The summer transfer window’s most boring saga has final concluded (no, no, not that one). In a surprise move, Jesse Lingard has signed for Nottingham Forest on a free transfer, bringing an end to the largely uninteresting speculation around his future, if not his TikToks. Unfortunately.
It’s highly doubtful that the City Ground was where the ex-Manchester United man envisioned playing his football next season, with his hopes somewhat deludedly set on Champions League football at first. But the prospect of becoming Forest’s highest paid player ever on a weekly wage packet anywhere between £80k and £120k plus has swung things in their favour over West Ham United, where he enjoyed a hugely successful loan spell in 2021. With the completion of the move, Lingard becomes the latest in a long line of high-profile or “big-name” players to join a newly promoted club in the Premier League era.
Aside from the obvious financial ones, what benefits may Lingard enjoy by joining a club likely to be fighting for survival? He will instantly become their main man, the proverbial big fish in the small(er) pond after spending the last years as a tadpole at Old Trafford. This star player status has been further backed up by receiving his favoured 11 shirt which he wore at West Ham – a nice ego boost. It’s in the 10 role however that he’s set to play in, behind two strikers – his preferred position and one which he rarely, if ever, played for United due to the competition. For a player who seems to thrive off being able to just enjoy playing football, a smaller club could be more suitable too, with lesser demands and less scrutiny. Well, if he performs.
Reasons like these also apply to previous high-level players to join Premier League newcomers, most of whom can be profiled and placed into categories; what type of signing were they? Some players, of course, have traits that could warrant inclusion in multiple categories.
A few promoted clubs have benefited from striking early and signing younger players with great potential, who have later gone onto greater heights and accrued serious transfer fees for the original buyer. Raphinha is the latest example of this, being signed from Rennes for £17m upon Leeds United’s return to the top flight. Just two years later, he has joined Barcelona for more than three times that figure. His impact at Elland Road made up for Rodrigo’s lack of, the club’s marquee signing post-promotion.
Yakubu at Portsmouth similarly thrived, without ever achieving a move to one of European football’s biggest clubs. The little-known Nigerian permanently signed for Harry Redknapp’s side upon promotion in 2003 after a short loan spell. He went on to become the club’s top Premier League scorer ever with 29 goals in two seasons, the last of which ensured their safety in the 2004-2005 season. The Yak then moved onto Middlesbrough, and later Everton and Blackburn, continuing to command sizeable fees and plunder goals. Joe Hart’s loan spell at Birmingham City in 2009/10 could also be placed here, as his exploits and team of the year selection led to him becoming Manchester City and England’s no.1 the next season.
On the other end of the scale was Yakubu’s strike partner in his first season with Pompey, Teddy Sheringham, 37 years young at the time. There are numerous other cases of golden oldies joining a newly promoted side after their time at the top has ended and their careers wind down. Think Andy Cole at Blackburn after losing his starting spot at United, another ex-red, Paul McGrath at Derby in 1996-97 (PFA Player of the Year just three years prior), Sol Campbell’s brief spell at Newcastle in 2010-11 and even Neville Southall, the world’s best keeper in his pomp, playing a single game for Bradford City in 2000 at the age of 41.
Late-career homecomings are also a feature here, the most successful being Peter Beardsley, who captained Kevin Keegan’s Geordies in the early Premier League years – his stint with Bolton on their return in ‘97 proved less fruitful. Gary Pallister went back to ‘Boro after nine trophy-laden years at Old Trafford. West Ham’s 2012-13 comeback was joined mid-season by the return of the prodigal son, Joe Cole, as well as Yossi Benayoun on loan from Chelsea. The Israeli had initially joined the Irons after their previous promotion in 2005. Another player with Liverpool connections, Andy Carroll, had joined at the start of the season. Not old, but his career was already on the wane at this point.
By far the most exciting category of newly promoted signings are those of the trendy, big-name foreigners, whose arrivals were met with a mix of buzz and bewilderment. The first of these was Juninho landing on Teesside in 1995 and signing for Bryan Robson’s ‘Boro in a shock move, given the young playmaker was already a Brazilian international at this point. What followed was three separate stints at the Riverside and being voted the club’s greatest ever player in 2007. His success also signalled the beginning of ‘Boro’s big spending on big players, as the commercial gains of the Premier League were used.
Like ‘Boro, Bolton also became famous for signing (mostly-ageing) world stars under Sam Allardyce. The first of these came at the mid-point of the 2001-2002 season, as Wanderers were battling to stay up, in the shape of Youri Djorkaeff, French World Cup winner in 1998. He assisted hugely in Bolton’s survival and establishment as a top-flight outfit, soon being joined by more of Big Sam’s Galácticos, namely Jay-Jay Okocha, Fernando Hierro and Ivan Campo.
The 2001-2002 season was the first of just three occasions all three promoted sides have stayed up in the 30 years of the Premier League. In one of the more peculiar moves, Edwin Van Der Sar joined first-time Premier League entrants, Fulham for £11m after losing his Juventus no.1 spot to Gianluigi Buffon. Perhaps Owner Mohammed Al-Fayed promised him a discount at Harrods and Pizza Hut, the latter then the Cottagers’ shirt sponsor. Iconic.
Fellow newcomers Blackburn picked up a Turkish delight in Tugay, a former player of manager Graeme Souness’ during his time at Galatasary. His eight years at Ewood Park were a showcase of long-range screamers, and an alleged twenty smokes a day.
In the very next season, Birmingham followed Bolton’s suit by signing a French World Cup winner mid-season. Christophe Dugarry’s time in the midlands may have been short but he kept Steve Bruce’s men up, cementing eternal cult hero status. Like Attilio Lombardo at Crystal Palace in ’97/98 without the survival part. In recent years, more World Cup winners have pitched up at promoted sides – Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina, Spain’s backup keepers in 2010, at ‘Boro and Aston Villa respectively.
Leicester’s miracle title win in 2015/16 would not have been possible without survival the season prior, and the performances of Esteban Cambiasso. The Argentina and Inter Milan legend spent just one season with the Foxes before leaving, replaced by N’Golo Kante. A succession plan Logan Roy could only dream of. Other noteworthy signings come in the shape of two wizards, Geovanni at Phil Brown’s Hull (‘08/09) and Hatem Ben Arfa at Newcastle (‘10/11).
Other high-profile players have joined promoted clubs, but less so for testing themselves out in the “Best League in the World” and more for the “Project”, aka the cash in most cases. In the early 00s, Manchester City were promoted twice and seemed capable of growing as a club once finding their feet. The 2000-2001 season saw an instant return to the then-Division One, aided by the non-impact of George Weah and Andrei Kanchelskis. 2002-2003 proved a different story, as Nicolas Anelka starred in a ninth placed finish – Peter Schmeichel and Robbie Fowler less so.
10 years later, Queens Park Rangers came up with similarly lofty ambitions, which were never realised. Naive owner Tony Fernandes allowed managers Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp splash the cash, leading to two relegations in 2013 and 2015. Big-name flops included Rio Ferdinand, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joey Barton. ‘Arry also, of course, signed his adopted Croatian son Niko Kranjčar in this time.
The notable exception came in the very first season of the Premier League. Promoted just in time for the new league, Blackburn, bankrolled by Jack Walker and managed by Kenny Dalglish, signed Alan Shearer in a then-British record transfer deal. The future Premier League all-time top scorer was joined by Tim Sherwood and Graeme Le Saux, and just three years later the club were champions.
Other promoted clubs have signed because of links and connections either their managers or powerful agents had – see Wolves, Jorge Mendes and the Portuguese invasion of Molineux for the latter. Roy Keane’s transfer policy at Sunderland was a case of “better the Devil you know” as he signed numerous former United players, as well as ex-international teammates. The summer of 2007 saw Ian Harte and Andy Cole spearhead a group of players Roy seemingly didn’t dislike in his career. Last season saw the most recent case of a manager-player relationship, as well as other factors given the situation, leading to the arrival of a star player, with Christian Eriksen joining Brentford. Thomas Franks had coached him at Danish Under-17 level.
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Coincidentally, Eriksen will be replacing Lingard at United this season, and the impact he had while with the Bees is something Forest hope is replicated by marquee signing. But what type of player are the Reds getting? What Jesse Lingard will show up? Will it be the Lingard who has seemed more focused on being an influencer and growing the “JLingz” brand or the one who starred for West Ham? It is hard to gauge so far, given the finances involved, but with just a one-year deal signed, one would assume (in a very NBA move) Lingard is looking to put himself in the shop window for a bigger contract next summer elsewhere, as well as in Gareth Southgate’s thoughts for the upcoming World Cup.
How this plays out is likely to have a serious say in whether Forest stay up this season, and whether future promoted sides play it safe or take a gamble. Will the risk be rewarded for both club and player?