10 Most Surprising Signings in Premier League History

Tony MabertContributor IApril 14, 2012

10 Most Surprising Signings in Premier League History

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    In these days of online coverage and 24-hour news stations devoted to sports, the concept of the big shock transfer is largely redundant.

    For example, the protracted reporting of Cesc Fabregas's move to Barcelona last summer was less of a saga and more of a transfer era. 

    However, there was a time when the first thing most people knew about a player signing for a new club was when they picked up the morning paper, meaning that the picture of a player grinning for the cameras as they held up their new jersey was a genuine water-cooler moment rather than a blessed conclusion to an interminable affair.

    Here, in reverse chronological order, are 10 transfers of the Premier League era which were truly surprising. Feel free to add your own entries below.

Andy Carroll

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    Newcastle United to Liverpool

    January 31st 2011, £35m

    Whilst the £50 million sale of Fernando Torres to Chelsea on January deadline day of last year was a huge deal, how Liverpool opted to spend a large portion of the fee was a real shock.

    Andy Carroll had enjoyed a good first half of the season, scoring 10 goals for Newcastle upon their return to the top flight, but the Reds' decision to spend a mind-blowing £35 million on a striker who had just turned 22 left some bemused and others in stitches.

    Carroll, who was injured at the time of his move to Anfield, took time to settle in on Merseyside. With nine goals in 50 appearances to date as Liverpool have toiled this season, it's not hard to argue that he still hasn't found his feet.

Carlos Tevez & Javier Mascherano

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    Corinthians to West Ham United

    August 31st 2006, Free transfer

    Nobody looked more surprised about the arrival of two of the most promising young talents in South American football rocking up at Upton Park than West Ham manager Alan Pardew.

    At the press conference announcing their arrival, Pardew looked none the wiser about the duo which had just landed in his lap in such suspicious circumstances.

    The concept of Media Sports Investments, run by Kia Joorabchian—owning these players and hawking their services out the Hammers as a means of putting them in the Premier League shop window—was alien to those in England. Fortunately, it has not caught on. 

    Mascherano went on to become a member of one of the greatest club sides ever assembled, whilst Tevez has come to embody some of the very worst aspects of the modern game.


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    Real Madrid to Manchester City

    September 1st 2008, £32.5m

    Manchester City changed the complexion of the top of the Premier League when Sheikh Mansour and his billions landed out of nowhere at the club on deadline day in 2008.

    They immediately laid down a marker by signing Brazil forward Robinho from Real Madrid for a British record £32.5 million fee, eclipsing the £30.5 million Manchester United had paid Tottenham for Dimitar Berbatov just hours earlier.

    After an unremarkable 18 months in England, he was loaned out to former club Santos and never came back, but the statement of intent was made and City have not looked back since. 

Youri Djorkaeff

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    Kaiserslautern to Bolton Wanderers

    February 13th 2002, Free transfer

    The unattractive style of Bolton Wanderers and their then-manager Sam Allardyce was hardly a combination that screamed European glamour, but that is just what was injected into the Lancashire club when World Cup and European Championship winner Djorkaeff arrived in 2002.

    The France attacker was sold by the vision of Allardyce, and his arrival preceded more unlikely star arrivals like Ivan Campo, Jay-Jay Okocha, Fernando Hierro and Mario Jardel.

    He may have been in the twilight of his career, but Djorkaeff's time at Bolton was proof positive of just how any club could be a place where star European names wanted to come.

Finidi George

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    Real Mallorca to Ipswich Town

    August 17th 2001, £3m

    Not the most memorable of transfers perhaps, but this one is a personal favourite. 

    Nigerian forward George—a Champions League winner at Ajax—arrived in the far less salubrious surroundings of Portman Road in 2001 after Ipswich had surprisingly finished fifth on their first back in the top flight.

    George scored twice against Derby County in a debut that was so sensational that—as reported by Sky Sports—stats gurus Opta declared his performance one of the best ever recorded. There is still a plaque at Opta's offices dedicated to his showing that day.

    However, George only scored five more times that season as Ipswich were relegated, and after an unremarkable season in English football's second tier, he left, eventually returning to Mallorca. 

Alan Shearer

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    Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United

    July 30th 1996, £15m

    In the aftermath of the 1996 European Championships—in which he finished top scorer as hosts England reached the semifinals—Alan Shearer was a superstar.

    The striker had already been a British record signing following his £3.6 million move to Blackburn in 1992, but when Newcastle paid what was at the time a world record £15 million fee to bring the Premier League winner to his beloved hometown club, jaws up and down the country dropped.

    Shearer retired in 2006 after a decade on Tyneside in which he scored 206 goals but did not win a single trophy.


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    Sao Paulo to Middlesbrough

    November 3rd 1995, £4.75m

    Middlesbrough is not exactly the sunniest place in England, being as it is an industrial heartland whose natives are sometimes referred rather condescendingly as "smoggies."

    But when diminutive Brazil international playmaker Juninho made the bizarre and unexpected move from Sao Paulo to Teesside, regulars at the Riverside Stadium gleefully took to giving their club a more Latin flavour.

    Juninho proved a massive hit in the North East and helped usher in an era at the club which saw superstars like Fabrizio Ravanelli and Emerson the following season, which ended in Boro losing two cup finals and suffering relegation.

    Such was the strong bond Juninho formed with the club, however, that he returned for two further spells there.

Andy Cole

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    Newcastle United to Manchester United

    January 12th 1995, £6m plus Keith Gillespie

    Perhaps the last time one of the big, title-challenging clubs in England sold their star player to another, Cole's surprise switch from Newcastle to Manchester United took everyone by surprise.

    Cole had scored 55 goals in just 70 league appearances for the Magpies, but they could not stop him switching to their biggest rivals for a fee which at that time was still a big deal.

    Cole went on to score goals galore during his seven years at Old Trafford and won the treble in 1999 along with myriad other trophies. Newcastle are still waiting for their silverware.

Sol Campbell

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    Tottenham Hotspur to Arsenal 

    July 3rd 2001, Free transfer

    A graduate of Tottenham's youth ranks, Sol Campbell embodied Tottenham throughout the 1990s. He was arguably England's best defender and served as their captain with distinction.

    When January 2001 rolled around, Campbell insisted that he would sign a new deal at the club at the end of the season and would not be leaving on a free transfer. Spurs, taking him at his word, rejected big money offers from clubs all over Europe, including one huge £15 million offer from Inter Milan.

    At the end of the season, Campbell did indeed sign a new contract in north London: down the road at Arsenal. Campbell won two titles with the Gunners—including the one in 2004 which they claimed by going unbeaten for a whole season—and scored for them in a Champions League final.

    It's fair to say that he was not exactly given the warmest of receptions whenever he returned to White Hart Lane. 

Eric Cantona

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    Leeds United to Manchester United

    November 27th 1992, £1.2m

    Often held up as one of the best bargains in English football history, Manchester United took advantage of Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson's growing impatience with the enigmatic Frenchman and gladly snapped him up.

    In return for the faith and trust placed in him by Ferguson, Cantona became the charismatic lynchpin around which much of United's dominance of the Premier League era was built. 

    Leeds have not lifted a major trophy since the league tile Cantona helped them win. Instead, the reward for the £300,000 profit they made on Cantona was financial ruin and relegation to English football's third tier.