Six signings that didn’t get enough credit for helping transform their clubs
The immediate impact made by the likes of Bruno Fernandes at Manchester United and Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool is obvious to see, but there are plenty of signings that more subtly made a big difference at their clubs.
There are times when it can be cheaper, less high-profile additions that have a huge influence in turning their side’s fortunes around, which is something to consider when there’s a clamour to go out and sign the biggest superstars around.
Here are six of our picks for unheralded signings that played a major role in bringing silverware to their clubs. Tweet us with any more at @planetfutebol or comment below.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Chelsea fan with a bad word to say about Cech, given how good he was at his peak and the role he played in the most successful period of the club’s history, but it’s easy to forget quite how colossal the impact he made was.
Roman Abramovich had already spent over £150million on squad additions in the summer of 2003, with the likes of Damien Duff, Joe Cole, Claude Makelele and Scott Parker joining a squad that already boasted Frank Lampard and John Terry.
With all of those players, Claudio Ranieri’s Blues finished 11 points behind Arsenal’s Invincibles in 2004. The following season, with Cech replacing Carlo Cudicini between the sticks, Chelsea won the title and finished 12 points ahead of the Gunners, conceding just 15 goals – half as many as the season before – with Cech keeping 24 clean sheets from 35 starts.
The arrival of the Special One justifiably dominates the narrative, but he might not have quite that special without arguably the best keeper in the world at the time. An absolute steal at £11million from Rennes.
Amid the arrival of
Mourinho Cech at Chelsea, Manchester United endured the most fallow period of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure in the Premier League era. Between 2003 and 2006 they didn’t make it past the Champions League round of 16 and finished 15, 15 and eight points behind the respective champions.
How did Ferguson’s United respond to falling so far behind? A mammoth spending spree and complete overhaul? No, a solitary, not particularly flashy signing in the summer of 2006: Carrick arrived from Tottenham in a deal worth up to £18.6million.
United already boasted two of the best young players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, but it was only in a more cohesive, balanced team that they started to realise their true potential on a consistent basis.
Carrick was never a player you’d pick in your FPL team – 24 goals and 40 assists in 481 Premier League appearances attest to that – but you could say the same for Paul Scholes, Xavi, Andrea Pirlo or, today, Thiago Alcantara.
Like all great midfielders, he made his team tick. Rooney and Ronaldo scored 23 goals apiece in all competitions as United won the Premier League in 2006-07, the first of three successive titles, with the Champions League alongside them in 2008.
A lot happened in the summer of 2008.
Spain won the Euros with Xaxi and Andres Iniesta playing starring roles. Pep Guardiola was appointed as Barcelona manager, kicked out Deco and Ronaldinho, promoted Pedro and Sergio Busquets from the B team and brought Gerard Pique back home from Manchester United.
What followed was a revolution, arguably the best club side in history, playing a style of intricate passing that football never before seen.
Pique and Seydou Keita were solid additions – Alexander Hleb and Henrique less so – but the signing that really helped bring Guardiola’s vision to life was Alves.
A ready-made superstar at Sevilla, the right-back instantly transformed how Barcelona attacked, immediately striking up a brilliant understanding with Lionel Messi, who won his first Ballon d’Or off the back of that first treble-winning 2008-09 season, with a glut more trophies to follow.
Only Iniesta and Luis Suarez have set up more Messi goals than Alves. We honestly reckon he’s Barca’s best-ever Brazilian, ahead of the likes of Neymar, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho…
Think of all the brilliant midfielders at Manchester City over recent years. Chances are you’ll think of David Silva, Yaya Toure, Kevin De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva and now Phil Foden.
Chances are you won’t think of Nasri, who became more meme than footballer after the infamous ‘Drip Doctors’ episode in 2016.
Dips in form and fitness issues meant that the former France international wasn’t always brilliant while at City, but he usually was in his debut campaign – the club’s first Premier League title win back in 2011-12.
Understandably overshadowed by fellow 2011 signing Sergio Aguero, who provided that season’s climactic moment with his 30th goal of his debut season, they might not have been in a position to clinch it were it not for Nasri, who added yet more quality and creativity to City’s midfield while they were still establishing themselves as a force.
Nasri registered five goals and a further nine assists in the Premier League that year – a joint career-best tally for direct goal contributions he’d match in their second title win in 2013-14. It’s easy to forget how good he once was.
The reported £75million fee that Barcelona paid for Luis Suarez got all the attention in the summer of 2014, and understandably so given the season he’d just had at Liverpool, not to mention the fact he’d just taken a bite out of Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup.
After coming into the team late after serving a ban for said bite, Suarez immediately hit the ground running, forming an unstoppable trident with Messi and Neymar. The three forwards scored 122 goals and registered 55 assists between them as they won the treble that season.
But the club also made a solid, more unheralded signing that summer: Rakitic from Sevilla, whereby not for the first time the Catalan club took advantage of Monchi’s fine eye for a player.
La Masia academy graduates Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas had been tipped to succeed the irreplaceable Xavi in Barcelona’s midfield, but in the end it was the Croatia international – more of an all-rounder than a metronome – that kept the club legend out of Barcelona’s XI as he started to finally wane.
Rakitic opened the scoring against Juventus as Barcelona completed their second treble with a 3-1 win in the Champions League final. He also won four La Liga titles and four Copa del Rey during his six years at the club.
🎁 4⃣ 🎁
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) December 4, 2018
Reportedly facing pressure from above to integrate all of Real Madrid’s glitziest signings into the same XI, Rafael Benitez struggled to play politics during his short stint at the Bernabeu, with a Toni Kroos-Luka Modric-James Rodriguez midfield proving too lightweight behind Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.
That was particularly evident in a disastrous 4-0 home defeat to Barcelona in November 2015. Benitez hung around for a few more weeks, but the writing was on the wall from that point onwards.
In came Zinedine Zidane, who thanks to his illustrious playing career, arrived in the dugout with a quiet authority. There was no dictating the team to Zizou, who himself knew how important balance was to midfield, having experienced first-hand Florentino Perez’s first Galacticos project fall apart following the departure of key cog Claude Makelele to Chelsea.
The Frenchman quickly identified the need for a proper pivot behind Kroos and Modric, and Casemiro was that player. The Brazilian brought structure to the team, and the rest is history: one of the first names on Zidane’s teamsheet as the club won three successive Champions Leagues between 2016 and 2018.