With Paul Pogba becoming the latest to shift belongings from the caverns of Serie A to the more glamourous settings of the Premier League, we take a walk down memory lane to revisit English football’s best imports from the Italian top flight. There has been a lack of genuine stardust involved in recent transfer activity from Italy’s top flight to its English counterpart, a trend which, with the big money arrival of Pogba to Manchester United, is expected to be bucked. Here are the top 10 Serie A to Premier League transfers, and quite a few of the players have gone on to rewrite English football’s history books over the years.
1. Thierry Henry (Juventus to Arsenal)
Arguably the finest goalscorer to have ever graced the English game, Thierry Henry’s greatness is undeniable, and the fact that he was part of Arsenal’s Invincibles just about does justice to his legacy in English football. He arrived as a winger of unfulfilled promise from Juventus in the summer of 1998 and eight years and two Premier League titles and three FA Cups later left Arsenal as their record goal-getter with his reputation as the High Priest of Highbury and the Emperor of the Emirates firmly built. Henry is one of English football’s greatest ever imports, and the fact he enjoys a lofty standing within the Premier League circles even now points to that.
2. Gianfranco Zola (Parma to Chelsea)
The graceful playmaker arrived not as a spring chicken to Chelsea in 1996, but had enough in his locker to etch his name in the good books of the Stamford Bridge faithful after seven years of service that yielded silverware after silverware and quickly became the poster boy for the foreign revolution in the Premiership. Zola’s genius and artfulness meant he was voted the best ever Chelsea player by the club’s fans and the Sardinian also made the shortlist for the best player in 2012’s Premier League 20 Seasons Awards.
3. Dennis Bergkamp (Inter Milan to Arsenal)
Bought by manager Bruce Rioch from Inter Milan in a move that broke Arsenal’s then transfer record in summer 1995, Dutchman Dennis Bergkamp remains one of the greatest technicians to set foot on English soil. Blessed with incredible technique and vision, Bergkamp finished his career at Arsenal after 11 successful seasons in north London. Bergkamp, with the aforementioned Henry, has a statue of him erected outside the Emirates Stadium which is a tribute to his contribution to Arsenal. He scored a total of 87 Premier League goals from 315 appearances for the Gunners.
4. Patrick Vieira (AC Milan to Arsenal)
Vieira arrived in the summer of 1996 from Italian giants AC Milan, and played a significant part in the success Arsenal had during Arsene Wenger’s first few years at the north London outfit. That Vieira’s presence in the Arsenal side meant that trophies weren’t far away–Arsenal won two domestic doubles and also went an entire league season unbeaten en route their 2003/04 title win–proved how big an influence the Frenchman was in the grander scheme of things. His departure to Juventus in 2005 coincided with Arsenal enduring a barren, trophyless run for almost a decade which is testament to Vieira’s influence in Wenger’s Arsenal.
5. Marcel Desailly (AC Milan to Chelsea)
A double Champions League winner, first with Marseille and then with AC Milan, Desailly arrived in England with little knowledge of his new club, Chelsea, as well as the English game. Following initial struggles, the French defender of Ghanaian descent became a vital cog in the Blues machine that won the FA Cup in 2000. Desailly’s time in England came to an end before Chelsea truly established themselves as one of the biggest clubs in the top flight following Roman Abramovich’s takeover; however, his mentorship of John Terry during the Englishman’s formative years is his enduring legacy.
6. Gianluca Vialli (Juventus to Chelsea)
The Italian striker arrived for a free at Stamford Bridge in summer 1996 following his Champions League triumph with Juventus the previous season. Vialli was part of Blues manager Ruud Gullit’s expansive recruitment that brought the aforementioned Zola and Roberto di Matteo to the Premiership from Serie A. Vialli went on to win the Cup Winners Cup with Chelsea during his four years as a player, player-manager and manager. Vialli’s contribution to the modern Chelsea was confirmed when he guided the club to their first major trophy in over a quarter century by winning the FA Cup in his first season in west London.
7. Roberto di Matteo (Lazio to Chelsea)
Di Matteo arrived at Chelsea in the same summer as Vialli and Zola and like his compatriots, would go on to achieve legendary status at the club. Di Matteo arrived from Lazio and quickly became a fan favourite at Stamford Bridge when he scored on his Chelsea debut. Another of the poster boys of the Premier League’s foreign revolution, Di Matteo went on to win six trophies with a Chelsea side that weren’t one of the big hitters, and later even led the club as a manager to their first ever Champions League triumph in 2012.
8. Edwin van der Sar (Juventus to Fulham)
The Dutchman won a plethora of accolades at Manchester United, but it is important to remember how Van der Sar arrived in the British Isles. With his pedigree already established having played for the Dutch national team at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, Van der Sar moved to Fulham following Juventus’ world record purchase of Gianluigi Buffon from Parma in summer 2001. Four years with the Cottagers followed a move to Manchester United and six years and 11 trophies later, Van der Sar is now regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers to have ever played in the Premier League.
9. Fabrizio Ravanelli (Juventus to Middlesbrough)
16 sumptuous goals in his first season in England ensured Ravanelli forever graces the best imports book of English football but the White Feather (he had grey hair) was only one piece of the famous Middlesbrough jigsaw that was built by Bryan Robson with designs of challenging for the title that misfired spectacularly. From a Champions League winner with Juventus to getting relegated with Boro in the space of a year summed up Ravanelli’s time in England. Capable of producing moments of unadulterated genius, the Italian is regarded as one of the Premiership’s first mavericks.
10. Attilio Lombardo (Juventus to Crystal Palace)
Not exactly an import that lit up the English game, but Lombardo’s short spell at Crystal Palace was enough to earn him cult status in south east London. Arriving from Juventus following two successive Champions League final appearances with the Old Lady, Lombardo instantly endeared himself to the Eagles faithful after scoring on his debut for newly promoted Palace on the opening day of the 1997/98 Premiership season. Lombardo’s star turn at Selhurst Park led him to be voted into the club’s Centenary XI despite only making 49 appearances and was nicknamed the Bald Eagle.
With the almost astronomical outlay on Pogba, it is widely expected that the Frenchman walks into this list after his time in England comes to an end. Even considering the randomness and unpredictability surrounding the beautiful game, Pogba not turning into a bona fide success in the Premier League will come as a surprise to most, if not all.