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The Best Free Transfers in Premier League History

Global football has pretty much come to a halt for the time being so now is the perfect time to take a look at some footballing history. Here we will take a look at some of the best and most fortuitous free transfers in Premier League history.

Sol Campbell – Arsenal

In early July 2001, the media gathered for the unveiling of Richard Wright as Arsenal’s newest signing and expected nothing else. However, out walked a fantastic English centre-half whose future at Tottenham Hotspur had been dominating the summer headlines.

Speaking at the time, Arsene Wenger said, “I had Thierry Henry, who used to pass people for fun. But with Sol, there was a wall. It was as if he was indestructible, such a power spread from him. I wanted him in my side and told David Dein that.”

Dein, the vice-chairman, was quick to act on Wenger’s wishes. He brought Campbell from Spurs to Arsenal and the player helped the team win a league and cup double in his first season. In his third season with the team, he was part of the Invincible squad and then he scored a Champions League final goal in his last season, if we do not count his brief encore in 2010. For a while, England’s greatest centre-half was truly priceless.

James Milner – Liverpool


James Milner’s career is almost a textbook example of progression. He began as a teenager fighting to avoid relegation and he is now one of the league’s top players and could be about to secure his third Premier League title in eighteen highly impressive years.

His number of appearances and goals have also had a steady progression. Beginning at Leeds with 48 appearances and 5 goals, he then had 94 appearances and 6 goals at Newcastle, 100 appearances and 12 goals at Aston Villa, and 147 appearances and 13 goals at Manchester City. Milner is now just a few games away from Liverpool becoming his most regular Premier League club.

Very few people would have predicted this situation when Milner joined under Brendan Rodgers in 2015. However, he has exceeded all expectations, performing admirably in a variety of roles. Without him, the team would certainly not be where they are today.

Brad Friedel – Blackburn


In November 2000, Graeme Souness was working hard to mend his reputation as a manager. While he won three Scottish titles in four years at Rangers, he went on to make some terrible errors at Liverpool. After some moving around, he eventually took over from Brian Kidd at Ewood Park.

After his first full season with the team, they were promoted and he won the League Cup with them in his second. In between the two seasons, Brad Friedel was signed. The move gave Friedel the stable platform that he needed to thrive. Friedel went on to set new standards of longevity and durability in the top flight. Only Edwin van der Sar kept more Premier League clean sheets, with 88, than Friedel did during his time at Blackburn, 77.

Jay-Jay Okocha – Bolton


For many people, Jay-Jay Okocha was the standout player of the 1998 FIFA World Cup. His performances earned him a place in the team of the tournament as well as the title of the most expensive African footballer of all time when he later moved to Paris Saint-Germain. He signed a four-year deal with the team, but they were relatively empty years and he then moved again after captaining Nigeria at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Bolton was not an obvious destination for Okocha. The team had just finished sixteenth in the Premier League and ended their campaign with three consecutive defeats. However, he helped the team become one of the most iconic in Premier League history and was instrumental to them reaching Europe before his departure in 2006.

Highlights of his time with the team include the League Cup semi-final free kicks against Aston Villa and the thunder bastard long-range goal at West Ham. He was a captivating player to watch and one that will not be forgotten in a hurry.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Manchester United

In some ways, signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic is symbolic of many of Manchester United’s problems since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. He was 34 years old, demanded extremely high wages and was an obstacle to younger players. However, Jose Mourinho was trying to create a different mentality at the team.

On the other hand, Ibrahimovic exceeded all expectations. To this day, he is the oldest player to score at least 15 goals in a single Premier League season, having scored 17 before he turned 35. He produced a match-winning turn in the League Cup final together with some fantastic performances on the way to winning the Europa League. His nomination for the PFA Player of the Year award was the icing on the cake after a fantastic debut season. While he didn’t remain at the team for long, he certainly made an impact.

Michael Ballack – Chelsea

Michael Ballack has never lost a Premier League game to a team in the bottom half of the table. While Chelsea may have suffered setbacks, even when they were dominating, the setbacks rarely occurred under Michael Ballack, who Alan Hansen once described as “playing with a huge cigar in his mouth”.

Ballack joined the club during a strange time. He was signed from Bayern Munich in 2006 after Mourinho’s team had won back-to-back titles, but he had to wait until his final season in 2010 under Carlo Ancelotti before he too won the league. His disappointment with Bayer Leverkusen and Germany in 2002 was repeated six years later when he lost in the Euro 2008 final and finished second in the Premier League. He also lost in both the Champions League and League Cup finals.

While he was never the most outstanding of midfielders at Chelsea, he was the most consistent. He was outshone at times by players such as Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, Claude Makelele, and Joe Cole, but he never wavered.

Gary McAllister – Liverpool


Back in April 2001, Liverpool had not won at Goodison Park against Everton for 11 years. Then Gary McAllister lined up a 44-yard free kick in stoppage time to end the barren streak.

McAllister had arrived as a 35 year old free signing from Coventry the previous summer and Liverpool had not been performing very well in the years leading up to it. They had not won a trophy since the 1995 League Cup and their best Premier League finish was third in 1996. McAllister went on to score in the 2001 UEFA Cup semi-final and final and he assisted three goals in the final. He also played an important role in the team’s FA and League Cup final successes.

Manager Houllier has described McAllister as his “most inspirational signing” while midfielder Steven called him a role model that he “could learn from both on and off the pitch”.

Ruud Gullit – Chelsea

Chelsea’s new signing Ruud Gullit, 32. Gullit signs on a free transfer from Sampdoria and will earn 1.6 million pounds over two years.

Ruud Gullit’s arrival at Chelsea was met with a huge amount of scepticism and there were repeated questions raised about his motivation and his fitness. However, he was then voted runner-up to Eric Cantona in the Footballer of the Year poll in his debut campaign and his performances during his time with the team did much to change attitudes within English football towards foreign talents.

Marc Albrighton – Leicester


There are many possible names for this list but Marc Albrighton, as Leicester City’s first Champions League goal scorer, certainly deserves to be included. He was an irregular player at Aston Villa until he was released in 2014. At that point, the newly promoted Leicester City had very little to lose by giving the winger a chance on their squad.

It turned out to be an excellent decision. In his first season with the team, he started in just two Premier League games between August and April, and was substituted in both. He was then brought on at half time in a the team’s 2 – 1 win over West Ham before going on to start in each of their last eight matches as the team battled to secure survival.

When Claudio Ranieri took over, he continued to make use of Albrighton. The player did not miss a single game as the team went on to win the title the next season. He is ranked joint sixth with Wes Morgan in terms of Premier League appearances for Leicester (164) and could soon catch up with Robbie Savage (172).

Demba Ba – Newcastle United


Dembe Ba joined West Ham at the end of January 2011 and still managed to finish as the team’s top goal scorer in the Premier League that season. However, a clause in his contract allowed the striker to move for free if the team were relegated and both Everton and Newcastle United were interested.

In the end, he chose to join Newcastle where he helped the team finish fifth in the league and reach the Europa League quarterfinal. He only remained with the team for 18 months, but they were full of impressive achievements. By the time he left, he had scored 29 goals in 54 games, won a Player of the Month award and produced as many Premier League hat-tricks for Newcastle as Alan Shearer and Andy Cole.

OCA News Editor