Every once in a while, football clubs make a signing or two that would go on to have a colossal impact on their team, irrespective of the stature or pedigree of the player(s) in question at the time.
Be it show-stopping marquee signings, such as Zinedine Zidane's legendary €77.5m move to Real Madrid, or under-the-radar transfers made to add depth such as Vincent Kompany's €8.5m move to Manchester City — they would go on to play monumental roles in their sides over the following years.
Eric Cantona's move from Elland Road to Old Trafford in the early 90s is heralded as one of the most game-changing transfers of all time. The Frenchman kickstarted an era of dominance with Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United, firing them to four Premier League titles in the next five years.
Cantona remains one of the best players not just in the Red Devils' history, but that of the Premier League's.
Bruno Fernandes is a more recent yet excellent example of this sort of a transfer. The Portuguese has single-handedly transformed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side since his arrival at the club with his goals, assists and leadership qualities on the pitch. Manchester United have the look of a different outfit entirely with and without their talismanic midfielder Fernandes on the pitch.
Similarly, football has witnessed many such transfers that have monumentally changed the fortunes of a club. Here, we take a look at five such instances that have occurred in the post-2000s era.
#5 Andrea Pirlo | AC Milan to Juventus
Juventus found themselves in a rather dark period in the mid 2000s due to the infamous Calciopoli scandal which saw their league titles from 2005 and 2006 stripped off. The 2002/03 Scudetti winners wouldn't go on to win another league title until 2011/12, which coincided with a long-haired Italian walking through the gates of the newly-built Juventus Stadium.
Andrea Pirlo was deemed to be a dispensable asset for AC Milan which paved the way for his move to Juventus to play under former Bianconeri legend Antonio Conte. The Italian instilled Pirlo at the heart of his midfield to build a juggernaut around the veteran and bring Juventus back to their glorious best.
The Old Lady won a staggering four Serie A titles over the next four years with Pirlo in the side, the last of which was under the coach who let him leave AC Milan, Massimiliano Allegri.
"A footballer in capital letters, spectacular. There is no player in the world right now that shares [Andrea] Pirlo’s talent. We played at all levels before finally meeting as professionals, when he was playing for Italy, Milan and now Juventus. I have always been a fan and admirer of Pirlo." — Xavi Hernandez
Despite being in his 30s, the elegant midfield orchestrator was one of the best in the world in his position and proved to be one of the most monumental transfers in Juventus' modern history. Their dominance continued late into the decade with them winning a total of nine (!) successive Scudetti. Pirlo returned to Juventus to succeed Maurizio Sarri as head coach ahead of the 2020/21 campaign.
#4 Virgil van Dijk | Southampton to Liverpool
Liverpool sent shockwaves across Europe when they announced the signing of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton for a jaw-dropping £75m fee in January 2018, making him the most expensive defender in football history. However, all the qualms over the fee paid for him were quickly laid to rest as Van Dijk proved to be one of the best signings made in the league's history.
Liverpool under Klopp were undoubtedly an incredible attacking unit but, up until then, they were a shambles in defensive terms and were in dire need of reinforcements. Van Dijk gave the Reds exactly that and much more as he transformed the way Liverpool played. His ability to play the ball out of the back, aerial prowess, and brilliant reading of the game made Liverpool one of the most complete teams in Europe.
His impact was felt almost immediately as Van Dijk helped Liverpool reach the 2018 UEFA Champions League final, followed by another appearance in 2019, which they eventually won.
The towering Dutchman was awarded the PFA Player of the Year in his first full campaign at the club in a 98-point season. Van Dijk then played every minute of Liverpool's record-shattering 2019/20 season that ended their 30-year wait for a maiden Premier League title, which they won in the most majestic fashion with seven games left to spare.
In terms of impact alone, Van Dijk ranks right up there with some of the most influential transfers in the post-2000s era and possibly even beyond.