With the 2020/21 Premier League season coming to an end, The Hard Tackle takes a look at three best bargain transfers of the recently-concluded campaign.
Curtains fell on another action-packed season of the Premier League this past weekend with Manchester City being crowned the new champions of England while the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea pulled off remarkable comebacks to secure a place in the top four after looking down and out at one point, while at the other end, there was disappointment for Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and 2019/20 season’s high-fliers, Sheffield United.
Despite the transfer market being affected by the pandemic, there were a lot of players that were brought into the Premier League over the summer as well as the January transfer windows, although clubs were forced into looking at cheaper alternatives, loan deals, potential player-swap arrangements and free agents, more than the usual in the past because of the finances being hit hard.
There were a number of players who made instant impact and went on to essay key roles in the fortunes of their respective teams after arriving while we also saw quite a few footballers bomb in their debut campaigns for their new clubs.
Among the new signings that made a huge difference were people like Ruben Dias, who cost Manchester City in excess of £60 million while there were also players like James Rodriguez, who arrived at Everton for no transfer fee, but grew into a pivotal part of the team. The Hard Tackle now takes a look at three of the best such “bargain buys” who did not cost clubs a great amount of money but made significant difference on the field.
Vladimir Coufal (West Ham United)
A name that would not have been familiar to a large section of Premier League fans a year ago, Vladimir Coufal arrived at West Ham United from Czech Republic outfit Slavia Prague in a deal worth just around £5.4 million (h/t BBC). And what a signing he has proven to be for David Moyes & co.
Up until last summer, the 28-year-old right-back had spent all his footballing career across various divisions in the Czech Republic. So, it was going to be a huge challenge for him to step up to the level needed in the Premier League. And, not only did Coufal do that, but he did it with such ease that it left fans in awe. Indeed, so smooth was his transition that it felt like the defender had been playing for West Ham in the English top-flight for ages.
Coufal grew into an integral member of Moyes’ setup, missing just one of the 35 league games since he joined. Someone who gave it his all on the pitch, the 28-year-old was a defensive rock at the back for the Hammers, averaging 2.1 tackles, 1.2 interceptions, and 2.6 clearances per game, while he was no slouch going forward either, as he contributed with seven assists, helping the East London outfit clinch a surprise top six finish.
Thiago Silva (Chelsea)
Moving on from a player who was not well-known to someone who is widely regarded as one of the modern-day great centre-backs, Thiago Silva’s signing for Chelsea on a free transfer was met with a bit of skepticism, due to his age; after all, the defender was closing in on 36 when he made the jump from Paris Saint-Germain.
The Brazilian established himself as the leader of the Chelsea defence in short time, with his organizational skills and reading of the game helping the likes of Antonio Rudiger and Kurt Zouma up their performance levels over the course of the campaign. The 36-year-old did miss a few matches due to injury and needed his game-time to be managed at times, but his arrival helped Chelsea address a major problem that had held them back in 2019/20.
The veteran defender averaged around 1.4 interceptions and 3.6 clearances per game in the Premier League while impressing with his aerial presence at both ends of the pitch, in addition to his ball-playing abilities. Silva’s performances for Chelsea, barring the one or two mishaps, most notably against West Bromwich Albion in the first half of the campaign, showed that class, is indeed, permanent and age is just a number.
Edinson Cavani (Manchester United)
Moving on from one veteran to another, one former PSG player to another, like Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani’s signing by Manchester United on a free transfer led to a lot of questions and doubts, more so given that he was signed on a deadline day, with pundits dismissing it as a ‘desperate move’ and a knee-jerk signing.
Fast forward ten months and Cavani has emerged as one of Manchester United’s best players of the season and without a doubt, the best bargain buy of the season. A veteran with over 400 career goals, the Uruguayan centre-forward hadn’t played for months before he made the move to Old Trafford but hit the ground running with a goal in just his third league appearance, from which point on there was no looking back.
Cavani ended the 2020/21 campaign with 10 goals and 3 assists from 26 league games, averaging a goal-involvement once every 105 minutes. Some of the goals he scored came at vital moments for Manchester United – the comeback he inspired against Southampton will long live etched in the memories of the fans. Not to forget his contributions in the Europa League either, as he netted six times to take the team all the way to the finals.
Honourable Mentions: James Rodriguez (Everton), Illan Meslier (Leeds United)
James Rodriguez arrived at Everton from Real Madrid in what was a statement signing. And reuniting with Carlo Ancelotti seemed to have brought the best out of the Colombian again as he hit the ground running, putting up several stunning displays. Injuries did catch up to him as the campaign progressed, but he still managed to finish with six goals and five assists in 23 league outings.
Illan Meslier’s signing was made permanent by Leeds United after their promotion for a fee of around just £6 million and the goalkeeper has more than delivered in what was the biggest test of his fledgling career. While he did end up shipping in 52 goals in 35 games, the 21-year-old also produced some stirring displays in goal, producing a league fourth-highest 140 saves while managing 11 clean sheets with only four keepers managing more.