Record breaking transfers are all very well, but if we had to name the five deals that have had the most lasting legacy on the Premier League which five would they be? Here are my choices;
Eric Cantona- Difficult to believe that if Dion Dublin hadn’t been injured then Eric Cantona may have never made the move from Leeds United to Old Trafford, but somehow Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson decided that the Frenchman was surplus to requirements and Cantona was sold for 1.2 million pounds in November 1992.
Prior to his arrival Manchester United hadn’t won the title for twenty-six years, but they won the inaugural Premier League trophy comfortably that season and the rest, as they say, is history.
Cantona never enjoyed European success at the club and he was certainly not the only great player that Ferguson signed, but he was undoubtedly the one that came to define Manchester United for years to come and, so important in the modern age, made them a true international “brand” once again.
Dennis Bergkamp- Arsene Wenger may not have signed the Dutch forward (that was Bruce Rioch in June 1995) but it was he who established that the traditional English style could be aligned with continental technique.
Bergkamp had been a failure at Inter Milan and started slowly at Arsenal, but the arrival of Wenger transformed both his own career and the club as a whole. The culmination of which was the “invincible” season of 2003-04 where the team achieved the seemingly impossible task of avoiding defeat in all their Premier League games.
Like Cantona, Bergkamp never achieved greatness at the European club level, but the success of a forward with flair paved the way for likes of Zola, Henry, and so many more to enter the English game.
Seth Johnson- Johnson rarely gets mentioned in the same breath as Cantona and Bergkamp (actually he never gets mentioned in the same breath as Cantona and Bergkamp) but there is an argument to be made that his move from Derby County to Leeds United in 2001 still produces ripples to this day.
In truth Leeds made so many bad deals at that time that any number of players could fill this role but there is a story about Johnson’s move that has enshrined it in legend (the apocryphal nature of the story is for you to decide).
Seemingly while negotiating the deal, Johnson’s agent arrived in Leeds’ Chairman Peter Ridsdale’s office determined to double his clients salary to thirteen thousand pounds a week, only to hear Ridsdale make an opening offer of thirty thousand pounds a week.
The agent was so stunned that he just shook his head, causing Ridsdale to up his offer to thirty-seven thousand pounds a week.
Johnson barely played for Leeds and was just one of many signings that precipitated a decline that the club have yet to recover from, but he became the poster boy for the wild excesses of football transfers and wages amongst the general public, and maybe even helped to stop a few other clubs “living the dream” in the same way that Leeds so disastrously did.
Carlos Tevez- Perhaps when Tevez refused to play for Corinthians in 2006 because he was desperate to join West Ham we should have seen the writing on the wall but join West Ham he did and, despite a 5.5 million pounds fine for breach of Premier League transfer policy, he helped the Hammers to stay in the Premier League.
It was the 2007 move to Manchester United though that still has implications to this day. Disputes about who “owned” Tevez led to FIFA suggesting that the case be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but the threat of High Court action eventually led the Premier League to approve a deal between West Ham and the management company that acted as the player’s agent.
The saga continues, but Tevez had established the possibility that player movements can be initiated by parties that have no links to any club at all, and the reality that the legal process can be as important in a transfer as how a player fits into the team from a tactical point of view.
Clause Makelele- Makelele may not have the superstar status of some of his contemporaries but then none of them have a role named after them, so it all evens out I guess.
In the same way that Bergkamp was bequeathed to Wenger by Bruce Rioch so Makelele was inherited by Jose Mourinho after Claudio Ranieri was fired, and again it was a case of the right player in the right place (a phrase that somehow sums up Makelele’s whole career) for his presence allowed Mourinho to play an attacking 4-3-3 system safe in the knowledge that the Frenchman was there to break down so many of the opposition attacks before they even reached the back four.
Without Makelele Chelsea may have never established themselves as one of the top clubs in the world, Roman Abramovich may have moved to pastures new, and Jose Mourinho may never have been the superstar coach that went on to take the helm at Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
There we have it; a roll call of heroes and villains that have helped to shape the way that the Premier League is both played and perceived.
I’m guessing that some of you may have other nominees.
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