The Best Premier League Transfers Ever: Rio Ferdinand to Manchester United (2002/03)
The term ‘A Rolls-Royce of a defender’ was seemingly invented for Rio Ferdinand given the elegance and dominance he exerted throughout his career.
His record move from Leeds United to Manchester United in the summer of 2002 made him Britain’s most expensive player and helped to prolong the Red Devils’ reign at the top of English football.
Ferdinand was a stalwart in the heart of defence for club and country for over a decade. He was the type of defender this country had rarely produced or even seen before on these shores and was revered all the more because of it.
This article is part of FootballTransfers’ greatest-ever Premier League deals. We have selected just one standout transfer from every season of the Premier League, including two honourable mentions. This list will then be gathered to provide a definitive list of the best pieces of business in the Premier League era.
Rio Ferdinand, Leeds to Manchester United, £30m
Ferdinand’s big-money move to Old Trafford wasn’t the first eye-catching transfer of the defender’s career.
After making his name at boyhood club West Ham United, Leeds made a successful bid of £18m which, for a brief time, made the centre-back the world’s most expensive defender.
Ferdinand impressed during his two-year spell at Elland Road and was named captain in his second season at the club after helping them to a fourth-place finish in his maiden campaign.
It was the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea that really thrust Ferdinand into the spotlight though. Having formed a formidable partnership with Sol Campbell, he played a pivot part in England reaching the quarter-finals of the tournament and sparked a bidding war upon his return.
Sir Alex Ferguson secured Ferdinand’s signature ahead of Arsene Wenger, and it proved to be one of the legendary Scotsman’s greatest signings.
A first Premier League title followed in his first year in Manchester, and five more followed during his glittering spell with England’s most successful club.
Ferdinand was renowned for his pace, ball-playing abilities and ability to read the game, making his relationship with Nemanja Vidic nearly impenetrable as the two complimented each other perfectly.
The 2008 Champions League crown secured Ferdinand’s status as one of the best defenders his nation has ever produced and was the highest point of a wonderful career that only lacked an FA Cup victory.
Robbie Keane to Tottenham:
Ferdinand’s move to Man Utd was aided by Leeds’ financial troubles, and another beneficiary was Tottenham.
The North London outfit made a £9.5m move for the Republic of Ireland striker in 2002 after witnessing Keane revive his career in an 18-month spell in West Yorkshire.
His 14 Premier League goals guided Spurs to a mid-table finish in his first season at White Hart Lane and was a sign of things to come.
Keane hit double figures in the league in every season throughout his first spell with Spurs before he departed for £21m in a failed six-month stint with Liverpool.
The 2007/08 League Cup final victory over fierce rivals Chelsea was Keane’s crowning glory in a career that was full of goals, if not trophies.
He lived and breathed goals and was a real poacher in the box. Keane ended up bagging 122 efforts in 306 appearances for the capital club to go alongside his 68 from 146 international caps, which made him his country’s all-time leading goalscorer and appearance maker.
His minimal silverware collection means he was never a true contender to Ferdinand on this list. However, Keane established himself as one of the Premier League’s deadliest marksmen over a six-year period, in a time where Tottenham often struggled, which is an impressive achievement in itself.
Nicolas Anelka to Manchester City:
Nicolas Anelka was a true nomad, finishing his career with 12 different clubs on his resume, but it was Manchester City where the Frenchman enjoyed one of his longest stints.
Kevin Keegan’s Cityzens brought the pacey hitman back to English shores in a £13.5m deal after expensive transfers to Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain had failed to yield the same productivity as his two-year spell with Arsenal had.
The 2002/03 season was City’s first campaign back in the top flight after suffering relegation in 2000/01. They embarked on a spending spree bringing several big names to the club, including Peter Schmeichel, Sylvain Distin and Robbie Fowler, but it was Anelka who made the greatest impact.
He bagged 14 goals to guide his new side to ninth position, and they also qualified for the UEFA Cup via the Fair Play League.
Twenty-five efforts followed in the 2003/04 season in all competitions before Anelka scored seven strikes by Christmas the following season and then left the Etihad Stadium in a £6.5m move for Fenerbahce in the January window.
Anelka never stayed anywhere long. However, his successful two and a half year period at City re-established the club as a Premier League force and left a lasting legacy.