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May 4, 2011

As a deal, it was a steal

When managers ask their respective chairmen for the money to recruit, it is sometimes in more hope than expectation. On other occasions, however, it can be a triumph of judgment and planning. These, then, are the signings of the times...

• Hubbard: The ten worst signings

10. William Gallas

With his fondness for a soundbite, Harry Redknapp introduced the latest addition to his defence by insisting he had not signed the Yorkshire Ripper. Because of his performances, the controversy of recruiting William Gallas died down to such an extent that there was little outcry when the former Arsenal captain and ex-Chelsea defender skippered Spurs. A centre-back signed on a free transfer helped Tottenham keep two clean sheets against AC Milan, formed a fine partnership with Michael Dawson and merited the extended contract he has since signed. Gallas may have only joined because of a defensive injury crisis, but short-term fixes are rarely as successful.

9. Daniel Sturridge

In retrospect, it seems a no-brainer, a signing that at least half-a-dozen other sides should have attempted to make. But the borrowing of Daniel Sturridge, just like Jack Wilshere's loan move to the Reebok Stadium 12 months earlier, is a move which has exceeded expectations for Bolton. Besides proving a more prolific foil to Kevin Davies, the Chelsea striker's return of seven goals in nine league games has kept Owen Coyle's side on course for a top-eight finish and indicated that Sturridge could yet have a major part to play at Stamford Bridge.

8. Luis Suarez

Just pipping another exuberant South American, Chelsea's David Luiz, to the title of the best January buy, Luis Suarez has had an influence that goes far beyond a comparatively meagre total of three goals. In part, that is the consequence of his scintillating performance against Manchester United; in part, it is because he has given the Kop a new hero after Fernando Torres' exit. With his speed and sharp skills, Suarez has become the poster boy for the new regime at Anfield, a reason to be optimistic after 18 awful months.

7. Ben Foster

Some players prosper out of the limelight, which can be a problem for those who have been earmarked as a future first-choice for Manchester United and England. Joining Birmingham City seems to have suited Ben Foster. No goalkeeper has made more saves in the Premier League this season and, assuming the Blues beat the drop, his excellence will be a prime reason. And Foster's performance in November's win against Chelsea may go down as the goalkeeping performance of the season.

6. Ali Al-Habsi

Loan signings have an increasing importance but if many are the results of the sizeable squads the biggest clubs boast, Ali Al-Habsi is an exception. Borrowed from Bolton, where it was his fortune to understudy the ever-excellent Jussi Jaaskelainen, the Omani has been a revelation for Wigan. There has been a solitary error, at Manchester City, in a season of consistency, with Saturday's penalty save from Everton's Mikel Arteta one of many highlights. Should Wigan go down on goal difference, they ought to lament the decision to leave Al-Habsi on the bench for their first two games, when Chris Kirkland conceded 10 times.

5. DJ Campbell

Wherever Blackpool's destiny lies, their improbable bid to stay up has been boosted immeasurably by Ian Holloway's transfer dealings. Men such as Marlon Harewood and Luke Varney had an immediate impact, but DJ Campbell has been a rarity by sustaining it over the whole season. His high-energy approach has worried many a defender and his total of 11 league goals puts him ahead of, to name but a few, Wayne Rooney, Fernando Torres, Frank Lampard, Nicolas Anelka, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe. It's not bad for £1.25 million (and scandalous to think that Blackpool's opening bid was just £100,000).

4. Cheik Tiote

Signed for £3.5 million, now worth many times as much, Cheik Tiote threatens to be the most profitable player Newcastle have had since, well, Andy Carroll. A midfield enforcer with the stamina to roam from box to box and the ability to play for a top-six side, Tiote provided one of the moments of the season with his spectacular long-range equaliser against Arsenal, capping Newcastle's comeback from 4-0 down. Besides a disciplinary record that includes 13 cautions, the only criticism on Tyneside might be that Tiote has done too well: he may not be at St James' Park for much longer.

3. Rafael van der Vaart

Liberated from the bench at the Bernabeu, Rafael van der Vaart and Tottenham can seem the ideal match: a flair player who needed to be appreciated and a club with a craving for finesse and excitement. The Dutchman has provided it in abundance, along with plenty of goals. Despite a tougher 2011, Van der Vaart is still almost averaging one every other league game and a fondness for inspiring comebacks against Arsenal is a shortcut to hero status at White Hart Lane. Spurs' only concern is that since he arrived, their strikers have stopped scoring.

2. Peter Odemwingie

The recent rumours are that Juventus are interested in Peter Odemwingie. Not too many players have traded West Bromwich Albion for the Bianconeri, but that is an indication of Odemwingie's impact at the Hawthorns. After a debut winner against Sunderland, 24 hours after training with his new team-mates for the first time, the Nigerian has continued to prosper. No Albion striker had managed more than 11 goals in any previous Premier League season, but he already has 14, 13 of them in matches that have produced a total of 25 points for the Baggies. This is already their most successful top-flight season in recent years and Odemwingie, bought for just £1.5 million, has a case to be deemed their greatest Premier League recruit.

1. Javier Hernandez

Whenever Sir Alex Ferguson next suggests there is no value in the transfer market, a short but pertinent response is available: Javier Hernandez. The £6 million Mexican has had a thrilling impact in his first season in England, displacing the Premier League's top scorer, Dimitar Berbatov, in the team, reinvigorating Wayne Rooney and scoring 19 goals with displays of exemplary finishing. His predatory instinct and raw pace make him probably Ferguson's best buy since Nemanja Vidic and, with his habit of scoring late goals and striking on the big occasion, he already seems a quintessential Manchester United player.

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