The 20 best ever Premier League signings – including Cantona, Shearer, Ronaldo and Salah

We pick out the England's finest top-flight purchases

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At the end of the current campaign, one the greatest players of the Premier League era might well have called it a day in English football.

Sergio Aguero is coming to the end of his contract at Manchester City and it is far from certain that the 32-year-old Argentine will be signing a new one.

After a season ravaged by injury and illness – Aguero tested positive for Covid-19 in January – the striker has managed just 16 appearances and three goals in a campaign where City already have one hand on the Premier League trophy.

But whatever happens come the end of the campaign, Aguero's legacy as the club's record goalscorer and multiple trophy winner is safely secured. The £35 million that City forked out in 2011 has proven money very well spent.

He has earned his place as one of the best signings – along with the likes of Eric Cantona, Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah – in Premier League history which you can read about below and see by scrolling or swiping through the picture gallery above.

The 20 best Premier League signings

Eric Cantona – Leeds United to Manchester United in 1992 – £1.2m

Alan Shearer – Southampton to Blackburn Rovers in 1992 – £3.6m

Roy Keane – Nottingham Forest to Manchester United in 1993 – £3.75m

Dennis Bergkamp – Inter Milan to Arsenal in 1995 – £7.5m

Gianfranco Zola – Parma to Chelsea in 1996 – £4.5m

Patrick Vieira  – AC Milan to Arsenal in 1996 – £3.5m

Thierry Henry – Juventus to Arsenal in 1999 – £11m

Frank Lampard  – West Ham to Chelsea in 2001 – £11m

Rio Ferdinand – Leeds United to Manchester United in 2002 – £30m

Cristiano Ronaldo – Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United in 2003 – £12m

Petr Cech – Rennes to Chelsea in 2004 – £7m

Didier Drogba – Marseille to Chelsea in 2004 £24m

Wayne Rooney – Everton to Manchester United in 2004 – £27m

Ashley Cole – Arsenal to Chelsea in 2006 – £5m

Vincent Kompany – Hamburg to Manchester City in 2008 – £7m

David Silva – Valencia to Manchester City in 2010 – £30m

Sergio Aguero – Atletico Madrid to Manchester City in 2011 – £35m

Eden Hazard – Lille to Chelsea in 2012 – £32m

N’Golo Kante – Caen to Leicester City in 2015 – £5.6m

Mohamed Salah – Roma to Liverpool in 2017 – £36.9m

Eric Cantona (attacker) Leeds United to Manchester United in 1992 –  £1.2m

The Gallic spark that lit the fuse on Alex Ferguson's remarkable reign at Manchester United. Cantona had made a minor contribution to Leeds' title success the previous campaign but the maverick Frenchman had fallen out with manager Howard Wilkinson and a cut-price move from Yorkshire to Lancashire followed.

United sealed the inaugural Premier League crown in Cantona's first season – their first top-flight title since 1967 – and another three would follow in the next five years as Ferguson's side dominated English football. Cantona would also infamously serve a lengthy ban from football for attacking a supporter after being sent-off at Crystal Palace.

Ferguson said of his bargain buy: "If ever there was one player, anywhere in the world, that was made for Manchester United, it was Cantona. He'd been searching all his life for somewhere he could look at and feel: this is my home."

Alan Shearer (attacker) Southampton to Blackburn Rovers in 1992 – £3.6m

Shearer would turn down Ferguson and Manchester United to join big-spending Blackburn for a British-record fee. Despite missing half of his first season due to a serious knee injury, Shearer would be a phenomenal success at Rovers, scoring

130 goals in 171 appearances, helping Kenny Dalglish's side win the title in 1995. He would join boyhood club Newcastle United, again snubbing Ferguson, for a world-record transfer fee of £15m in 1996.

Rovers teammate Graeme Le Saux said to the Daily Mirror in 2020: "Alan was incredible. He was so good that if he received the ball in a certain area then you'd see him winding up for a shot and I promise you that I'd start walking back to my position for kick-off before he struck it. You just knew."

Roy Keane (midfielder) Nottingham Forest to Manchester United in 1993 – £3.75m

Signed for a British record fee, Keane would replace Bryan Robson and then Paul Ince as the midfield fulcrum and driving force of Ferguson's side.

The outspoken Irishman took over as captain from Cantona at Old Trafford in 1997 and during his United career Keane would win the Champions League, seven Premier League titles and four FA Cups.

Although he would leave the club under a cloud after falling out in spectacular fashion with Ferguson in 2005, his old manager would later describe Keane’s display in the Champions League semi-final against Juventus in 1999 as "the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field".

He added: “Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player.”

Dennis Bergkamp (attacker) Inter Milan to Arsenal in 1995 – £7.5m

The silky-touched Dutchman endured a tough start with the Gunners, failing to score in is first six games before a spectacular double against Southampton launched his career in England.

The arrival of Arsene Wenger as manager in 1996, though, was the real turning point that would see Bergkamp step up to a different level, becoming a regular scorer or spectacular goals and producing moments of skill that have gone down in Premier League folklore.

He would score 120 goals in 423 games for Arsenal, winning four league titles and three FA Cups. A fear of flying would see him miss out on many European away games. In his programme notes for Bergkamp's 2006 testimonial, Wenger said: "I was very lucky to find Dennis already in the squad when I arrived at Arsenal. You do not find a player like that everywhere you go, It was a blessing, a gift when I arrived."

Gianfranco Zola (midfielder) Parma to Chelsea in 1996 – £4.5m

Brought to London by Ruud Gullit, who had taken over from new England manager Glenn Hoddle, after the 30-year-old Italian had fallen out of favour with coach Carlo Ancelotti at Parma. The Serie A side's loss was Chelsea's gain as the ludicrously gifted Zola helped end the Blues' 26-year wait for a major trophy when they defeated Middlesbrough to win the 1997 FA Cup.

In seven seasons, the Italian would win another FA Cup, a League Cup, the Uefa Cup Winners' Cup and the Uefa Super Cup, scoring 80 goals in 311 games along the way.

Former teammate Michael Duberry said in FourFourTwo magazine last month that Zola's influence on Chelsea should not be underestimated. "The attention to detail, to practise and work hard – it rubbed off on anyone who joined the club," he said. "He had such an impact there. He transformed the club."

Patrick Vieira (midfielder)  AC Milan to Arsenal in 1996 – £3.5m

The 20-year-old French midfielder joined Arsenal at the same time countryman Arsene Wenger became manager and the pair would combine to help kick-start a remarkable period of success for the Gunners.

It was a brave move for both club and player for someone who had made only two Serie A appearances the previous season. For the next nine campaigns Vieira would become the heartbeat of the team's battle with Ferguson's Manchester United to rule the roost in England, while his tussles against fellow captain Keane in the middle of the park became stuff of legends.

He would win three Premier League titles and four FA Cups for Arsenal, playing more than 400 games. “He had the charisma as a player, on the pitch but as well off the pitch and overall he was not scared of anybody," Wenger of his former player in 2018. "You could go with Patrick Vieira to Sheffield United on a Tuesday night in November and he could turn up and fight like mad."

Thierry Henry (attacker) Juventus to Arsenal in 1999 – £11m

Henry arrived at the Gunners with no pedigree as a prolific goalscorer either in Ligue 1 or Serie A who had played as a winger for Juventus. Wenger, his former manager at Monaco, decided to play him as a striker and the rest, as they say, is history. Henry scored 26 times in his first season and the goals would keep on coming.

He overtook Ian Wright's record club tally of 185 in 2005 and ended his career at the North London club – not counting a brief return on loan in 2012 – with 226 goals from 370 games before moving to Barcelona in 2007.

By that time, he had won two Premier League titles, two FA Cups, and was part of the Invincibles' unbeaten 2003/04 campaign. "What is remarkable is he doesn't have the game of a goalscorer," Wenger said in 2004. "He is as much a provider as a goalscorer. For me all the great players can play in two roles. Thierry can score goals, take people on and provide the final ball. He is so difficult to mark."

Frank Lampard (midfielder) West Ham to Chelsea in 2001 – £11m

"I think I can take my game on from here and win a lot of medals with the club," said a 22-year-old Lampard after moving across London to join a pre-Roman Abramovich Chelsea. And it is fair to say he was as good as his word.

He would go on to win the Uefa Champions League, Europa League, three league titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups, scoring 211 goals in just under 650 games from midfield along the way. Lampard also overtook Bobby Tambling to become Chelsea's record goalscorer and sits fourth in their all-time appearances list. In 2008, Jose Mourinho, his former manager at Chelsea, told www.feelfootball.com: “Frank Lampard is ... the best professional I have ever worked with. He’s the player that trains better, has more concentration, more commitment and is always focused on himself. He is never happy about his performance, always wants to improve, always wants to learn."

Rio Ferdinand (defender) Leeds United to Manchester United in 2002 – £30m

It was the second time Ferdinand, 23, had become British football's record signing and world's most expensive defender (the first time had been moving to Leeds for £18m two years earlier).

It was to prove a match made in heaven as the elegant centre-half would be at the heart of United's success, both at home and abroad, for the next 12 years. He would win the Fifa Club World Cup, Uefa Champions League, six league titles and two League Cups. Ferdinand would also hit the headlines for the wrong reasons when he was banned from football for eight months for missing a drugs test.

“He was a great player, without a doubt the best centre-half I ever played with," Paul Scholes said of his former United and England teammate. "I would say for a time as well he was the best centre-half in the world. He was such a pleasure to play with and play in front of. He made your job so easy.”

Cristiano Ronaldo (attacker) Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United in 2003 – £12m

As good signings go, this must rank among the best. Ferguson's call to bring in an 18-year-old with only 31 professional games under his belt quickly turned into a masterstroke.

Every season, the Portuguese improved all aspects of his game and by 2007-08 he was virtually unplayable. In that season, Ronaldo hit a phenomenal 31 goals in 34 games – 42 in 49 in all competitions as United won the Premier League-Champions League double.

He would be sold to Real Madrid in 2009 for a world record fee of £80m where, incredibly, 40 goals would almost become a disappointing season. In his autobiography The Second Half, former United teammate Keane said: "After the first few days, watching him train, my reaction was, 'This lad is going to be one of the world's greatest players.' He was amazing. He was immediately one of the hardest working players at United ...  Ronaldo had the talent on top of the work-rate."

Petr Cech (goalkeeper) Rennes to Chelsea in 2004 – £7m

The only goalkeeper on the list – Peter Schmeichel moved to United for £500,000 before the first Premier League season – finally joined Chelsea as a 21-year-old having long been linked with the club.

Over the next decade, Cech would establish himself as one of the world's finest keepers, overcoming a horrific depressed skull fracture – picked up while playing against Reading in 2006 – that would result in him wearing a headguard for the rest of his career.

He would play nearly 500 games for the Blues, winning the Champions League, Europa League, four Premier League titles, four FA Cups and three League Cups. In 2013, Chelsea teammate Paulo Ferreira said of Cech: ‘He is a top professional. To play at such a high level for many years is not easy. As soon as he arrived at Chelsea the way he performed, improved and learnt has been impressive. His concentration levels are amazing."

Didier Drogba (attacker) Marseille to Chelsea in 2004 – £24m

Chelsea forked out a club-record fee for the Ivorian striker after a successful season at Marseille where he had scored 32 goals and helped OM reach the Uefa Cup final. The goals – and trophies – would flow throughout his hugely successful spell at the London club. Drogba would notch 157 times in 341 games while winning the Champions League and 11 domestic honours, including four Premier League titles, along the way. In 2006, Blues manager Jose Mourinho said of Drogba: "[He] is a fighter. I am happy with him and we are happy to have a professional like him. It is important to have players who fight for the team, work for the team – attack and defend. He is the kind of player I would say 'With you I could go to every war.' He is a very important player for us."

Wayne Rooney (attacker) Everton to Manchester United in 2004 – £27m

If you are going to fork out such a huge fee, at that time, on an 18-year-old striker, he better be a good one. On his arrival, manager Ferguson said United had signed "the best young player this country has seen in the past 30 years". He did not disappoint.

During his 13 years at Old Trafford, Rooney won the Club World Cup, Champions League, Europa League, five Premier League titles, one FA Cup and three League Cups and become the club's record goalscorer, scoring 253 goals in 559 games.

In 2017, former United and England teammate Ferdinand said of Rooney: "A huge part of his game was about a high intensity work ethic putting teams under pressure and his mentality that the team came first always. A truly unselfish footballer. [He] will no doubt go down as one of the best players to wear Manchester United and England shirts."

Ashley Cole (defender) Arsenal to Chelsea in 2006 – £5m

A fantastic, if controversial, move by a 25-year-old defender at the peak of his powers. France centre-half William Gallas would head in the other direction, hence the low price, but it is safe to say Chelsea reaped more reward from this move and Arsenal fans would never forgive their former player for the manner of his exit. Cole, his agent and Chelsea representatives would all be fined for lining-up the move behind Arsenal's back.

Away from the acrimony, Cole's talents as a left-back were respected across the football world. At Stamford Bridge, he would win the Champions League, Europa League, one Premier League title, four FA Cups and one League Cup.

In 2010, Blues manager Carlo Ancelotti told The Guardian: "Everyone can see that Ashley Cole is the best left-back in the world. Every year it is difficult for a defender to be on the list for the Ballon d'Or because usually it is just for strikers and midfielders. In his career [Paolo] Maldini deserved to win the award but the only reason he didn't was that he was a defender. Cole and Maldini are different players ... [but] They have the same passion for the job."

Vincent Kompany (defender) Hamburg to Manchester City in 2008 – £7m

The heartbeat of City's success story for more than a decade and their most important signing of the Premier League era. A leader on and off the pitch as well being a top-quality centre-half to boot. The Belgian's latter years at the Etihad Stadium were blighted by injuries but his importance to the Abu Dhabi project at City cannot be underestimated.

He would win four Premier League titles, two FA Cups and four League Cups at the Sky Blues, playing 360 times. “He defines the essence of the club,” said City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak in 2019. "There have been many important contributors to Manchester City’s renaissance but arguably none more important than Vincent Kompany.”

David Silva (midfielder) Valencia to Manchester City in 2010 – £30m

If you are going to spend big in the Premier League, make sure you spend well – and City certainly did that with this twinkle-toed Spaniard with an eagle eye for a pass. Silva would play 436 games, scoring 77 goals from midfield, over a decade playing a key role in their four Premier League title sides, as well as multiple FA and League Cup victories that has seen him go down in history as one of City's greatest players.

Ahead of Silva's final game the club, manager Pep Guardiola  paid tribute to an "extraordinary” player. “The amount of games, the huge quality in the games he played, the titles he helped win … he’s alongside five or six others who made this Club what it is now. And this club will always be grateful.”

Sergio Aguero (attacker) Atletico Madrid to Manchester City in 2011 – £35m

Brought in as the club's record signing – despite also being wanted by the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus – with the simple aim of scoring goals for a club "fighting every year to win major trophies". And he certainly did not let them down on either front. In his nine full seasons in Manchester, Aguero has failed to hit the 20-goal mark only once and has broken the 30-goal barrier five times.

His 257 goals have him way out in front at City's record goalscorer, while the Argentine's 181 Premier League goals leave him fourth on the all-time list. He has won four Premier League titles, two FA Cups and five League Cups, playing 384 times. “He’s a guy in the box with a sense of goal," manager Pep Guardiola said in 2020. "He can score from everywhere, in all the positions. He’s an incredible striker, incredible."

Eden Hazard (attacker) Lille to Chelsea in 2012 – £32m

The 21-year-old Belgian moved to London with a big reputation having scored 20 goals in 38 Ligue 1 games for Lille the previous season, having helped the French side secure the Double in 2010-11. Hazard would become a remarkably consistent and reliable performer for Chelsea, playing at least 40 games in all of his seven seasons as the club.

In five of those campaigns, he would reach 15 goals, securing the Europa League, two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and a League Cup along the way. In 2019, he would be sold to Real Madrid for around £90m, earning Chelsea close to a £50m return on their investment.

In 2018, his Chelsea teammate Mateo Kovacic said: "I didn't know he's so good. Obviously I knew that he is a great player. But now, when I see him playing with us every day, every week, he is just incredible. For me, in this moment, one of the three best players in the world."

N’Golo Kante (midfielder) Caen to Leicester City in 2015 – £5.6m

There would have been few eyebrows raised when Kant left France to join the Foxes who had survived nerve-racking relegation battle the previous season. Even fewer would have predicted what would happen next.

With Kante patrolling the area in front of Leicester's backline, Claudio Ranieri's side would go on to enjoy the most remarkable season in Premier League history when they finished the campaign as the most unlikeliest of champions.

One Premier League title and 40 appearances later, Chelsea came calling and Kante was off, earning Leicester a £25m profit. One year later, Chelsea were champions.

Ranieri would later say of Kante: "I thought he must have a pack full of batteries hidden in his shorts! He never stopped running in training. I had to tell him: 'Hey, N'Golo, slow down. Slow down. Don't run after the ball every time, OK?' He says to me: 'Yes, boss. Yes. OK.' Ten seconds later, I look over and he's running again. I tell him: 'One day, I'm going to see you cross the ball, and then finish the cross with a header yourself!"

Mohamed Salah (attacker) Roma to Liverpool in 2017 – £36.9m

Unloved and unused by Jose Mourinho during his previous spell in England with Chelsea, Salah would up sticks and head to Italy where he would establish himself as a firm fans' favourite at Roma, scoring 34 goals in 39 games.

Reds manager Jurgen Klopp had seen enough to encourage Liverpool to break their record transfer fee to sign the 25-year-old Egyptian. Salah would hit the ground running, scoring 44 goals in his first season, and not stop as Liverpool would win the Fifa Club World Cup, Uefa Super Cup, Champions League and Premier League in less than four seasons.

Salah already has 25 goals this season taking his tally on Merseyside to 119 in 191 games. "Exceptional player, absolutely exceptional player," said Klopp in 2020. "Since we worked together obviously a lot of things clicked really for all of us. He helps the team massively and he knows and appreciates the help of the team as well. I think nobody doubted it, but if you need numbers to prove it then he delivers that as well."

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