2020 vision: Every PL club’s best signing of the decade so far

Dave Tickner
Aaron Ramsdale, Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Jota.

Every Premier League team’s best signing of the decade so far is what we’ve gone for here. Why? Because it’s January and an international break and there’s precious else to do, really. The decade started on January 1 2020, by the way, and we’re not interested in any of your maths or bumwater about it starting any other date okay? Cheers.

On we go then.


Arsenal – Aaron Ramsdale
Arsenal’s best newcomers over this period have come from within thanks to the elevations of both Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe from academy prospects to first-team mainstays. Arsenal did plenty of good, solid work in the summer but Ramsdale gets the nod because a) he’s been very good and b) absolutely everyone slagged this deal off at the time (including us) and it’s important to remind ourselves from time to time – and the start of a piece like this is as good a place as any – that when it comes to transfers nobody knows anything. After that fine summer, Arsenal are now back engaged in the traditional annual NLD that comes around every January to see who can make a bigger bollocks of it. Latest score: goalless draw.


Aston Villa – Emi Martinez
Bantered Arsenal off by signing their best goalkeeper which the Gunners didn’t seem that fussed about for reasons that still aren’t particularly clear. Hasn’t been as good this season as last, but still a lovely bit of business.


Brentford – Ivan Toney
There can be few better examples anywhere of the success of any club’s overarching philosophy than Brentford almost getting promotion to the Premier League, promptly selling the two players most obviously responsible for getting them so close – Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma – for a combined fee north of £50m and then spending a tenth of that on a Watkins replacement in Toney who then scores 33 goals to get you promoted at the next time of asking. Has done perfectly fine in the top flight, too.


Brighton – Tariq Lamptey
Three million quid for one of the most promising of England’s 439 professional right-backs is all right, isn’t it? He’s either going to stay at Brighton for a decade and be brilliant for them or bring in a bumper transfer windfall after a shorter period of time being brilliant for them. Either way, decent.


Six massive transfers that came out of absolutely nowhere


Burnley – Maxwel Cornet
Exciting and foreign? Genuinely don’t know went wrong with the Burnley-Dyche algorithm to throw this one up, but we’re glad it did.


Chelsea – Edouard Mendy
Has slightly reverted to the mean from a very high starting point, as megabucks megaflop Kepa has from a very low base, but still. You shouldn’t get too much credit for coming up with a “bargain” £20m fix for a £70m clusterf*ck of your own creation, but still. Things were unravelling fast with Kepa clowning around and chucking one in his net every week and then Mendy came along and just literally didn’t concede a goal for like two months or some such thing. They don’t win the Champions League without him, which means even if he does nothing else useful ever again (and he has and will) he’s already been a top-drawer bit of business.


Crystal Palace – Eberechi Eze
Despite the injuries he’s still done more than enough to show he’s no £16million player. In a good way. Fully deserves this spot unless and until Palace can somehow convince Chelsea to let them have Conor Gallagher on a more permanent basis.


Everton – Abdoulaye Doucoure
In that tantalisingly brief period at the start of last season when it looked like against all the odds Everton were going to be a serious football team again, the grace and guile of James Rodriguez and Richarlison plus the goals of Dominic Calvert-Lewin were key drivers of the, in hindsight obvious, illusion. But really it was the midfield duo of Allan and Doucoure that really marked that Everton side out as being capable of something tangible until it went all Everton on us faster than even the most pessimistic Toffee could have expected.


Leeds – Raphinha
Leeds have, clearly, done plenty of good things over the last few years, culminating in not just getting back to the Premier League after all this time but doing so with style. Even this year, when they have had absolutely no footballers available, they should still be fine. But while others – notably signing Illan Meslier for a mere £5million – might ultimately be more shrewd, none have brought the fun and the joy of Raphinha, who has provided 14 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League and established himself in the Brazil side since rocking up in Yorkshire for a non-hefty fee of just 16 million quid.

Leeds United winger Raphinha
Leicester – Timothy Castagne
As is customary for all Leicester players, has spent significant time out of the side due to injury but has been pretty bloody good when making it to the pitch. Tricky team to do here, Leicester, because their current squad was pretty much established by 2020 with just some tinkering around the edges required. Youri Tielemans and James Justin and the like fall sadly outside our remit here.


Liverpool – Diogo Jota
Another club, albeit on a higher level, for whom tinkering around the edges of an already excellent squad has been the order of the 20s. Jota was hardly a budget piece of said tinkering at £40million, but given the existing quality of Liverpool’s front three to spend what is now a relatively small amount of money at the elite level and improve the team was pretty impressive. Broadly a one-in-three man during his fine career at Wolves, the Portuguese attacker has lifted that to one in two during a first 18 months at Anfield, where the only frustration has been injury.


Manchester City – Ruben Dias
Okay, £60million for a centre-back is quite a lot of money. Counterpoint: he’s really bloody good. City have conceded just 33 goals in his 53 Premier League appearances and are well on the way to a second league title. City have other handy central defenders in Aymeric Laporte and John Stones, but Ruben Dias was top dog from the moment he got in the team.


Manchester United – Bruno Fernandes
There’s an interesting counterfactual to be concocted in a world where United don’t sign Bruno Fernandes in January 2020. On the one hand, United would be a much worse football team than they have been over the last couple of years, time mostly spent being dragged along kicking and screaming towards competence by their brilliant and talismanic playmaker. They would have been so, so sh*t without him. On the other hand, would Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have been able to cling on so grimly in a Bruno-less world? Surely not. United might have sorted themselves out and have a proper full-time manager and everything by now. It’s basically Bruno’s fault they haven’t. Maybe we should put him on The Other List. Not really, though. He’s ace.


Newcastle – Callum Wilson
There’s a pretty grim hinterland between the signing of Allan Saint-Maximin in August 2019 and… whatever Newcastle might do over the coming years. Alas, that hinterland covers the precise period of interest to us. Callum Wilson has been pretty good for a £20m striker, though, scoring 18 goals in 41 Premier League games for a team that has spent most of that period being quite heroically sh*t. He’s in.


Norwich – Ben Gibson
Underwhelming, isn’t it? Maybe Josh Sargent will score a few more absurd goals now he’s got his eye in with that double at Watford. It’s all a bit of a far cry from the glorious month of July 2018 when Norwich signed Tim Krul, Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki for a combined £1.35m.


Southampton – Kyle Walker-Peters
A brilliant right-back who has also done a perfectly serviceable job as an emergency left-back. Tellingly, Spurs have signed two first-team right-backs since first letting Walker-Peters head to Southampton, initially on loan and then permanently for a mere £11million. Neither are as good as Walker-Peters, and they are now actively (if unsuccessfully) pursuing a third.


Tottenham – Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg
I put it to you that Spurs have not made a single truly successful signing since Lucas Moura in January 2018. Even the loan signing of Gareth Bale last season wasn’t the success it could and should have been because Jose Mourinho decided, uncharacteristically, to be a petty, spiteful prick about it and not pick him. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s lack of technical quality is starting to grind Spurs fans’ gears, but their midfield would have been a complete non-entity for much of the last 18 months without him. He may not be the midfielder Spurs want, but he has been the one they needed.


Watford – Emmanuel Dennis
Not much has gone right for Watford on their latest return to the Premier League. They’re already on their third manager, which is wildly on brand but surely sub-optimal and find themselves 19th after losing 3-0 at home to a Norwich side for whom that represents 23 per cent of their goalscoring for the entire season. The highlight of the night for the Hornets was when the lights went out. Dennis the Menace has had a good season, though. Eight goals, five assists, one red card. It’s a standout contribution in every way in a side that tends increasingly toward the drab.


West Ham – Tomas Soucek
Jarrod Bowen another massive contender here, but it is the arrival of Soucek – initially on loan in the second half of the 2019/20 season – and the instant rapport he struck up with Declan Rice in the middle of the park that most distinctly and dramatically differentiates the old West Ham (completely sh*t) from the new (not at all sh*t). West Ham have a central midfield that pretty much any side in the country would be pretty happy with, and that is a pretty crazy state of affairs really. Not bad for £15million, is it?


Wolves – Jose Sa
Replacing Rui Patricio, a cornerstone of Wolves’ broadly successful first three years back in the Premier League, was no easy task. Things could have gone badly wrong for Wolves if they got this transfer wrong. They did not. Patricio’s compatriot Jose Sa has, if anything been even better, conceding just 16 goals in 21 Premier League appearances with eight clean sheets as Wolves position themselves back in the top eight on the back of defensive solidity. Sa has been ever-present in a Wolves team that has conceded fewer goals than everyone bar the champions and cost just £7million.