There’s absolutely no denying that football is a worldwide game. Premier League scouts scour all four corners of the globe in search of football’s next big talent, leaving no country unsearched.
However – as much as it’s exciting to hear your club linked with a £40m Brazilian who you’ve never heard of – often some of the best talents are right under our noses.
The second tier of English football has been the provider of some top-class Premier League players down the years. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the greatest Premier League buys from England’s second tier.
Aaron Ramsey (Cardiff to Arsenal)
It’s easy to forget the Welshman was snapped up from Championship side Cardiff City.
Ramsey arrived at the Emirates when he was just 17 for the bargain price of less than £5m. He would go on to represent the Gunners with distinction for 11 years before leaving for Serie A champions Juventus.
Adama Traoré (Middlesbrough to Wolverhampton Wanderers)
One of the more recent gems plucked from the second tier, Traoré signed for Wolves in 2018 having single-handedly carried Middlesbrough to a playoff spot.
The £18m fee raised eyebrows at the time, but the former Barcelona man has gone on to prove he was more than value for money, with some of the Premier League’s biggest clubs sniffing around him.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Southampton to Arsenal)
You won’t be surprised to hear this isn’t the last Southampton player in our list to be plucked off the production line by the Premier League big boys.
The Ox was technically a second tier player when Arsenal snapped him up back in 2011, although he hadn’t actually played a game in the Championship yet, the Saints having only been promoted the season prior.
The jump up in class was clearly no issue for him as he went on to make 132 appearances for the Gunners before moving to Liverpool.
Tim Cahill (Millwall to Everton)
The Australian jack-in-the-box spent seven seasons in the second tier before Everton took a punt on him.
A record of 52 goals in 217 games for Millwall was a pretty good indication the Toffees had got themselves a player, and he didn’t disappoint in England’s top league.
An almost identical record of 56 goals in 226 games saw him depart Goodison Park for New York Red Bulls as a Blues hero.
Lewis Cook (Leeds to Bournemouth)
Having broken through at Leeds, Cook was soon snapped up by Premier League side Bournemouth in just his second season of senior football.
The midfielder took time to settle on the south coast, though he’s now seen as one of the Cherries standout performers. The 23-year-old has already made 78 appearances for Bournemouth and his displays have seen him earn international recognition with England.
Darren Bent (Ipswich Town to Charlton Athletic)
Bent was signed by then-Premier League outfit Charlton Athletic having burst onto the Championship scene with Ipswich Town.
The forward enjoyed a prolific time at The Valley before moving on to Tottenham Hotspur. Spells at Sunderland, Aston Villa and Fulham followed before moving back down to the Championship. Bent’s 105 Premier League goals see him go down as one of the league’s most lethal forwards.
Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic to Liverpool)
Little was made of Gomez’ £3.5m move to Merseyside back in 2015, but what a shrewd piece of business that has turned out to be.
The defender spent a lot of the early part of his Liverpool career at right-back, but having moved into the centre he has formed an impressive partnership with Virgil van Dijk. For all the Reds’ great business in the transfer market, Gomez has to be up there as one of their best signings.
Aaron Cresswell (Ipswich Town to West Ham)
Having been a mainstay in the Ipswich defence for three years following his move from Tranmere Rovers, Cresswell was snapped up by the Hammers in 2014.
The left-back has secured his place in the West Ham starting XI and is beginning to look a bargain at £4m. The full-back has three England caps to his name and is no doubt still hopeful of adding to that figure.
Theo Walcott (Southampton to Arsenal)
The second of our Southampton alumni.
Having spent just one season in the Championship, Walcott was signed by Arsène Wenger at the age of just 16. The pacey forward would earn a shock call up to the England squad that summer for the 2006 World Cup, though he didn’t feature at the competition.
Walcott went on to make 397 appearances for the Gunners, scoring 108 goals.
Joleon Lescott (Wolverhampton Wanderers to Everton)
Wolves academy graduate Lescott had cemented his place as one of the best defenders in the Championship before Everton came calling.
The Toffees paid just £5m for Lescott before selling him three years later for a substantial profit.
The Birmingham-born defender would go on to make 26 appearances for England, retiring in 2017 with two Premier League medals, an FA Cup and a League Cup to his name.
Michael Dawson (Nottingham Forest to Tottenham)
A player who perhaps doesn’t jump out as being a great signing, but when you consider Dawson would go on to make 324 appearances for Spurs, it’s hard to argue.
Dawson would leave the club in 2014 having seen them achieve League Cup glory, qualify for the Champions League and he was even voted Player of the Year for 2009/10. A fine servant in his nine-and-a-half-year spell in north London.
Michael Carrick (West Ham to Tottenham)
Undoubtably one of the greatest signings from the second tier of English football.
Having broken into the Hammers squad when they were in the Premier League, Carrick stood by the club as they were relegated in 2003, while others such as Joe Cole left.
Carrick would play one season outside of England’s top tier before the lure of Premier League football became too strong and he signed for Spurs.
Gareth Bale (Southampton to Tottenham)
The jewel in the Saints’ production line crown.
Bale signed for Spurs in 2007 having only really broken into the Southampton side a year earlier. After a slow start to life in north London, the Welshman would light up the Premier League in 2012/13, finishing the season with 21 goals in 33 games.
His outstanding form earned him a blockbuster move to Real Madrid.
John Stones (Barnsley to Everton)
While Stones may be struggling to find his feet at Manchester City, there’s no doubting the business Everton did in signing him.
The Toffees yet again proved themselves to be one of the shrewdest clubs in the market when they snapped up an 18-year-old Stones from Barnsley for just £3m.
A solid three and a half years on Merseyside saw the former Barnsley man move to Manchester City for a whopping £47.5m.
David Brooks (Sheffield United to Bournemouth)
After bursting onto the Premier League scene at Bournemouth following his £11.5m move from Sheffield United, Brooks’ progress was curtailed by a nasty ankle injury.
Nonetheless, the ability he displayed prior to injury proved he has a tremendous future in the game and will cause Premier League defenders a lot of problems.
James Maddison (Norwich City to Leicester City)
At around £24m, you’d be forgiven for thinking Leicester were taking a bit of a gamble on a 21-year-old who hadn’t stepped foot outside of England’s second tier – it’s fair to say they’d probably quadruple their money two years on.
Maddison has proved himself to be more than capable of mixing it among the best in the country, and a stellar career at both club and international level surely lie ahead of him.
Jermain Defoe (West Ham to Tottenham)
Like his teammate Carrick, Defoe stood by the Hammers following relegation from the Premier League, though his stay in the Championship lasted just half a season.
Spurs would pluck Defoe out of the second tier and he would go on to notch 64 goals in 177 appearances. The striker represented a number of Premier League outfits before moving to Rangers in 2018, where he is currently plying his trade.
Michail Antonio (Nottingham Forest to West Ham)
Antonio was a standout performer in the Championship for a number of years before a Premier League club decided to take a punt on the winger.
He signed for West Ham in 2015 and has been one of the Hammers’ most consistent players since arriving at the club. 30 goals in 144 appearances have seen him become a favourite of the West Ham faithful.
Jermaine Jenas (Nottingham Forest to Newcastle United)
Jenas had enjoyed little more than a season in the first team set up at Forest before being signed by Premier League side Newcastle.
Despite having only just turned 19, Jenas’ quality was clear upon arrival at Newcastle. An impressive 15 seasons in the Premier League would follow before he was forced into retirement following ligament damage.
His time at Spurs gleaned a League Cup and he would go on to earn 21 caps for England.
Jack Butland (Birmingham City to Stoke City)
Despite having had a bit of a torrid time in recent years, at one point Jack Butland was the next big thing in English goalkeeping.
The former Birmingham man was signed by Stoke City in 2013 and soon cemented his place in the starting XI. Rumours of Liverpool’s interested circulated, though a move failed to materialise. Butland has nine England caps to his name and was also included in Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic squad.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace to Manchester United)
Despite having won promotion to the Premier League just weeks before his move to Manchester United, Zaha was technically still a Championship player.
Although his move to United didn’t work out, the pacy winger moved back to Palace and has become one of the hottest properties in the league. With his future at Selhurst Park again up in the air, it remains to be seen where he will be playing next season, though he will no doubt have his pick of a lot of top clubs.
James Beattie (Sheffield United to Stoke City)
Beattie is more commonly associated with Southampton, but his arrival at the Britannia in January 2009 proved to be pivotal in Stoke’s fight against the drop.
Having signed from Championship side Sheffield United, the forward bagged an impressive seven goals in 16 games in the latter half of the season, ensuring the club survived their first year in the Premier League.
Honourable mentions to Andy Robertson, Harry Maguire and Robert Snodgrass – all have proven to be astute acquisitions by their respective clubs, and the trio were technically Championship players when they were snapped up by Premier League clubs. However – having just played a season in the Premier League when they were signed – it seemed a bit of a cheat to include them in a best Championship to Premier League signings list.