Arsenal – Laurent Koscielny
Christ, how do we measure this? Mesut Ozil is perhaps the player who best sums up Arsenal’s decade and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has certainly offered value for money despite being a record signing. But can any signing made in the last ten years claim to have given more to the Gunners than Koscielny? The France defender blotted his copybook with the manner of his exit, but at age 33 with persistent injury problems, Koscielny was still too heavily relied upon by Unai Emery after being one of Arsene Wenger’s most trusted players. The former Lorient centre-back averaged 28 Premier League appearances over nine seasons, scoring pivotal goals in FA Cup finals and final-day clashes. Not bad for £8.5million.
Aston Villa – John McGinn
It’s been an up and down decade for Villa – literally – and McGinn has been one of the driving forces behind their return to the top flight. There were a few raised eyebrows when Manchester United were linked with the Scotland midfielder in the summer before he even had the opportunity to showcase in the Premier League why he would have been an astute signing for the Red Devils, even at that price. Alongside Villa’s local boy in midfield, McGinn has made the £2.8million Steve Bruce paid Hibernian 18 months ago an absolute steal.
Bournemouth – Callum Wilson
Eddie Howe’s front three all arrived between 2013 and 2015 for a combined fee of less than £3.5million but they have grown together to become a strike-force to rival the very best. Free signing Josh King is the only one of the trio not to come up from the Championship, while the Cherries forked out only £400,000 for Ryan Fraser, who has become one of the most creative players in the Premier League. But even though Wilson cost a considerable £3million in contrast, the centre-forward has worked his way up, through a couple of serious injuries, to become an England regular. There was talk of a £67million profit if Bournemouth were willing to take Wilson to market.
Brighton – Bruno
The Spaniard, then 31, cost Brighton nothing in 2012 when he left Valencia upon the expiry of his contract and Bruno spent five years as the Seagulls’ undisputed right-back in the Championship. He was named in the Championship’s Team of the Season two years consecutively before helping them get out of the second tier and into the Premier League for the first time in 34 years. By now 36, Bruno then played 39 games over two seasons before hanging up his boots earlier this year. “Bruno has become part of the fabric of this football club, this city,” said owner Tony Bloom, and he remains at the AmEx as part of Graham Potter’s coaching staff.
Burnley – Ashley Barnes
“Ashley is a robust, hard working centre-forward with an eye for goal,” said Sean Dyche in January 2014 and, really, there isn’t too much more to add. That might even do the top Premier League goalscorer in Burnley history a disservice. The undisclosed fee it took to sign him from Brighton was surely no more than £1m and absolutely no less than a bargain.
Chelsea – Eden Hazard
Not many players can fail to hide their desire to move on to bigger things yet still be sent on his way with nothing but hearty thanks and sincere best wishes. But Chelsea and their supporters recognised that Hazard had given them everything in seven years during which time he won the Premier League and Europa League a couple of times each. He was Chelsea’s player of the season in four of those years and at times he was unstoppable. Hence why Real Madrid paid perhaps four times the £32million Chelsea invested in Hazard when they signed him from under the noses of Manchester United.
Crystal Palace – Wilfried Zaha
Palace let Sir Alex Ferguson have Zaha for £1omillion in 2013 but it all started to go wrong when David Moyes instead took delivery of the raw winger. Zaha made four appearances for the Red Devils before being loaned back a year later and eventually bought back by Palace in 2015 for a third of the price. Five seasons in the Palace first team has made Zaha one of the most in-demand players in the Premier League, with United reportedly among the clubs considering giving the Eagles the £70million it might take to tempt them to selling their academy graduate once more.
Everton – Idrissa Gueye
“He was one of the players last season with the best record in interceptions and pressing in the midfield. We need this kind of quality,” said Ronald Koeman upon signing Gueye in 2016 and it remains true today. Because as Marco Silva will be painfully aware, the Toffees did not adequately replace the Senegal battler when they sold him to PSG for around £30mllion in the summer, which represented a £23million profit for Everton after they took Gueye in the Villa fire sale when they were relegated in 2016. Gueye then went on to establish himself as the second-best defensive midfielder in the country.
Leicester – Jamie Vardy
The best defensive midfielder in the country, N’Golo Kante, pushes Vardy close, as does Riyad Mahrez. All three played starring roles in Leicester’s incredible title triumph in 2016 but Vardy is having another go this season, seven-and-a-half years after joining the Foxes for £1million from non-league Fleetwood Town. The centre-forward had a couple of seasons in the Championship and a year-long warm-up in the Premier League before Leicester’s amazing season under Claudio Ranieri. Since 2015, Vardy has scored 51 goals in four full seasons, breaking the 20-goal barrier twice, which he is almost certain to do again this term given the 32-year-old has 16 goals in 16 games. His is the story of the decade.
Liverpool – Virgil van Dijk
The Reds signed some turkeys through the first half of the last decade – Luis Suarez was a notable exception – but they have certainly got their recruitment act together since Jurgen Klopp arrived in 2015. Any one of the front three can consider themselves unfortunate to miss out, as could Andrew Robertson who has gone from being a bargain buy from Hull to one of the world’s very best left-backs. Though Van Dijk cost ten times the price of Robertson, his impact cannot be questioned. Almost overnight, the world’s most expensive defender made £75million look a steal as he transformed Klopp’s porous defence into one of the sturdiest rearguards around. It says it all that many consider Van Dijk unlucky to come second behind Lionel f*cking Messi in the Ballon d’Or rankings.
Manchester City – Sergio Aguero
Yaya Toure and David Silva rocked up at the Etihad at the start of the decade and their legacy at City is almost unparalleled. But Aguero arrived the following year in 2011 for a club-record fee of around £38million and promptly set about becoming the club’s greatest ever goalscorer. The Argentina striker claimed that honour two years ago when he passed Eric Book’s 78-year record of 177 goals, with Aguero requiring 230 fewer appearances to go beyond the milestone. And he’s not done. Aguero stands on 244 goals in 354 appearances, which isn’t bad for a striker who had to remodel his game to fit in with Pep Guardiola’s methods.
Manchester United – David De Gea
We had Robin van Persie’s name written down before we remembered De Gea’s existence, which sums up United’s No.1 quite well. After showing balls of steel to overcome a wretched first 18 months at Old Trafford following his £22million move from Atletico Madrid, the Spaniard has been named the club’s player of the year more often than not with his no fuss, no nonsense approach to keeping the ball out of the net. It’s scary to think how much worse the post-Ferguson era might have been had it not been for De Gea’s brilliance behind what has been at times a shambolic defence.
Newcastle United – Yohan Cabaye
The midfielder who prompted Newcastle to focus so intently on the French market may have spent most of his final year at St James’ Park trying to force his exit, but Cabaye was a class act in the Toon engine room, especially alongside Cheick Tiote. The France international could pick a pass like a quarter-back but he also liked to put his foot in – sometimes too literally. When he did leave for PSG, Mike Ashley made a profit of around £15million, which is what the last decade has really been all about at Newcastle.
Norwich – Teemu Pukki
As free signings go, the Finland striker has certainly been one of the best of the decade. Pukki was widely viewed as a flop at Sevilla, Schalke and Celtic but despite often playing out of position, especially at Parkhead, his goalscoring record was not all that bad. He averaged a goal every 1.7 games in Germany and Scotland, and one in two at Brondby before Daniel Farke took him on a free at the start of last season. Pukki then become the Championship’s top scorer with 29 goals earning him the division’s Player of the Season award. Naturally, there were doubts over his suitability for the Premier League which Pukki has put to bed with a one in two strike rate again; he has torn it up in Euro 2020 qualifying too.
Sheffield United – John Fleck
At the age of 25, John Fleck found himself playing football in League One with Coventry City. In 2016, the Blades brought him to Bramall Lane on a free transfer and neither party has looked back since. Fleck was a relatively well-known name thanks to his potential on Football Manager and articles like The Times’ ‘Top 50 Rising Stars of Football’ list in 2009. Unfortunately for Fleck, he failed to live up to those expectations…until now. Now a Scotland international, Fleck helped Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United side to two promotions in three years, while he has got his name on the scoresheet twice this term as the Blades look at home in the Premier League.
Southampton – Sadio Mane
It could be Van Dijk again but instead let’s go with another world star who used Saints as a stepping stone towards Liverpool. “I’ll tell you the truth,” said the forward after signing on at St Mary’s in 2014. “Southampton is a very good club, but I didn’t want to go there. It was really complicated.” Mane certainly made the best of a bad situation by scoring a goal every three games in 75 appearances. Saints, as they so often did, turned a £24million profit on Mane, before stiffing Liverpool for £75million on Van Dijk. Or so we all thought…
Tottenham – Hugo Lloris
The France captain appeared decent value even before we’d seen him in the Premier League upon joining Spurs from Lyon for £12million in 2012. Seven-and-a-half years on, many of them spent as club captain, Lloris has proved to be one of the bargains of the decade. But Daniel Levy almost scuppered the deal when Jean Michel Aulas – himself a tough negotiator – accused the Spurs chairman of shifting the goalposts: “The negotiation with the Tottenham directors has been the hardest I have ever had to undergo in these 25 years.”
Watford – Troy Deeney
The Watford skipper has been a constant presence through a decade of persistent change at Vicarage Road. He cost £650,000 from Walsall in 2010 and almost a decade on remains one of their key figures, despite serving time in 2012, a spell in prison which Deeney credits for his rise to the Premier League and the fringes of the England squad. The no-nonsense centre-forward with little time for Arsenal is the Hornets’ fourth highest goalscorer ever with 123.
West Ham – Dimitri Payet
The France star burned his bridges by the time he finally snaked his way out of the London Stadium but it cannot be forgotten just how good he was during his only full season in the Premier League. Payet was perhaps the only genuinely world-class talent to have played for the Hammers in the last ten years, with his form in 2015-16 earning him a PFA Player of the Year nomination and and place in the PFA Team of the Year. Sadly, his commitment to West Ham didn’t match the club’s. Less than a year after signing a £125,000-a-week deal for five-and-a-half years, Payet made it abundantly clear he wanted to return to Marseille. So eventually, with a £15million profit, he was packed off back to the south of France.
Wolves – Joao Moutinho
Five million quid. That’s all Wolves paid Monaco last year for a 113-cap midfield maestro who had just become a European Championship winner. Though some of the old stalwarts who preceded the Portuguese invasion may feel hard done by, Moutinho has helped lift the club’s profile while pulling the strings in the base of Nuno’s midfield. We all knew Moutinho would have no problems pinging passes around Molineux but the midfielder’s instant adjustment to the physicality of the Premier League was expected to take a little longer. Already the 33-year-old has signed on for an additional two years.