The Premier League is the absolute best, isn’t it?
This is a league that boasts some of the greatest footballers in the world, some of the very best teams, and some of the most historic results ever seen.
Some players end up becoming icons, making the league their own and placing their stamp on their respective teams.
Here, Football FanCast takes a look at some of the most important transfers in the league’s history.
Whether they instituted a tactical shift or potentially allowed a new era to dawn, these are some of the very finest transfers in the league’s history!
Today, the Premier League is awash with full-backs who act almost as wingers, bombing down the touchline to provide space and width for the midfielder in front of them to tuck inside. But back in the summer of 2003, that was a relatively uncommon idea – in fact, the right-back position was generally occupied by the worst player in the team, expected to put in the leg-work, make some meaty challenges and eventually pick up a booking.
But Arsene Wenger’s swoop for then-Mallorca midfielder Lauren soon changed all that. With one-time reserves forward Ashley Cole asked to make a similar transition on the opposite side, overlapping full-backs became a defining feature of Arsenal’s attacking play as the Invincibles carved up the Premier League in unprecedented unbeaten fashion.
That not only led to Arsenal’s 2003/04 squad becoming arguably the greatest side in Premier League history over the course of a single season, but also accelerated a trend of dynamic full-backs that’s now commonplace throughout the division today.
Didier Drogba’s 2004 arrival at Chelsea not only helped transform the Blues almost instantaneously into one of the Premier League’s most dominant forces, winning four titles during his two spells at the west London club, but also changed the tactical landscape of the division for the next ten years.
Indeed, the appointment of Jose Mourinho brought a new way of tactical thinking to the English top flight; chiefly, a rejection of the age-old 4-4-2 formation for an extra body in midfield, allowing for greater control of midfield and the consequential possession to pin teams back.
That, however, required a striker large, aggressive and potent enough to essentially do the work of two centre-forwards, whilst having the power and strength to bring the midfield into the game.
Drogba fitted that bill perfectly and as the rest of the Premier League soon embraced 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 as a consequence of Chelsea’s resounding success under Mourinho, pint-sized poachers quickly began to fade away – the age of little-and-large combos coming to an abrupt end.
The Premier League is very much a squad game these days, but Sir Alex Ferguson was one of the first to truly cotton onto that trend. His ability to not only pick the right players for the right game but also keep happy those who’d resultantly been left out was always exceptional, as was his ability to change the game from the bench.
Curiously, the Premier League increased the substitutes capacity to five during the same year Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived at Old Trafford from little-known Molde in 1996. And whilst the Norway international always struggled to claim a place in the starting XI over the likes of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham, he offered United something truly unique as the Premier League’s first standout super-sub.
Fast forward to present day and super-subs can be seen in practically every Premier League squad but particularly those at the top end of the table. Think of Manchester City regularly bringing Gabriel Jesus on for Sergio Aguero, or Liverpool giving Divock Origi a few minutes at the end of their most vital games.
Robinho’s Premier League career may have been unexpectedly short-lived, lasting just 18 months at Manchester City, but his shock move signified a dramatic shift in the balance of power in the English top flight, arriving from Real Madrid on the same day the Abu Dhabi United Investment Group purchased the Citizens.
The Brazilian provided a real eye-opener for what was to come at the Etihad Stadium; not only players of the highest calibre but particularly aesthetic and glamorous ones at that.
The £32.5million deal – at the time, one of the biggest transfer fees in Premier League history – also announced City as the latest member of the elite at the very top of the English game, funded by stupidly rich owners who were capable of unprecedented spending.
Robinho was very much the trailblazer for all the exotic, ludicrously expensive signings to follow and the key to City attracting players of that top-class calibre.
Following its introduction in 1995, the Bosman ruling wasn’t being taken advantage of by Europe’s biggest talents, particularly those in the Premier League. So when Steve McManaman left Liverpool for Real Madrid by way of a free transfer in 1999, the move sent shockwaves throughout English football.
It proved to be a watershed moment for not only professional footballers, who suddenly realised they had the power to dictate terms to their employers, but also Liverpool Football Club.
The decline at Anfield from the end of the 1980s was already underway, but McManaman ditching his boyhood club for Real was a real sign of the times, kickstarting a trend Liverpool have never truly arrested since – namely, their key players quitting Merseyside for Europe’s most illustrious clubs. Michael Owen would follow not long after, with Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho both heading to Barcelona.
More detrimentally, McManaman’s decision to take advantage of the relatively recent ruling increased its notoriety throughout the footballing world, partly leading to the situation today where player wages have escalated beyond all proportion – power shifting away from the clubs and into the hands of footballers and their agents. Of course, that can’t all be put on Jean-Marc Bosman’s doorstep let alone McManaman’s. But for two huge reasons, his free transfer to the Bernabeu has shaped much of the Premier League as we see it today.
Leicester City’s title triumph is without a doubt one of the greatest miracles in sporting history, let alone throughout the history of the Premier League.
Whilst a whole raft of factors collided to create a perfect storm that saw a side narrowly avoid relegation and then beat some of the richest clubs in the world to the Premier League title, there is little doubt it wouldn’t have been possible without the £5.6million acquisition of little-known N’Golo Kante from Caen.
A small fee for a particularly small player, one who had been turned down by big clubs before because of his height, but the Frenchman’s influence was nothing short of ginormous.
His relentless energy not only protected a largely average back four but also allowed for Leicester to play unfashionably with two in central midfield and two up front, which created the dynamics for Jamie Vardy to play off Leonardo Ulloa and penetrate the space behind opposition defences.
Kante now plies his trade with Chelsea and subsequently became the first player ever to win consecutive Premier League titles with two different clubs. That was no coincidence either; utilising Kante’s incredible workrate once again, Antonio Conte also opted for two in the engine room in his 3-4-3 formation – freeing room for another attacking presence in the final third.
Eric Cantona arrived in English football a matter of months before the first Premier League season, rather ironically joining the bitter rivals of the club he’s now synonymous with – Leeds United. But the Frenchman couldn’t settle at Elland Road and just a few months into the inaugural Premier League campaign, he crossed the divide in a £1.2million move to Manchester United.
That would be where Cantona not only established himself as a Premier League and Manchester United legend, winning four out of the first five Premier League titles to earn the title ‘King Eric’, but also where he showed English football the enormous potential in attracting players from abroad – something the newly increasing wealth of the English top flight suddenly facilitated.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains a never-ending debate, but there is no question Cantona’s talismanic performances for United made the rest of the Premier League realise the level of talent available abroad.
He was one of the first steps in turning the Premier League into the most international, competitive and exciting leagues in world football.