Recruitment can often be the defining factor between failure and success for Premier League managers, with the ability to find solutions in the transfer market key to building a trophy-winning side.
English football’s leading sides have notoriously splashed the cash throughout the division’s near three decade existence, but there have perhaps only been a handful of signings who have truly transformed the fortunes of their respective teams.
Bruno Fernandes is the latest player to be lauded following his stunning form for Manchester United, the midfielder widely acknowledged as the catalyst behind an upturn in performances from the current league leaders.
We’ve decided to pick out some iconic transfers that left a lasting impact, here are five of the most transformative signings in Premier League history:
Perhaps the most transformative signing the Premier League has seen, Eric Cantona’s shock switch from Leeds to Manchester United not only changed his new side’s fortunes but the entire landscape of English football.
United had been narrowly beaten to the final pre-Premier League title by their northern rivals, with the French forward having played his part in the run-in for Leeds with a series of important goals.
Cantona had begun the inaugural Premier League campaign well and scored the division’s first ever hat-trick, though manager Howard Wilkinson was not convinced by the star and a chance phone call led to the forward crossing the Pennines in a stunning deal.
United had been desperately searching for firepower after making a stuttering start to the season, with Sir Alex Ferguson prepared to gamble on the talented but temperamental Cantona.
Whilst Cantona had been an enigmatic spare part in a talented Leeds side, he became the final piece of the puzzle for Manchester United as he swaggered into Old Trafford and announced himself as a star.
The Frenchman made an immediate impact as he inspired a Red Devils side – languishing in eighth at the time of his arrival – to seven wins in his first nine games, beginning a run that delivered a first league title in 26 years.
Over the next four seasons he emerged as the Premier League’s most influential player, helping United dominate the early seasons of the rebranded division with four titles in just five campaigns.
His maverick match-winning ability saw him become one of the greatest players in the club’s history, winning PFA Player of the Year award as United won a domestic double in 1993/94 before being named as the FWA Footballer of the Year as another double was secured two years later.
Cantona decided to retire from the game aged just 30 and walked away from Old Trafford after five seasons, though forward’s impact laid the foundations for almost two decades of unbroken domestic dominance.
The inaugural season of the Premier League also saw the return of an ambitious Blackburn side to the highest level, with the Lancashire outfit winning promotion in 1991/92 and setting their sights on much more than just making up the numbers.
Jack Walker’s millions helped build a formidable side at Ewood Park including the British transfer-record acquisition of Southampton striker Alan Shearer, who headed to Blackburn despite well-documented interest from Manchester United.
Shearer’s signing proved the catalyst behind Blackburn emerging as one of the Premier League’s best sides and the newly-promoted outfit were in contention for the title until their star signing – with 16 goals in 21 appearances – suffered a serious knee injury in December that would curtail his debut campaign.
The forward’s return from injury saw him establish himself as the best forward in English football, plundering 30+ league goals in three consecutive campaigns, winning the FWA Footballer of the Year in 1993/94 and the PFA Player of the Year accolade after firing Blackburn to the title the following season.
Shearer remains the only player in Premier League history to have scored 30 league goals in more than one season and scored a staggering 112 in just 138 league appearances over his four-season spell with Blackburn.
No player has ever scored more than his 260 goals in the Premier League and it is a landmark that many feel may never be beaten, Shearer also the all-time record goalscorer in the history of Newcastle after completing a £15m world-record move to his boyhood side in 1996.
The nineties saw a wealth of foreign imports transform the landscape of the Premier League and perhaps none symbolised a shift in mentality and style better than Dennis Bergkamp, the forward taking time to find his feet before becoming a crucial figure in Arsenal’s history.
Arsenal had developed a reputation as a formidably strong defensive side under the management of George Graham with a notorious rearguard famed for their resilience, the chants of ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ a recurring theme of that time.
Graham had spent almost a decade in charge of the Gunners and brought a wealth of success to north London, winning two league championships in three seasons, one domestic cup double and the Cup Winner’s Cup before being sacked in controversial circumstances.
His replacement, Bruce Rioch, did little to leave a lasting legacy at Arsenal, though the Scot will always be remembered as the man that brought Dennis Bergkamp to English football.
Bergkamp became the club’s record purchase from Inter Milan but was criticised following a difficult start, though the arrival of Arsene Wenger as manager would unleash the Dutchman from his shackles.
With Bergkamp orchestrating play Arsenal would transition from a dogged defensive outfit to one that played free-flowing fluid football, the Netherlands international linking the play and providing moments of improvised ingenuity.
Wenger’s first full season delivered a domestic double in 1997/98 and saw Bergkamp named as the Footballer of the Year after scoring 22 goals in all competitions, before remaining a crucial part of further title successes in 2002 and 2004.
Bergkamp was a master of finding time and space and had the vision to dismantle opposition defences, the first – and perhaps most crucial – part of the greatest Arsenal’s sides of the modern era.
Virgil van Dijk
Each of three aforementioned players inspired their sides with attacking quality, but it’s often said that it is defences that truly prove the difference in title-winning sides.
The early years of Jurgen Klopp’s reign at Liverpool had seen some enthralling, if a little chaotic, action, with the Reds possessing one of the league’s most exciting forwards lines and one of its least reliable defences.
Klopp recognised the need for improved solidity and made his move for Southampton centre-back Virgil van Dijk, only to see an approach rejected by the Saints with Liverpool forced into an embarrassing retreat.
Undeterred, however, Liverpool took a patient approach to their pursuit with Klopp convinced the Dutch defender was the man to transform his side’s fortunes, a decision which has been vindicated in the three years since his record-breaking arrival on Merseyside.
Van Dijk’s list of achievements includes reaching back-to-back Champions League finals, with the defender imperious as Liverpool were crowned champions of Europe in 2019, a campaign which saw the centre-back win the PFA Player of the Year award and finish as runner-up for the Ballon d’Or.
Only five outfield players have played every single minute of a Premier League title-winning campaign:
❍ Gary Pallister (1992-93)
❍ John Terry (2014-15)
❍ Wes Morgan (2015-16)
❍ Cesar Azpilicueta (2016-17)
❍ Virgil Van Dijk (2019-20)
Four becomes five. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/JEBnHzNNKP
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 26, 2020
Last season the centre-back continued to enhance his reputation as the game’s best defender, playing every single minute as the Reds ended a 30-year wait to be crowned as league champions.
Bruno Fernandes has a strong case as the Premier League’s most influential footballer over the past year, such has been the midfielder’s influence since signing for Manchester United.
United have struggled to repeat their previous successes since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and looked set for another season of mediocrity during 2019/20, languishing outside of the Champions League places until a much-needed injection of quality in the winter window.
Fernandes had been monitored by some of the continent’s finest following a prolific period at Sporting Lisbon, though it was the Red Devils who gambled on his talents in securing a deal worth an initial £47m.
That fee has proven a brilliant investment following the midfielder’s transformative impact on the side, Fernandes’ arrival sparking a 14-game unbeaten run that saw United secure a top four finish on the final day of the season.
The Portugal international provided 15 goal involvements in those 14 games and has continued to produce attacking numbers at a remarkable record, eclipsing Frank Lampard’s calendar year record for most goal involvements by a midfielder.
Bruno Fernandes and Eric Cantona 👀 pic.twitter.com/Fn8wUL93AF
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) January 21, 2021
Whilst his numbers stack up to the game’s best talents it is the personality he has brought that is perhaps equally as important, the 26-year-old a natural leader and a player who demands only the best from both himself and his teammates.
United – having struggled to compete in the eight seasons since Ferguson’s retirement – currently sit top of the Premier League and there is now cautious optimism that silverware may just be on the horizon.