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5 Signings that instantly improved Premier League clubs

  • These players hit the ground running for the Premier League clubs they signed for.
  • We select the best of the current crop whose impact was instantaneous.
Jay Russell
Modified 23 Mar 2020, 16:41 IST

Bruno Fernandes is presented with the Premier League Player of the Month for February
Bruno Fernandes is presented with the Premier League Player of the Month for February

Money cannot buy success. Clubs stand a better chance of success if they spend money, sure, which is evidenced by the expenditure of serial winners. However, the old idiom about fools and their money easily being parted applies to the rich and the poor alike.

Having money and spending it guarantees nothing if it is spent inefficiently. There are countless examples of Premier League clubs throwing money at a problem only to find that the signing of a cheque didn't strictly equate to sourcing a solution.

Having a sporting director and a smart transfer strategy in place can often save a club from succumbing to this mistake repeatedly. Many of the following players are products of such a system. Here are five signings that instantly improved Premier League clubs.

#5 Bruno Fernandes

Manchester United v Watford FC - Premier League
Manchester United v Watford FC - Premier League

Okay, it's early days but it's hardly an exaggeration to say that Manchester United look completely different since Bruno Fernandes signed from Sporting Lisbon in January 2020.

Devoid of creativity before his arrival, sorely missing the contributions of injured duo Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, United were in desperate need of reinforcements midway through the campaign.

Fernandes rocked up with the reputation of being the undisputed best player in Portugal. Despite the shortcomings of the fallen giants he represented, he broke records with his individual brilliance, becoming the highest-scoring midfielder in a single season in 2018-19 with his extraordinary tally of 33 goals in all competitions.

After weeks of speculation, Fernandes finally joined United before the window closed for an initial €55 million fee. Although he didn't directly contribute a goal in his first game, it was clear that almost every United attack was going through Fernandes.

They had changed the way they played by putting complete trust in the footballing intelligence of their new playmaker. The following eight games would see United extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to 11 with Fernandes scoring three goals and directly setting up a further four. The future of the Red Devils has looked a lot brighter since his acquisition and it's only going to get better.


#4 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Arsenal FC v Olympiacos FC - UEFA Europa League Round of 32: Second Leg
Arsenal FC v Olympiacos FC - UEFA Europa League Round of 32: Second Leg

One of the most reliable goalscorers in Europe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had scored 141 goals in 213 games for Borussia Dortmund before moving to Arsenal in January 2018. Despite his lethal repertoire, the Gunners were largely unopposed in the race for his signature.

They coughed up a then-club-record fee of £56 million to bring him to the Emirates and to the surprise of few, he was an instant success. 10 goals before the end of the campaign have been followed up with 51 goals in the 82 appearances since.

Aubameyang arrived at the same time that Alexis Sanchez was leaving Arsenal. Once a goalscoring hit at the club, that season Sanchez was a shadow of his former self. Months of rumours suggested that he was angling for a move away. However, as Manchester United found out, it wasn't simply the desire to change clubs that affected Sanchez's form. Arsenal were fortunate to bring in a proven striker to replace their talisman.

#3 Kevin De Bruyne

Real Madrid v Manchester City - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg
Real Madrid v Manchester City - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg

One of the bonafide superstars of the Premier League, it's no surprise to think that Kevin De Bruyne settled so quickly after his move to Manchester City in 2015. A previous stint with Chelsea was underwhelming and had critics questioning whether he could take City to greater heights.

Coming off the back of a breakthrough season with Wolfsburg, De Bruyne established himself as a playmaker on the path to greatness. Breaking the Bundesliga record for assists (with 21), De Bruyne set up 27 goals and scored 16 in all competitions, earning him the Footballer of the Year award in Germany in 2015.

Breaking records has become habitual for the Belgian star. He notched up 50 Premier League assists quicker than any other player when he created a Sergio Aguero goal against Bournemouth in August 2019. While he has helped City to consecutive league titles, De Bruyne is third on our list because his arrival didn't immediately instigate a period of dominance. He made up for this by starring in City's domestic clean sweep of 2019.

#2 N'Golo Kante

Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League
Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League

The gem of Leicester City's surprise title win in 2016, N'Golo Kante was the glue that held the team together. Snapped up by Chelsea for a cut-price £32 million that summer, it proved to be the shrewdest buy of that window.

Kante was a title magnet in that period and instantly settled into the holding midfield role of Antonio Conte's starting eleven. Chelsea finished top of the league at the end of the 2016-17 season with a then-record number of wins (30).

While Chelsea failed miserably at defending their title the following season (finishing fifth), that season also saw them reach the FA Cup final, which they lost to Arsenal. Kante was named the PFA Players' Player of the Year, the FWA Footballer of the Year, and the Premier League Player of the Season.

He was also named in the PFA Team of the Season for the second consecutive season. Although his time at Chelsea has been turbulent since that high point, Kante has helped the Blues to further success in the FA Cup (2018) and Europa League (2019). As we have come to expect from him, he has been consistent throughout.

#1 Virgil van Dijk

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final
Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final

Jurgen Klopp was clearly building something special with Liverpool before splashing out a world-record fee for a defender in January 2018. But the £75 million signing of Virgil van Dijk was the finishing piece of first eleven. Switching from Southampton, not everyone was sure that the Dutch defender would be able to live up to expectations.

In the end, he didn't live up to expectations - he exceeded them. A monster at the heart of their defence, van Dijk helped Liverpool to a Champions League final that season only for a Loris Karius horror-show to hand the trophy to Real Madrid. Chance blown. Little did everyone know that they were witnessing the start of an era of Liverpool dominance.

Van Dijk marshalled the club to another Champions League final the following year, which - as the photo above shows - they won. They ran Manchester City close for the title, racking up the most points for a team that didn't win the league.

Before this prolonged interruption, van Dijk was helping Liverpool to correct that by building up a massive lead at the top of the table. Tall, strong and fast, van Dijk won a host of individual awards after his first full season with Liverpool, acknowledging the transformation they underwent after he joined.

Published 23 Mar 2020, 16:41 IST
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