While big-name players like Raheem Sterling going to big clubs like Manchester City may garner the headlines, there have been an increasing number of top players signing for clubs across the Premier League.
Flush with cash from a new influx of TV revenue, even the English top flight’s mid-to-low table teams have become attractive destinations for some of the world's best talents. The list of surprising signees boasts some of the most elite names in European soccer.
Here are the top five players signed by teams likely to finish outside the top four this year.
It didn’t take long for Andre Ayew to break his scoring duck for Swansea City. There was scarcely half an hour on the clock in Ayew's debut when the former Ligue 1 African Player of the Year tucked a scrappy goal past Thibault Courtois in Swansea’s 2-2 draw with defending champion Chelsea.
Ayew, whose brother Jordan plays for Aston Villa, hails from a soccer family. With a handful of French Cups and an Under-20 World Cup to his name, the decorated Ghanaian joined Swansea on a free transfer in June. Having spent his entire career with French powerhouse Marseille, the 25-year-old was also linked with the likes of Tottenham, AC Milan and Bayer Leverkusen. He has joined Swansea on a four-year deal and could prove to be an upgrade on the club’s previous marquee striker, Wilfried Bony.
It often takes time for players who move from Dutch soccer to the Premier League to adapt to the English game. Not so for Wijnaldum. The talented Dutch No. 10 scored a beautifully headed goal in his Premier League debut for Newcastle United, a 2-2 draw with Southampton.
Wijnaldum, who was familiar to Newcastle boss Steve McClaren from their time together in the Eredivisie, has apparently already attracted the attention of Jose Mourinho and Chelsea. After leading PSV Eindhoven to the title last season, he is regarded as one of the rising talents of Dutch soccer. The 24-year-old has his best years ahead of him and looks to be the kind of player the Magpies can build around – provided they can keep hold of him.
3. Ibrahim Afellay to Stoke City
Back in 2010, Afellay followed up a successful run to the World Cup final with the Netherlands in South Africa with a move from PSV to Barcelona. With a release clause that reportedly topped $100 million, Affellay was regarded by many as the future of Dutch soccer at the time. But injuries and poor luck undermined his time with the Blaugrana.
Despite winning a Champions League medal and having earned 50 caps for the Netherlands, Afellay struggled to maintain his place in the Barça squad. He ended up spending time on loan at Schalke and Olympiacos.
Out of contract this summer, the 29-year-old has joined Stoke on a free and signed a two-year contract. A highly skilled winger and playmaker, Afellay brings experience and quality to the Stoke midfield. He also joins a growing number of former Barcelona players in a Potters squad already boasting the likes of Bojan Krkic, Marc Muniesa and Moha El Ouriachi.
2. Yohan Cabaye to Crystal Palace
Having established himself as one of the Premier League's finest midfield pass masters during a three-season spell with Newcastle, Cabaye made a high-profile move to Paris Saint-Germain for a fee upwards of $29 million. But despite his good relationship with PSG boss Laurent Blanc from their time together with the French national team, the former Lille man failed to make an impact at PSG.
And so, after two seasons with the Ligue 1 serial champions, Cabaye has returned to the Premier League to reunite at Crystal Palace with another of his former managers, Alan Pardew. A starter in four of France’s five matches at the 2014 World Cup, Cabaye has already hit the ground running with Palace, scoring the third goal in the Eagles’ 3-1 opening day win at Norwich.
The 29-year-old could be instrumental in Palace achieving its goal of finishing in the top half of the table for the second consecutive season.
1. Xherdan Shaqiri to Stoke City
The attacking midfielder was arguably among the best players at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Yet despite scoring three goals in four matches for Switzerland and featuring on Jupp Heynckes' historic treble-winning Bayern Munich team the previous year, the player known as the "Alpine Messi" found himself surplus to requirements at the Allianz Arena under Pep Guardiola. A subsequent loan to Inter Milan didn’t really pan out and now the former Basel man has pitched up at Stoke City.
Even for a club record fee of around $18 million, it feels like the Potters have got themselves a bargain with Shaqiri. With his pace, directedness and physicality, Shaqiri was better suited for the Bundesliga than he was for Serie A, which suggests he could be a good fit for the Premier League. And while it seems odd to suggest, he will have better players around him at Stoke than he did at Inter, with the likes of Affellay, Bojan and Chelsea loanee Marco van Ginkel already in the Stoke squad.
At just 23, Shaqiri, who has joined Stoke on a five-year deal, could yet establish himself as one of the finest attacking midfielders in Europe.