Big spending. It started with Jack Walker investing a few million pounds into Blackburn Rovers over 20 years ago, and it continues to this present day with Roman Abramovich and Sheik Mansour pumping much more finance into both Chelsea and Manchester City.
Whilst it can’t be argued that big spending usually brings either a brief or prolonged spell of success, money isn’t always needed to sign the best players. In the Premier League’s 21 year history, there have been many players that have shined for their clubs, that cost very little or even no money whatsoever.
Here is my Bargain Premier League XI:
Goalkeeper: Edwin van der Sar
It took Manchester United six years to find a suitable replacement for the great Peter Schmeichel, but even though he was 35, van der Sar left a big impression on the Red Devils. Costing a reported £2m from Fulham, he won numerous championships at Old Trafford including 4 Premier League titles and a Champions League; he saved the decisive penalty in the 2008 Champions League shoot-out final from Nicolas Anelka. He spent six years with United, and helped them win a total of 11 trophies in total.
Right-back: Pablo Zabaleta
£6.5m isn’t the smallest fee in football, but given the lack of outstanding right-backs in Premier League history (Gary Neville was a trainee at Man United), he gets my pick. He is a cult hero at the Etihad, and was the only Man City player to be named in the Premier League Team of the Season for 2012/2013. He has helped the club win an FA Cup and a Premier League, and is vice-captain for City, should Vincent Kompany not play. His £6.5m does seem a bargain, given the fees City have had to pay for other players in recent years.
Centre-back: Sol Campbell
At the time, this was perhaps the most controversial transfer in Premier League history. Campbell joined Arsenal on a free transfer from Tottenham in 2001, after previously stating he’d never join Spurs’ local rivals. Not only did he join Spurs’ biggest rivals, but it was on a free. He allowed his contract to expire, and went on to become part of history; he was part of the “Invincibles” of 2003/2004. He won a total of two Premier Leagues and three FA Cups at Highbury, as well as playing and scoring in the 2006 Champions League final. He later rejoined the Gunners after spells at Portsmouth and Notts County, though couldn’t find the form of his first stint at the club.
Centre-back: Sami Hyypia
Hyypia was an unknown when he joined Liverpool from Dutch club Willem II in 1999 for just over £2.5m, but in the 10 years he spent at Anfield, he became a Premier League legend. Despite never winning the domestic championship, he was a key figure for the Reds as first Gerard Houllier then Rafael Benitez won numerous titles for the red half of Merseyside. He was vice-captain as Liverpool won the treble of the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup in 2001, and solely lifted the League Cup again as full captain in 2003. Steven Gerrard took over a Liverpool captain in late-2003, but Hyypia was still a vital figure in the centre of defence for the Reds, as they won the Champions League in 2005 and another FA Cup a year later.
Left-back: Patrice Evra
Like Zabaleta, Evra wasn’t bought for a truly low fee. Man United spent £5.5m on the French defender in January 2006, ending three-and-a-half years of fill-ins and adequate replacements for Denis Irwin. However, Chelsea were throwing money at players to secure their services at the time, and it cost them £5m PLUS William Gallas to sign Ashley Cole from Arsenal that summer (no matter how good Cole is and was, the deal itself wasn’t as good as the Evra one). His arrival forced Gabriel Heinze out 18 months later, as he nailed down the left-back position for his own. Since his arrival, he’s won five Premier Leagues, three League Cups plus a Champions League, as well as captaining United on numerous occasions.
Centre-midfielder: Danny Murphy
This may surprise a few. I chose Danny Murphy for his Fulham career, no matter what he had done at Liverpool, Charlton and Tottenham. Fulham signed Murphy on a free from Spurs in 2007, and the midfielder was one of the players that helped the Cottagers save their Premier League status on the final day of the 2007/2008 season. The club needed a win at Portsmouth, and Murphy scored a rare headed goal as Fulham won 1-0, ensuring their top-flight position. The following season, Murphy was made Fulham captain, and helped the club finish seventh in the league and qualify for the Europa League, their highest ever finish. The next season, Fulham lost in the final to Atletico in the Europa League final. Whilst he may not receive as much attention as others English centre-midfielders, Murphy was influential at Fulham, and a cult hero.