13 of the best signings by newly-promoted clubs this century

Quick Reads

Whenever a new team earns promotion to the Premier League, they’re likely to be up against it in their first season.

The 2017-18 season marked just the second time in the 21st century that all three teams promoted from the Championship stayed up, and on the previous occasion – 2011-12 – QPR only kept themselves afloat on the final day. If you want to stay up and give yourself a foundation on which to build, smart recruitment is key.

Whether it’s finding a player in time for their one hot season or getting several years of great service out of them, the most successful promoted clubs are those who have been able to combine the players who took them up with a few smart additions. Here are some of the best.

Yossi Benayoun – West Ham

After limping over the line to promotion in 2005, West Ham somehow contrived to cruise to a mid-table finish in their first season back in the top flight.

The goals of Championship trio Marlon Harewood, Bobby Zamora and Teddy Sheringham helped, but the club got some extra spark from the arrival of Yossi Benayoun from Racing Santander.

The Israeli midfielder was slight and unassuming enough to come across as the archetype of a player who would struggle in the Premier League.

However, he chipped in with five goals, from the important (a winner to deny Spurs a shot at the Champions League) to the stylish (a wonderful chip over Fulham keeper Antti Niemi.

Benayoun was quieter the following season, but still ended up being sold at a profit and ticking off Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal before returning to Upton Park.

Esteban Cambiasso – Leicester City

We’re still struggling to get our heads around Esteban Cambiasso – that Esteban Cambiasso – signing up to play for Nigel Pearson.

Still, this was a club that had inexplicably found room for Roberto Mancini in a previous Premier League squad so we all decided to let it slide. It happened, though, and the presence of the Champions League veteran helped them stay afloat.

A highlight was the 5-3 victory over Manchester United, a game in which the Argentine made his first start and scored his first goal for the Foxes.

He played his part in the Great Escape with the opener against West Ham in April and scored his last goal for the club on the final day of the season against QPR.

However, he was gone by the time Leicester did the unthinkable and won the league the following season. Is it possible he was holding them back? No, no it isn’t possible.

Étienne Capoue – Watford

In another timeline, Capoue might forever have been tarred with the same brush as Spurs’ other post-Bale signings such as Roberto Soldado and Paulinho, but Watford have allowed him to carve his own niche.

The French midfielder joined in 2015, one of a number of smart signings under Quique Flores which also included José Holebas and on-loan Nathan Aké, and has more than repaid the sub-£10million fee.

Capoue has racked up more than 100 games for the Hornets and earning the club’s Player of the Season award in 2018-19.

Pascal Chimbonda – Wigan Athletic

Hands up who expected to see a Wigan Athletic player on the bench for a World Cup final. Liars, the lot of you.

Chimbonda’s move to Lancashire from Bastia barely caused a ripple at the time, but a phenomenal debut season brought an inclusion in the PFA Team of the Season and a call-up to France’s squad for the World Cup in Germany.

The right-back may have only spent one season at Wigan before jumping ship for Tottenham, but what a season it was. He was a fixture in a squad which far outperformed any expectations, picking up more than 50 points and finishing in the top half – two things they have yet to achieve since.

Abdoulaye Faye – Stoke City

Stoke’s first ever season in the Premier League was not meant to be easy. Indeed, Paddy Power famously paid out on them to be relegated after the opening day of the season, when they were beaten 3-1 at Bolton.

It was easy to see why signings such as Michael Tonge, Tom Soares and Andrew Davies might have led people to believe Stoke were ill-equipped for the top flight, but Tony Pulis also made some extremely smart signings.

Goalkeeper Thomas Sørensen arrived on a free transfer from Aston Villa, but the real game changer in the first half of that season was Faye, a £2.25million capture from Newcastle United.

Amusingly signed on the same day as Amdy Faye from Charlton, the good Faye certainly had the strength to fit the stereotype, but he was also ridiculously calm and classy on the ball, often dribbling his way out of seemingly perilous danger.

He was also a real leader at a time when Ryan Shawcross was still learning on the job and suffered something a baptism of fire against Kevin Davies on that first day.

Shawcross soon learned from Faye, though, and the pair ensured Stoke finished up in 12th, some 11 points clear of the relegation zone, despite averaging only a goal a game.

Zoltán Gera – West Brom

West Brom’s second stint in the Premier League wasn’t their longest, but it did at least bring one of the best players to turn out for the Baggies in the top flight.

Hungarian midfielder Gera joined from Ferencváros for just £1.5million, and his four years of service in his first spell made that look like nothing.

Gera’s role in his debut season helped West Brom defy the odds and stay up, and it’s no coincidence that his time on the treatment table coincided with relegation the following year, but he stuck around and more than pulled his weight in the Championship before returning to The Hawthorns following a stint at Fulham, eventually battling back from more injury problems to score some big goals in his second spell.

Raúl Jiménez – Wolves

Wolves showed the Premier League – especially Fulham – how to spend big as a newly promoted team. Rui Patricio and João Moutinho were both very smart purchases, but the Portuguese pair are edged out here by top scorer Jiménez.

The Mexican striker had been linked with Premier League clubs in the past, but a failure to ever hit double figures in European league football meant the loan-with-an-option deal still felt like a gamble.

Not that Jiménez saw it that way: he scored 13 goals in the league, and 17 in all competitions, to make the permanent £30million move feel like a no-brainer. We’re hoping to see more of his creative celebrations as he aims to push on next season.

Steed Malbranque – Fulham

Like Wolves in 2018, Jean Tigana’s Fulham had a greater allure than your average Premier League newcomer when they came up in 2001, and this allowed them to bring in Malbranque, then a French Under-21 star who already had Champions League football under his belt at the age of 21.

While other big-money buys failed – not naming names, okay, one name, Steve Marlet – Malbranque played more than 200 times for the Cottagers before moving to Tottenham and then Sunderland.

He was the model of consistency at Craven Cottage, scoring exactly six goals in four of his first five seasons. However that first year, when he dovetailed with Louis Saha, was the best.

READ: An ode to Steed Malbranque, a player so wonderful even Tony Blair loved him

Peter Odemwingie – West Brom

Nigerian forward Peter Odemwingie had impressed in Russia and France, but a move from those leagues to a team expected to struggle in the Premier League is usually expected to bring fewer goals and a generally tougher time.

Clearly, no one told the Uzbek-born forward when he traded Lokomotiv Moscow, a staple in the top half of the Russian League, for a West Brom side whose last four Premier League finishes had been 20th, 19th, 17th and 19th.

Odemwingie scored 15 goals in that first season, including the opener in a surprise win at Arsenal, as the Baggies clawed their way to 11th in the league.

The following year, his goal tally was a little lower but Albion’s position one higher, and he endeared himself to the fans with a hat-trick in a 5-1 demolition of neighbours Wolves.

READ: A tribute to Peter Odemwingie, a wonderful player unfairly remembered

Cheick Tioté – Newcastle United

Newcastle did well to bounce back from relegation in 2009 to instantly return to the Premier League, but Chris Hughton knew the club needed to add quality upon their return.

Enter Tioté, the Ivorian midfielder who had played his part in FC Twente’s surprise Eredivisie triumph the previous season.

Tioté almost instantly got himself into the fans’ good books, scoring a stunning equaliser to earn a point from 4-0 down against Arsenal in his debut season, but little would the Toon Army know that would be his only goal for the club.

Tugay – Blackburn Rovers

Like Tioté at Newcastle, Tugay was a predominantly deep-lying midfielder who had possessed a great shot when called upon, but that’s where the similarities end. The Turkish international scored one long-range cracker, then another, then… you get the picture.

Signed from Rangers by Graeme Souness in 2001, the Turkish international dominated midfield and quickly became a fan favourite, with the gallery of stunning long-range strikes more than playing their part in helping him garner that reputation.

Perhaps the pick of the bunch was his volley against Tottenham, the technique and power enough to convince us that Paul Scholes must have watched Tugay when practicing his technique.

Edwin van der Sar – Fulham

Not every club has the resources to pick up a Champions League winning goalkeeper immediately after promotion, but Fulham still had to pick the right one, and they certainly did that.

To call Van der Sar’s move to west London a surprise would be an understatement – he was hardly out of favour at Juventus, after all – and he showed in his four years at Craven Cottage that he was anything but a busted flush.

It somehow even got better after he left for Manchester United, even though he was 35 at the time.

Michel Vorm – Swansea City

Van der Sar isn’t the only Dutch goalkeeper to impress for a newly promoted team, but he’s probably the best known.

Vorm’s move to Swansea from Utrecht to Swansea was a real ‘this also happened’ of a transfer in a summer which also saw David de Gea and Thibaut Courtois move to England, but Vorm was one of the best keepers in the league throughout his time in south Wales.

‘Supervorm’, as he was dubbed in some quarters, thrived under Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup as the Swans established themselves in the Premier League, eventually earning a move to Tottenham which has… been slightly less of a success.


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