EPL: The 10 Biggest Success Stories in Recent Times

Cameron OliverContributor IIApril 16, 2011

EPL: The 10 Biggest Success Stories in Recent Times

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    To compliment my recent article regarding high profile flops in the Premier League, I felt it apt to compile this list.

    The following is a list of players that have come out of the blue from foreign lands to become stars in the the English top flight. I've avoided players who have come with a hefty price tag which is why Fernando Torres' transfer to Liverpool and others like it are not present.

    So without further ado...

10. Petr Čech (Chelsea)

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    Despite costing more than all other keepers put together in Chelsea's history at £7 million, many observers believed Petr Čech's role with the club would be that of backup to Carlo Cudicini after that particular weakness was exposed to AS Monaco during that Champions League.

    However, with the arrival of Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge in 2004 and an untimely elbow injury to Cudicini during pre-season, Čech would start the season as first choice, and he took the opportunity with both (gloved) hands, stringing together a series of excellent performances and overtaking the Italian stopper the No. 1 keeper in the squad.

    In his debut season with the Blues, he broke the record for longest period without conceding at 1,025 minutes (since broken by Man Utd's Edwin van der Sar) and the record for fewest league goals conceded, letting just 15 by all season.

    He enjoyed another good season in '05/'06, but tragedy struck the following campaign as a 50/50 challenge with Reading's Stephen Hunt would leave him with a career threatening injury, that could have even killed him.

    Čech returned in 2007 sporting a protective head cap which he continues to wear to this day. Most people have noticed that since his horrific injury, Čech hasn't been the same between the sticks especially in one-on-one situations, but he remains a goalkeeper of the highest calibre.

9. Javier Hernández (Manchester United)

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    When the signing of the young Mexican from Guadalajara was announced prior to the 2010 World Cup, the world and his dog were surprised as the purchase, rumoured to be worth around £6 million, was done in complete secrecy. Even his agent and family were unaware.

    This led many to to accuse United of buying the youngster to simply raise their profile in Central America for merchandising reasons.

    His performaces for Mexico at the World Cup put these accusations to bed, and it was realised the cloak and dagger dealings were done to prevent other clubs becoming aware of the one they call Chicharito (Little Pea) to keep his value down. Shrewd moves indeed by the Manchester United hierarchy.

    Hernández made an immediate impact at Old Trafford, scoring on his competitive debut against Chelsea in the Community Shield, and he would get his name on the score sheet several more times coming off the bench, including a winner against Valencia in the Champions League.

    Chicharito has since been compared to teammate Michael Owen in his younger years, as both are notorious for their speed, movement and deadliness in front of goal. The young Mexican is now seen as one of the hottest prospects in the League, a status backed up by the fact he now regularly starts for the Red Devils.

8. Lassana Diarra (Portsmouth)

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    Lassana Diarra originally moved to the Premier League with Chelsea from Le Havre making 13 appearances before signing for Arsenal where he was once again used sparingly. It was with south coast club Portsmouth where he would shine in England.

    Well known wheeler-dealer Harry Redknapp brought him to Pompey for a little over £5 million in January 2008, and the Frenchman would then go on to score his first goal for the club in the FA Cup against Plymouth.

    Seen by many as the next Claude Makélelé due to his excellent passing abilities, many argue he was a more complete defensive midfielder due to his superior strength in defense.

    Diarra would go onto play every minute of Pompey's FA Cup campaign in a season which saw the club lift the famous trophy for the first time in 69 years and would go on to play in the club's first venture into European competition later that year.

    As Diarra became a bigger name in world football, his suitors increased. Real Madrid were the club to prise him away for a fee in the region of £20 million one year after he signed at Portsmouth where he continues to play today.

    Diarra made only 32 appearances for Pompey, scoring three goals, but his impact as the midfield lynchpin during Cup success will be forever remembered by fans.

7. Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn Rovers)

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    Paraguayan striker Santa Cruz came to Ewood Park from German giants Bayern Munich for £3.5 million in 2007 having been a fringe player for most of his career in Germany after an underwhelming first season.

    The 6'2" striker scored seconds into his first match in the Premier League and would go on a scoring streak that belied his price tag, including a hat trick against Wigan in December albeit in a losing effort. Santa Cruz proved a valuable asset to a Blackburn team that had found goals difficult to come by in times gone and subsequently found a place in fans' hearts.

    Of course, his success did not go unnoticed, and when manager Mark Hughes moved to big spending Manchester City, he made no secret of his desire to re-sign the big forward. This would eventually come to fruition in a £17.5 million deal, a huge profit for the selling club, in June 2009.

    This moved turned out to be a disaster however as injuries, new signings and a change in management left Santa Cruz essentially on the transfer list at Eastlands, a now familiar fate for those moving to the Citizens.

    Santa Cruz was loaned back to Blackburn in January 2011, where the fans and this author hope he can regain his form.

6. Carlos Tevez (West Ham United)

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    I expect this choice to raise a few eyebrows as Carlos certainly did not enjoy the best of spells at West Ham. His impact in the latter stages of that stay however, are the reason he makes the list.

    Coming from Corinthians in what we all now know to be contentious circumstances, it was a transfer that shocked the world of football as the Argentinian forward had been linked with the largest clubs in Europe.

    What was initally seen of Tevez, however, seemed like the big clubs had called it right as his performances were abject and goals were nowhere and he was soon dropped to the bench where he would languish until new manager Alan Curbishley came in.

    The change breathed new life into Tevez, who scored seven goals in the Hammers' last 10 games, including a cruical winner against future club Manchester United to help the club avoid relegation.

    Despite being a bit part player for most of the season, Tevez was voted Player of the Season by fans who had taken his hardworking, bulldog-like approach to heart, and you can bet he'll welcome at Upton Park whenever he likes.

    Tevez would go onto play for moth Manchester United and City and is thought to be one of the best strikers currently playing in Europe.

5. Kevin Davies (Bolton Wanderers)

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    Arriving in Bolton after being released by Southampton in 2003, Davies' career looked to be in tatters. Having been purchased by Blackburn for a club record £7.5 million in 1998, he failed miserably scoring only one goal in 21 appearances. Prior to Southampton releasing him, he featured mainly as a sub.

    How his fortunes have turned.

    Davies has since been seen as a key player for the Trotters and was made club captain in 2009. Noted for his physical approach to the game the Yorkshireman holds the dubious honour of committing the most fouls in Premier League history.

    This will mean little to Bolton fans however, as Davies epitomised the style of football former manager Sam Alladyce had his team playing. Long balls up to a big, strong target man with midfielders rushing in to get the lay off saw Bolton their most successful years last decade.

    Davies is still at the heart of Bolton's attack and for the time being has exciting loanee Daniel Sturridge up front with him. 

    I for one, wish him all the luck in the FA Cup semifinal. 

4. Tim Cahill (Everton)

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    Australian Cahill signed for Everton from Milwall in 2004 for £1.5 million and has been a key player for the Merseysiders ever since.

    In his debut season he was the clubs leading scorer and fans' Player of the Season, a season in which Everton qualified for the Champions League for the first time. A creative midfielder, Cahill has formed an important partnership with teammate Mikel Arteta in the centre of the park for Everton. 

    He is well known for his immense heading ability despite being on the smaller side of average and actually holds the Premier League record for most headed goals with 31 of his 54 finishes coming of his noggin.

    Despite being a tad injury prone he remains Everton's key player and has made 232 appearances for the Toffees scoring 63 goals in the process. 

3. Brede Hangeland (Fulham)

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    Hangeland came to Craven Cottage in 2008 from Copenhagen for £2.5 million, reuniting him with former manager Roy Hodgson who he played under at Norwegian side Viking.

    His presence was huge for the London side. He came to the club when they were rock bottom of the Premier League and Hangeland, together with central defensive partner Aaron Hughes, tightened up the back line immeasurably helping Fulham to avoid relegation when it seemed almost certain.

    The following season, the big Norwegian was a rock in defence as Fulham conceded an average of less than a goal a game and helped them to seventh position in the League thus gaining qualification to the Europa League.

    During the following season, Hangeland was part of the Fulham side that went all the way to the Europa League final, a feat that rippled throughout Europe having been 1500/1 to win at the start of the tournament.

    His has continued to make his presence felt this season, scoring in the last minute recently against Manchester United to earn his side a draw (though he did score an own goal to give them the lead).

    Due to his performances for the Craven Cottage outfit, Hangeland attracted the attention of Arsenal who were rumoured to be very close to a deal. It fell through however and the defender signed a new contract, keeping him at Craven Cottage until 2014, something fans will appreciate.

2. Thierry Henry (Arsenal)

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    Signed from Juventus for £10 million in 1999, no one could have predicted what was to come from the iconic Frenchman.

    Can you believed this transfer initially received negative press? Concerns were raised over Henry's ability to come to terms with a the quicker paced, more physical English game. However, he was to make the Premier League his stage for the next seven seasons.

    Part of the Arsenal "Invincibles" of the '03/'04 season that Henry win his second League winners medal, he would become captain in 2005 and would end his career with the Gunners having scored 226 goals in 368 games making him Arsenal's most prolific striker of all time and the third highest in Premier League history.

    His legacy in England is huge, he was without a doubt the most feared striker on these shores during his tenure at Highbury and his charisma lit up the League.

    I could wax lyrical on his genius for ages, but I imagine you guys already know all about it.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)

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    Could it really have been anyone else?

    Signed from Portuguese side Sporting CP for £12 million in 2003, but he didn't hit his straps until the '06/'07 season.

    As with Henry, I could fill three or four slides detailing what the winger achieved during his spell on English shores, but I'll concentrate on his best season for the Red Devils.

    The '07/'08 season saw Ronaldo set the world on fire. He helped Manchester United to League and Champions League success scoring 42 goals in the process, a record for a winger. He was top scorer in both the Champions League and Premier League.

    He is rivalled only be Leo Messi when it comes to the "best player in the world" argument.

    He was sold to Real Madrid for £80 million in 2010, making him the most expensive player ever.

Have I Missed Anyone?

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    As ever, this list is merely my opinion. I've no doubt you guys all have your own ideas as to who should and shouldn't be here, so please feel free to let me know.

    I would do an honourable mentions slide here, but there really are too many to list. Perhaps the one I feel worst about leaving off is Jack Wilshere, and in two years time if I were to redo this list, I'm sure he'd chart.

    Once again, please leave your views and comments for me below.

    Ciao.