Ranking every Premier League manager by the success of their most expensive career signing

Matt Stead
Mikel Arteta embraces Benjamin White

Four Premier League managers have made their biggest career signings this month and will do well to match the success of Mikel Arteta or Antonio Conte.

To be clear, these rankings are based on how well the signing did under the specific manager who bought them, not necessarily whether they were a hit for the club. Which gives us these bosses in the worst two spots…


20) David Moyes – Juan Mata
So apparently contentious was the £37.1m transfer which took Juan Mata from Chelsea to Man Utd in January 2014 that Jose Mourinho said of Arsene Wenger he would “find him one day outside a football pitch and I will break his face”. That was about as animated and dramatic as the Spaniard’s eight-year stay at Old Trafford ever was. Mata failed to rescue David Moyes, who was sacked three months, 12 appearances, three goals and five assists after his arrival, but the midfielder left long after with a Europa League, FA Cup and League Cup to add to his collection.


19) Julen Lopetegui – Thibaut Courtois
While Julen Lopetegui would have hoped to benefit a little more on a personal level from the signing of Thibaut Courtois in summer 2018, Real Madrid remain eternally grateful for their erstwhile manager’s input. The coach lasted 138 days at the Bernabeu, with Courtois the keeper for a run of three consecutive defeats which culminated in a 5-1 thrashing by Barcelona and Lopetegui’s sacking. Both club and manager have moved onto more suitable partners since, even if things are hardly amicable.


18) Graham Potter – Mykhaylo Mudryk
Those 35 minutes against Liverpool were something else


17) Jesse Marsch – Georginio Rutter
Twelve career goals in 70 appearances for a forward at the age of 20 is enough to warrant a potential £35m transfer nowadays and that’s fine.


16) Gary O’Neil – Dango Ouattara
It’s difficult to judge the success of Bournemouth’s signing from Lorient until we see Dango unchained by Gary O’Neil.


15) Thomas Frank – Keane Lewis-Potter
Mikkel Damsgaard cost £11.8m, rising to a potential £16.8m. Aaron Hickey cost £14m, rising to a potential £18m. Keane Lewis-Potter cost £16m, rising to a potential £20m. Hickey is the only one of the three who has featured close to regularly for Brentford, with Lewis-Potter starting three Premier League games and struggling to overcome pesky fitness issues.


14) Nathan Jones – Carlos Alcaraz
“I thought he was outstanding,” said Nathan Jones of Carlos Alcaraz’s full Southampton debut in the League Cup defeat to Newcastle. The midfielder has already leapt above Guido Carrillo in the Argentinean Saint stakes but has work to do to surpass Paulo Gazzaniga and Willy Caballero.


13) Roberto De Zerbi – Pedrinho
Through no particular fault of anyone, the €18m deal which took Pedrinho from Benfica to Shakhtar Donetsk has been defined by frustration. A solid start saw the winger score four goals, assist three, play in the Champions League and win the Ukrainian Super Cup but the Russian invasion cut his first season short and Pedrinho is now one of 18 players – and seven Brazilians – out on loan.


12) Erik ten Hag – Antony
So pleased with the results of his most expensive Ajax purchase was Erik ten Hag that he sought to repeat the feat. It took £18.2m to bring Antony to Amsterdam from Sao Paulo and rather more to transport him as the manager’s late luggage to Old Trafford. And frankly it has not gone quite as well as it did in the Eredivisie, even if Ten Hag has earned enough faith to continue with the experiment.


11) Patrick Vieira – Cheick Doucoure
An impressive start to Premier League life has given way to a post-World Cup slump which sums up Crystal Palace’s shortcomings more than Cheick Doucoure’s. Once they sign an actual midfielder they might see the Malian at his best again.


10) Eddie Howe – Alexander Isak
It is difficult to properly appraise a player who was signed five months ago and has been unavailable through injury for three since, yet Alexander Isak has three goals in 284 Premier League minutes and an assist which has put Newcastle on their way to Wembley, so the Swede should drag his manager up this ranking soon.


9) Sean Dyche – Chris Wood and Ben Gibson
The frankly dreadful Burnley spell of Ben Gibson
(six appearances in three years, including just 63 Premier League minutes during which the Clarets conceded three goals) is offset by the effective brilliance of Chris Wood (53 goals and nine assists in 165 games).


8) Pep Guardiola – Jack Grealish
Eight goals and assists apiece from 64 matches is a return Jack Grealish himself has criticised but Pep Guardiola seems to trust and rely on his British record purchase more with each game. The big fish outgrew a relatively small pond at Aston Villa and is only just learning to swim with the Manchester City sharks.


7) Unai Emery – Neymar
It is a little weird that the actual most expensive player in world football history was technically signed by someone Geoff Shreeves used to take the piss out of during live broadcasts. Neymar was a Paris Saint-Germain plaything; Unai Emery just happened to be in charge of the Ligue Un giants at the time. The only season they spent together produced 28 goals and 16 assists in 30 appearances for the forward – Neymar’s overall PSG totals now stand at 116, 75 and 168 respectively – but a characteristically chastening Champions League defeat.


6) Marco Silva – Richarlison
“I think it is going to be important for me to be with Marco Silva again,” said new Everton signing Richarlison, who had his wish fulfilled for about 18 months before the manager was sacked by the Toffees. They had a happy enough union until then; before Aleksandar Mitrovic came along, Richarlison had scored the most goals of any player under Silva (26) throughout the Portuguese’s coaching career.


5) Steve Cooper – Morgan Gibbs-White
The £40m fee made for an eye-catching headline but at an initial £25m, Morgan Gibbs-White has become the player without whom Nottingham Forest do not click. Steve Cooper pursued his fellow U17 World Cup winner for a reason and has been rewarded handsomely so far.


4) Mikel Arteta – Benjamin White
Brighton wanted £50m. Arsenal offered £40m. Brighton rejected it. Arsenal offered £47m. Brighton rejected it. Arsenal offered £50m. Brighton accepted it. Arsenal never again tried to bargain with a professional poker player. Their chase and subsequent eventual capture of Benjamin White was widely derided at the time but turned out to be one of many masterful pieces in a title-worthy jigsaw, even if some do think he can be upgraded.


3) Brendan Rodgers – Youri Tielemans
Claude Puel’s final signing joined Leicester on loan in January 2019 and made the move permanent under Brendan Rodgers that summer. The Belgian did not pay back his £40m fee with his tremendous goal in the 2021 FA Cup final because winning that competition only earns a club £2m but the sentiment remains that he has been an excellent player who earned a proud place in their history.


2) Antonio Conte – Romelu Lukaku
Once you overcome the initial instinct to scoff and ridicule, it really is rather simple. Antonio Conte identified Romelu Lukaku as his priority signing for Inter Milan in summer 2019, securing the Belgian for a club-record £74m fee. Lukaku scored 64 goals in 95 games across their two seasons together, winning Serie A, reaching consecutive Coppa Italia semi-finals and finishing as Europa League runners-up. Inter then sold Lukaku for a £23.5m profit and even loaned him back later from the same club they shipped him off to.


1) Jurgen Klopp – Virgil van Dijk
Sorry to disappoint, but Darwin Nunez is not Liverpool or Jurgen Klopp’s record transfer just yet. The forward cost an initial £64m and if he ever does activate the clauses necessary to take the deal to £85m, he would have earned a fume-inducingly high place on this list. As it is, Virgil van Dijk’s gilded spell remains the Anfield benchmark. The Dutchman is not and might never again be at his imperious best but he and they have won it all together.