By Chris Wright
With the season now drawing to a close, we thought it high time to have a little look-see at the best of the bargain signings that have outshone their relatively meagre price tags throughout 2011/12.
Here we go, straight in at the top…
10. Brad Friedel, Tottenham – Free: He may well possess the requisite seniority to regard Methuselah as a ‘Johnny Come Lately’, but Poppa Friedel is still up among the best goalkeepers in the Premier League. To bag themselves a top notch, ultra-reliable, first-choice keeper without having to pay ‘dollar one’ was shrewd business on Tottenham’s part. We imagine their was a fairly long list of potential suitors.
By rights, you could also go back through that last paragraph, substituting in ‘Shay Given’ and ‘Aston Villa’ where appropriate.
9. Gareth McAuley, West Brom – Free: The spire-like Northern Ireland centre-half has been almost impeccable (in a ‘no frills’ sense) for the Baggies this season after joining from Ipswich for nowt in the summer. There’s nothing fancy about him, but he hardly puts a foot wrong, wins headers like they’re going out of fashion and humps it out of touch when the need arises. He’s also chipped in with a couple of important goals.
He’s like a half-way convincing Per Mertesacker, and West Brom’s incumbent centre-back pairing of McAuley and Jonas Olsson takes some beating in an aerial duel.
8. Craig Bellamy, Liverpool – Free: Yes, he’s tailed off slightly as Liverpool have begun settling into their rightful place in upper-mid table over the arse-end of the season and his plasticine knees mean he’s unable to play two games on the trot, but Bellers M’neller’s free switch from Man City back in the summer still represents Liverpool’s best transfer dealing this season. Still a dangerous entity when
armed with a nine iron his lower body allows.
7. Anthony Pilkington, Norwich – £1.75 million: Bought in from League One side Huddersfield last July to pad out Norwich’s squad for their first crack at the top flight in six years, ten months down the line Pilkington is currently Norwich’s joint-second highest goal scorer this season (behind Grant Holt and level with Steve Morison) and the fifth-highest scoring Premier League midfielder with eight goals – only one goal behind the likes of Danny Welbeck and Gareth Bale in the overall list. Not bad.
6. Yakubu, Blackburn – £1.5 million: He may appear less athletic than a family-sized tin of luncheon meat and the goals may have slowed to a trickle of late, but Yakubu has still managed to plunder 16 Premier League goals in a largely listless Blackburn side this season (roughly 1/3 of Rover’s total tally), putting him fourth in the standings behind the holy trinity of Rooney, Van Persie and Aguero.
To put it in Shearer-friendly parlance: “He’ll always nick a goal for you Garry.” Quite so.
If and when Blackburn are relegated in a few week’s time, they can definitely expect a flurry of offers to come in for The Yak. Call it female intuition, but he’s got ‘Sunderland’ written all over him as far as we’re concerned.
5. Yohan Cabaye, Newcastle – £4.3 million: The calibre of central midfielder that you’d usually have to spend at least £15 million on bringing in, Cabaye has provided a stable platform for Newcastle’s more esoteric forwards to build on alongside the North East’s premier human bullfinch impersonator, Cheick Tiote.
Given Newcastle’s success this term, we reckon you can expect to see a few more of the Premier League’s finest having a flutter on Ligue 1 talent this coming summer.
4. Gylfi Sigurdsson, Swansea – Loan: Siggy really is a gem though, given how impressive he was at Reading and how much Hoffenheim payed for him (£7 million) in September of 2010, we were a little surprised to hear that he was out of favour and not getting much game time in Germany.
Having scored seven mostly cracking goals in 17 games for Swansea since arriving from the Bundesliga on a loaner in January, Hoffenheim are now understandably eager to capitalise on the increased fervour and recoup their money on the Icelandic midfielder this summer and the player himself has gone on record as saying he wishes to stay in the Premier League – though a minimum £7 million asking price is likely to rule out a full-time return to South Wales.
3. Demba Ba/Papiss Cisse, Newcastle – Free/£10 million: A little bit of jiggery-pokery here, but since Newcastle only paid £10 million for the pair of them and have managed to milk 27 league goals from the two Dembas since August, we’re going to lump both Ba and Cisse in together as a ‘£5 million-a-pop job lot’. Why? ‘Because’, that’s why.
Safe to say, without the constant slew of goals provided by these two men over the course of the campaign, the Toon wouldn’t be anywhere near the nosebleed Champions League spots right now.
2. Emmanuel Adebayor, Tottenham – Loan: Adebayor is a formidable striker when his heart’s in it; tall, physical, imposing, skillful and quick – he’s pretty much everything you could want in a lone target man. Shame he can be such a bounder at times.
A perfect focal point for Spurs’ attack, Adebayor has scored 13 goals for Tottenham in the Premier League this season, which is relatively modest – though his assist total (11, more than any other out-and-out striker) exemplifies the importance of his presence in the system ‘Arry employs going forward.
He’ll be heading back to Man City soon and presumably Roberto Mancini will be keen on shipping him out to the highest bidder over the summer (despite quite clearly being a far, far better player than Edin Dzeko) which may or may not, but most likely may be Spurs.
1. Nikica Jelavic, Everton – £5.5 million: It speaks volumes that, courtesy of his ten goals in 13 matches (eight in the Premier League) since arriving at Goodison on January transfer deadline day, Jelavic is now both Everton’s and Rangers’ top scorer this season.
Putting him at the top of our list may make it seem like we’ve been swept up in the hype and, while that’s possibly partially true, we reckon that as strikers go, this guy has the stones to score shed-loads in the Premier League. Give him a full season and we’d put a shiny groat on him getting 20-odd goals.
His first-time finishing is exemplary, his movement is relentless, he’s good in the air, he’ll run around all bloody afternoon and – and this is the most important bit – he celebrates his goals like a proper striker. The man clearly finds immense joy in finding the back o’ the net.
£5.5 million is/was a snip and we’ve even read ‘insider’ reports that the initial fee was a whole lot lower than that, somewhere around the £4 million mark.
Honourable mentions: Michel Vorm (Swansea, £1.5 million), Seb Larsson (Sunderland, free), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Fulham, £2 million), James McClean (Sunderland, £350,000), Danny Graham (Swansea, £3.5 million), Darron Gibson, (Everton, £500,000), Steven Pienaar ( Everton, loan), Shane Long (West Brom, £4 million), Gary Cahill (Chelsea, £7 million)…
Any bargains we’ve missed? Feel free to vent your spleen in the comments box below…