Retired T&T footballer Dwight Yorke is among the top six best buys ever in the English Premiership League. Yorke, Frenchman Thierry Henry, Mauro Zarate, Wilson Palacios, Zat Knight and Antonio Valencia were the six players who came from relatively unknowns to Premier League stars. Sport.co.uk took a look at the six trailblazing deals which saw the relatively unknown stars become Premier League hits without breaking the bank.
The smiling assassin, or as he is better known, Dwight Yorke, remains the biggest footballing export of T&T to date and will probably remain so for some time. In 1989, Aston Villa were on a tour of the West Indies and played a local team for which Dwight featured. Impressed with what he saw, former Villa manager Graham Taylor offered Yorke a trial and subsequently went on to award him a permanent contract. However, it was not until the 1995-1996 season that Yorke swapped to the famed centre forward position that made him a household name. In a career that spanned over 20 years, Dwight made 232 appearances for Aston Villa, scoring 73 goals, before moving to Manchester United where he scored 47 goals in 95 appearances. Although his post-United performances were not of the same standard, Dwight still remains a household favourite and his partnership with Andy Cole while at United is still considered as one of the best strike partnerships of all time.
When Birmingham signed this little known Argentinean from Qatari side Al-Sadd, few expected him to achieve much. However, after three goals in two weeks, Alex McLeish was touting him as the signing who would prevent their relegation. Unfortunately it did not work out that way, and Birmingham were relegated after finishing second from bottom. Nevertheless, Zarate had made his mark and his performances had grabbed the attention of many of the top teams. In the summer of 2008, after plenty of speculation surrounding his future, Mauro completed a move to Lazio initially on loan. The following year, the move was made permanent and €20 million was paid to Al-Sadd.
Although an established and regular member of the Tottenham starting XI now, two years ago Wilson was still an unknown Honduran footballer, unfamiliar to the Premiership. However, after a recommendation from Arsene Wenger, Steve Bruce offered the 25 year old a trial at Birmingham and subsequently went on to sign him on a six month loan. His skill, pace and strength made him an appealing prospect and saw Bruce liken him to a young Paul Ince. Conversely, when Bruce joined Wigan he made Palacios, a player he had once called one of the top midfielders in the country, one of his earliest signings.
Although not the first name on everyone’s mind, there can be no denying that this was one of the bargains of the century. When Zat was just 18 years of age, he was signed by Fulham during the Al-Fayed- revolution. At the time, Knight was playing for Rushall Olympic FC, a non league side based in Walsall and was on no proper contract. As such, Fulham were under no obligations to pay the club at all but, as a kind gesture, sent the club 30 tracksuits. Strong, tall and dominant in the air, Zat went on to make 150 appearances for Fulham and is currently at Bolton Wanderers.
Fast, deceptive and an incredible finisher, this Frenchman had it all. Although not a total unknown, when Arsène Wenger signed him he was struggling to adapt to Italian football and a looming career as a winger looked like it may condemn him to a life of mediocrity. However, following a £10 million move to the Emirates, he regained his form as a striker and went on to become the clubs all time leading goalscorer with 174 goals in just 254 games. To this day, Henry is still regarded as one of the greatest strikers of all time and, together with Messi and Eto’o, formed the most prolific trio in Spanish league history, scoring 72 goals between them in the 2008-2009 La Liga season.
Although currently a star at Manchester United, when Valencia arrived in the Premier League, he was virtually unknown. Born in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, Valencia’s initial break came when he was spotted by Villarreal whilst playing for El Nacional. However, after struggling in La Liga and failing to capture a first team spot, he was loaned out, and in 2006, he joined Wigan athletic. Current Wigan manager Paul Jewell described him as a player with “skill in abundance, combined with electric pace and a high work-rate”. Antonio continued to build on his incredible start and, in 2009, his potential was spotted and snapped up by Alex Ferguson for an undisclosed fee. Still only 24 years of age, Valencia looks set to have a very prosperous and successful career.