10 Biggest Intra-EPL Transfers of All Time
Everyone likes a big-money move.
The buying club likes the player that they get, the selling club likes the money and the neutrals enjoy taking bets on whether the move is a dream purchase or if it will implode a few months down the line.
So to soothe the frustration of there being so many stalled moves this summer—as with every summer—we’ve compiled a list of the biggest intra-Premier League transfers since the league was formed in 1992.
Some of the players went on to have the best years of their careers with their respective new clubs, while others probably wished they’d never picked up the phone.
But at least they made it into this list.
All stats are courtesy of Transfermarkt unless linked otherwise.
Fernando Torres, Liverpool to Chelsea, January 2011, £50 Million
Having been Liverpool’s poster boy until 2010/11, going into that season, the aura around Fernando Torres was beginning to dissipate after rumours began to circulate that he could be on the way out.
Something appeared to be affecting him on the pitch; although he was still on target, netting nine goals in 23 league appearances, he was spurning more chances and wasn’t playing with the same verve and dynamics that had come to characterise El Nino.
Although then-Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson stated that the club would not accept any bids, Torres compounded the uncertainty by handing in a transfer request in the wake of a £40 million bid from Chelsea. Abramovich and Co. smelled blood and sealed a £50 million deal on transfer deadline day.
However, it was hardly the dream move that Torres might have envisioned, as he went through a 903-minute barren patch before scoring his first Chelsea goal, which came almost three months after he made his move.
Fast-forward to 2013, and he has rediscovered his goal-scoring touch—though not to the same degree as at Liverpool—and despite the expected arrival of new signings under Jose Mourinho, the Special One has assured El Nino that he has a future at Stamford Bridge.
Whether or not he actually does is something about which we’ll have to wait and see.
Andy Cole, Newcastle United to Manchester United, January 1995, £7 Million
Signed for a then-record British transfer fee, Cole had already established himself as one of the more dangerous strikers in the Premier League by the time he shifted from the Tyne to the Irwell.
An impressive goals-to-games record—20 in 41 for Bristol City, 55 in 70 while at Newcastle—saw him drafted in by Alex Ferguson midway through the 1994/95 season in exchange for £6 million and £1 million-rated Keith Gillespie, but Cole was hardly eased into the action.
The reason for his recruitment was to cover for Manchester United’s two most prolific scorers at the time, the injured Andrei Kanchelskis and club talisman and captain Eric Cantona, who was serving an eight-month ban at the time for drop-kicking a Crystal Palace fan. Cole did not bow to the pressure though, and ended the season with 12 goals in 18 games, which included five in a 9-0 thrashing of Ipswich Town.
The rest, as they say, is history. Cole held onto a regular first-team place, which carried through to perhaps the best season of his career, the 1998/99 treble-winning season, during which he formed an unstoppable and now legendary partnership with Dwight Yorke.
Carlos Tevez, Manchester United to Manchester City, July 2009, £47 Million
In what surely ranks as one of the most controversial transfers since football began, it seemed as though it wasn’t so much about City buying Tevez as it was the Sky Blues getting one over on their local rivals.
Carlos Tevez is hardly the sport’s golden boy, with controversy and media attention dogging him pretty much every step of the way since he arrived at West Ham United in 2006, a move that attracted suspicions of third-party ownership. After that, he moved on to Manchester United in 2007, which led to him lifting the European Cup and the Club World Cup in 2008, plus a couple of league titles before he set his eye on the cross-town Blues.
No one knows the exact details of what put a deep rift between Alex Ferguson and the player that he once lavished praise upon, but it seems as though, despite being offered a lucrative five-year contract, Tevez was making wage demands that United simply wouldn’t meet.
However, there is no doubt about what happened next.
It’s one thing to move between title rivals or regional rivals, but to go from Manchester United to their bitter local rivals Manchester City, who also happened to be at the beginning of a new era in which they would mount a genuine title challenge? It’s no wonder that he got booed whenever he returned to Old Trafford, especially considering the apparent influence that money had in the transfer—though with Tevez having won another league title and a first FA Cup while at City, it appears to have been a good decision.
One particularly amusing aspect of the whole thing was the “Welcome To Manchester” billboard which Manchester City put up in Deansgate that depicted Tevez in his new colours, solely to wind up their Red rivals. A move that no one with a sense of humour can complain about.
Ashley Cole, Arsenal to Chelsea, August 2006, £6 Million Plus William Gallas
Football fans love to abuse the opposition, particularly if the opposition happens to include an ex-player or two. But nothing—in English football at least—can compare to the vitriol that is spat at Ashley Cole from all corners of the ground when he pays a visit to old club Arsenal. And all things considered, it’s completely understandable.
Having already made a name for himself as one of the best full-backs in the world with Arsenal, with having played a key role in the legendary “Invincibles” season to count on his CV, Cole went into summer 2006 with the disappointment of a Champions League final defeat hanging over him.
But nothing can excuse both his and Chelsea’s attitude during the protracted transfer saga that ensued.
Allegations of Cole meeting up with Chelsea representatives—including Jose Mourinho—at a London hotel without obtaining his club’s permission lit the fuse, and the fire was further stoked by Cole accusing Arsenal of feeding him to the sharks over how they fined him for his conduct, which they can hardly be blamed for.
However, the most distasteful aspect of the whole thing was the bite from Cole’s autobiography that started circulating after his move to Chelsea, in which he said he was “trembling with anger” at the £55,000 per week Arsenal had offered, as opposed to the £120,000 that Chelsea would pay. Hence the coining of the moniker “Cashley."
Despite this unsavoury episode—and others that followed—Ashley Cole is without a doubt one of the best full-backs currently playing, if not in football history, and has an impressive haul of three league titles, seven FA Cups (the record for one player), one Champions League and a Europa League. With a back catalogue like that, it’s hard to imagine that having fake money waved at him really bothers him all that much.
Eric Cantona, Leeds United to Manchester United, November 1992, £1.2 Million
This is the transfer that many feel was the catalyst for the unparalleled success that Manchester United enjoyed in the following years.
“King Eric” had already made his reputation for being stroppy, ill-disciplined and a big presence on the pitch by the time he arrived in England—he made the move from Nimes to Leeds United on the advice of his psychoanalyst. But what he was also well-known for, when the mood was right, was being an excellent player.
Despite winning the Premier League with Leeds in 1991/92, Cantona made the trip across the Pennines from Leeds to their hated rivals United—a brave move in itself—and so began the defining years of his career.
His first season with United ended with another league title, which made him the first player to win consecutive English top-flight titles with two different clubs, and he was also voted PFA Player of the Year.
As is common knowledge, while there were more league titles to come, as well as a couple of domestic doubles, Cantona did not have much control over himself and could fall victim to his own temper. Episodes such as assaulting a Crystal Palace fan during a match and the numerous red cards he amassed betray the darker side of the brilliant Frenchman, but moments like the audacious chip over Tony Coton manage to outshine the less savoury incidents.
Dimitar Berbatov, Tottenham Hotspur to Manchester United, Sep 2008, £30.75 Million
The strangest thing about this transfer wasn’t the club-record fee that Manchester United paid, nor the complaint that Spurs filed to the Premier League over Alex Ferguson being quoted saying that he was going to sign Berbatov before negotiations had begun. It was actually that United even wanted to sign him in the first place.
While notching 27 goals in 70 appearances for Tottenham, Berbatov had also gained a reputation for being somewhat languid in his approach to the game, despite also being a highly-talented player with a sublime touch. Let’s just say that while moderately prolific and undoubtedly skillful, he didn’t exactly track back a lot.
So why Manchester United, with their quick counter-attacking, passing-with-verve brand of play, decided to sign a player that was clearly not suited to the style is anyone’s guess.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Berbatov. In the four years he was at Old Trafford, he scored an impressive 48 in 108 games, which included some brilliant performances, such as the hat trick against Liverpool in September 2010 and the five-goal haul against Blackburn two years later. But by the time 2010/11 started, he was pretty much ostracized by Ferguson, despite delivering goals in the matches he did play after that, as exemplified by the games mentioned above.
A final insult was to spend the best part of 2011/12 on the bench after repeatedly asking to be moved on in search of regular first-team football during the preceding summer, but in 2012 Berbatov got his wish and left for Fulham, where he currently occupies the position of star player.
Rio Ferdinand, Leeds United to Manchester United, July 2002, £29.1 Million
When Manchester United bid such a high amount for a central defender in 2002, no one could quite get their head around it. The 23-year-old Rio Ferdinand was clearly a stellar talent with huge presence, and in addition had years to fulfill his massive potential, but it seemed that there was no way a centre-back could ever justify costing almost £29.1 million, which remains as both the highest fee paid for an English player and also the highest ever for a defender.
11 years, 430 appearances, six league titles, two League Cups, one Champions League and one Club World Cup later, it’s fair to say that United have managed to get their money’s worth out of the former West Ham "Hammer of the Year." He could have won the FA Cup in 2004 but was banned for most of the season after missing a drugs test, and therefore couldn’t take part.
Ferdinand may not be the most popular person in football, especially where non-United fans are concerned, but his consistency and solidity at the back inspired his club to the most successful period in their history. And, unlike a lot of top players who are ageing, he has held onto his quality, still finding himself as first-choice centre-back going into his 35th year and delivering the performances to justify his selection.
Alan Shearer, Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United, July 1996, £15 Million
By the time Newcastle United came calling to begin what are now regarded as the defining years of his career, it’s easy to forget just how astonishingly good Shearer had already become while at Blackburn Rovers.
The accolades he picked up and the stats behind them speak for themselves: 1994 FWA Player of the Year, 1994/95 PL Player of the Season and 1995 PFA Player of the Year, all complimented by finishing as the 1994/95 season’s top scorer with 34.
After Jack Walker’s Blackburn Rovers failed to mount a convincing title defence, despite Shearer scoring another 31 in 35 league games, several clubs hovered with lucrative offers. Manchester United came close, but Shearer was persuaded to move to Newcastle United by manager Kevin Keegan for a then world-record transfer fee—Keegan also happened to be Shearer’s childhood hero.
A period of still unrivaled prolificacy ensued as Shearer went on to smash every goal-scoring record in English football, and came to the end of his career as the top scorer of both Newcastle’s and Premier League history, two records that still stand. Although he never managed to win a trophy at Newcastle, the career tally of 379 goals in 733 games will stay in the memories of not just Toon supporters, but football fans around the world.
Andy Carroll, Newcastle United to Liverpool, January 2011, £35 Million
While Andy Carroll was certainly prolific while at Newcastle United, and without a doubt the star player, it still makes absolutely no sense why Kenny Dalglish thought that: a) Carroll was worth £35 million and b) that he was a suitable replacement for the quality of Fernando Torres.
Granted, Carroll had been knocking them in at an impressive rate on Tyneside, accumulating 11 goals in 19 Premier League appearances, and had also been an integral part of Toon’s Championship triumph the season before. But something that Dalglish didn’t notice was how different Newcastle’s style of play was to Liverpool’s as Carroll relied on the type of high balls into the box that weren’t exactly synonymous with Anfield.
After an unsuccessful couple of years in which he scored a pitiful six in 44 league appearances, the hard-drinking Sand Dancer (person from Gateshead, Carroll’s hometown) was not considered a component of Brendan Rodger’s vision,and was shipped out on loan to West Ham in August 2012, which became a permanent £15 million move the following May.
All things considered, Liverpool did remarkably well to only lose £20 million on him.
Robin Van Persie, Arsenal to Manchester United, August 2012, £24 Million
This is one that will still be fresh in the memory of Arsenal fans, many of whom feel that Van Persie was unjustified in leaving the Gunners for top-four rivals Manchester United.
It’s difficult to decide. But first, a quick recap.
Brought into Arsenal in 2004 as a 21-year-old left winger from Feyenoord, Van Persie endured a slow start to his career in England, his progress blighted by mild discipline problems and the presence of Thierry Henry, with the Dutchman scoring only 10 league goals in 50 league game across two seasons.
In 2006 he came into his own, and despite his season coming to a halt in January with injury, he finished as Arsenal’s top scorer for 2006-07. Henry departed the next summer, and Van Persie took the Premier League by storm in the following years (when he wasn’t crocked), scoring 75 goals in 122 appearances before making noise over signing a new contract in summer 2012.
So now onto the controversy.
Claims that he only went for the money, as chanted at some points during last season, are beyond ridiculous, as Manchester City were offering significantly more in wages than United. It is pretty certain that the Dutchman’s motivation was to win the Premier League, which Arsenal were simply not equipped to do.
However, what grates on the Gooners is the loyalty that Arsene Wenger and the club showed Van Persie, sticking with him through year after year of injury and disappointment—they would have appreciated seeing some of that back. You could argue that Arsenal nurtured RVP into the player he is today, after which he took off, practically saying “thanks for the training."
But on the other hand, the Dutch international was 29 years old, and knew that he didn’t have the majority of his career ahead anymore. A player of his quality deserves to win titles, and he obviously decided that particular dream wasn’t going to be achieved in north London.