24 of the best players to move from the Championship to the Premier League
Premier League clubs look less and less to the Football League for players these days – but there have still been plenty of quality signings made from the Championship since 2000.
English clubs often find themselves paying hefty fees for top talent from abroad, but the quality is out there in the lower leagues if you look hard enough.
We’ve picked out 24 of the best players Premier League clubs have signed from the second tier this century, and to do that we’ve included a small caveat or two.
Firstly, we’re not including anyone who’d played in the Premier League before being signed from a second tier team. Michael Carrick might have been technically signed after a season in the Championship, but he won’t be appearing here.
There’s also no room for those signed from below the second tier, which means the likes of Dele Alli and Fabian Delph have to watch on from the sidelines.
So, with an honourable mention to nearly-men like Jonathan Walters, Jamaal Lascelles and Alfie Mawson, let’s get this show on the road.
24. Jeff Hendrick – Derby County to Burnley, 2016
For a while, Hendrick was one of those players you assumed would be in the Championship forever. He was already at Derby County, the natural home for that sort of player, and had crossed the 200-game threshold for the club in the 2015-16 season.
However, after trading Pride Park for Turf Moor, it felt like almost nothing had changed. He has slotted into Burnley’s midfield seamlessly, helping Sean Dyche’s team establish itself in the top-flight and continuing to impress even without the injured Steven Defour alongside him in 2018-19.
23. Demarai Gray – Birmingham to Leicester, 2016
When Leicester were chasing an unlikely Premier League title in 2016, their January transfer window was going to be important, and they were smart enough to use their standing to pick up sought-after Birmingham talent Gray when they could, in a great display of striking while the iron is hot.
The winger only played a few games that season, but he was an extra option to help close off games, and the Foxes lost just one of his 11 games en route to the title. Now an established member of the squad, it’s easy to forget he’s still just 22.
22. Lewis Cook – Leeds to Bournemouth, 2016
It took a little while for Cook to get a real crack at Bournemouth, making just four Premier League starts in his first season (in part due to injury), but he has benefited from being eased in.
The midfielder had a fantastic 2017-18 season, earning him a place on England’s standby list for the World Cup, and he kept that form going before injury struck again in December.
Bournemouth picked up 20 points in his 13 appearances in 2018-19, and just 25 from the 25 games he missed.
21-20. James Collins and Danny Gabbidon – Cardiff to West Ham, 2005
When newly-promoted West Ham moved to strengthen their squad under Alan Pardew in 2005, the double-signing of two Cardiff defenders felt a bit like the club saying “surely one of them will be alright”.
As it happened, both did well, just not at the same time. Gabbidon was the club’s player of the season in his first year, while Collins played a vital role in the ‘great escape’ the following season.
The latter would ultimately leave for Aston Villa and return in 2012, but we can’t include his second stint here.
19. Michail Antonio – Nottingham Forest to West Ham, 2015
Antonio needed an injury crisis in order to get his chance at West Ham, making just two substitute appearances before December in his first season, but since getting his chance he hasn’t looked back
The winger crossed the 25-goal mark in his fourth season in east London, despite spending some of that time at right-back, and he has fought off competition from more expensive and more highly-rated players to remain an important part of the team.
18. James Maddison – Norwich to Leicester, 2018
Maddison is likely to move up this list with the benefit of time, but while he certainly looks like the real deal, he has only one season’s worth of performances to fall back on.
We know all about what the playmaker is capable of, but now it’s time to see how high his ceiling really is.
17. David Brooks – Sheffield United to Bournemouth, 2018
While Maddison was rightly fawned over in the 2018-19 season, Brooks was even more productive than the Leicester man.
The Wales international produced a goal or assist every 190 minutes for Bournemouth, and that’s without taking set pieces.
England may ultimately look at him as the one who got away after he declared for Wales despite winning the 2017 Toulon tournament for the country of his birth.
16. Jay Rodriguez – Burnley to Southampton, 2012
In the same summer as Nathaniel Clyne’s arrival, Southampton gave Jay Rodriguez his Premier League chance after the striker had been limited to cup appearances when on the books of then top-flight Burnley in 2009-10.
His nine-goal debut campaign included strikes against Chelsea (twice), Liverpool and Manchester United, while the 17 goals he scored the following year might well have brought him a spot in England’s World Cup squad were it not for injury.
He hasn’t quite been the same since recovering from that ACL tear, but 2018-19 brought his first double-figure season since then, for Championship outfit West Brom.
15. Nathaniel Clyne – Crystal Palace to Southampton, 2012
Before Clyne became one of Liverpool’s many, many signings from Southampton, he joined the south coast club from Crystal Palace following their promotion.
The right-back went straight from a disappointing 17th-place finish in the second tier to three strong years with the Saints in the Premier League, keeping his place after Mauricio Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins.
A strong start at Liverpool followed, bringing an inclusion in England’s Euro 2016 squad, though an untimely injury has seen him since fade.
14. Aaron Cresswell – Ipswich to West Ham, 2014
If Cresswell can be considered a parting gift from Sam Allardyce to West Ham, he’s a very good one.
The left-back has racked up 150 games for West Ham, rarely missing out when fit, and earned his first England cap while playing for the London club. Not bad for someone signed at 24, having only ever played for Tranmere and Ipswich.
13. Joe Gomez – Charlton to Liverpool, 2015
Were it not for injuries, Gomez would probably be much higher on this list already. The versatile defender has shown his class throughout his four years at Anfield, only to suffer absences at the most inopportune times.
Gomez’s last 50 Liverpool appearances have brought 31 victories, and he now has a Champions League winner’s medal after coming on in the 2019 final.
Fans will hope he remains injury-free in 2019-20, giving him a chance to really show us what he can do.
12. Leo Ulloa – Brighton to Leicester, 2014
Ulloa might have crept onto this list on the strength of his first Leicester season, an 11-goal campaign which kept the club in the Premier League, but then 2015-16 happened.
The Argentine only scored six goals that year, having outscored Jamie Vardy in his debut campaign, but the tally included a late winner against Norwich in February to keep Leicester out of reach, and a stoppage-time penalty in a dramatic draw at home to West Ham in April. He certainly did his part.
11. Jermaine Jenas – Nottingham Forest to Newcastle, 2002
A fair few of those on this list started out at Nottingham Forest, and Jenas hadn’t even played a full season for the club before becoming the most expensive English teenager at the time.
It was at Newcastle where he began to establish himself, making his Champions League and international debuts while with the Magpies before growing even more as a player after moving on to Tottenham.
The step up from the Championship is what matters here, though, and that stint in the north-east included a stunning goal in a 6-2 defeat against Manchester United.
10. Jack Butland – Birmingham to Stoke, 2013
With interest growing in Asmir Begović by 2013, Stoke smartly moved quickly to pick up Butland after the young keeper had enjoyed a real breakout season with Birmingham.
He might not have featured that much in his first two seasons, but upon the Bosnian’s departure in 2015, the Potters had a ready-made replacement.
Butland was another to miss out on a major tournament through injury, suffering an ankle problem shortly before Euro 2016 which kept him out for a full year, but he was a firm first choice for Stoke either side of that injury and earned a spot in England’s 2018 World Cup squad.
He won’t be back down in the Championship much longer.
9. Michael Dawson – Nottingham Forest to Tottenham, 2005
When Spurs signed Dawson and Andy Reid from Forest, there was no guarantee that the centre-back would be the more influential of the pair. However, when he left the club after nine years, there was no denying it.
Dawson’s 300+ games at White Hart Lane included a fair few as captain, and he led the club into their first ever Champions League campaign along the way. Not bad for a man signed as a 21-year-old with no top-flight experience.
8. John Stones – Barnsley to Everton, 2013
Stones is another who was eased in by a Premier League club, waiting more than six months for his Everton debut after arriving from Barnsley in the January transfer window, but he soon made up for lost time.
The central defender played more than 20 times in his first full season at Goodison Park, despite not turning 20 until the end of the campaign, and got a good grounding under Roberto Martínez before earning the Toffees a hefty transfer fee from Manchester City.
We all know what happened after that.
7. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – Southampton to Arsenal, 2011
While Oxlade-Chamberlain’s recent injury woes may cloud our judgement, there’s no denying signing a player as a teenager from the Championship and watching him travel to a World Cup within three years counts as good work.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was a mainstay at Arsenal for several years and earned them a £35million fee when he left (with three FA Cup victories to his name).
Most youngsters picked up by the club only manage one of the two.
6. Darren Bent – Ipswich to Charlton, 2005
Charlton needed to be creative in the transfer market throughout their time in the Premier League, and for them that meant acting quickly to sign young striker Bent while others were dithering.
The 21-year-old started like a train, with the 18 league goals in his first season beaten by only Ruud van Nistelrooy and Thierry Henry.
Bent followed that up with 13 for a relegated side the following year, and would end his career with more than 100 Premier League goals.
5. Theo Walcott – Southampton to Arsenal, 2006
As long as you don’t judge Walcott by the 2006 World Cup call-up, you can appreciate his decade at Arsenal was well above what can be expected of a teenager brought in from the second tier.
To get 100 goals from such a player is a great return, and Walcott could have achieved even more in north London were it not for some pieces of bad timing.
4. Joleon Lescott – Wolves to Everton, 2006
Lescott was on Wolves’ books when they were relegated from the Premier League in 2003-04 but injury prevented him from featuring that season.
However, after being given a second chance of top-flight football when David Moyes’ Everton came calling, he grasped it with both hands.
Everton got Lescott’s best years from him, too, cashing out when his value was high, though Lescott won’t mind having been given the chance to win the Premier League twice with Manchester City.
3. Tim Cahill – Millwall to Everton, 2004
Cahill had impressed in his early career with Millwall, but the Australian was 24 and unproven at the top level when Everton took a punt. And what a punt it was.
The Australian scored 11 goals in his very first season, helping secure a top-four spot, and played a huge part in the club’s resurgence under David Moyes, ultimately bowing out with more than 250 Toffees appearances to his name and a fair few big goals in that time.
2. Aaron Ramsey – Cardiff to Arsenal, 2008
It’s going to be weird seeing Ramsey away from Arsenal in the 2019-20 season, but he spent time away from the club earlier in his career, starting out with boyhood club Cardiff City.
In 11 years at Arsenal, he has gone from the exciting youngster in south Wales to the complete midfielder, recovering from a horrible injury in his second season to re-establish himself and then some. He’ll be sorely missed.
1. Gareth Bale – Southampton to Tottenham, 2007
Just edging out his compatriot is Bale, though it didn’t always seem certain that he’d achieve what he did at Spurs. After all, it took the Welshman more than two years to finish on the winning side for the London club.
Things had begun to shift before a famous performance at Inter, but that was the point at which he truly came into his own. That record transfer fee when he moved to Real Madrid off the back of a sensational 26-goal season – some stunners among them – is just the icing on the cake.