jamie Vardy (£1 million), Riyad Mahrez (£400,000), and Kasper Schmeichel (undisclosed) and take the Premier League by storm and become the most surprise champions in the history of English football, like they did in 2015-16.
Here are 10 other amazing buys who turned out to be way more valuable than their initial price tag.
10. Ole Gunnar Solskjær – Molde to Manchester United – £1.5 million
Sir Alex Ferguson’s scouting of the Scandinavian countries rose to prominence when the Baby Faced Assassin arrived in the North West ready for the start of the 1996-97 season. Solskjær is widely regarded as the best “super sub” in Premier League history, with 29 of his 126 United goals coming off the bench, epitomized by four goals in the last 12 minutes of United’s 8-1 thrashing of Nottingham Forest during the 1998-99 treble winning season. It was Solskjær that scored the crucial second injury time goal that won Ferguson and United his first Champions League in 1999 and the Norwegian poacher ended up spending a total of 12 seasons at United before retiring in 2008.
9. Joe Hart – Shrewsbury to Man City – £600,000
English keepers on a world class level have been thin on the ground since Peter Shilton retired in the early 1990s and Hart is the first to have fitted that mould in some time. Thus, it’s all the more remarkable that City was able to pick him up for such a small fee. Hart’s apprenticeship was spent on loan at Birmingham City where he was hugely impressive before the England stopper returned to usurp Shay Given at City. Since then he has been an almost ever-present name for City in eight seasons that have included two league titles, an FA Cup, and two League Cups. He has also amassed over 100 clean sheets in roughly 350 games for City so far – almost one every three games. When Pep Guardiola took over City in 2016, Hart was unceremoniously dropped and sent out on loan to Torino. In 2017, the club carousel continued for Hart, as he is currently on loan with West Ham United.
8. Nicholas Anelka – Paris Saint-Germain to Arsenal – £500,000
It’s hard to remember those halcyon days when Arsene Wenger was the kind of demon in the transfer market that the Wenger of 2010-14 can only dream of. Anelka, who didn’t start to display his kindergarten tendencies until his second full season, hit the fringes of the first team after arriving in February 1997 and played second fiddle to Ian Wright. He broke into the side in 1997-98 when in 26 league games, 10 of which were off the bench, he netted seven times plus once in the FA Cup Final against Newcastle, as Arsenal won a historic double. Le Sulk then reared his ugly head and, even though he scored 17 league goals and was named PFA Young Player of the Year, the Frenchman engineered a transfer to Real Madrid for upwards of £22.5 million.
7. Henrik Larsson – Feyenoord to Celtic – £650,000
Sometimes it feels a bit wrong to put players from the Scottish league on a list like this. Sweden’s Larsson is an exception to that rule. The dread-locked hitman arrived in Glasgow in 1997 and got to work at breaking just about every record in the book. The striker only failed to hit double figures in the league in one of the six seasons he was at the club, when he suffered a horrific double leg break in 1999-2000. And even then he notched seven in nine. Larsson left for Barcelona in 2004 after 242 goals in 313 games across all competitions, four league titles, four cups, the European Golden Boot in 2001, and a UEFA Cup runners up medal.
6. Jay Jay Okocha – Paris Saint-Germain to Bolton Wanderers – Free
Eccentric, skilful and so good they named him twice. But why would that work in the North West of England for a club managed by a man that is famed for keeping clubs in the Premier League using tactics that are roundly pilloried despite being hugely effective? Okocha’s opening season at the Reebok Stadium showed why, as he saw a return of seven goals from 31 appearances and the team narrowly avoided relegation. It was the following couple of seasons when the Trotters really kicked-on, finishing in eighth place in 2003/04 before his coup de grace with six goals in 31 games, leading to a sixth place finish for Bolton – by far the highest in the club’s Premier League stay.
5. Andrea Pirlo – Milan to Juventus – Free
What’s better than getting Italy’s best playmaker of the last decade for the price of fresh air? How about getting Italy’s best playmaker from one of your biggest title rivals and then going on to dominate with him in the lineup? That’s exactly what Juventus managed to achieve when acquiring the pint-sized central midfielder in the summer of 2011 after the Rossoneri inexplicably let his contract run down.
In 2011/12 he played 37 times in the league for Juve, with three goals and 15 assists, before playing a pivotal role in helping Italy come runner up at Euro 2012. The following season he played 42 times (including the Champions League), scored five and bagged eleven assists. 2013/14 was another stellar effort with six goals and eight assists. All three years with Juve saw a title win in the bag and not a penny on the initial fee. He finished his career in Italy by appearing in a Champions League Final in 2015 (which Juve would lose to Barcelona) before transferring to New York City FC, where he would wrap up his career in 2017.
4. Peter Schmeichel – Brøndby to Manchester United – £505,000
The Dane was an almost complete unknown when Alex Ferguson managed to snare his keeper for the next eight seasons from Denmark and what followed was the start of a period of success that has put the Red Devils where they are today. In Schmeichel’s first season, 1991-92, the side came second to rivals Leeds United before a seven season run that saw United crowned champions five times, FA Cup winners three times, and climaxed with a Champions League title in his final season at the club –Schmeichel’s final game at United.
That was just the start of United’s travails between the sticks, as a series of expensive replacements, such as Fabien Barthez, Mark Bosnich, and Tim Howard, didn’t make the cut until Edwin van der Sar finally steadied the ship – some six seasons later.
3. Kevin Phillips – Watford to Sunderland – £325,000
You’d be forgiven, in 1997, for not knowing who this pocket rocket was when Sunderland decided to splash out on the Watford striker. That was before he notched 64 league goals in 72 games as Sunderland made the playoffs, and failed, before finally earning promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 1998-99 season. It was far from over for Phillips, as his first ever season at the top saw him score 30 goals in 36 games and with that came a European Golden Boot award, as well as a place in the England squad for the next five years. Sunderland finished in seventh place for their first two seasons in the top flight, with Phillips’ arrival a lot to do with the club’s success.
2. Raul – Atletico Madrid to Real Madrid – Free
It’s a little known fact that Real Madrid’s record appearance maker and goalscorer was on the books as a youngster at city rival Atlético Madrid, and the decision by then-president Jesús Gil to close the academy to cut costs drove Raúl González Blanco to forge ahead at the Santiago Bernebeu. The forward ended up making 741 appearances in all competitions for the white side of Madrid, scored 323 goals and helped the club to six La Liga titles and three Champions League wins, and held the all-time scoring record in the Champions League (71) until some guys named Messi and Ronaldo obliterated it.
1. Alessandro Del Piero – Padova to Juventus – Five Billion Italian Lire (£420,927.82)
Del Piero is to Juventus what Raul was to Real Madrid – the one club man that arrived on the cheap before departing encrusted in honours for a last big pay day in a far flung part of the world. The diminutive Italian striker is known to this day for his deadly eye in front of goal, cool finishing, and free kicks that even the best keepers had no answer to. Del Piero sits at the top of Juventus’ scoring charts with 290 goals, 43 from free kicks (the most for Juventus), and was one of the few that stayed with the club when it was demoted during the 2006 Calciopoli trial. In terms of honors, the club won Serie A eight times (two of which were taken away) and one Champions League title, and three times a runner up. At the national team level, he was a crucial part of the Italian World Cup winning side of 2006. A true one off.