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5 of the best bargain strikers in Premier League history

SWANSEA, WALES - AUGUST 25:  Michu of Swansea celebrates scoring the second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and West Ham United at the Liberty Stadium on August 25, 2012 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Michu’s first season at Swansea makes him one of the all-time great bargain buys

This past week saw a major Premier League transfer in the form of Romelu Lukaku’s £75m move to Manchester United, where manager Jose Mourinho is hoping the prolific striker can score the goals to fire his side to the Premier League title. Meanwhile, Mourinho’s old rival Arsene Wenger has spent a cool £46m to bring French sharpshooter Alexandre Lacazette to the Emirates, again hoping that his goals can shoot them to glory.

Strikers naturally tend to command the biggest fees for the obvious reason – they score the goals that can lead a side to victory. But we have seen past Premier League seasons that often, the best strikers don’t actually cost the most money. That doesn’t mean of course that Lukaku and Lacazette won’t succeed, more that sometimes you don’t need to break the bank. Here are five of the best bargain Premier League strikers of all time.

#5 Michu

Newly promoted Swansea were surprisingly successful in their virgin Premier League season, finishing 11th in 2011/12, but that didn’t mean they could suddenly sign big name players. Instead, relatively unknown Spanish forward Michu was signed from Rayo Vallecano in the summer of 2012 for just £2m. And whilst, he had scored his fair share of goals the previous season in La Liga not much was expected from the Spanish import.

That couldn’t have turned out to be further from the truth. Making an immediate impact, Michu scored twice and assisted in a third goal on his debut for the Welsh side as they defeated QPR 0-5 on the opening day of the season. His first goal was, in fact, the first of the season, and from there on he basically didn’t slow down. He ended up as the Premier League’s fifth-highest scorer with 18 goals and scored a total of 22 in all competitions.

Michu was so prolific in his debut season that he was linked with bigger clubs like Arsenal and ended up being called into Spain’s national squad by manager Vicente del Bosque for a 2014 World Cup qualifying match against Belarus, replacing the injured David Villa.

Unfortunately, that was as good as it got – in his second season Michu only scored six goals for the Swans and with new striker Wilfried Bony now firing plenty home, he was sent on loan to Napoli for a season before being released in November 2015. Still though, for those first season heroics, he stands as one of the Premier League’s greatest bargain strikers.

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#4 Nicolas Anelka

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 24: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (r) and new signing Nicolas Anelka pictured before an FA Carling Premiership match between Arsenal and Wimbledon at Highbury on February 24, 1997 in London, England. (Photo by Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images)
Nicolas Anelka cost Arsenal just £500,000 as a teenager back in 1997

It’s wild to think of Nicolas Anelka as any kind of bargain – the French striker ended up being one of football’s all-time most expensive players when you add together the cumulative value of his transfers, but his first move – to Arsenal back in 1997 – was the definition of a bargain. He didn’t even cost a million, moving from Paris St. Germain for just £500,000.

Just 17 at the time, chances for the French youngster were limited at first as Ian Wright was still banging goals in for fun at Highbury, but once 1997/98 rolled around, Anelka got his opportunity. Wright picked up a serious hamstring injury that ruled him out for most of 1998, and Anelka stepped in and played an integral part in Arsenal winning the Premier League and FA Cup, scoring in the cup final and netting 9 goals.

By 1998/99 he was clearly Arsenal’s top frontman and ended up their leading scorer with 19, and he was voted PFA Young Player of the Year too. From there on he made a controversial move to Real Madrid – costing the Spaniards £22m, which meant Arsenal made a crazy profit.

The rest is history. Anelka ended up moving to the likes of PSG, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, usually for huge fees. Though he only spent two seasons at Arsenal, the fact that they paid so little for him makes him an all-time bargain buy.

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#3 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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The summer of 1996 saw Manchester United sign two of the stars of Euro 1996 in Karel Poborsky and Jordi Cruyff, and so another, cheaper signing in the form of unknown Norwegian striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who cost just £1.5m to sign from his first club Molde, flew way under the radar. It turned out that he’d be a much more important acquisition.

Right away Solskjaer made an impact, though he wasn’t one of United’s first choice strikers – their favoured pairing was Andy Cole and Eric Cantona – he still scored 19 goals in his debut season as United won their fourth Premier League title, and went on to record 126 goals in 366 appearances for the Red Devils.

Earning the nickname ‘The Baby-Faced Assassin’ due to his youthful looks and predatory instincts in front of goal, Solskjaer’s most endearing trait was his ability to score goals coming off the substitute’s bench – he hit 29 goals coming off the bench, including his legendary winner in the 1999 Champions League final.

In the end, Solskjaer spent a total of eleven seasons at United and although he was never a first-choice player, he always played a key part in their success, even filling in as a right midfielder for a time. Considering his low price, he turned out to be one of Alex Ferguson’s best bargain signings.

#2 Robin Van Persie

AMSTERDAM, HOLLAND - JULY 30:  Robin Van Persie of Arsenal in action during the Sony Amsterdam Tournament match between Arsenal v River Plate at The Amsterdam Arena on July 30, 2004 in Amsterdam.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Robin Van Persie developed into a talismanic player at Arsenal

Five years after selling their original bargain striker Nicolas Anelka, Arsene Wenger played another incredibly shrewd hand when he bought Robin van Persie to Arsenal from Feyenoord for just £2.75m. He’d shown flashes of brilliance at Feyenoord, but a rift with coach Bert van Marwijk forced him towards the door amidst accusations of an attitude problem.

It took him some time to take off at Arsenal – he only scored five league goals in his debut season and ended it embroiled in controversy following a charge of rape which he was eventually cleared of. His next few seasons were hampered by injuries although his goal record did improve.

By 2008/09 he’d, however, developed into the Gunner’s talisman. That season saw him score 20 goals in all competitions, including a run in January 2009 that saw him score or be involved in every single one of Arsenal’s goals.

From that season onwards he was arguably the Premier League’s best and most consistent striker, building up to a ridiculous goal return in 2011/12 of 30 Premier League goals in 38 appearances. Surprisingly it turned out to be his final season as an Arsenal player, as he moved to rivals Manchester United for £24m in the summer of 2012 – almost ten times the fee that Arsenal had originally paid for him.

More goals followed as Van Persie scored 26 league goals in 38 appearances to basically single-handedly win the league for United, but it’s his 132 goals in 277 appearances for Arsenal – almost a goal every other game – that makes him one of the all-time great bargains.

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#1 Eric Cantona

16 Mar 1996:  Eric Cantona of Manchester United applauds during an FA Carling Premiership match against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road in London.  \ Mandatory Credit: Mark  Thompson/Allsport
Eric Cantona went from bargain to legend at Man United

Some twenty years before Manchester United signed Robin van Persie – the top striker from one of their biggest rivals – they made a similar signing in the form of Eric Cantona, who in the 1991/92 season had helped Leeds United to win the league in the final season prior to the Premier League’s introduction. Where Van Persie cost a lot of money though, Cantona somehow only set United back £1.2m.

The feeling was that Cantona – seen as an unstable maverick – was expendable, but it turned out to be one of the all-time blunders from Leeds – and one of the all-time great bargains for United. Cantona had an instant impact at Old Trafford, scoring 9 goals in his debut season as United won the inaugural Premier League title, and he more than doubled that total in 1993/94, scoring 25 in all competitions as United completed a league and FA Cup double.

A controversial suspension for assaulting a fan with a kung-fu kick marred his 1994/95 season, but the best was yet to come – returning from his suspension in 1995/96, Cantona led United – who were twelve points behind league leaders Newcastle in mid-January – to the league title by scoring an incredible 11 goals in United’s last 15 games, five of which were 1-0 victories.

By the time of his stunning retirement at the end of the 1996/97 season – his fifth title win in England in six seasons – he had become one of United’s all-time legends, up there with the likes of Best, Charlton and Law. Not bad for someone who only cost £1.2m!

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Edited by Staff Editor
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