Mon. Mar 8th, 2021

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Top five Premier League transfers in history ranked: How does Lampard compare to Ronaldo or Salah?

13 min read

Sky Sports pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher stirred up a debate when they listed their top five greatest Premier League signings during their Monday Night Football show earlier this month.

Since the top flight’s inception in 1992 there have been a number of bargain buys who went on to greatness, and in Neville and Carragher’s top five were Alan Shearer (specifically his move from Southampton to Blackburn), Eric Cantona, Thierry Henry, Jamie Vardy and Vincent Kompany. However, some fans online were dumbfounded as the likes of Frank Lampard and Cristiano Ronaldo missed out.

Sportsmail’s reporters have now produced their own top-five lists for the greatest transfers in the Premier League era. So, would make your list?

Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville produced this list of their best ever Premier League signings

Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville produced this list of their best ever Premier League signings

Carragher (left) and Neville's list sparked much debate among football fans on social media

Carragher (left) and Neville’s list sparked much debate among football fans on social media

CHRIS WHEELER

5. Thierry Henry (Juventus to Arsenal, £10.5m)

Brought style, flair and a club record number of goals to Arsenal after signing from Juventus in a £10.5m deal. No list of Premier League greats is complete without the Frenchman.

4. Didier Drogba (Marseille to Chelsea, £24m)

Another transformative figure, helping Chelsea to win their first Premier League title – one of four in total for the Ivorian – as well as playing a decisive role in the club’s first Champions League success.

Didier Drogba is a Chelsea legend, scoring in their historic 2012 Champions League final win

Didier Drogba is a Chelsea legend, scoring in their historic 2012 Champions League final win

3. Jamie Vardy (Fleetwood Town to Leicester City, £1m)

Went straight from non-league to Leicester for £1m, ending up as a Premier League title-winner and established England international. An incredible story. 

2. Vincent Kompany (Hamburg to Manchester City, £6.7m)

Arrived at Manchester City to little fanfare and at a cost of just £6.7m, but played a pivotal role in turning the Abu Dhabi vision into reality. 

1. Eric Cantona (Leeds United to Manchester United, £1.2m)

The catalyst for an era of unprecedented success at Manchester United after signing from Leeds for £1.2m, winning the title in four of his five seasons at Old Trafford.   

Wildcard: N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester City, £5.6m)

Hard to believe the Frenchman’s contribution to Leicester’s remarkable title win in 2016 came in his first season in the Premier League – and the £5.6m transfer fee from Caen makes Kante’s signing even better. It was an outstanding piece of business and he was sold to Chelsea for £30m a year later. 

ROB DRAPER

5. Cristiano Ronaldo (Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United, £12.24m)

He’d be No 1 on impact and talent but he was, in some respects, an obvious buy. £12.24m was a record fee for a teenager. Has Arsene Wenger ever mentioned that Arsenal almost signed him? But what I like about this transfer is the sheer impulsivity of Sir Alex Ferguson’s instinct: seeing him run rings round his United team in a friendly and then getting the deal done. 

It doesn’t always work out (see Eric Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson and Bebe), which is why you have an army of Harvard PhDs analysing transfer targets these days. But when it did, it was wonderful. 

4. Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid to Manchester City, £35m)

An obvious one and a big fee but there were doubts whether he could succeed in England. I’d seen a fair amount of him in Spain and reckoned he would but it wasn’t a sure-fire thing. And just because he’s slightly undervalued here – his lack of English and interviews meaning he doesn’t sell himself – I’d take him over the Kompany and Yaya Toure signings. 

180 Premier League goals in 268 appearances and four league titles = the definitive City signing for me. 

Sergio Aguero wrote himself into Manchester City folklore with that goal against QPR in 2012

Sergio Aguero wrote himself into Manchester City folklore with that goal against QPR in 2012

3. Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona to Arsenal, free)

The transfer which spawned an industry in picking up talented 16-year-old Euro kids – but this was the exception that proved the rule. Most (Federico Macheda, Adnan Januzaj and Carlos Vela) never kicked on. This was an extraordinary coup of good intelligence, relationship building and subsequent development. The only downside is he never won the trophies at Arsenal that he should have. Mind you, he won a few with Spain, Barcelona and Chelsea. 

2. Riyad Mahrez (Le Havre to Leicester, £600,000) 

Strictly speaking a Championship transfer at the time. The fact that he came from Ligue 2 Le Havre shows just how good Leicester’s recruitment was in the run-up to their title year of 2016. To be honest, you could pick any one of Vardy, N’Golo Kante or Mahrez as the key signing. All were inspired.

1. Patrick Vieira (AC Milan to Arsenal, £3.5m)

He’d already been picked up by AC Milan so he wasn’t an unknown. But almost nobody had heard of him in England, this being the early days of the internet. And AC Milan didn’t have a clue how to use him. Wenger did and a dynasty was born.

Wildcard: Marc Albrighton (Aston Villa to Leicester, £2.25m)

Bombed out by Villa in 2014. Not good enough, apparently. So why on earth would Leicester, newly promoted to the Premier League, take on a flop? 274 appearances and a Premier League title-winners’ medal on, we know why. Still a regular despite all the upgrades Leicester have made. The only mystery is that in the age of random England caps, he’s never made a squad.

Patrick Vieira (right) is synonymous with Arsenal's reign at the top in and around the 2000s

Patrick Vieira (right) is synonymous with Arsenal’s reign at the top in and around the 2000s

DANIEL MATTHEWS

5. Roy Keane (Nottingham Forest to Manchester United, £3.75m)

Seven Premier League titles, four as captain, and the talismanic leader of Sir Alex Ferguson’s all-conquering United side.

4. Frank Lampard (West Ham to Chelsea, £11m)

Alongside John Terry, the backbone of Chelsea as they were transformed from also-rans to Premier League giants. Not too shabby a goalscoring record, either.

3. N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester, £5.6m)

How many players, plucked from such obscurity, have had such a seismic influence on consecutive title-winning sides, first Leicester and then Chelsea?

N'Golo Kante (left) won back-to-back titles first at Leicester (pictured in action) then Chelsea

N’Golo Kante (left) won back-to-back titles first at Leicester (pictured in action) then Chelsea

2. Thierry Henry (Juventus to Arsenal, £10.5m)

Arguably the Premier League’s greatest import. A genius whose panache inspired a generation and epitomised Arsenal’s brilliance at that time.

1. Eric Cantona (Leeds United to Manchester United, £1.2m)

United had endured 26 years of hurt before they paid their bitter rivals £1.2million for Cantona, whose signing shifted the balance of power and laid the foundations for one of English football’s great dynasties.

Wildcard: Seamus Coleman (Sligo Rovers to Everton, £60,000)

Sixty grand, sixty grand, Seamus Coleman. What a servant and what a bargain.

Seamus Coleman (left) is one of the best ever signings - costing Everton just £60,000 in 2009

Seamus Coleman (left) is one of the best ever signings – costing Everton just £60,000 in 2009

DAVID COVERDALE 

5. Alan Shearer (Southampton to Blackburn, £3.6m)

His £15m world-record move to Newcastle is more famous but the striker’s £3.6m transfer from Southampton to Blackburn in 1992 was arguably more fruitful.

That fee was then a British record but Shearer more than paid Rovers back by scoring 30-plus goals in three straight Premier League seasons, leading them to their famous title success in 1995.

4. Roy Keane (Nottingham Forest to Manchester United, £3.75m)

Sir Alex Ferguson plucked the Irish midfielder from relegated Nottingham Forest for a British transfer record fee of £3.75m. It proved to be a bargain.

While Cantona had the initial impact at Old Trafford, Keane’s lasted longer – leading them to seven Premier League titles and one Champions League during his 12-year stay.

Alan Shearer (left) scored over 30 goals in three-straight seasons for Blackburn and won a title

Alan Shearer (left) scored over 30 goals in three-straight seasons for Blackburn and won a title

3. Vincent Kompany (Hamburg to Manchester City, £6.7m)

Manchester City will never do better business than the signature of their legendary captain from Anderlecht for just £6m in 2008.

Within three years, Kompany had helped City win their first major trophy in 35 years in the FA Cup, and he went on to lead them to four Premier League titles.

Yes, City would not have gone on to enjoy such success without the takeover of Sheikh Mansour. But they may never have reached their trophy-winning heights without Kompany.

2. Patrick Vieira (AC Milan to Arsenal, £3.5m)

It is a toss-up between the French midfielder and his former club and country team-mate Thierry Henry.

But I have gone for Vieira because, compared to Henry, he was younger and less well-established when Arsenal signed him from AC Milan for £3.5m in 1996.

Vieira had also already transformed Arsenal before Henry’s arrival in 1999, helping them win the Double in 1997-98 before captaining them to another two titles, including their Invincibles season.

1. Eric Cantona (Leeds United to Manchester United, £1.2m)

It was enough that Manchester United pinched the French forward from arch enemies Leeds for only £1.2m. But to see the impact Cantona went on to have at Old Trafford really rubbed their Roses rivals’ noses in it. With Cantona leading their line, United won four Premier League titles in five years – including two Doubles. 

Wildcard: N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester City, £5.6m)

A Leicester player from that miracle season must be included in this list. And I am choosing Kante over Vardy on the technicality that the England striker joined from Fleetwood for £1m when the Foxes were in the Championship. 

Nobody had heard of the then uncapped French midfielder when Leicester signed him from Caen for a bargain £5.6m in 2015.

The Foxes would never have won the Premier League without him and they made a huge profit when he joined Chelsea for £32m the following summer and took them to the title as well.

Kante was the first outfield player to win back-to-back English titles with different clubs since Cantona in 1992 and 1993.

Eric Cantona was the catalyst for Manchester United's dominance when he joined in 1992

Eric Cantona was the catalyst for Manchester United’s dominance when he joined in 1992

JACK GAUGHAN

5. Roy Keane (Nottingham Forest to Manchester United, £3.75m)

The best central midfielder of his generation, just ahead of Vieira. Altered his game to suit the team’s needs, a proper captain once Cantona departed United. 

4. Vincent Kompany (Hamburg to Manchester City, £6.7m)

A number of Manchester City players, including David Silva and Yaya Toure, could stake a claim to being named on the list but Kompany’s longevity as a captain was the foundation for City’s success over the last decade.

Vincent Kompany was the foundation for Man City's success captaining them to four titles

Vincent Kompany was the foundation for Man City’s success captaining them to four titles

3. Thierry Henry (Juventus to Arsenal, £10.5m)

Had a transformative effect on Arsenal, not just the numbers but the way in which he played the game. Unplayable for a number of seasons.

2. Eric Cantona (Leeds United to Manchester United, £1.2m)

Neville was correct when labelling Cantona the most iconic Premier League signing for the impact he had on Manchester United. His arrival sparked that long period of dominance. Edges out Wayne Rooney and Aguero.

1. Frank Lampard (West Ham to Chelsea, £11m)

No midfielder has scored more than his 177 Premier League goals – all but 30 of those coming at Chelsea. Won every trophy going, fourth in the all-time list of assists.    

Wildcard: Denis Irwin (Oldham Athletic to Manchester United, £625,000)

It’d be interesting to see how much left-back Irwin would be worth in the current market. A steal from Oldham and integral to Sir Alex Ferguson’s all-conquering United in the 1990s.

Frank Lampard is Chelsea's record goalscorer - scoring 211 goals during a trophy-laden spell

Frank Lampard is Chelsea’s record goalscorer – scoring 211 goals during a trophy-laden spell

DOMINIC KING

5. Dennis Bergkamp (Inter Milan to Arsenal, £7.5m) 

4. Cristiano Ronaldo (Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United, £12.24m) 

3. Jordan Henderson (Sunderland to Liverpool, £20m) 

2. Tim Cahill (Millwall to Everton, £1.5m) 

1. Eric Cantona (Leeds United to Manchester United, £1.2m)

Wildcard: Leighton Baines (Wigan to Everton, £6m)

This is a subjective question. In order to avoid repetition, I’ve included a couple of names that may raise eyebrows but need to be in the discussion. Bergkamp, Cantona and Ronaldo speak for themselves – what business it was by their clubs to recruit them, the way they changed history for their teams and how lucky we were to see them.

Cahill gets into my five because he went through brick walls for Everton, the business was incredible and he made himself a club legend.

Henderson to Liverpool, meanwhile, is the ultimate story in perseverance, improvement and dedication. Damian Comolli got plenty of things wrong when sporting director but the decision to pursue Henderson was more successful than the signing of Luis Suarez. If you want vindication, look at his honours and his stature.

For the wildcard, it has to be Leighton Baines. He was the left back in the league at one point, a brilliant defender with a beautiful left foot. I don’t think he ever got the credit he truly deserved.

Tim Cahill became an Everton legend with his eye for a goal and sheer determination in games

Tim Cahill became an Everton legend with his eye for a goal and sheer determination in games

ADRIAN KAJUMBA

5. Vincent Kompany (Hamburg to Manchester City, £6.7m)

Manchester City were mere mid-table hopefuls when he arrived in 2008 but established at the Premier League’s top table when he left 11 years later. The talismanic Kompany, a snip of a signing at just £6m, was a big reason why.

4. N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester City, £5.6m)

Enjoyed a barely believable period between 2015 and 2018, inspiring Leicester and Chelsea to Premier League titles and France to the Euro 2016 final and 2018 World Cup glory. As it unfolded became harder and harder to believe Leicester signed him for just £5.6m.

3. Roy Keane (Nottingham Forest to Manchester United, £3.75m)

The best captain the Premier League has seen and, many will insist, central midfielder too. Bought for £3.75m and a big reason why Manchester United’s title tally is 20, having led the Old Trafford club to seven of them.

Roy Keane won seven Premier League titles for Man United and was an inspirational captain

Roy Keane won seven Premier League titles for Man United and was an inspirational captain

2. Thierry Henry (Juventus to Arsenal, £10.5m) 

Signed as a struggling winger and moulded into one of the best strikers in the world and did so all while playing in the Premier League. 

1. Eric Cantona (Leeds United to Manchester United, £1.2m)

Transformed Manchester United as a club and inspired many of those who played alongside him all for the cost of just £1.2m and from rivals Leeds too. They must be kicking themselves.    

Wildcard: Nicolas Anelka (Paris Saint-Germain to Arsenal, £500,000)

Bought for £500,000 from Paris Saint-Germain, sold for 45 times the price to Real Madrid at £22.5m and his sale helped Arsenal pay for their 143-acre London Colney training ground and Thierry Henry. How’s that for a legacy?

Thierry Henry (right) is Arsenal's record scorer and dominated the Premier League up front

Thierry Henry (right) is Arsenal’s record scorer and dominated the Premier League up front

JOE BERNSTEIN

5. Mohamed Salah (Roma to Liverpool, £39m)

Most expensive player in the list but it’s all relative – Chelsea paid nearly twice as much for Alvaro Morata in that summer’s bull market, and Nemanja Matic also cost more than Salah when he joined Manchester United. To Liverpool, Salah has been priceless, without him they simply wouldn’t have been able to revive former glories with two Champions League finals and a first title in 30 years. The Egyptian King has 118 goals at Anfield in three-and-a-half years – Messi and Ronaldo figures. 

4. Denis Irwin (Oldham to Manchester United, £625,000)

If Jamie Vardy is allowed by Carragher, even though Leicester weren’t in the Premier League club when he signed, then Irwin has to be eligible even if he joined United shortly before the Premier League started. He certainly became one of the Premier League’s legends, the division’s greatest left back other than Ashley Cole and winner of 17 major trophies with United, including seven Premier League titles and the 1999 Champions League.

Denis Irwin won 17 major trophies at United - including seven titles and a Champions League

Denis Irwin won 17 major trophies at United – including seven titles and a Champions League

3. Thierry Henry (Juventus to Arsenal, £10.5m)

Would be worth £200m in today’s prices. Hard to believe now but Wenger was taking a gamble when he brought in the quick but inconsistent winger who hadn’t been picked by France in the previous year’s World Cup final, though he was part of the squad. In eight years with Arsenal, Henry brought va-va-voom, became an Invincible and smashed Arsenal’s goalscoring record. When Henry went to Barcelona nearing his 30th birthday, the Gunners still turned a profit and built a statue for him outside the Emirates. 

2. Riyad Mahrez (Le Harve to Leicester, £600,000) 

In terms of finance, how many players turn their club a £59.4m profit in four years – winning a fairytale league title and being crowned PFA Player of the Year on the way. Leicester didn’t have to break the piggybank to sign the unknown Algerian winger from French football. By the time he left, Pep Guardiola had to break Manchester City’s transfer record to sign him. He was arguably the most important figure in Leicester’s championship season. Certainly his fellow professionals voted him as such ahead of other Foxes heroes Vardy, Kante and Kasper Schmeichel.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United, £12.24m)

Bargain of all time. Allowed Fergie to build a new United team that won three consecutive league titles and the Champions League, won the Ballon d’Or and when United sold him, they got a world-record £80m. On a different level to anyone else who has played in this country – and Chelsea paid more for Adrian Mutu that same summer.   

Wildcard: Pablo Zabaleta (Espanyol to Manchester City, £7m)

Overlooked when he signed for City on the same day the club were taken over by Abu Dhabi owners and immediately broke the British transfer record on Robinho, but the Argentine became an adopted Mancunian and the heart and soul of what the club would to go onto achieve. Though Kompany was the captain, he often couldn’t play because of injury but Zabaleta was dependable every week and a massive influence in getting City’s long list of star imports to adapt to the realities of English football.

Cristiano Ronaldo won his first Ballon d'Or at United as he restored them to the top of football

Cristiano Ronaldo won his first Ballon d’Or at United as he restored them to the top of football

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