PL25: The Premier League’s greatest ever cameo signings

Earlier this week, Manchester United favourite Henrik Larsson celebrated his 46th birthday. And much like the 5 foot 9 former forward himself, his stay in English football was short and sweet – in fact, it lasted just 13 games across all competitions as Sir Alex Ferguson signed him on a short-term loan from Helsingborg.

Nonetheless, the Swedish icon is well-remembered by those at Old Trafford for his role in their 2006/07 Premier League title win, providing quality on the pitch and an extra sense of leadership in the dressing room.

So in honour of Larsson’s birthday, here’s a look at some of the greatest cameo signings in Premier League history – top talents who came, saw, conquered and left as abruptly as they’d arrived…

Esteban Cambiasso

Before Leicester City were miraculous Premier League title winners, they were fighting for their lives at the very foot of the Premier League table. Keeping them slightly afloat, however, was former Real Madrid and Inter Milan star Esteban Cambiasso, who moved to the King Power Stadium on a free transfer in summer 2014 – four years after lifting the Champions League title.

Cambiasso turned 34 at the start of the campaign but the quality he provided in midfield became talismanic; in fact, it was his goal against Everton in February that earned Leicester a first point in five games and his opening goal against West Ham that secured the Foxes’ first win in eight. The Midlands outfit completed their great escape with 22 points from their final nine games, with Cambiasso featuring in all of them.

Seemingly feeling he’d done all he could for Leicester, Cambiasso decided to leave on a high and headed for Olympiacos. If only he knew what’d happen next.

Fernando Hierro

When Fernando Hierro lifted a third Champions League title in 2002, he can’t have imagined he’d end his career with a twilight campaign at Bolton Wanderers, but that’s the magic of Sam Allardyce for you.

After spending a year in Qatar, the 89-cap Spain international signed for the Trotters on a free transfer in 2004, partnering up with former Real Madrid team-mate Ivan Campo and joining the curious rabble of ageing one-time world beaters Allardyce had somehow lured to the Reebok Stadium.

One can only imagine what Hierro thought of Anthony Barness and Ricky Shakes (a then-youthful striker whose career has gone on to be as obscure as you’d imagine), but Hierro went on to make 29 appearances, mostly starts, as Bolton went on to record their highest finish of the Premier League era and qualify for the Europa League.

Despite incredibly thorough attempts to convince him otherwise, Hierro hung up his boots at the end of the campaign.

Jurgen Klinsmann (second spell)

Jurgen Klinsmann breaches out cameo criteria somewhat, having already enjoyed one affluent spell at Tottenham Hotspur during the 1994/95 season.

Yet, it was the German icon who the Lilywhites were forced to turn to two years later as the genuine threat of relegation loomed over them, signing him on loan from Sampdoria in January for the second half of the season.

Upon his arrival, Spurs were in 18th-place and staring at life in the second tier, but Klinsmann’s run of nine goals in 15 games – including four in a 6-2 win over relegation rivals Wimbledon – steered the White Hart Lane outfit clear to safety.

After Spurs had secured a 14th-place finish, the 82-cap striker decided to hang up his boots – although he later went on to enjoy a brief swansong in the MLS in the early 2000s.

Asamoah Gyan

Asamoah Gyan varies slightly to the rest of our cameo heroes in that he’s not remembered too fondly by those at former club Sunderland, largely because he took the audacious step of forcing a move to Al-Ain in Abu Dhabi where he picked up a small fortune (even by footballer standards) as a weekly salary.

But for his single season on Wearside, the Ghana international was an invaluable asset, his ten goals in 31 appearances pushing the Black Cats to the dizzying heights of 10th place – their highest finish in the Premier League barring two consecutive seasons of second place in the 1990s.

That was the 31-year-old’s final stint in European football until signing for Turkish outfit Kayserispor during the summer.

Christophe Dugarry

A World Cup and Euro winner with France and a one-time member of AC Milan and Barcelona’s illustrious midfields, Birmingham City’s shock swoop for Christophe Dugarry in 2003 certainly caught the Premier League world off-guard.

At that point, Birmingham had just gained promotion from the championship and were fighting for survival at the bottom of the top flight, but Dugarry’s mid-season arrival on loan added class to an attack that also included such dignified talents as Geoff Horsefield, Stern John and Clinton Morrison.

He bagged five goals in 15 appearances to ensure top-flight survival for Steve Bruce’s side, and even signed a permanent contract at St. Andrew’s. Dugarry’s next 15 outings weren’t quite so successful, scoring just once before terminating his contract, but he now takes pride of place in Birmingham City’s Hall of Fame.