In a summer where the World Cup has taken soccer’s center stage, Premier League clubs have continued to operate behind the scenes to prepare their squads for the coming season. The English clubs have once again shown their financial muscle by bringing in a host of top talent from around the globe.
Liverpool smashed the world record transfer fee for a goalkeeper with the $88 million capture of Alisson, the Brazil international who previously played for Roma. Highly-coveted midfielder Jorginho has joined Chelsea alongside new boss Maurizio Sarri in a deal worth around $72 million. Even newcomers Fulham managed to land Jean Michael Seri, a $35 million-rated midfield playmaker once linked with the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Barcelona.
With all of the TV revenue that Premier League teams take in these days, these marquee signings are becoming the norm at both ends of the table. However, that is not to say that English clubs are not capable of conducting some savvy, good-value business as well. Last season, newly-promoted Brighton brought in Pascal Groß from Bundesliga club Ingolstadt for a mere $3.5 million. Groß would go on to contribute 7 goals and 8 assists in a central midfield role for Brighton as the club managed to stay up.
Here are some under-the-radar, dark horse deals from this summer for players with a small price tag but who could have a big impact at their new Premier League club:
Diego Rico – Bournemouth, $14 Million
It’s strange to think that the twelfth-placed team in the Premier League last year can win a transfer battle against a club with as much pedigree as Borussia Dortmund. But Bournemouth have done just that with the $14 million signing of Spanish left back Diego Rico. Rico has joined from La Liga outfit Leganés, where he contributed 2 goals and 2 assists last season. The Spaniard matched this impressive attacking output with a league-high 2.9 interceptions per match. Rico is a versatile player as well, having featured at both center back and left back for the Spanish side. There is room for improvement, though, especially when it comes to discipline. Rico racked up 10 yellow cards and 1 red last season and will miss the first three games of the upcoming campaign due to suspension. But, at the age of 25, he still has time to develop.
Mohamed Elyounoussi – Southampton, $21 Million
Southampton are coming off a season where they just barely avoided relegation. Among many things, the usually-consistent club suffered from a lack of firepower, netting just 37 goals (only six clubs scored fewer) and drawing a league-high 15 matches. Manager Mark Hughes will hope that the solution to the Saints’ issues in front of net has come in the form of 23 year-old Norwegian Mohamed Elyounoussi. Elyounoussi has arrived in a $21 million move from Basel where he contributed 21 goals and 28 assists during his past two seasons in the Swiss league. These are impressive numbers especially when you consider that he does his damage as a winger or central attacking midfielder. While the Premier League will certainly present a different level of play from Switzerland, Elyounoussi’s performance against Manchester City in last season’s Champions League may be an indication that he is ready for the challenge. The Norwegian dazzled, notching a goal and an assist, in a shock 2-1 win over a heavily-rotated but experienced City side. Meanwhile, Basel has proven to be a hotbed for Premier League talent. Standouts Mohamed Salah, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Granit Xhaka have all come through the ranks at the Swiss club.
Xherdan Shaqiri – Liverpool, $17 Million
Shaqiri has become a Premier League standout over the past 12 months, developing from a player capable of occasional brilliance to a consistent goal contributor and a star for the Swiss national team. It’s not the player himself that makes this a dark horse deal, but the tiny fee that Liverpool paid to bring Shaqiri to the Merseyside. Due to a relegation clause in his previous contract with Stoke City, Shaqiri cost Liverpool just $17 million. To put things in perspective, Shaqiri’s 8 goals and 7 assists in the league last season were not far off from the numbers set by new teammate and Liverpool star Sadio Mane, 10 goals and 7 assists, who cost the Reds $48 million in 2016. While the former Stoke man will not always start, he provides Klopp with a dynamic option up front and much needed depth. Many other Premier League managers will be wondering how they let one of the best value-for-money deals of the summer slip away.
Lukasz Fabianski – West Ham, $9 Million
Lukasz Fabianski is a 33 year-old goalkeeper who has joined West Ham from relegated side Swansea City. While at first this looks like a pretty dull deal, this signing may prove to be the smartest $9 million spent in England this summer. Yes, Fabianski is getting older, but he brings a much safer pair of hands compared to West Ham’s options between the sticks last season, Adrián and Joe Hart. Fabianski’s 55 conceded goals and average of 1.98 saves per goal is definitely an improvement over the combined 65 and 1.72, respectively, from Adrián and Hart. The former Swansea man, who has already made 181 PL appearances, is a small financial risk that could have a huge impact on improving the Premier League’s leakiest defense from last season.
Ricardo Pereira – Leicester, $26 Million
Leicester have paid $26 million to bring in Portuguese right back Ricardo Pereira from Porto this summer. Lately, the Portuguese club has been an assembly line for full back talent, with the likes of Alex Sandro, Danilo, and recent Manchester United signing Diogo Dalot all plying their trade there in recent memory. Just like the full backs that have played in the Porto system before him, Pereira brings a lot to the table going forward, having contributed to 2 goals and 5 assists last season. Of the aforementioned group, only Danilo contributed to more league goals (10) than Pereira in their final season at Porto. While the $26 million fee isn’t chump change by any means, it doesn’t come anywhere close to $68 million Manchester City paid last summer for Benjamin Mendy, the current world record for a full back, and is far less than what you would expect a Premier League team to pay for a player who started for his country at the World Cup. All in all, the 24 year-old Pereira is a great bit of business for Leicester and is a player who could star in their back line for years to come.