During a summer which saw a hyper-inflated market hit the Premier League’s clubs in the pocket, most of the back-page headlines were dominated by extravagant fees. Fuelled by the ripple of first Romelu Lukaku’s £75m fee then later Neymar Jr’s surprise move to PSG which more than doubled the previous transfer record, transfer spending hit an all-time high.
With a 23% rise on the previous year, Premier League clubs spent a combined £1.4 billion on new players. However, hidden in the cracks there were still many bargains to be had, not least those made possible by the actions of Jean-Marc Bosman.
With Wayne Rooney swapping the red of Manchester for the blue of Merseyside after United agreed to waive his transfer fee, Andy Dickinson looks at five other free signings who have had a bigger impact at their new club than the ex-England skipper during the start of this season.
5 Pablo Zabaleta
He may not have the speed and stamina that helped earn him his reputation as a cult hero amongst the Etihad’s terraces but Zabaleta has proved he still has plenty to offer. The 32-year-old right back has been the best summer signing by far at West Ham, making a mockery of the £40 million spent elsewhere and adding a glimmer of positivity in a sea of sub-standard performances
He could have placed higher on this list if it wasn’t for his disciplinary record which saw him sit out the crucial home defeat by Liverpool last weekend after picking up five yellow cards during the first nine Premier League games.
4 Darren Fletcher
One of the early surprises this summer was the transfer of Darren Fletcher from West Brom to Stoke. The Baggies captain was the heartbeat of the side last season with driving performances and an ever-present appearance record after fighting back from ulcerative colitis in 2013.
Having achieved 100 consecutive games without missing a match against Bournemouth two weeks ago, last weekend he went one further by scoring a stunning volley to give his side victory over Watford.
He may not be the captain at his new club but he is a leader on the field and this is exactly what Mark Hughes needs this term if he’s to bring some consistency to the Potter's form.
3 Kiko Fermenia
Marco Silva is quickly establishing himself as something of a shrewd operator in the transfer market and his capture of Francisco Femenía Far is yet another indication of this.
After failing to progress through the second teams of both Barcelona then Real Madrid and upon his contract expiring at Alavés, Femenía signed for Watford. At this point, though, the established figure of Daryl Janmaat still commanded a first-team position.
Janmaat’s injury in the 17th minute of the club’s opening game against Liverpool handed an opportunity to Femenía and he hasn’t looked back since. His positional and strategic nous, coupled with the fact he’s recorded the second-fastest speed in the Premier League this season, have endeared him to his manager.
2 Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting
As the second Stoke player on this list, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting makes a mockery of all the high-profile signings that Mark Hughes has bought into the dressing room at the Britannia Stadium over recent years. With two goals and three assists, he’s second only to Xherdan Shaqiri in the number of league goals he’s been involved with for the Potters.
His two goals against Manchester United brought him into the spotlight but his energetic displays and positive attitude are what have kept him there. Having started every game but the season’s opener against Everton, Choupo-Moting is now one of the first names on the team sheet each week following his third consecutive free transfer when he signed from FC Schalke 04 this summer.
1 Sead Kolasinac
Saed Kolasinac has quickly become a cult hero at the Emirates and, although he’s not starting every high-profile game for the Gunners, he has been making an impact for the team when he is called into action. What at first appeared to be a budget option from a manager known for keeping the purse strings pulled tight, Kolasinac’s performances have been anything but budget.
Despite not being as technically proficient as most other Arsenal players in recent memory, his physical strength and determination more than make up for this.
Having been named in the Bundesliga team of the season last year, the Bosnian left-back has been dominant down the Gunners wing and, with a goal and three assists in the Premier League as well as scoring a net-breaking goal against Cologne in the Europa League, there appears to be some truth behind Arsene Wenger's recent assertion that future transfers could see top players moving between clubs without a fee being attached.
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