Burnley’s Jay Rodriguez is set to complete a £7 million move to Southampton this week and achieve his dream of playing in the Premier League. However, that is some price tag for a player yet to prove himself in England’s top flight. As Nigel Adkins well knows, it is often worth the gamble signing players from the lower leagues of English football. Rodriguez will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of those previously successful in making the step up to the Promised Land and here are ten of the more successful ones:
1. Tim Cahill – Millwall to Everton, £1.5 million, 2004 – People often forget the Australian hasn’t dominated the Goodison Park penalty area for the entirety of his career. Cahill once donned another blue shirt, the colours of Millwall. He made 249 appearances for the Lions and helped them to an FA Cup Final in 2004. This prompted Everton to snap him up, paying a meagre £1.5 million for his services. It’s fair to say David Moyes has been justified in this decision; Cahill has been a key player for the Toffees since his arrival, scoring 68 goals in 278 appearances so far. He has been linked with a lucrative move to the Middle East this summer and if he leaves, he will always be remembered as once of the greatest signings in the club’s Premier League history.
2. Gareth Bale – Southampton to Tottenham, £7 million, 2007 – Bale came through the ranks at Southampton, cutting his teeth as a left back in the Championship. His form at St Marys prompted many a Premier League side to enquire about his availability, but Bale sealed a move to Spurs in 2007. It didn’t start well for the Welshman though, he made a record 24 appearances for Spurs without winning a game. However, since moving into midfield, Bale has taken the Premiership by storm and even won the PFA Player of the Year in the 2010/11 season. His hat trick in the San Siro will live long in the memory of all Spurs fans and Bale is the subject of big money rumours from the likes of Manchester City and Barcelona this summer.
3. Theo Walcott – Southampton to Arsenal, £12 million (in instalments), 2006 – Back in 2005, Walcott was a mere teenager, becoming Southampton’s youngest ever player, making his debut at 16. His talent was obvious from an early age as he tore teams apart in the Championship, ensuring that Arsenal bid for his services, just 23 games into his Saints career. Although Arsene Wenger used him sparingly to begin with, Walcott was a surprising selection for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s 2006 World Cup squad at 17. The decision proved to be a poor one and affected Walcott’s confidence, but he’s bounced back with a bang, establishing himself as a member of the starting XI at the Emirates. Consistency is occasionally an issue, but Walcott is capable of brilliance, like the hat trick he scored for England in Croatia. He will be crucial to England’s chances of success this summer.
4. Aaron Lennon – Leeds to Tottenham, £1 million, 2005 – Lennon first burst onto the scene as a teenager for Leeds during their final miserable season in the Premier League. However, it looked as if the pacy winger would form a key part of the side that needed to regroup in the Championship the following season. Tottenham had other ideas, taking advantage of Leeds’s dire financial situation and Lennon went on to make a superb impression in his first season, even making the World Cup squad at the end of the year. He has never looked back and he is an important figure for Harry Redknapp’s side, marauding down the right flank.
5. Joleon Lescott – Wolves to Everton, £5 million, 2006 – Once again, David Moyes proved himself to be the master in signing Championship players. Although Lescott was a mainstay in the Wolves side that won promotion in the 2002/03 season, he never actually featured in the Premier League, after suffering a season-ending injury. Upon their relegation, he slotted straight back into the starting XI, before Moyes snapped him up for a figure that rose to £5 million. The defender showed some unbelievable form during his time on Merseyside, winning a number of personal accolades before things turned sour after he completed a big money move to Manchester City. Now set to feature for England in the European Championships this summer, Lescott is the perfect example of what can be plucked from the Championship.
6. Phil Jagielka – Sheffield United to Everton, £4 million, 2007 – Although technically Jagielka played in the Premiership the year Everton signed him, he spent the whole of his career before that in England’s second division. He became central to the Blades’ plans, putting himself at the forefront of their promotion bids. Jagielka was the constant source of attention from Premier League teams, but he finally reached the Promised Land with United in 2006. Although they were promptly relegated, Jagielka stayed in the division, moving to Everton where he has established himself in the centre of their defence. A member of England’s Euro 2012 squad this summer, Jagielka could rekindle his former Everton partnership with Lescott that was so successful at Goodison Park.
7. Adam Johnson – Middlesbrough to Manchester City, £7 million, 2010 – Although Johnson made a number of appearances for Middlesbrough in the Premiership, he only really established himself as a first team regular following Boro’s relegation and Stewart Downing’s subsequent departure. He tore up the division with his trickery on the wing and this ensured many Premier League clubs had their eyes on him when the January transfer window came around. Surprisingly, it was big spending Manchester City who splashed the cash on the midfielder. Johnson has impressed during his time at the Etihad, winning 11 caps for his country as well, but the quality of City’s squad limits his game time and he could be set to move on this summer.
8. Michael Dawson – Nottingham Forest to Tottenham, Undisclosed, 2005 – Nottingham Forest were firmly established as a Championship club by the time Michael Dawson worked his way into the first team. He impressed as well, making his debut in 2002. However, despite having Dawson at centre back, Forest were a club in decline and suffered relegation in 2005 to the third tier of English football. Dawson and teammate Andy Reid then signed for Spurs for a combined total of £8 million. While Reid never hit his straps at White Hart Lane, Dawson has gone from strength to strength, helping the side on their rise to Champions League football. Now Tottenham captain, Dawson has also made four appearances for England, though injuries have troubled him of late.
9. Aaron Ramsey – Cardiff to Arsenal, £4.8 million, 2008 – Ramsey impressed in the centre of Cardiff’s midfield having made his debut as a 16-year-old in 2007. His form was so good in the run to the FA Cup Final in 2008, it sparked a bidding war between Arsenal and Manchester United. Ramsey chose the Gunners and despite breaking his leg in 2010 against Stoke, he has established himself in the centre of Arsenal’s midfield. At the age of 20, Gary Speed handed Ramsey the captain’s armband for Wales, making him the country’s youngest ever skipper. Arsenal fans will hope he can form a partnership with Jack Wilshere to dominate the middle of the park for years to come.
10. Kyle Walker – Sheffield United to Tottenham, £4 million, 2009 – Walker had barely established himself in the Blades’ first team before Spurs snapped him and Kyle Naughton up for a combined fee of £9 million. They then loaned him out to a number of clubs, helping Walker understand the pressures of first team football. This tactic has worked a treat as Walker is now Tottenham’s undisputed first choice at right back, even picking up PFA Young Player of the Year for his displays last season. He’s made his England debut already and demonstrates the amount of the talent available in the Championship.