We’re still in the interlull and we’re approaching the last knockings of 2023, so let’s have a look at the best transfer decision or move each Premier League team has made, shall we?
Quite literally nothing better to do, is there? Some of these are very obvious. Some are harder to spot amid the shod. Twas ever thus.
Arsenal – spending the money on Declan Rice
It was an awful lot of money, but in a way that’s what makes it so impressive.
There was a boldness to Arsenal’s summer work that is easy to take for granted; but the simple truth is that not all clubs grasp the nettle when faced with the chance to really cash in on an unexpectedly good season. Arsenal did. They identified the primary points of weakness in what was by now clearly an excellent team and squad, identified the players they wanted to solve those issues and spent the necessary to get them.
Through no fault of their own, it hasn’t (yet) worked out with Jurrien Timber at centre-back but it certainly has with Declan Rice in midfield.
Arsenal have been desperate for just such a player for the longest time – you really are going back to Patrick Vieira’s departure here – and there’s already evidence of his game expanding and growing now he’s surrounded by better players. He’s an investment in the future as well as the present for Arsenal and already looks very much a hugely expensive final-pieces-of-the-puzzle signing in the mould of Van Dijk and Alisson at Liverpool: here’s the weak point, here’s the solution, here’s the money. Done.
Aston Villa – signing Pau Torres
Some Premier League team was almost obliged to sign him, so frequent and loud had the links become. That it made perfect sense for it to be Aston Villa is a sign of the strides they’ve made under Unai Emery, Torres’ former boss at Villarreal. It was an eye-catchingly impressive piece of work from Villa to sign an established Spain international, but one that became even more significant when the horrifically unlucky Tyrone Mings suffered a season-ending knee injury on the very first day. An injury that severe to so crucial a player in the midst of a 5-1 opening-day defeat could have derailed everything. It speaks to everything Villa have achieved in the last 15 months that it has not remotely done so, but having Torres to fill the void has been vital.
Bournemouth – signing Alex Scott
The Bristol City youngster had been dubbed The Next Jude Bellingham before his summer move. Philosophical questions about whether the Next Anything can be only a few months younger than the Original Anything aside, he’s clearly a brilliant talent. He’s been eased in to Barclays life very, very gradually but it was a statement signing for the Cherries and one that should look all the more impressive a year from now.
Brentford – backing what they had to fill the Ivan Toney hole
Sure, there is the loan signing of Neal Maupay to contend with here. It’s never the answer and screams of panic. But it’s only a loan. Brentford have backed themselves to make up the goal shortfall from other areas and the efforts of Bryan Mbeumo, Mathias Jensen and others have justified that call. It all means that even if Toney does leave in January when his eight-month ban ends, the Bees have proof of concept that they can manage without him while also having an enormous sum of money available to do with what they wish.
Brighton – swooping for Ansu Fati
If only in terms of once again showing just how unthinkably rarefied the air they now breathe is. A simply unthinkable move for Brighton even a year or two ago, to be snapping up gems from La Masia even if it is only on loan. Credit to Fati too for seeing the opportunity that would present itself at Brighton, with more than enough early evidence to suggest it’s going to be a fun year for all involved once the Seagulls get their heads around this whole two games a week palaver.
Burnley – Lyle Foster’s January arrival
And frankly, thank f*** they signed Lyle Foster in January. They didn’t really need him for the promotion push, but he has managed three goals and two appearances in seven Premier League appearances for a team that has been wildly disappointing and appears to have made a complete bollocks of the summer transfer window. We thought Sander Berge was a bargain at £14m, but even that has gone tits up thus far.
Foster is currently side-lined with mental health issues so we send him all of the love. But not as much as Burnley fans.
Chelsea – signing Cole Palmer
There’s a moral in here somewhere, isn’t there? All those vast amounts of money spent on shiny new players and by far Chelsea’s best signing of the last 12 months is the Manchester City academy graduate they bought almost unnoticed for a mere £45m. City are always willing to sell at the right price despite their own vast wealth, and the consensus a few months ago was that this price was indeed a hefty one for a player with promise but almost no top-flight experience.
But he’s been excellent, is the primary reason Chelsea are as high as 10th and even City must be slightly surprised at the extent of his impact upon being given a chance. Has also filled a number of roles already for a Chelsea team that is woefully short of players to put the ball in the net, including a false nine, and now has the first of many England caps safely in his locker.
Crystal Palace – losing Wilfried Zaha on a free transfer, spending almost nothing to do anything about that and yet remaining as ever the thinking man’s mid-table mediocrity
It’s almost art at this point. There is seemingly literally nothing Crystal Palace can ever do to make themselves anything other than part of the Barclays mid-table furniture. They almost sacked off transfer activity altogether this year, spending a huge chunk of their meagre budget on a reserve goalkeeper and Rob Holding’s hair hat. Neither the hair hat nor its owner nor for that matter Dean Henderson have seen so much as a minute of Premier League action for a team that lost Zaha to Turkey and Eberechi Eze to injury yet remain stoically where they always are: firmly in mid-table, not bothering the European spots but never flirting outrageously with the relegation trapdoor either.
Since returning to the top flight a decade ago, Palace’s finishing positions have been 11th, 10th, 15th, 14th, 11th, 12th, 14th, 14th, 12th and 11th. They have reached the magical 40-point barrier in every one of those seasons, but never 50. This season, after losing their talisman and doing almost nothing about it whatsoever? Why, they’re currently 13th thank you very much and heading, at current point-per-game rate, for 47 or 48 points in total. Not even Manchester City can dream of such consistency.
Everton – getting actual cash money for Moise Kean
Now let’s never speak of that transfer again. At least Everton don’t have anything else to worry about on the dodgy spending front.
Fulham – signing Timothy Castagne
It has not been a vintage 12 months on the transfer front for the Cottagers. Losing Aleksandar Mitrovic to Saudi Arabia is a huge blow from which they’re still recovering while few of their summer signings have hit the ground running with Adama Traore – once of Barcelona and coveted by Spurs – has looked expensive even for a free transfer. Castagne is a canny enough bit of picking of the bones of a relegated rival, though.
Liverpool – completing a full midfield refurb in one summer
It needed to happen sooner or later. Even before the Saudis forced Liverpool’s hand and sped up the timetable, Liverpool’s midfield was in clear need of a refresh. It was a job they’d already started with the signing of Dominik Szoboszlai – clearly brilliant – and Alexis Mac Allister. The Saudi moves for Fabinho and Jordan Henderson sparked a degree of panic and the almost instantly unnecessary stopgap arrival of Wataru Endo, but extracting Ryan Gravenberch from his BAYERN HELL is already looking like a masterstroke. He’s been eased in – one area where only being in the Europa League has been Liverpool’s friend this season – but appears now well on the way to establishing himself in a new-look and extremely exciting Liverpool midfield.
The challenge for 2024 may be similarly Saudi-influenced and even stiffer for Liverpool: reimagining the attack without Mo Salah.
Luton – signing Thomas Kaminski
Early wobbles have given way to a string of fine performances to keep Tim Krul very much in the understudy’s chair. While Kaminski is not the only reason, Luton’s goals against column tells a story that wouldn’t exist without the summer signing from Blackburn. Sheffield United have shipped 31 goals, Burnley 30 and Bournemouth 27. Luton, widely tipped to contend for the crown of worst Premier League side over, have conceded only 22 and only a single goal to each of Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United in the last six weeks.
Manchester City – signing Jeremy Doku
A lot of attacking players have been sold in the last two years by City. A lot of very good ones remain, sure, but they almost certainly wouldn’t be top of the league without new boy Doku. An instant hit who most importantly enhances and complements the existing options City have at their disposal. It’s not like he’s not suddenly going to be a spare part when Kevin De Bruyne returns from injury despite the distinctly De Bruyne-flavoured contribution of two goals and five assists in his first nine Premier League games. He’s a proper winger and those guys are always exciting.
Manchester United – not selling Harry Maguire
There’s luck involved here for sure, because they absolutely would have sold him if agreements with player and another club could have been reached. But it’s also not quite true that Erik Ten Hag was physically shoving him towards the exit door as some now claim. He wasn’t in United’s first-choice plans this season, but Ten Hag literally said Maguire was the sort of player to back himself and potentially play his way back into those plans if and when the opportunity arose. It did and he has, and they’d be right up shit creek without him given the inherent fragility of their confusingly (and surely misleadingly) impressive Premier League points tally this season.
Newcastle – spending the money for Anthony Gordon in January
Hands up if you thought they’d got this absolutely right 10 months ago? Liar.
Nottingham Forest – signing Chris Wood
Surely the Premier League’s greatest ever nominative determinism signing, which is definitely enough on its own to get anyone on this list. Hasn’t exactly scored all of the goals, but the ones he’s got have been significant. A late equaliser while on loan last season to earn a famous point against Manchester City and this year a late winner against Sheffield United and two goals that probably ought to have secured all three points against Luton.
Sheffield United – signing Cameron Archer
We like him a lot. Has an enormous amount of Something About Him energy. Goals tally is currently unremarkable but understandably so; it’s something we also fully expect to see improve as the season progresses and he and his new team-mates get more used to each other and the division. He’s also, as just about the only young English striker in the Premier League, an enormously significant footballer right now. Strikes us as absolutely the sort to score on his England debut and confidently, correctly assert it is the first of many in an assured post-match chat on Channel 4.
Tottenham – signing James Maddison
Lots of good things from Spurs, obviously. Even the seemingly bonkers decision to let an obviously departing Antonio Conte sign one more expensive wing-back in January has turned out fine with Pedro Porro turning out to be surprisingly capable of Trent Alexander-Arnold impressions. They’ve nailed the goalkeeper succession as Hugo Lloris made way for the magnificent (and absurdly cheap) Guglielmo Vicario, Micky van de Ven was doing great until his hamstring went ping. Even the sale of Harry Kane was overall good if not quite perfectly timed: huge money, abroad, drew a line under it rather than have his future once again the dominating storyline for the season.
But there’s really only one thing to put here; anything else is just trying too hard. James Maddison was, before his injury against Chelsea, the best player in the Premier League this season and he only cost Spurs 40 million quid. It was probably the best transfer decision made by any Premier League club in 2023, never mind just by silly old Spurs.
West Ham – signing James Ward-Prowse
There’s a lot of Maddison to Spurs in Ward-Prowse to West Ham. It just feels right. They’ve both just instantly looked like they’ve always belonged at their new clubs. They were both indisputably bargains given their obvious talents despite the taint of relegation. They were both surprisingly easy for their new teams to secure, with only token opposition despite the vast Our League experience and English Tax usually applicable to such transfers. But where Ward-Prowse is perhaps even more remarkable than Maddison is in looking like he’s been at West Ham for a decade despite having spent all his previous career at a single club. There should have been at least some weirdness about seeing him in a different kit, but no.
James Ward-Prowse is a West Ham player and it’s now clear in some way he has always been a West Ham player even when playing hundreds and hundreds of games for a different club. We can’t explain the science of it, just like we can’t explain the curious phenomenon that renders him mysteriously yet entirely invisible to Gareth Southgate.
Wolves – bringing Matt Doherty home
It just feels right.