Best and worst ever Premier League buys

The ESPN FC crew look back at Chelsea legend Frank Lampard’s career

Who is the best purchase in your club’s history and who flopped the most?

ESPN FC asked our club bloggers for their all-time tops and flops in the transfer market. Whether goal scoring machines or cult heroes, big money flops or reviled characters, the good and bad of each Premier League side’s business down the years is here. 


Top: Frank Lampard. Went on to become Chelsea’s all time record goalscorer with 211 goals from 649 appearances in all competitions. In a glittering 13-year career at Stamford Bridge, he won 11 major trophies and captained the Blues’ Champions League final winning side in 2012.

Flop: Winston Bogarde. Chelsea signed him on a four-year deal worth £10 million in wages. Despite winning the Champions League with Ajax and two La Liga titles with Barcelona, Claudio Ranieri didn’t rate the player. Bogarde started just four games and featured off the bench eight times, but rather than seek a move away and play for less money, he opted to “honour” his contract and ended up training with the kids and commuting daily by plane from the Netherlands. Wages of £10m divided by 12 appearances = £833,333 per game played … nice work if you can get it! — Mark Worrall


Top: Thierry Henry. An inconsistent winger from Juventus who went on to become arguably the greatest striker in Premier League history.

Flop: Gervinho. Arsenal plumped for the Ivorian winger instead of pursuing his Lille teammate Eden Hazard. Fair to say Arsene Wenger got that one very wrong. — James McNicholas


Top: Eric Cantona. Without him, who knows what Manchester United would have achieved over the next couple of decades. He was the catalyst for all the glory that followed his 1992 arrival from arch rivals Leeds. He cost just £1.2m — one of the best value transfers in the history of the game, let alone the Premier League.

Flop: Bebe. He cost an small fortune (£7.2m) in a deal that aroused plenty of suspicion — and Sir Alex Ferguson admitted he had never watched him play before making his move. He was atrocious. — Scott Patterson

Manchester United signed Eric Cantona in November 1992 and his arrival sparked an astonishing run of success at the club.


Top: Kenny Dalglish. Signed to replace a legend, Dalglish quickly made supporters forget about Kevin Keegan as he went on to become, in the eyes of many, Liverpool’s greatest ever player, before enjoying two spells as manager which both brought silverware to Anfield. The King.

Flop: El Hadji Diouf. Gerard Houllier turned down the chance to sign Nicolas Anelka and instead squandered £10m on Diouf, who after a reasonable first season at the club went on to become one of the most reviled players in Anfield history. Disliked by teammates, he embarrassed the club on more than one occasion by spitting at opposing fans and also becoming the first No.9 in Liverpool history to go through a whole season without scoring a single goal. Eventually joined Bolton for a huge loss. — Dave Usher


Top: Yaya Toure. The Ivorian has been behind every positive change at City in his time at the club and has played a hugely important role in every trophy his side has won, from FA Cup goals at Wembley and the strikes at Newcastle in 2011-12 to his midfield dominance in 2013-14 and his influence on the League Cup finals.

Flop: Jo. For a £19m signing, Jo’s return of three goals in 15 games was terrible — compounded by his inability to get on the ball, control the simplest of passes or pose any threat to the opposition. There was a lot of misplaced excitement about this absolute waste of money. — David Mooney


Top: Gareth Bale. Arrived as a £10m left-back but developed into an £85m attacking midfielder, scoring 31 goals for club and country in the 2012-13 season and becoming the most expensive player in the world when he left for Real Madrid.

Flop: Sergei Rebrov. Tottenham almost doubled their £6m transfer record when they paid £11m for Rebrov in 2000, but the Ukrainian striker flopped, only netting four goals in 39 games in his second season at the club, and he had two loan spells with Fenerbahce before leaving as a free agent in 2004. — Ben Pearce

Gareth Bale’s stunning season in 2012-13 paved the way for an £85m move to Real Madrid.


Top: N’Golo Kante. Joined from Caen for a bargain £5.6m and became Leicester’s secret, often unsung weapon en route to a miraculous Premier League title. Known affectionately as “The Rash” because he got all over the pitch, Kante was named Players’ Player of the Year for 2015-16. It is no surprise Leicester are struggling without him, while his new club Chelsea are flying at the top of the table.

Flop: Ade Akinbiyi. The fact his nickname was “Akin-bad-buy” says it all. Signed from Wolves to replace Emile Heskey for a then club-record £5.5m, he scored just 11 goals and missed many more sitters as Leicester were relegated from the Premier League.  Ben Jacobs


Top: Harry Arter. Bournemouth have brought in some brilliant players to get them where they are today but Arter’s move from Woking for just £4,000 was the bargain of the century.

Flop: Tokelo Rantie. Joined for a then club record fee of £2.5m in 2013 but is now widely regarded as Bournemouth’s worst ever signing due to consistently underperforming in a Cherries shirt. Will Kent


Top: Michael Duff is the best pound-for-pound signing Burnley have ever made and likely will ever make, with 383 appearances and three promotions to the Premier League for his £30,000 transfer fee from Cheltenham Town providing outstanding value. He is now on the coaching staff after 12 years playing at Turf Moor and could be considered a potential future manager.

Flop: Leon Cort. At the other end of the value-for-money scale is the atrocious Cort, who seven years ago Brian Laws bafflingly believed to be a Premier League centre-back, lavishing a then-substantial £1.5m on a player who frequently resembled Bambi on ice and contributed heavily to the team’s relegation with appalling defending. — Jamie Smith


Top: Andrew Johnson. He made himself popular with a hat trick against arch rivals Brighton Hove Albion shortly after signing and the following season scored 32 goals to help win Palace promotion. He scored a total of 84 goals during his time at Selhurst Park, 20 of which were in the Premier League, and now works as an ambassador at the club.

Flop: Amir Karic. It’s said that the loan signing of Karic was influenced by the use of the Football Manager database. Statistically, the defender appeared to tick all the right boxes. However, his solitary performance was atrocious, and he was promptly sent back to his parent club Ipswich Town. — Rob Sutherland

Everton quickly shipped Oumar Niasse out to Hull after he failed to make an impression at Goodison.


Top: Mikel Arteta. Before injuries took their toll and forced a change in his style of play, Mikel Arteta was an absolute joy to watch in his time at Everton, excellent value for money at £2m and the best player to grace Goodison in recent years.

Flop: Oumar Niasse. Has to go down as the worst signing in recent memory, a catastrophic waste of money whose staggering £13.5m transfer fee amounted to just 142 minutes of league football and no goals scored. — Luke O’Farrell


Top: Ian Ashbee. A free transfer from Cambridge United in the summer of 2002, the midfielder recovered from a red card on his debut to captain Hull City from Division Three up to the Premier League. An unrivalled achievement in English football.

Flop: Jimmy Bullard. A club record buy at the time, the £5m spent on the chirpy cockney was an awful investment. Even Bullard himself has come to laugh at the money he earned during three injury-hit years in East Yorkshire. — Phil Buckingham

Juninho became a Middlesbrough hero following his move to the Riverside.


Top: Juninho. Bryan Robson’s Brazilian wonder sent ripples through the Premier League and put Middlesbrough on the map with his £4.75m move in 1995. He loved it so much he returned for two more magical spells.

Flop: Afonso Alves. The Dutchman goes down in Boro’s history as one of the club’s biggest howlers, to the tune of £12.75m. He scored two fine goals against Manchester United in 2008 but rarely found the back of the net again. — Catherine Wilson


Top: Michu. For an outlay of just £2m, Swansea City got a 22 goal return in all competitions and an instant cult hero. They probably made his transfer fee back in shirt sales alone.

Flop: Bafetimbi Gomis. The Frenchman wasn’t a complete flop, but a 0.2 goals-per-game return (13 in 64) for an £8m signing-on fee is poor. The club made plenty of less expensive mistakes with bit-part players but Gomis was expected to lead the line. — Max Hicks


Top: Ryan Shawcross. Bought for a mere £1m from Manchester United in 2008, he would go on to play a captain’s role in the Potters’ rise to the top 10 of the Premier League, while racking up over 300 appearances.

Flop: Wilson Palacios. On paper he was ideal but instead endured a miserable spell that was epitomised by Tony Pulis’ proclamation that he couldn’t play if it was “too windy“. James Whittaker


Top: Niall Quinn. Great player who bought into the club, the area and the psyche of the fans, just like his Irish predecessor Charlie Hurley had in the 50s and 60s.

Flop: Milton Nunez. So many to choose from but it probably goes to Nunez, a tiny player from Honduras signed by Peter Reid from PAOK Salonika and who would have struggled in the Under-18 league. Steve Hetzke, a carthorse centre-half, pushes him close. — Pete Sixsmith


Top: Rickie Lambert. Eyebrows were raised when, fresh from leaving administration, then-League One Southampton paid Bristol Rovers £1m for Lambert. But the Liverpudlian’s goals fired the south coast side to back-to-back promotions to the Premier League and he played a key part in them establishing themselves in the top flight.

Flop: Dani Osvaldo. The fiery Italian cost a whopping £25m in transfer fees and wages but his time at St Mary’s will be remembered more for him head-butting captain Jose Fonte in training than any heroics on the pitch.  Alex Crook


Top: Paolo Di Canio — a £1.5m steal from Sheffield Wednesday — provided breathtaking skill, amusement, petulance, craziness and pure entertainment.

Flop: Kieron Dyer. There is a long queue of players jostling for position as West Ham’s worst ever signing, but the £6m fee for the notoriously injury prone Dyer, plus the £450,000 earned in each of his 30 game, four-year career at the club, still astounds even today. Peter Thorne


Top: John Barnes. Without question. Outrageously skilful, quick and powerful, watching footage of him in action remains a pleasure today. Great business from the late Graham Taylor, too — the transfer fee was a set of tracksuit tops!

Flop: Nathan Ellington. Watford manager Aidy Boothroyd resurrected the career of wayward striker Marlon King to great effect, but he found his Midas touch missing when he splashed a then club record fee of £3.25m on Ellington. If Ellington’s career had stalled at West Brom, it went fully into reverse at Vicarage Road. A horrible, expensive mistake that haunts Hornets fans to this day.  Mike Parkin


Top: Chris Brunt. For £3m, West Brom have had 10 excellent years of service out of the Northern Ireland international, who played a pivotal role in first keeping the club in the league and then establishing themselves.

Flop: Victor Anichebe. Sums up the worst years of West Brom’s recent Premier League stint, a panic buy at a vastly over-inflated fee who contributed very little over three seasons other than keeping the physios busy.  Matthew Evans

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