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Ian DarkeESPN.com writer
Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, is ESPN lead soccer voice in the United States. He has covered the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League since 1982, and has one of the world’s most recognizable soccer voices.
Christian Eriksen has been key to Brentford’s rise this season. (Photo by Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)
Fans of Premier League teams will once again be calling for big-money signings this summer. But a look back over the business done in the past reveals there were as many bad deals as good ones.
So who shone and who struggled? Here are my top 10 best and worst transfers for the season. *All transfer fees are reported.
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1. Christian Eriksen (Brentford, free): The Denmark international, who literally came back from the dead after collapsing on the pitch at Euro 2020, has to take top billing. His miraculous recovery was one of the great stories of the season, and he showed all his old skills were in full working order to take Brentford well clear of danger. They will do well to keep him this summer, amid interest from former club Tottenham and others.
Alejandro Moreno details how Luis Diaz’s impact led Liverpool to a second-half comeback over Villarreal.
2. Luis Diaz (Liverpool, £37m): If it was possible to improve Liverpool as they chase four trophies, Diaz has done it. The Colombia international forward signed from Porto and is a perfect fit at Anfield with his incisive runs and dynamism on the left wing. He gives manager Jurgen Klopp a chance to ease the workload on the attacking trio of Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota, and Mohamed Salah.
3. Craig Dawson (West Ham, £2m): Dawson has been magnificent in defence since arriving from Watford and the 31-year-old has had a wonderful season for the Hammers, scoring a big goal in the Europa League quarterfinal at Lyon. Not bad for a man who once played at Radcliffe Borough and Rochdale, and suffered Premier League relegations at West Brom and Watford.
4. Conor Gallagher (Crystal Palace, loan): His all-action midfield displays on loan from Chelsea have earned him a place in the England squad. Full of bright ideas and important goals, can he force his way into the team at Stamford Bridge next season?
5. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United, £13.5m): With apologies to Coldplay, is he “part of the cure or part of the disease” at Old Trafford? That debate will rage on, but without the 37-year-old’s exceptional finishing — he has 24 goals from 38 games already — where would United be? Mid-table, probably.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals have been crucial to United’s season, despite claims that he’s a problem for the club. Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images
6. Martin Odegaard (Arsenal, £30m): His classy passing and creativity is a major reason the Gunners could finish in the top four. The onetime “boy wonder,” who struggled to get a game at Real Madrid after moving there as a 16-year-old in 2015, has matured into a top player and could be Arsenal’s captain next season. He looks to be a bargain.
7. Dan Burn (Newcastle, £13m): Once relegated from the Football League at Darlington, Burn has become an excellent top-flight defender, and his move from Brighton to Newcastle helped to spark the Toon’s revival after Christmas. He might be unsung, but he is a key figure for Eddie Howe’s team.
8. Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace, £18m): Palace took a gamble after seeing Guehi’s excellent displays on loan in the Championship with Swansea last season. Chelsea, who are about to lose some key defenders on free transfers this summer — Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger — might be wishing they had held onto the youngster who has already forced his way into the England squad.
9. Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle, £35m): Already a cult figure in the North East, Guimaraes — who signed from Lyon — is the kind of player to get the frustrated fans out of their seats with his subtle passing and impudent finishes. He symbolises an exciting new era being built at Newcastle after the Saudi-backed takeover.
10. Jose Sa (Wolves, £7m): The Portuguese goalkeeper signed for Bruno Lage’s team from Olympiakos and has looked good in his first season at Molineux. Sa has helped give Wolves a sniff of European football next season with some big saves.
Honourable mentions: Kieran Trippier, (Newcastle, £12m), Dejan Kulusevski (Spurs, loan), Rodrigo Bentancur (Spurs, £15.9m), Cristian Romero (Spurs, £42.5m), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal, £24m), Marc Cucurella (Brighton, £15.4m), Michael Olise (Crystal Palace, £8m), and Ibrahima Konate, (Liverpool, £35m).
Chelsea’s record signing Romelu Lukaku has struggled to live up to expectations that he would spearhead a title challenge. Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images
It should be stressed that several players on this list are good players who will probably bounce back, while there may also be good reasons for their lack of form which the clubs have not disclosed.
1. Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, £97.5m): His club-record signing from Inter has been a flop. An early injury and an ill-judged interview in which he appeared to hanker after a return to Italy have not helped. He could argue Chelsea have not tweaked their style to suit him, but a return of only five league goals in 23 Premier League games this season tells its own story. He is now a backup for Kai Havertz and there is little doubt that Chelsea would move him on if the right offer came along, but it might not.
2. Jadon Sancho (Man United, £73m): It has been a difficult season to launch a career at Old Trafford, but Sancho has not made the impact expected. When his confidence is restored, we may yet see the swagger which produced 50 goals and 64 assists in 137 games at Dortmund.
3. Jack Grealish (Manchester City, £100m): The former Aston Villa star has cut a subdued figure at times after his British-record move, and has found it hard to be just another member of the chorus line at City. The suspicion is that manager Pep Guardiola may be trying to make him a more complete player, but for the moment he is out of favour and a work in progress.
Dele Alli has not featured much for Everton since his move in January, but Frank Lampard insists the midfielder can return to his best form. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
4. Dele Alli (Everton, free): The mysterious decline of the onetime England star has been sad to see and a strange deal saw him exit Tottenham permanently in January for a fee that could reach £40m based on appearances. The move was supposed to revitalise his career, but he is yet to start a Premier League game. It’s hard to know where it all went wrong or if he will ever get back on track. Perhaps Frank Lampard can solve the puzzle?
5. Raphael Varane (Man United, £43m): Reckoned to be a classy and experienced addition to the Man United defence, the France World Cup winner has struggled to make the transition from LaLiga to the Premier League. With his central defensive partner Harry Maguire also having a difficult season, there are 13 teams with a better defensive record than United. Enough said.
6. Nikola Vlasic (West Ham, £26.8m): The Croatia international is yet to score a goal at the London Stadium. Indeed, his only strike of the season was away to Watford in December and he has made only six starts in the Premier League, with no real impact when he has come on as a sub either.
7. Alex Kral (West Ham, loan): An established midfielder for the Czech Republic, he joined on from Spartak Moscow in August but clearly is not trusted by manager David Moyes except in the odd cup game. Kral has not kicked a ball in West Ham’s last 18 games, even at a time when the squad is stretched by a hectic European schedule.
8. Jannik Vestergaard (Leicester City, £15m): Another strange one. Vestergaard was solid in Denmark‘s run to the semifinals of Euro 2020 last summer and moved to Leicester from Southampton. But the 29-year-old has been rarely used by Brendan Rodgers, despite the fact that Leicester have struggled with defensive injuries and have conceded too many goals from corners.
9. Bryan Gil (Spurs, £22.5m): Wing wizardry was what Spurs hoped they would get by signing the Sevilla star last summer, but Gil never started a single Premier League game and was loaned out to Valencia in January. He’s a classic case of a club bringing in a player and then deciding quickly they did not really want him.
10. Billy Gilmour (Norwich City, loan): It looked like a coup for the Canaries when they got the highly rated Chelsea youngster on loan last summer. After all, Gilmour had earned some rave reviews at Stamford Bridge and had starred for Scotland against England at Euro 2020. But trying to live up to those expectations in a struggling team proved a tough assignment. Gilmour found himself the target of angry fans and lost his place in the team. He could well emerge better from the learning experience.