Bargain Hunting In The Lower Leagues
We all love a bargain. You can’t really beat that giddy thrill of knowing that you have got great value for your hard earned money. It is the same in football, although bargains are much harder to find, so managers with low budgets often have to look to the lower leagues to bolster their ranks. These deals are high risk, but these risks can often pay off with fantastic results. Here are some of the best bargain signings that English football has seen in recent seasons from the Football League.
Firstly, we have Joleon Lescott. One of the standout performers in England’s Euro 2012 campaign with that header against France, Lescott made a name for himself at Wolves, showcasing his battling defensive ability in the team that won promotion to the Premier League for the 2003/04 season. Sadly, a serious knee injury forced him to miss Wolves’ entire Premier League campaign as they were relegated, badly missing his tenacity at the back. He thankfully recovered from that injury and returned back to his best, being named in the Championship team of the season in 2005/06. This form led Everton to sign him for an initial £2m rising to £5m. His move to Everton promoted him to the public eye and he gained wide praise for his performances for the Toffees, earning him the nickname “Mr Consistency” He spent three years with the Blues before moving to Manchester City for £22m. When you make a £17m profit on a player after he led you to an FA Cup Final, you have to say it was £5m very well spent.
Another former Evertonian is next on the list in the form of New York Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill. The Australian started off his English career with East Londoners Millwall, who snapped him up on a free from Sydney United. He was instrumental in the club run to the FA Cup Final, scoring in the semi-final against Sunderland. Known for his powerful headers and lethal finishing, he scored an impressive 52 goals for the Lions until he earned a £1.5m move to Everton. He built up his reputation as a goal-scoring midfielder in the Premier League and was the Toffees’ top scorer in his debut season, even being nominated for the Ballon D’Or. He was unlucky with injuries throughout his time at Everton but still managed an impressive 56 goals in 226 games. The Australian decided to move to America this summer, but his exploits will not be forgotten on Merseyside.
Leaving the wheeling-dealings of David Moyes at last, we have Grant Holt, who was a bit of a journey man striker in his early career. Starting off his career at Carlisle, he joined six clubs before he got his first proper break at Sheffield Wednesday, but only managed three goals for them before moving onto Rochdale, Nottingham Forest and Shrewsbury Town. Holt was prolific in the lower leagues but struggled in the Championship when he played there with Forest. Norwich took a gamble on him after his 20 goals for the Shrews in League Two, and it paid off hugely with the big striker hitting 24 goals in League One, 21 in the Championship and 15 in his debut Premier League season. All for the princely sum of £400k. A massive bargain when you consider how much trouble Norwich were in back in 2009. Would they be in the Premier League without him? Probably not.
There are a few other players who have also been superb buys for their clubs. Rickie Lambert is one of them, with the big striker achieving similar things to Holt, with his goals taking Southampton from League One to the Premier League. He cost the Saints £1m. Another striker whose goals have helped his club is Reading’s Adam Le Fondre. A goal machine for Rotherham, he joined the Royals for £300K and scored twelve vital goals last season, including two at Southampton which put Reading top of the table and basically secured promotion. His predatory finishing is something to look out for this season in the Premier League.
These players sucess should drive more managers to take notice of the talents in the lower leagues. Bargains are hard to come by. But if you chose carefully, they could blossom into quality players.