With Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sofiane Feghouli and Joel Matip all arriving in the Premier League for nothing this summer, who makes the best ever Premier League XI?
Goalkeeper: Brad Friedel (Liverpool to Blackburn)
There now follows a list of some of the goalkeepers used by Liverpool in the eight years Brad Friedel spent being brilliant at Blackburn having been released from Anfield: Sander Westerveld, Pegguy Arphexad, Chris Kirkland, Patrice Luzi, Paul Jones, Scott Carson, Daniele Padelli, Charles Itandje. You really don’t need any more evidence than that.
Right-back: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal to Manchester City)
In seven years at Arsenal, Sagna won one FA Cup. In two years at Manchester City, he has won one League Cup. I’m not saying that having the Frenchman in your squad is a bad omen for an elite club, but it doesn’t look good. If there had been a glut of other options available, Sagna wouldn’t have made this team.
That said, Sagna started 27 league games last season for City, and is still France’s first-choice right-back. For free, he’s a damn useful player to have around. Just not if you want to win trophies.
Left-back: Steve Staunton (Aston Villa to Liverpool, Liverpool to Aston Villa)
There’s always one isn’t there, moving on a free transfer twice during his career just so he can make lists as glamorous as this, printing it off for his friends and family. We see you, Steve Staunton. We see you.
The Irishman initially moved to Aston Villa for a fee in 1991, spending seven seasons at Villa Park. He was then surprisingly signed by Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier in 1998 on a free, playing 44 league games in two seasons. When that deal ended, Staunton moved back to Villa for another three years. A period of sporting palindrome.
Centre-back: Sol Campbell (Tottenham to Arsenal)
Heard about this one, haven’t you? Arguably the most controversial free transfer in football history, Campbell had rejected contract offers from Tottenham but allayed fears that he would leave the club on a free transfer. Barcelona and Real Madrid were among the clubs rumoured to be interested, but it was Arsenal that Campbell chose.
Campbell won two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and played in a Champions League final at Arsenal, but at least Spurs were rid of a man who would go on to become a professional Tory. Swings and roundabouts.
Centre-Back: Markus Babbel (Bayern Munich to Liverpool)
Babbel came close to a move to Manchester United in 1996, but it was Liverpool who he joined when his Bayern Munich contract expired four years later. The German was superb during his first season on Merseyside, an ever-present during their treble-winning season.
Unfortunately, Babbel was then laid low with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a debilitating immune weakness. He played four more times in the league for Liverpool over three years, before being loaned to Blackburn for the 2003/04 season. Still, it was worth it for 2000/01.
Holding midfielder: Ruud Gullit (Sampdoria to Chelsea)
Gullit actually started as a sweeper at Chelsea, before being moved up into midfield when Glenn Hoddle realised he was the best player in the division. At the age of 33, Gullit found the Premier League embarrassingly easy; he became a pipe and slippers footballer.
“Every time I played for Chelsea, I thought, ‘Nice game, beautiful stadium, great crowd, I’m playing well’. It was the only time I really had fun,” Gullit said. He came second in the Footballer of the Year award before being named player-manager and winning the FA Cup. Shsexy fuutbol.
Holding midfielder: Gareth Barry (Manchester City to Everton)
When Gareth Barry left Manchester City at the age of 33 on a permanent deal, Everton supporters probably expected to get one good season out of him. The midfielder had been playing regularly since the age of 17, and had started to slow down. Left-back had long previously become central midfielder.
Two years later, Barry was named as the club’s Player of the Year in a team which contained John Stones, Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku and three other players more likely to win the award. Now 35, Muhamed Besic’s latest injury means that Everton will need to once again call on their old wise owl.
Attacking midfielder: Gary McAllister (Coventry City to Liverpool)
There were a few raised eyebrows when Liverpool signed 36-year-old Gary McAllister in the summer of 2000. There were even more when McAllister was shortlisted for the most valuable player in Europe award a year later. Gerard Houllier described him as his “most inspirational signing”.
If you were going to pick one Liverpool moment of McAllister’s, it would have to be the last-second free kick from 40 yards out to win Liverpool the Merseyside derby, shortly followed by the sight of a middle-aged man running like a child to an ice cream van.
Attacking midfielder: Jay-Jay Okocha (PSG to Bolton Wanderers)
So good they named him twice, as I am contractually obliged to say. Initially signed as something of a punt by Sam Allardyce, Okocha soon established a reputation as one of the most exciting players to watch in Premier League history. After his goals kept Bolton up in his first season, Okocha was handed the captaincy and led through glorious example.
“His abilities as a footballer are outstanding,” Allardyce said. “I’ve seen many players display great skills during training but I’ve never seen anybody produce them like that on match day. Whenever you’re feeling miserable, all you have to do is to watch him come in with a great big smile and that really helps to lift up everybody.” He’s like an S Club 7 single in human form in that respect.
Striker: Jurgen Klinsmann (Sampdoria to Tottenham)
Jurgen Klinsmann had already made himself a bona fide Tottenham hero during the 1994/95 season, but returned on a free transfer after cancelling his contract at Sampdoria in January 1998. With Spurs floundering in a battle against relegation, they needed an oasis in the desert; Klinsmann was it.
The German scored his first goal in a 1-0 win over West Ham, but saved his best until the final weeks of the season. Klinsmann scored eight in Tottenham’s last nine games including four against Wimbledon, scored in each of the last three league games and promptly walked off into the sunset of retirement with thousands of well-wishing messages ringing in his ears.
Striker: Gianluca Vialli (Juventus to Chelsea)
Twelve months after getting giddy over Gullit’s arrival, Chelsea were
Facebook messaging WhatsApp messaging, paging, texting, ringing their friends’ landlines about the club’s signing of Gianluca Vialli, reigning Champions League winner.
Vialli scored 11 times in his first season in England and 19 more in his second, but by February 1998 had taken over as manager from Gullit, winning the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup before leading them to third in the Premier League the following year. Like Gullit, the Italian gentleman became a cult hero at Stamford Bridge.