The 2015/16 English Premier League season has been by far the most dramatic, unpredictable and riveting of the lot. In a soccer world dominated by oil barons and multi-billionaires who buy their way to success, Leicester City are reigning supreme while Chelsea are struggling to keep their head above water. You cannot predict what is to come next.
The reason for this massive shake up? Well the coaches have played their part, developing new tactics to turn around their side’s fortunes. A huge television deal on the table is a carrot for the smaller outfits and middleweights to splash the cash like they’ve never done previously. But it’s the guys on the pitch that are making the difference.
Long gone are the superstars of yesteryear. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Yaya Toure and Cesc Fabregas are playing like a busted flush as a younger, hungrier crop of players are beginning to enjoy the limelight. Some of them are juniors who have come through the local academy, others via the lower leagues while certain clubs have unearthed gems overseas through canny bargain acquisitions. There is more than one way to skin a cat after all.
This creates a manic competition where genuinely anyone can win or lose on the day. That’s a worn out cliché in many sporting contexts, but never has it been more valid than in the current Premier League season. Teams like Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich would normally be brushed aside by the heavyweights during any other campaign. Not now.
A knock-on effect from this new influx of talent is to see a boost in the transfer market. Players who could have been bought for a bag of chips 12 months ago now are hot property and because the riches of staying in the competition is so valuable, these sides who possess the assets have veto power over when and where they sell. In some cases they’ll outright refuse, like we saw when West Bromwich Albion turned down a healthy offer from Tottenham Hotspur for emerging English striker Saido Berahino.
5 months into the season, these are the 20 EPL players whose price tag has skyrocketed.
19 Callum Wilson
It’s such a shame for Callum Wilson that he suffered the injury when he did because he was on one hell of a hot streak of scoring form. The 23-year old English striker is expected to return sometime in the New Year after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament against Stoke City. This horror incident came not long post his hat trick against West Ham and Wilson was tipped to lead the line for Bournemouth throughout this campaign. 25 goals in 52 appearances for the Cherries is a quality return and he will only get better. Expect big clubs to sniff around Wilson next season.
18 Jack Butland
When Chelsea came to poach club stalwart Asmir Begovic from under Stoke’s noses, it was thought the Potters would struggle to have a powerful presence in between the posts. They went out to purchase aging journeyman Shay Given, but gave 22-year old Jack Butland his chance to shine. And boy, has he what! Since his loan spells out at Birmingham City, Barnsley, Leeds and Derby County, Jack Butland is the form keeper of the league right now. He’s so good that pundits are talking him up to usurp Joe Hart in the England team.
17 Dimitri Payet
Slaven Bilic’s introduction in East London saw a whole host of players go out the exit door and a swath of others coming the other way. West Ham in 2015/16 is a completely different outfit to what they used to be under Sam Allardyce, and the shock wins at Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool showed that the change was as good as a holiday. The key architect on the field to the upsurge has been French international playmaker Dimitri Payet bought from Marseille. His injury is a big blow, but value him now to 12 months ago and there is no comparison.
16 Odion Ighalo
If Mahrez and Vardy at Leicester weren’t the romantic’s choice, then Odion Ighalo would be taking all the plaudits. In the 2015 calendar year the Nigerian international striker has bagged 27 goals across the Championship promotion campaign and this EPL season, making the transition from the second to top tier of English football look like child’s play. The Hornets won’t be selling him anytime soon and any potential buyers will need to fork out huge dollars to snap him away. At 26 he’s in peak form.
15 Sadio Mane
Experiencing something of a dip in December, Southampton’s Sadio Mane is still one of the best assets the Saints have on the open market right now. Brought over from Red Bull Salzburg in 2014, the 23-year old Senegalese international has speed to burn and a decent goal return of 13 in 44 for a wide man. Manchester United fans thought he was bellow them when he was linked with a summer transfer months ago, but given their current predicament they would sacrifice a lot to get a player as direct as him.
14 Emre Can
Under fellow German Jürgen Klopp, the sky appears to be the limit for Emre Can. When Liverpool acquired him from Bayer Leverkusen 2 years ago, the jury was out on the player because of his versatility. During Brendan Rodgers’ spell Can was switched from central defense to fullback and central midfield, never bedding down a spot on merit. Now he’s staying in the heart of the park of midfield, Can has the dynamism and silky touch to become anything in football. Klopp’s a lucky man to have him in the squad.
13 Marko Arnautovic
Stoke City’s policy since appointing Mark Hughes has been very simple – buy or loan top quality young European talent and tell them that the club is a perfect shop window to showcase their skills to bigger fish. They don’t pretend their anything they’re not, but that cynical approach is starting to bare fruit. 26-year old Austrian international Marko Arnautovic is transitioning from a hulking wide man to a creative striker and he’s now starting to fulfill the promise he threatened at Werder Bremen and Inter Milan.
12 Ross Barkley
Earmarked as the next England superstar, Ross Barkley’s progression this season tells the doubters that he might just have it in him to fulfill those lofty expectations. Manager Roberto Martinez persisted with the 22-year old number 10 during his development years and Barkley’s ascension into one of the best players in the league is a reward for good patience and quality coaching. 6 goals and 6 assists so far is a sign of maturity for the England international and opposition sides better look out when he suits up for the 3 Lions at the European Championships in the summer.
11 Francis Coquelin
Francis Coquelin is the exception that proves the rule. If Arsene Wenger had his way with injuries, the French holding midfielder would have been sold ages ago. During one of Arsenal’s many fitness crisis at the club last season, Coquelin was brought back from a loan spell at second tier Charlton and shoved into the starting team against Manchester City. Gunners fans were tearing their hair out that it had come to this. Fast forward 12 months later and he is one of the first names on the team sheet with the side built around his tackling and dynamism in midfield. Go figure!
10 Yannick Bolasie
Arguably the most exciting player to watch in the EPL right now. Many players in world football have speed, but few use it like Yannick Bolasie at Crystal Palace. He fearlessly runs at defenders like they’re nothing more than practice cones, swerving and dribbling his way towards goal with ease. At 26 his market value is huge and the Eagles will sell him only if a record fee was tabled. Anything short of $30 million plus won’t be acknowledged.
9 Hector Bellerin
Another injury crisis, another gem unearthed at Arsenal football club. Hector Bellerin was snatched from under Barcelona’s nose at their youth academy and thrown in at the deep end in the Gunners Champions League match away at Borussia Dortmund where the young Spaniard was given a torrid time. Since then, the right back speedster has become the premier player in his position in the league. Whereas the majority of attacking wingers can glide past other fullbacks, Bellerin has the toe to match the best wingers.
8 John Stones
In 6 months time British tabloid writers could be getting their fingertips ready to print out “Barnsley to Barcelona: The John Stones Story.” The Everton center back is a rare breed – a talented young English defender with superb technical quality who is comfortable playing a possession game. Chelsea tried their best to buy him in the summer, only for the Toffees to unequivocally knock the offer on the head. They know they have a huge asset on their hands and when he goes it will be for a record fee.
7 Dele Alli
Days after the Paris terrorist attacks, England hosted France at Wembley to mark an emotional occasion for the visitors. The football match seemed irrelevant in the overall scheme of things, but it provided the platform for youngster Dele Alli to announce himself on the international stage. His screamer of a goal culminated in a season of highs for the boy from Milton Keynes Dons. The 19-year old midfielder is a dynamo for Spurs this season and he’s already been compared to Steven Gerrard for talent and playing style. That’s a lot to live up to, but says a lot about his standing in the game.
7. Kevin de Bruyne
Don’t let this little mishap fool you, Kevin de Bruyne can seriously play this game. The 24-year old Belgian international was cast off by Jose Mourinho at Chelsea without being given a chance to shine. A big money switch to Wolfsburg gave him the opportunity to be the main man in the Bundesliga and he grasped it with both hands. His form earned the attention of Manchester City as the Citizens swooped. He’s one of the reasons why Belgium are ranked number 1 in the world and like beachfront properties, de Bruyne’s value will only get bigger.
6 Bojan Krkic
This is the signing that broke the mold for Stoke City, from the days of long balls under Tony Pulis to a continental model under Mark Hughes. Bojan Krkic’s CV prior to the move included such European heavyweight names as Barcelona, AS Roma, AC Milan and Ajax. The diminutive 25-year old creative forward is now one of the most dynamic attacking players in the EPL and has defenses unsure of whether they are coming backward or forward in trying to stop him.
5 Manuel Lanzini
Few make the transition from Middle East football to the English Premier League, especially at the age of 22. In fact, Argentine midfielder Manuel Lanzini is the first to do it, trading the riches of Al Jazira in the heat and sand to the riches of West Ham in the biggest soccer league on the planet. He played a crucial goal in the Hammers 3-0 win at Anfield by getting his name on the score sheet and with a sharp rise in his stocks in the space of 6 months, Lanzini might not be in East London for too much longer.
4 Romelu Lukaku
As the Chelsea board sat down to contemplate the future of manager Jose Mourinho, one decision from the Portuguese coach irked the club. Allowing young Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku to leave for Everton now appears to be one of the greatest mistakes in the club’s history as Diego Costa looks a shadow of the man who lead the blues to the title last time out. 23 goals in 53 starts is a good return for the target man who is now finding his range with more and more regularity.
3 Harry Kane
Another 22-year old center forward, Harry Kane is the wonder boy of English football right now. Since his reprieve to the full Tottenham squad in 2014, Kane has bagged a cool 33 goals in 62 games in all competitions which is a remarkable turnaround from the player who struggled to score out on loan at Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich City and Leicester City. Kane is now one of the first names on the Spurs and England team sheets, a rise to stardom that will come with an enormous price tag should a club decide to break the bank to bring him in.
2 Riyad Mahrez
Riyad Mahrez – he’s so hot right now. The high flying Foxes bought the Algerian international for less than $600,000 from 2nd division French club Le Havre back in 2014. Given current market value for creative 24-year old wingers in this type of form, Leicester could easily demand 50-times that amount in return, quite the profit turner if they decide to cash their chips in and call it a day now. Supporters of the club thought he was too lightweight to make it in England when he joined, fair to say he’s won them over now.
1 Jamie Vardy
It’s the Cinderella story come to life, if the princess was a footballer from the backwaters of England. Vardy’s rise from non-league club Fleetwood Town to lead the Leicester attack to the top of the Premier League isn’t even the thing of dreams because no one in their right mind would dream such an absurd thing. The stats speak for themselves – 15 goals in 17 games and in the process he became the first player in the competition to score in 11 consecutive matches. Vardy’s stock is off the charts he’s that good, he’s an unstoppable goal machine.