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When the current transfer window system was introduced for the 2002/03 season, it allowed Premier League players to go out on loan to other PL clubs for the first time. This gave players the opportunity to get first team football much quicker. Also with clubs only allowed to sign players in the summer or January windows, it left clubs vulnerable to losing their best players with bids coming in halfway through a season. With all that in mind, here’s a look at the 9 players who have taken advantage of the transfer window system the most, by extending their careers in the top flight and managing to play and score for 6 or more Premier League sides.
9. Les Ferdinand
Clubs (Goals): Queens Park Rangers (60), Newcastle United (41), Tottenham Hotspur (33), West Ham United (2), Leicester City (12), Bolton Wanderers (1)
After 5 seasons at QPR as a bit-part player, the introduction of the Premier League in 1992 coincided with ‘Sir Les’ (as he was nicknamed at Loftus Road) establishing himself as one of the country’s top strikers. Ferdinand finished that 1992/93 season with 20 league goals, just two behind golden boot winner Teddy Sheringham, earning him his first England cap. Sixteen goals followed the next season but it was the 24 league goals during 1994/95 campaign which got Ferdinand his big £6 million move to Kevin Keegan’s high-flying Newcastle United. His spell on Tyneside was without doubt the best period of his career, with the striker netting 25 league goals during that first season.
Unfortunately, a spectacular collapse towards the end of the campaign cost Newcastle their first title in almost 70 years. Despite the Magpies signing Alan Shearer for a world record £15 million the following year, Ferdinand still scored 16 league goals in 31 games to help Newcastle to a second successive runners-up spot. In the summer of 1997, again for £6 million, the striker moved to his boyhood team Tottenham Hotspur, where his time was highly disrupted by injuries. Ferdinand scored just 12 league goals in his first three seasons at Spurs, but he did weigh in with important strikes that saved Tottenham from relegation in 1998 and helped his side to win the 1999 League Cup at Wembley – his first and only major trophy.
Ferdinand spent another two and a half years at White Hart Lane, scoring 21 more league goals, including the 10,000th in Premier League history in December 2001. A mid-season move to West Ham United followed in January 2003, where he was unable to prevent the club’s relegation, scoring just twice in 14 games. Opting to stay in the top flight, Ferdinand then signed for newly promoted Leicester City on a free transfer, scoring 14 more league goals (despite being 37 years old). The Foxes were still relegated at the end of that season and after turning down a new deal, the striker joined Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers. Unfortunately for Ferdinand, the opportunities were limited and he only scored once for Bolton in the league – in a 2-2 draw with Manchester United. That strike in September 2004, turned out to be his final goal in the top flight and with subsequent moves to Reading and Watford in the Championship not working out, Ferdinand retired in 2006 at nearly 40 years of age. He is currently working as Director of Football at former club QPR, still waiting on confirmation of that knighthood.
8. Andy Cole
Clubs (Goals): Newcastle United (43), Manchester United (93), Blackburn Rovers (27), Fulham (12), Manchester City (9), Portsmouth (3)
Without a doubt the most prolific striker on this list, Andy Cole is mainly remembered for his successful period at Manchester United, but there is much more to Cole’s career than his time at Old Trafford. He first appeared in the Premier League at the beginning of the 1993/94 season, following promotion in the previous year – where Cole scored 12 in 12 to help Newcastle United win the Division One title. Kevin Keegan‘s side then went on to finish 3rd in the top flight at the first attempt and Cole helped himself to a joint-record 34 league goals! The next season the striker was flying again, with 9 goals in 18 appearances, before that shock £7 million move to Man Utd in January 1995. Cole managed 12 further goals in 18 by the end of the season, but it couldn’t help United win a third successive title when they lost out to Blackburn Rovers on a dramatic final day. He won the Premier League title in both of the next two campaigns and scored 17 league goals in the process, despite missing half a season through a double leg break. Following the departure of Eric Cantona in 1997, Cole became held down his place as Man Utd’s first choice striker and scored 15, 17, & 19 league goals respectively over the next three seasons. This included two more Premier League titles and the historic treble in 1999.
The 2000/01 campaign was another injury-hit season for Cole, but the striker still scored 9 league goals on the way to a third consecutive Premier League trophy for Manchester United. However, in 2001, the arrival of Ruud van Nistelrooy meant Cole fell down the pecking order and after 4 more league goals, he moved to Blackburn for £8 million in December 2001. Looking back it’s astonishing that Cole only earned 15 England caps during his time at Man Utd, continuing to be overlooked by five successive managers! Two and a half years at Blackburn brought another 27 Premier League goals for the striker, and also included a League Cup final win in 2002 – the only trophy he had failed to win at Old Trafford. Cole was then on the move for the rest of his career, signing for Fulham in 2004 (scoring 12 times), Manchester City in 2005 (netting an impressive 9 from 22) and Portsmouth in 2006 (3 goals). He actually played for a seventh team in the Prem when he signed for Sunderland in 2007, but unfortunately didn’t manage to get on the score sheet. Thankfully Cole is now doing well after undergoing a kidney transplant two years ago. You have to say though, that his 187 Premier League goals in 414 appearances is ‘Outstanding’.
7. Marcus Bent
Club (Goals): Crystal Palace (5), Ipswich Town (9), Leicester City (9), Everton (7), Charlton Athletic (3), Wigan Athletic (7)
The ultimate Premier League journeyman, Marcus Bent played for a record 8 sides in the top flight, scoring for 6 of them. His first appearances in the Prem came in January 1998, when Crystal Palace signed him from Brentford for £300,000. Powerless to stop Palace from relegation that season, the striker still managed to score 5 goals in 16 games. After three seasons in the second tier with Palace, Port Vale and Sheffield United, Bent was promoted with Blackburn Rovers to the top flight once again. Unfortunately, he was unable to score for Rovers in his first 9 Premier League appearances in 2001/02 and was sold to fellow strugglers Ipswich Town for £3 million. Despite 9 goals in 25 games and being named Premier League Player Of The Month in January 2002, Bent was relegated again to Division One. Following failure to gain promotion back to the PL at the first attempt and unable to afford his wages, Ipswich loaned the striker to newly promoted Leicester City for the 2003/04 campaign. His 9 goals that season wasn’t enough to save the Foxes from the drop and Bent was relegated from the Prem yet again. A cut price move to Everton in 2004 gave the forward another shot in the top tier, but he only managed to score 6 goals in 37 appearances and following the signing of James Beattie, was transferred to Charlton Athletic halfway through the 2005/06 season.
Just 3 league goals in 18 months at The Valley was Bent’s leanest period of his career and he also suffered a FOURTH relegation from the Premier League in 2007. Wigan Athletic came calling that summer however, and the striker was given another season-long loan in the top flight, scoring 7 goals in 31 games. Bent played in the Championship for the remainder of his career, but was given one more chance in the Prem when Wolverhampton Wanderers loaned him in 2010; the striker made just 3 league appearances with no goals. Marcus Bent’s goal record is without question the worst on this list, but the Premier League managers kept coming back in for him, so he obviously did a decent job wherever he went. Unfortunately though for Bent, he’s probably better known for scoring with his celebrity girlfriends than with a football.
6. Nick Barmby
Clubs (Goals): Tottenham Hotspur (20), Middlesbrough (8), Everton (18), Liverpool (2), Leeds United (4) and Hull City (1)
Born and bred in the Yorkshire city of Hull, Nick Barmby helped his hometown club to promotion to the top tier for the first time in their history towards the end of his career. Before that however, he certainly made an impact in the Premier League during his early years. Barmby actually played in the inaugural Premier League season of 1992/93 as an 18 year old for Tottenham Hotspur and established himself in the Spurs side for the next 3 seasons. But rumours of the attacking midfielder being homesick whilst living in London became apparent, and Barmby moved to Middlesbrough in June 1995 for a club record fee of £5.25 million. Just 17 months and 8 goals later, Barmby was on the move again, this time to Everton for another club record fee of £5.75 million. The midfielder scored 18 times in 114 games for the Toffees during his four years at the club, before heading across Stanley Park to Liverpool for £6 million in July 2000. It was a historic transfer on Merseyside, with it being the first time in 41 years that Everton had sold a player to Liverpool. Barmby picked the perfect time to join the Reds too, as the 2000/01 campaign was one of the most successful seasons in Liverpool’s history, winning an FA Cup, League Cup & UEFA Cup treble.
Unfortunately, his second season at Anfield wasn’t as special with injuries restricting his appearances, and he was sold to Leeds United in 2002 where his former manager Terry Venables had just taken over. Again Barmby missed much of his two seasons there through injury and was loaned to Nottingham Forest before a permanent move back home to Hull City in 2004. The Tigers spent four seasons in League One and the Championship before Barmby helped his boyhood club to a play-off final victory in 2008 to secure Premier League football. He played most of Hull’s matches during that two year spell in the top flight, scoring just once in December 2008, earning him his spot on this list. Barmby continued to play for a further two years after Hull’s relegation in 2010, before retiring aged 38, following a 20 year career. With 23 appearances for England during his time in the Premier League, Nick Barmby made the squads for Euro 96′ & Euro 2000, and it’s often forgotten that he started in Munich the night England beat Germany 5-1. He is also the only player to score the first goal of two different England manager’s tenures – (Hoddle 1996, Eriksson 2001).
5. Robbie Keane
Clubs (Goals): Coventry City (12), Leeds United (13), Tottenham Hotspur (80), Liverpool (11), West Ham United (2), Aston Villa (3)
After impressing at Wolves as a teenager, Robbie Keane signed for Premier League side Coventry City for £6 million. Twelve league goals during that campaign grabbed the attention of European giants Inter Milan and in July 2000, just before his 20th birthday, Keane signed for a fee of £13 million. Unfortunately, first team opportunities were limited and by December, Keane was back in the Premier League, joining Leeds United on loan for the remainder of the season. The Irishman impressed, scoring 9 goals in 18 games, convincing manager David O’Leary to buy him for £12 million at the end of the campaign. The following season was not so bright though, as Keane only scoring 3 league goals all year and with Leeds plummeting into debt, the striker was sold to Tottenham in August 2002 for £7 million. It was at White Hart Lane where Keane enjoyed the most successful and settled period of his career, netting double figures in the league in every one of his six seasons spent there. In fact, he even became vice-captain and won his only English domestic trophy while at Spurs; the 2008 League Cup. That summer Liverpool made their interest known and in July 2008, Keane signed for £19 million. It wasn’t the dream move the Irish captain had wished for however, and after only 5 goals in the league, Spurs got their own back on Liverpool and re-signed Keane six months later for £12 million.
The striker didn’t come back to London the same player though, and struggled to get those goals that made him so popular in his first spell. Keane then moved to Celtic on loan in February 2010 for the rest of the season to regain his confidence and started 2010/11 back at Spurs. Seven goalless league appearances meant Keane was down the pecking order and in January 2011, he moved to West Ham on loan until the end of the season. His 2 goals weren’t enough to save the Hammers from the drop and the striker left Upton Park to return to Tottenham. LA Galaxy then came in for Keane that summer and that’s where he stayed for 5 years, apart from a short loan spell back in the Premier League at Aston Villa in January 2012 (MLS close season), where he netted 3 goals in six appearances. Robbie Keane retired in 2018 after playing in the Indian Super League for one last payday. After an eventful 21-year career, Keane can count himself lucky to have played for so many clubs he had supported as a boy.
4. Nicolas Anelka
Clubs (Goals): Arsenal (23), Liverpool (4), Manchester City (37), Bolton Wanderers (21), Chelsea (38), West Bromwich Albion (2)
Never one to shy away from controversy, Nicolas Anelka was signed by Arsene Wenger aged just 17 from PSG. Following an injury to Ian Wright, Anelka burst onto the scene towards the end of Arsenal’s double winning season of 1997/98, scoring 6 league goals for the Gunners. During the next campaign, the Frenchman was much more prolific, scoring 17 times in 35 appearances. That grabbed the attention of Real Madrid, who signed Anelka in the summer of 1999 for £22.3 million. After a year in Madrid and 18 months at former club Paris Saint-Germain, the striker was back in the Premier League, signing for Liverpool on a short-term loan deal until the end of the season in December 2001. A return of 4 league goals wasn’t enough to persuade Gerard Houllier to sign him permanently, but Man City manager Kevin Keegan jumped at the chance and paid a club-record £13 million for Anelka in May 2002.
This was a relatively successful period of the Frenchman’s career, scoring 37 league goals in two and a half years at Eastlands, before Turkish side Fenerbahce signed him for £7 million in January 2005. Bolton Wanderers then brought Anelka back to the Premier League in August 2006, for another club-record fee of £7 million. After 21 goals in 18 months at the Reebok Stadium, the striker was on the move yet again, this time to Chelsea for £15 million. In his first full season at Stamford Bridge, Anelka won the Premier League Golden Boot with 19 goals and also the 2009 FA Cup. The following year he helped the Blues to more trophies, this time the Premier League and FA Cup double under manager Carlo Ancelotti. As Anelka started to get into his thirties, the goals dried up and in January 2012, the Frenchman moved to the Chinese Super League. In July 2013 however, West Bromwich Albion signed Anelka on a free transfer to return to the Prem. With just two goals all season, the striker terminated his contract with West Brom, following a ban from the FA for allegations of an anti-Semite hand gesture used in a goal celebration. Anelka retired in 2015, after a stint in the Indian Premier League. Despite winning Euro 2000 with France, the Champions League with Real Madrid and a few domestic trophies with Arsenal and Chelsea, you still get the feeling of ‘if only’ with Nicolas Anelka. He fell out with so many club and international managers that his career was derailed at certain points. Indeed he is the most expensive player on this list, with total transfer fees exceeding £100 million, but many of the moves were forced by himself. He wasn’t called ‘Le Sulk’ for nothing.
3. Darren Bent
Clubs (Goals): Ipswich Town (1), Charlton Athletic (31), Tottenham Hotspur (18), Sunderland (32), Aston Villa (21), Fulham (3)
Darren Bent first scored in the Premier League for Ipswich Town as a fearless 18 year old in April 2002. That season Ipswich were relegated, but Bent forced his way into the Tractor Boys first team and gradually increased his goal tallies each season in the second tier. So it was no surprise that a Premier League side would come calling and Charlton Athletic duly signed the youngster for £2 million in June 2005. Bent started the season brilliantly scoring in his first four appearances for the club and winning Player Of The Month for August. This form continued for the rest of the season, scoring an impressive 18 goals from 36 games, making him the highest scoring Englishman that campaign. The following year Bent scored another 13 league goals and started to gain interest from bigger clubs in England. Tottenham Hotspur signed the striker for a club-record fee of £16.5 million in June 2007 and although he only managed 6 goals in the league that campaign, he did manage to win his only major trophy when Spurs beat Chelsea in the 2008 League Cup final. Another season a White Hart Lane followed, but despite being Tottenham’s top scorer with 12 league goals, Bent became unsettled following the return of Robbie Keane and Jermaine Defoe halfway through the campaign and the arrival of Peter Crouch in the summer of 2009.
A club-record 16.5 million move to Sunderland in August 2009 gave Bent the security of first team football again and it showed when he enjoyed the most prolific season of his career, scoring 24 league goals – exactly 50% of the Black Cats’ 48 Premier League goals that campaign. The 2010/11 season started in similar fashion for Bent, scoring another 8 in the league before Christmas and when the striker submitted a transfer request in January 2011, Aston Villa signed the Englishman for another club-record £24 million fee. Despite only signing halfway through the season, Bent ended the campaign as Villa’s top scorer with 9 in 16 games. The next two seasons were hampered by injury and unfortunately Bent couldn’t repeat his early form for Villa, scoring 12 league goals in 38 appearances. Fulham signed Bent on a season-long loan for the 2013/14 campaign, but the striker and club struggled and sadly were relegated to the Championship in May 2014. Bent played several matches at the start of the 2014/15 without scoring and went out on loan to second tier teams Brighton and Derby County respectively, eventually moving permanently to the latter. Bent is currently without a club but showing no signs of retiring just yet.
On a side note I’ve always felt Darren Bent was quite unlucky during his career, especially at international level. He was omitted from the World Cup squad in 2006 by Sven Goran Eriksson for the uncapped 16 year old Theo Walcott, despite being the leading English scorer that season. In 2009/10, he scored 24 league goals for Sunderland but was dropped last minute by Fabio Capello for the 2010 World Cup – a record number of goals for an Englishman not to be taken to a major tournament the same year. And in 2012, new England manager Roy Hodgson didn’t take Bent to Euro 2012, saying he wasn’t fit enough, even though he ended the season strongly for Villa. If Bent had gone to any of those tournaments then it could have changed the path of his career dramatically, but instead the biggest club he played for was Spurs, where his manager Harry Redknapp, once publicly stated that his wife could have scored a missed chance of Bent’s. Not the greatest confidence booster that ‘Arry!
2. Peter Crouch
Clubs (Goals): Aston Villa (6), Southampton (12), Liverpool (22), Portsmouth (11), Tottenham Hotspur (12), Stoke City (45)
Before the robot goal celebrations, Peter Crouch had a tough start to his footballing career. Coming through the youth system at Tottenham, Crouch had good spells in the First Division at both QPR and Portsmouth, before Aston Villa signed him for £5 million in March 2002. A couple of goals before the end of that season seemed to settle him down in the Premier League, but the 02/03 campaign was a disaster for Crouch, failing to score at all during the season. The striker then signed for second tier side Norwich City for 3 months on loan in September 2003, where he scored some vital goals to help the Canaries towards promotion. Crouch then returned to Villa and scored 4 league goals before the end of the campaign, which was enough to convince Southampton to sign him for £2.5 million in July 2004. Despite the Saints suffering relegation at the end of 2004/05, Crouch was a success, scoring 12 league goals and winning his first England call up. European champions Liverpool kept the striker in the Prem by signing him for £7 million in July 2005. Again Crouch struggled to begin with, and it wasn’t until December of the 2005/06 season that his first (2) goals came in the match against Wigan. Thankfully, those goals set him up for the rest season, and Crouch became an important part of the first team, helping them to an FA Cup final victory over West Ham in 2006.
Crouch had two more seasons at Liverpool, where he remained an integral part of the squad, especially on those magical European nights at Anfield. The signing of Fernando Torres encouraged Crouch go find first team football elsewhere and he duly moved back to former club Portsmouth, now in the Prem, for £11 million in July 2008. After only one season and 11 more league goals, Crouch moved again, this time to another former club, Tottenham, for a fee of £10 million in July 2009. The striker had two successful campaigns at White Hart Lane, where he contributed much more than the small tally of 12 league goals suggested, particularly in his second season where Spurs reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League at their first attempt, largely due to some important Crouch strikes. He signed for Stoke City in August 2011, for a club-record fee of £12 million, staying with them even after relegation in the 2017/18 season. Also during those six years with the Potters in the Prem, Crouch joined the 100 club, made up of players to score at least 100 Premier League goals since the league began in 1992. It is worth noting that despite some modest goal tallies over his career, Crouch had much more to his game than goals. His 6ft 7in height in the penalty box has caused opposition teams problems wherever he has been, bringing teammates into play with knockdowns and assisting dozens of goals in the process. Not to mention his 6 years as an England player, where he scored 22 goals in 42 games – a ratio better than 1 in 2 for his country. Plus after reading his book and listening to his podcasts recently, you can tell he is a jolly nice man.
1. Craig Bellamy
Clubs (Goals): Coventry City (6), Newcastle United (28), Blackburn Rovers (13), Liverpool (7), West Ham United (7), Manchester City (13), Cardiff City (2)
As you can probably see above, Craig Bellamy is the only player on this list and in Premier League history who has scored for SEVEN different teams. After four seasons in the First Division with Norwich, Bellamy was signed by Coventry City for £6 million in August 2000. The striker struggled to adapt at first, but found form towards the end of the season as Coventry were relegated for the first time in 34 years. Six league goals that campaign was enough for Newcastle United manager Bobby Robson to sign Bellamy for £6.5 million in July 2001. That first season was a triumph for the Welshman, as he struck up a very effective partnership with Alan Shearer, scoring 9 league goals and winning PFA Young Player of The Year in 2002. Bellamy spent four and a half seasons in total at St James’ Park, scoring 28 league goals, before fallouts with management and players ended his time on Tyneside and after a short loan spell at Celtic, the forward signed for Blackburn Rovers for an undisclosed fee in July 2005, linking up with his former Wales manager, Mark Hughes.
The 2005/06 campaign with Blackburn was the most prolific season of Bellamy’s career, as he netted 13 times in 27 games, triggering interest from Liverpool, who signed the Welshman for £6 million in June 2006. After just one season and 7 league goals however, Liverpool accepted a bid from West Ham United and Bellamy was on the move again for a fee of £7.5 million in July 2007. His first campaign at Upton Park was heavily affected by injury, playing just 8 games with 2 goals to his name. The 2008/09 season started much better for Bellamy and after several impressive performances in a West Ham shirt, Manchester City (who had just been taken over by their current owners) had a bid of £14 million accepted and the forward signed in January 2009. Bellamy made an impact at Eastlands, scoring 12 league goals in 18 months, but following his omission from City’s 25 man European squad at the start of the 2010/11 season, he made a return to the place of his birth and signed for Cardiff City of the Championship in a season-long loan deal.
The Welshman helped the Bluebirds to a Play-Off spot, but after failing to gain promotion Bellamy made a return to Liverpool on a free transfer in August 2011. It’s the 2011/12 season at Anfield where the striker won his only major trophy, a League Cup final victory on penalties, ironically against his former club Cardiff City! In August 2012 Bellamy dropped down again to the Championship to return to Cardiff on a free transfer and they gained promotion for the first time in 51 years. Bellamy had achieved his dream of helping the team he had supported as a boy get to the top flight and the 2013/14 Premier League campaign was his final season as a footballer. The forward struggled with injury and failed to stop the Welsh club from going straight back down. He did however score twice that season, making Cardiff the seventh club he’d scored for. Quite the record for the Welshman. You can say what you want about Craig Bellamy’s attitude or professionalism in his playing days, but he was a player who did exactly what he wanted during his career. I’ll end with a bit of advice; don’t under any circumstances, get on the wrong side of him if he has a golf club in his hands! Just ask John Arne Riise.
With the modern player being moved on so quickly these days in the transfer windows, I fully expect more players to join this lot in the future. The players on this list might have played for quite a few sides, but the vast majority of them were great forwards in their time. Six have scored over 100 goals in the Premier League (Ferdinand, Cole, Keane, Anelka, D.Bent & Crouch), Barmby and Bellamy had more to their games so they were often utilised in attacking midfield roles or out wide, and Marcus Bent… well, he certainly did alright for himself.
Honorary mentions go to Teddy Sheringham, Dwight Yorke, Emile Heskey, Louis Saha, Chris Sutton, Jermaine Defoe, Mark Hughes, Stan Collymore, James Milner, Benito Carbone, Ashley Ward, Scott Parker, Victor Moses, Jermaine Pennant and Hermann Hreidarsson, who have all scored for 5 different Premier League teams.