Ranking each Premier League club’s record signing from worst to best

Quick Reads
Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk during their draw with Tottenham, February 2018.

With the riches that have flooded English football since the advent of the Premier League, clubs seem to break their transfer record on a bi-annual basis – but that’s no guarantee of success.

Every club in the 2021-22 edition has made their most expensive signing since 2016, reflecting a vastly inflated transfer market. But, while some players have flourished, others have struggled to live up to expectations and have seen their reputation diminished.

We’ve ranked every Premier League club’s record purchase from worst to best.

20. Tanguy Ndombele (Tottenham)

Ndombele has played under four managers at Tottenham and they’ve all, without fail, become exasperated with the £55million signing.

Reportedly paid the same weekly wage as Sir Harry Kane, the midfielder has badly underperformed at Spurs with injuries and inconsistent form undermining his chances of justifying the massive transfer fee.

Ndombele’s future at the club appears firmly up in the air after he was booed by his own fans having been hauled off against Morecambe in the FA Cup – not even the occasional flash of class has pacified the Spurs supporters.

It may be down to recency bias but Ndombele has been disastrous for Spurs and fully merits finishing bottom here.

19. Nicolas Pepe (Arsenal)

Oh dear.

18. Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton)

Everton have not been able to call on their club-record signing this season, and when he was playing, he wasn’t exactly proving value-for-money in midfield. 

Signed for £45million during Ronald Koeman’s splurge in the summer of 2017, Sigurdsson often looked one-paced and quickly became a poster boy for Everton’s profligate recruitment strategy.

It’s hard to imagine he’d have made much difference under Benitez considering his previous contributions.

17. Sebastian Haller (West Ham)

Haller has been superb for Ajax, scoring 33 times in 48 games and demonstrating why West Ham spent £45million on him in 2019.

The problem? West Ham saw nothing like that during his unhappy 18-month spell in England. Granted, Haller started well enough but struggled to score in an under-performing side and walked around with a face like a slapped arse.

Not even David Moyes could get a tune from Haller and the club were happy to sell him for €22.5 million. He’s exactly the type of striker they’d be linked with signing, judging by his 2021-22 form. 

16. Jack Grealish (Manchester City)

Grealish will be the first to admit he hasn’t had the desired impact since joining Manchester City for £100million in 2021.

“I obviously thought going to City, the best club in England, the best players, I’m going to get 20 or 30 goal involvements,” he said. “But it hasn’t been the case at all. I’ve actually struggled with my goals and assists.

“The price tag on my head, as soon as you don’t get them, people start talking and doubting you.”

It often takes incoming attackers a season to get used to Pep Guardiola demands, so there’s every opportunity that Grealish will deliver at the Etihad.

But there remains a touch of Ross Barkley about him – an exciting player, but one whose ability is exaggerated because of his nationality.

Harsh? Only time will tell…

15. Christos Tzolis (Norwich)

At only £10million, Norwich can have the consolation of not breaking the bank for Tzolis in 2021.

The snag is that the winger has yet to provide a goal or assist in the Premier League and received a bollocking from Daniel Farke after missing a penalty when he was not the designated penalty-taker during the League Cup defeat to Liverpool in September.

Saying that, there’s every chance he’ll shine in the Championship next season. Probably.

14. Joelinton (Newcastle United)

Joelinton has shone in recent weeks, giving a passable impression of Yaya Toure from midfield during the draw with Manchester United.

The only problem is that the £40million man was bought as a striker and has scored 11 goals since his arrival in 2019.

Despite his glaring limitations, it’s hard not to root for Joelinton and he’ll have a big role to play in Newcastle’s survival battle.

13. Rodrigo (Leeds United)

Rodrigo cost £27million but has had only a moderate return at Elland Road, with nine goals since his move from Valencia 18 months ago.

He’s been thoroughly overshadowed by Raphinha and, despite flashes of his ability, will probably go down as a miss.

12. Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

You’ll have your own thoughts about Pogba’s time at Manchester United – it’s almost impossible not to.

Given the extremities of opinion the midfielder inspires, we’re going to settle our backsides on the fence and put him somewhere in the middle.

11. Emiliano Buendia (Aston Villa)

Signed to replace Grealish, Buendia has not yet justified the £33million fee Villa spent to bring him to Villa Park in 2021.

There’s still time for him to flourish though – and we’ve ranked him higher than Grealish because we’re backing Steven Gerrard to get the best out of the playmaker.

10. Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)

At least Lukaku can be relied upon to score a few goals – but he’s still underwhelmed since Chelsea spent a club-record £97.5million on the player.

Even before that interview, Lukaku struggled to fit into Thomas Tuchel’s system and the European champions often looked better without him in the side.

Manager and player seemed to have kissed and made up but Lukaku will need to significantly increase his contribution to win over the pissed-off Chelsea support.

His presence in the top half of our list speaks volumes about the paucity of others rather than his own achievements.

9. Fabio Silva (Wolves)

A thoroughly mid-table placement befits a signing on whom the jury remains out.

He’s still a teenager so maybe Silva will come good in the future – at least that’s the thinking at Molineux.

But, with four goals in 49 appearances, it isn’t looking like £35.6m well spent at the moment.  

8. Ben Gibson and Chris Wood (Burnley)

Bit of a mixed bag, this one.

Wood has become a totem of the Burnley attack since his £15million switch from Leeds, normally good for 10 goals a season and proving a handful for opposition defences.

But Burnley also spent the same on Middlesbrough defender Gibson. In two years, he made one Premier League start for Burnley before being moved out to then-Championship side Norwich.

7. Kristoffer Ajer (Brentford)

Brentford have established a reputation as canny operators in the transfer market and that moniker extends to their record signing.

Signed from Celtic after promotion, the defender has put in some fine performances as Brentford have held their own in the Premier League.

6. Adam Webster (Brighton)

Plucked from Championship side Bristol City, Webster has become a stalwart of the Brighton defence under Graham Potter.

His absence from the team was noted during Brighton’s long winless run during the autumn but the centre-back started the recent win at Everton and his presence makes the Seagulls a more secure side.

5. Ismalia Sarr (Watford)

At £40million, Sarr was a heavy investment for Watford but is capable of troubling the most accomplished defences on his day.

Put simply, he won’t remain at Watford for his whole career and they should be able to sell the Senegal international for a healthy profit.

4. Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)

He may have become a byword for haplessness during his spell at Liverpool but Palace fans recognise Benteke’s work-rate and have been more willing to forgive his lack of goals.

The £27million striker has scored 37 times for the club, although 10 of them came during the 2020-21 season under Roy Hodgson. The Belgium international has managed four under Patrick Vieira and has adapted well to the new style of play. 

3. Danny Ings (Southampton)

Ings played with distinction for Southampton after a club-record £20million move in 2019. 

The striker scored an impressive 22 league goals in 2019-20, becoming a must-have asset on Fantasy Football and keeping Southampton competitive in the Premier League.

There was a slight drop over the following season, but the former-Liverpool man still managed to find the net 12 times before his move to Aston Villa in 2021.

Goalscorers are priceless for any Premier League side and Ings was Southampton’s golden ticket during his two years on the South Coast.

This was money extremely well spent.

2. Youri Tielemans (Leicester)

Nobody at Leicester will ever question Tielemans’ £40million acquisition – scoring the winner in the 2021 FA Cup final has cemented his legacy in the East Midlands.

One of the classiest midfielders in Europe, Tielemans is expected to leave Leicester in the near future and there’ll be a queue of clubs for his services.

1. Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)

One of the best signings in Premier League history and an easy winner here – £70million has never seemed so cheap.

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk

READ: 13 of the best stats from Virgil van Dijk’s first four years at Liverpool


More from Planet Football

Every PL club’s greatest January signing: Van Dijk, Ivanovic, Vidic…

Misused talent or costly flop: Is there room for Nicolas Pepe at Arsenal?

Can you name every Premier League club’s record departure?

Recalling the 3 wildest PL transfer rumours of the 90s: Baggio, Zidane…