Any manager can go out and identify somebody like Romelu Lukaku, Dejan Lovren, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas or Alexis Sanchez as smart transfer targets. The real skill is finding the few inefficiencies that still exist in the market.
As much as inflation has hit football and as smart as clubs have become at scouting, finding bargains is becoming harder and harder to do. Just ask Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, who was one of the most adept at identifying great value for money but has since failed to produce the same kind of magic.
That's not to say that inflated fees automatically come with the territory. The five players below are proof that value isn't an extinct concept in the transfer market. By the time the 2014/15 EPL season is over, they'll be among the best purchases of the summer.
Joleon Lescott, West Brom
With Manchester City's seemingly constant personnel overhaul every summer, Joleon Lescott was pushed to the periphery. According to WhoScored.com, he appeared in a total of 36 league games over the last two seasons.
Lescott remains a capable defender despite having spent little time on the pitch lately. He shouldn't be the mini-disaster that Kolo Toure was after arriving at Liverpool last year. Toure's decline was much more pronounced even before he left.
There's some worry about a knee injury Lescott picked up during a friendly for West Brom, but he shouldn't miss too much time.
Lescott won't ever be the scoring threat that he was at Everton, but he should become a steady piece in the Baggies' back four.
Jack Rodwell, Sunderland
Speaking of Manchester City castoffs, who didn't see Jack Rodwell's £12 million transfer to the Etihad ending badly? It was the right move at the completely wrong time.
Now he's got a chance at Sunderland to make things right again. At 23 years old, he's got plenty of time to come good. Adam Johnson was in a similar position before moving to the club yet has found success.
This is a bit of a risk. TalkSPORT's Mike Parry wonders if Rodwell's injury history will be a lingering issue for the midfielder at the Stadium of Light:
For Sunderland, this is a necessary risk. They couldn't normally afford to grab a player of Rodwell's quality otherwise. Liverpool signing Daniel Sturridge was viewed as a risk, and look how that's worked out so far.
Rodwell could potentially be the focal point of the club's midfield, which was an area of weakness last season. For £10 million, the Black Cats did a nice piece of business.
Muhamed Besic, Everton
The first exposure many had to Muhamed Besic was the 2014 World Cup. Bosnia and Herzegovina's exit from the group stage couldn't be attributed to the 21-year-old. He was one of the Dragons' best players:
Besic doesn't offer much going forward just yet, but neither did Marouane Fellaini before David Moyes transitioned him into a box-to-box beast in his final years at Goodison Park. For now, he'll be a stabilizing presence for Everton who can defend well and spray passes from the center of the pitch.
The fact that the Toffees could get him for £4 million is a bit of a surprise, especially after he was coming off a strong World Cup.
Rickie Lambert, Liverpool
This transfer was so sensible that it almost seems out of place in today's game, where Luke Shaw costs nearly £30 million. Liverpool could've done much worse than spending £4 million on Rickie Lambert.
The 32-year-old forward is sometimes unfairly labeled simply as a big, strong guy who succeeds because he's bigger and stronger than the competition. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers correctly pointed out that Lambert is a very good all-around footballer.
"He was probably seen as the traditional big No.9, a British striker that is good in the air, but he's one of the most accomplished footballers I've seen," said Rodgers, per David Anderson of the Daily Mirror. "Look at his touch, look at the level of his goals, the different types of goals he has scored over his career, and he's a specialist on penalties as well."
Lambert won't need to match Luis Suarez's goal tally from last year. He simply needs to provide a change of pace and fill in when necessary to spell Sturridge in the attack.
Siem de Jong, Newcastle
It's good that Newcastle weren't too scared to target an Eredivisie striker after Luuk de Jong's miserable half-season at the club last year. De Jong might have come from Borussia Monchengladbach, but he very much exemplifies the difficulties many strikers have when moving from the Netherlands to another country.
Siem de Jong can be used in a variety of ways, whether as forward, attacking midfielder or central midfielder. He's at his best when sitting a little behind the striker. That way he can influence the attack and is close enough to goal but doesn't need to be the primary goalscorer.
The 25-year-old has also demonstrated himself to be more than simply a good player whose stats are padded by playing in a weaker league. De Jong's been one of Ajax's best players during their European adventures in the Champions League over the last few years.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew was effusive in his praise of the Dutch international, per Sky Sports News:
I absolutely think he’s a terrific player, I’ve been lucky enough in my career to manage some great players and I think he could be one of the best. I’ve worked with Teddy Sheringham and he reminds me a lot of Teddy in the way that he conducts the game, the way he conducts himself and that’ll be shown on a matchday.
Few clubs spend their money more effectively than Newcastle. A £6 million price tag for De Jong is well below his actual valuation.
Note: All transfer fees are courtesy of TransferLeague.co.uk unless otherwise noted.
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