As Torres and Carroll flop, how Demba Ba continues to shine

Just over a year ago, £85million changed hands between Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle.

Rarely, even by Premier League standards, has so much been spent on so little.

Going into this weekend’s fixtures, Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres had mustered just 11 league goals between them in 2011.

During the same period, Demba Ba had collected 18.

Kenny Dalglish, alluding to the £50m banked for Torres, has referred to Carroll as a ‘minus £15m’ striker. In that case, Ba is a ‘minus £35m’ striker.

In a fortnight’s time, the transfer window will be pushed open again, panic will grip certain chairmen, certain managers — and an awful lot of money will be ­wasted.

The disasters of the past year have been well chronicled, the high-­profile triumphs equally so. But at a time for reflection on the past 12 months, it seems a good moment to ­salute those signings who have quietly made an ­impact their price tag suggested was beyond them.

Ba, a free transfer, is one. But he only just about shades Yohan Cabaye as the best value at St James’ Park. Alan Pardew has proved shrewd in the market but few ­managers can match up to Harry Redknapp. Emmanuel Adebayor — with ­Manchester City paying a chunk of his wages — has clearly been a gamble worth taking, while Scott Parker was always going to be a pound-for-pound success. But the acquisition of Brad Friedel has proved to be simply inspirational. Is there a top-flight player whose consistent excellence has been so overlooked?

He will be 41 in May and has made 280 consecutive appearances in the Premier League. He has immediately established himself ahead of a Brazilian ­international and the reasonably accomplished — but seemingly ­unambitious — Carlo Cudicini. Friedel has been as integral to ­Tottenham’s fine run of form as, say, Gareth Bale. Rarely is his name up in lights though.

Ditto Anthony Pilkington. Just over five years ago, Pilkington was playing for Atherton Collieries, ­having passed through the youth systems of Preston, Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers.

Now, it seems likely Norwich — having signed him for £2m from Huddersfield Town in the summer — might have to fend off interest from traditional Premier League powers next month.

One of those powers might be ­Liverpool, many of whose acquisitions over the last year — I’m thinking Carroll, Jordan Henderson, ­Stewart Downing — still have plenty to prove. Not so Jose Enrique. At £5m, he has been a steal and a long-standing problem position at Anfield has been superbly filled.

West Brom paid a little more than £5m for Shane Long but it still looks money very well spent. He has an intelligence about his play that will take him to the very top — after he has helped his current club maintain their Premier League status.

So. Brad Friedel, Jose Enrique, ­Anthony Pilkington, Shane Long and Demba Ba make up my five best value-for-money signings of 2011.

Not a quintet whose names are lit in neon too often. But a quintet who prove — as managers limber up for the New Year sales — that quality does not always have to come with a big fat transfer fee attached.

(PS: For the record. The least value-for-money? Torres, Carroll, Per Mertesacker, Wilson Palacios, and Bryan Ruiz.)

***

An apology. Last Sunday, I made a passing remark about how Darren ­Fletcher’s performances had stagnated. Now I know why. I have not had ­extensive dealings with Darren but know plenty of people who have.

To a man and woman, they tell only good things. Of a polite, unassuming young man, of a character unsullied by the trappings of Premier League ­riches.

In his battle against a debilitating bowel condition, I wish him well.

Why England's 2011 form is no cause for optimism  

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