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Friday, May 16, 2008

Top 10 best buys

The best buys can save sides from relegation or secure them silverware. Or they can do neither: Soccernet's choice as the finest acquisition of the last 12 months has simply proved an outstanding addition to his club and provided great value for money. But he is not alone among arrivals in meriting acclaim, or praise for the manager who spotted him.

10. Kenwyne Jones (Sunderland, £6 million)
Seven Premier League goals may appear a meagre tally for a £6 million striker, but the covetous glances directed at the Sunderland target man provide a greater indication of his impact. The comparisons to Didier Drogba don't always seem far-fetched yet, last summer, Jones was wanted at Derby. Having spent much of the season either alone in attack or accompanied by a succession of substandard partners, Jones' contribution goes far beyond his goal tally. Indeed, his total of 10 assists means the Trinidad & Tobago forward was involved in the majority of Sunderland goals. Without him, it is hard to envisage them surviving.
9. Martin Petrov (Manchester City, £4.7m)

Had this list been compiled at Christmas, it might have been dominated by Manchester City players. As it is, Sven-Goran Eriksson is still in credit, with all bar Thaksin Shinawatra, for his signings and Petrov, the speedy, direct Bulgarian, ranks as the pick. While several sides deploy right-footed players to cut infield from the left, an out-and-out winger such as Petrov provides a contrast and there are few better outlets on that flank in the Premier League. It is notable, too, that many of City's best attacks emanate from his flank. A bargain.
8. Wilson Palacios (Wigan, £1 million)

Choosing your friends wisely can make choosing your players much easier. Steve Bruce heeded Arsene Wenger's advice to take Wilson Palacios to Birmingham. When Alex McLeish then showed he didn't share his predecessor's admiration of the Honduran, Bruce brought him to Wigan. Without him, it is entirely feasible Wigan would have been demoted and Birmingham had stayed up. Instead, the energetic midfielder has played an integral part in Athletic's transformation from relegation strugglers to in-form survivors and a succession of forceful displays have elevated his reputation to such an extent that it is now suggested Manchester United and Liverpool are watching him.
7. Phil Jagielka (Everton, £4 million)

No one raids the Championship with quite such cold-eyed acumen as David Moyes. After well-judged moves for Tim Cahill and Joleon Lescott, he marked Sheffield United's relegation to the second tier by parting the Blades from their best player. After a gradual introduction to the Everton team, Phil Jagielka has become an essential ingredient. His speed and reading of the game have been particular features of the centre-back's season.
6. Lassana Diarra (Portsmouth, £5.5 million)

It is as much a triumph of Harry Redknapp's powers of persuasion as his scouting. Such was the demand for Lassana Diarra that it was evident he was an emerging force as a midfielder. Redknapp convinced him to choose Portsmouth and the Frenchman has been outstanding. It is likely that such a class act will not be at Fratton Park for long but, besides a hefty profit, Diarra will leave a legacy; arguably his best performance to date was at Old Trafford so, should Portsmouth win the FA Cup, he would merit much of the credit.
5. Carlos Tevez (Manchester United, undisclosed)

Manchester United have not always had a happy history with South Americans, but the future could be very different. Anderson should more than justify his £18 million fee while another short, stocky figure has also attained cult status at Old Trafford. It is not so much Carlos Tevez's goal tally - a respectable 18 - as their significance and timing. His late equaliser at Blackburn showed that the small man with the fondness for the big occasion might just have scored the most important goal of the title race.
4. Sylvain Distin (Portsmouth, free)
The best Bosman signing of last summer. It is to Distin's credit that, having formed one outstanding central defensive partnership with Richard Dunne at Manchester City, he has quietly established another with Sol Campbell at Portsmouth. Distin's speed and silky style make him the common denominator and, like David James, he is a major reason for Portsmouth's greater resilience and vastly improved record on their travels. There are many examples of the strength in depth of French football, but one is that Distin will not be going to Euro 2008.
3. Bakary Sagna (Arsenal, £6 million)

For many, Emmanuel Eboue was the pick of the Premier League right-backs. Ruthlessly, Arsene Wenger exiled the Ivorian to midfield to import a superior alternative. Bakary Sagna, more dependable in defence and suitably enthusiastic when overlapping, has proved an outstanding use of £6 million; some in North London may reflect that Tottenham paid £2 million more for his Auxerre team-mate, the hapless Younes Kaboul. Sagna's place in the PFA team of the season was fully justified.
2. Fernando Torres (Liverpool, £26 million)
For all the millions Liverpool have spent over the years, it is a long time since they signed a genuine superstar. But watching Fernando Torres glide past defenders with conspicuous ease and finish with characteristic precision is to witness one of the world's outstanding strikers in action. Revered at Anfield already, passing the 30-goal landmark in his debut season in England is a phenomenal achievement by the Spaniard. The next challenge is to score more away from home.
1. Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn, £3.5 million)

Mark Hughes has done it again. Strikers of his stature ought to be excellent judges of their fellow forwards, but few have proved it like the Blackburn manager. Twelve months after Benni McCarthy was one of the outstanding signings of the 2006-7 season, Roque Santa Cruz arrived at Ewood Park perfectly suited to both English football and Blackburn's style of play. A total of 23 goals is a remarkable return and, while he may not have outscored Fernando Torres, he arrived for a fraction of the cost. To put it another way, Santa Cruz's fee was barely a fifth of Darren Bent's.