£ for £ who really was the signing of the season?

The Premier League season has concluded for another year following a campaign of curious twists and a record number of goals. The finalised tally reads 1,063, the most for a 38-fixture season, breaking the previous record number of goals scored in a top-flight season involving 20 clubs – 1,060 – in the 1999/2000 campaign, when Manchester United won the title. Going in to last weekend’s final round of fixtures, 1,031 goals had been scored in 370 matches, a fraction under three goals a fixture. It meant that 30 goals needed to be scored to set a new Premier League best, and as the matches headed into stoppage-time, 29 goals had been scored – just one short of equalling the previous high.

In keeping with the excitement of the most recent Premiership term, Somen Tchoyi headed a dramatic equaliser for West Bromwich Albion to earn a 3-3 draw at Newcastle United and Crisitan Riveros made it 3-0 to Sunderland at West Ham United in the closing stages. But perhaps the most noteworthy late goal came at White Hart Lane, where Roman Pavlyuchenko’s late winner for Spurs sealed Birmingham City’s relegation. It was a crushing end to what has been a rollercoaster season for Birmingham, who won their first trophy for 48 years with a last-gasp 2-1 win over Arsenal in the Carling Cup final at Wembley in February, but have been battling relegation for most of the campaign.

But as Alex McLeish looks forward to at least a season in English football’s second tier, and attempts to hold on to his most important assets, which manager can look back at their decisions of last summer and be most vindicated, now the season is over, that last summer’s transfer activity proved to be good business? Manchester United were crowned champions for a record 19th time, and although initially considered amongst the favourites, struggled to convince observers early on of their title credentials. During a turbulent autumn, when Wayne Rooney announced his intention to leave Old Trafford following months of unacceptably indifferent form, Dimitar Berbatov kept the Red Devils towards the Premier League summit with a haul of important goals.

While the Bulgarian’s performances were welcomed with pleasant surprise by Sir Alex Ferguson and the United faithful, after his first two seasons at Old Trafford had been assessed with disappointment, the immediate impact of £6million signing, Javier Hernandez, provided even greater cause for encouragement. The Mexican maintained the momentum he built at last summer’s World Cup in South Africa where he scored against France and Argentina, supplying as many as eleven winning goals for United over the course of the recently culminated season. His thirteen goals in the League placed him joint 6th in the top scorers list, and considering Asamoah Gyan, who Sunderland signed for more than double Hernandez’s fee, only finished ten chances this season, the Mexican’s value is almost unbeatable for a striker making his debut season in Europe.

But as Hernandez himself has implied several times, he remains in good company, having joined a club regularly expected to challenge for honours. Further down the League, all the way to one of the promoted sides, another forward new to Premier League football perhaps provided an even more significant contribution in his maiden campaign. Peter Odemwingie was in fact signed for under half of Hernandez’s fee – £2.5million – and scored 15 goals in the League; 28% of West Bromwich Albion’s goals in their first term back from the Championship. It is believed that the Baggies succeeded in capturing the Nigerian striker following firm interest from Juventus last summer, and his continued attendance at the Hawthornes is considered the club’s biggest struggle facing the impending transfer window. “Every club wants a goal-scorer and there aren’t many around,” explains defender, Paul Scharner. “But I believe that he will stay if we show the ambition this summer and convince him that we are moving in the right direction. It’s always a worry, when a player does well, that other clubs might want them. But I would hope he will stay.”

Although the likes of Mauro Boselli, Bebe, and Joe Cole, amongst others, failed to deliver what was promised last summer, a number of new recruits can look back on their first Premiership season with considerable pleasure. Rafael van der Vaart certainly justifies his billing as one of the shrewdest transfers of the season, following an £8million move, and Seamus Coleman, at £80,000, proved to be one of the more encouraging aspects of Everton’s erratic season. It is difficult to judge the ultimate value for money signing, seeing as a player’s impact is only relevant to their club’s ambitions, but several stars have emerged this year, and managers will have to act fast to snap up next year’s version of Hernandez or Odemwingie.

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