Top 10 most expensive football transfers of all time

The summer is always a good time to see how your team is going to perform the next year. Are they buying? Are they selling? Does the team have money to invest? Will there be any new superstars in your team’s lineup? Football transfer season is also silly season with players costing more and more each year. With more world record transfer fees during the summer of 2018 than any other year, just what were most expensive football transfers of all time?

A good year for European football transfers

With the football transfer deadline now gone, it’s a good time to look back at what happened this year. The summer of 2018 was a busy one for European football transfers. Almost €789 million was spent overall, with Premier League teams spending €435 million on their own. The top spender was Liverpool with a spend of just over €168 million with three purchases. Chelsea spent almost €138 million with two transfers, Manchester City spent €69 million and Manchester United spent €59.5 million.

The most surprising football transfers of the season were for goalkeepers. Two, in particular, broke all records for keepers and sets a new precedent. Chelsea bought Spanish goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga for €80.6 million while Liverpool bought Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker moved from As Roma for €62.5 million. Those kinds of transfer costs are usually reserved for frontline players!

Records have definitely been broken this year but did the most expensive football transfers all happen in 2018? Who are the ten most expensive football transfers of all time?

Most Expensive Football Transfers

The list of the ten most expensive football transfers of all time contains exactly the players you imagine it would:

  • Neymar – Barcelona to Paris St Germain in 2017 for €222m
  • Kylian Mbappe – Monaco to Paris St Germain in 2017 for €145m
  • Philippe Coutinho – Liverpool to Barcelona in 2018 for €120m
  • Ousmane Dembele – Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona in 2017 for €105m
  • Paul Pogba – Juventus to Manchester United in 2016 for €105m
  • Gareth Bale – Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid in 2013 for €100.8m
  • Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid to Juventus in 2018 for €100m
  • Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009 for €94m
  • Gonzalo Higuain – Napoli to Juventus in 2016 for €90m
  • Neymar – Santos to Barcelona in 2013 for €86.2m
  • As this list has been compiled in Euros, it differs from those list compiled in British Pounds or US Dollars.

    1. Neymar – Barcelona to Paris St Germain in 2017 for €222m

    Neymar transfers to PSG for €222M

    Neymar’s transfer fee makes him the most expensive player ever at a cost of €222m. This broke the previous football transfer record held by Kylian Mbappe who is now number two in this list. The switch to PSG looks to have delivered on results as the French team won Ligue 1, Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue domestically.

    The transfer wasn’t smooth though with La Liga initially refusing to accept the release clause. The transfer is now complete and the player is in a five-year contract at the Parc des Princes. Must be nice for a team to be owned by a Qatari for whom money is no object!

    2. Kylian Mbappe – Monaco to Paris St Germain in 2017 for €145m

    Mbappe transferred to PSG for €145m

    Having made a dramatic entrance onto the market during the World Cup, 19-year-old Mbappe became the world’s second most expensive player when he transferred from Monaco to PSG in 2017. With a fee of €145m, it was the second of two high profile transfers of the year for the French club.

    Not only was Mbappe the most expensive football transfer for a little while, he is the most expensive teenage transfer to date. Transferred initially on load to comply with Financial Fair Play rulings, the transfer was nevertheless the second most expensive signing of all time, for now.

    3. Philippe Coutinho – Liverpool to Barcelona in 2018 for €120m

    Coutinho to Barcelona

    Philippe Coutinho was a good buy for Liverpool. Bought in 2013 for €13m, he performed very well while there before being sold to Barcelona in 2018 for a cool €120m. Not bad for a player who told Liverpool in no uncertain terms that he wanted to move to Spain!

    The 25-year-old Brazilian international had wanted the move for a while but Liverpool wasn’t interested. They then changed their mind and put him up for sale. The process didn’t exactly go smoothly though with Barcelona initially thinking the price was too high. Eventually, Coutinho got his way and a deal was signed.

    4. Ousmane Dembele – Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona in 2017 for €105m

    Dembele and Barcelona President

    While the listed fee for Ousmane Dembele is €105m, the actual total may exceed €147m with fees. The teenager was a fantastic investment for Borussia Dortmund having snapped him up for next to nothing from Rennes back in 2016. He performed well for the team while on the field and has made them a tidy profit come the transfer window too. Dortmund came third in their league and won the German cup with Dembele scoring.

    The striker is on a five-year deal with a €400m buyout clause so it is unlikely he will play for anyone else for a while especially as he took Neymar’s old number 11 shirt at Barcelona. Dembele’s little trip in the summer didn’t endear him to Dortmund fans so he won’t exactly be missed now he’s gone.

    5. Paul Pogba – Juventus to Manchester United in 2016 for €105m

    Paul Pogma signs with Manchester United

    Paul Pogba’s Juventus signing was one of the biggest transfers of 2016. Two years later he was sold for a significant profit to Manchester United for €105m. The midfielder began at the club as a youth player before moving on a free transfer. It must have hurt just a little to have to pay over a hundred million Euros to bring him back!

    This move wasn’t without controversy as both clubs were implicated in a book, ‘Football Leaks: The Dirty Business of Football.’ FIFA investigated and while Manchester United were cleared, disciplinary proceedings were opened against Juventus.

    6. Gareth Bale – Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid in 2013 for €100.8m

    Gareth Bale with Real Madrid President

    Welshman Gareth Bale’s Real Madrid signing was once the world’s most expensive transfer back in 2013 until he was supplanted by Pogba in 2016. After spending a productive six years at Spurs, he was transferred to Real Madrid for a record-breaking €100.8m. It was the most expensive player purchase ever for the club at the time.

    The 28-year-old Welsh player signed a six-year contract with Real Madrid who were rumoured to have been willing to pay even more than the stated fee to secure him. They had to as Manchester United were also supposed to be interested in signing the player at the time. Tottenham initially had no intention of selling Bale but he insisted and was so committed to the move that the team felt they had no choice but to let him go.

    7. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid to Juventus in 2018 for €100m

    Cristiano Ronaldo holding his 7 shirt after signing for the Juventus

    It is quite surprising that the world’s most famous, and most capped, player isn’t higher on the list. He does appear twice though. His most expensive football transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus in 2018 for €100m means he is both 7th and 8th on our list of the ten most expensive football transfers of all time. With Real Madrid, he helped win four Ballon d’Or, four Champions League and two La Liga titles before moving on.

    This move is surprising given that Ronaldo is 33 years old and is close to the end of his playing career. With wages said to be around €30m a year, Ronaldo will earn more than double the previous earner Gonzalo Higuain. Not only will this deal be good for Juventus but should hopefully help the entire La Liga rise back to prominence in world football.

    8. Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009 for €94m

    Cristiano Ronaldo, right, poses with the club's President Florentino Perez after signing a new contract at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid

    Cristiano Ronaldo appears again in the list. This time his move for Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009 for €94m. Back then it seemed an exorbitant amount of money to pay for a player, even if he was the best in the world. Now, compared to the €222m paid for Neymar, it seems like a bargain. The six-year contract agreed by Sir Alex Ferguson cemented Ronaldo’s place as the most expensive player in the world at the time.

    Ronaldo’s time at Manchester was productive and he served his full six-year term. The move from Manchester United worked well for both Ronaldo and Real Madrid. Winning a ton of trophies and lots of acclaim, both did very well out of the most expensive football transfer of 2009.

    9. Gonzalo Higuain – Napoli to Juventus in 2016 for €90m

    Higuain after transferring to Juventus

    Gonzalo Higuain’s inter-Italy transfer from Napoli to Juventus didn’t initially go down too well with Neapolitans but they soon got over it thanks to the €90m they had to spend on other talent. At the time, the Argentinian’s transfer was the most expensive football transfer for an Italian club.

    The forward scored 36 goals in Serie A and has won 63 caps for Argentina. He signed a five-year contract with Juventus which paved the way for Pogba’s move to Manchester United. Having spent two years playing in Turin, there may be another Italian football transfer on the cards if Higuain’s loan to AC Milan becomes permanent next year.

    10. Neymar – Santos to Barcelona in 2013 for €86.2m

    Neymar signing with Barcelona in 2013

    Neymar’s transfer from Santos to Barcelona back in 2013 for €86.2m was the biggest transfer ever to include a South American club and was one of the largest football transfers of 2013. For some reason Barcelona underplayed what they paid for Neymar, initially claiming he cost them only €57.1m but eventually coming clean with the true fee of €86.2m.

    Neymar did well for Santos and is still regarded as second only to Pele in his performance there. Together they won the 2010 Brazilian Cup, the 2011 Copa Libertadores and three Sao Paulo state championships. Initially, Neymar said money wasn’t the issue with the transfer and that he just wanted to be happy.

    How football transfers actually work

    All these football transfers involve a lot of money. Those amounts listed above are just the transfer fees, not the wages or other personal terms individual players or their agents negotiate. So how does it all work?

    There are apparently three negotiations that happen concurrently in a typical football transfer. The first is club to club to negotiate the transfer fee. The second is between the purchasing club and the player’s agent over personal terms. The third is between the purchasing club and the agent over agent fees.
    The player may initiate talks with his club over a desire to move or a club may signal a desire to sell. The player has to secure permission for a purchasing club to talk with the player before any hard negotiating happens but in reality, players can be quietly approached before permission is granted.

    This initial approach is often done buy third parties to see how interested a player might be in such a move. The clubs would only want to go public if it made them look good or generated further interest in the player, so a lot of the time this is done in secret. This is tapping up and is often viewed negatively by many clubs, players and fans.
    Football transfer negotiations can often begin long before the transfer window opens. Even though a player cannot be registered until 1st of July in a given year, a lot of the initial work is done before that time. That’s why some clubs announce moves before the transfer window opens.

    In football the financial year runs from 1st July to 30th June to coincide with the transfer window. If a club wants a player to appear on the previous year’s accounts, the deal is announced earlier. If the club wants the player to appear on the next year’s accounts, they wait until the new year.
    Add to that the usual sponsorship deals with kit manufacturers and all the other names in football, those deals are also negotiated around the beginning of July. Having a new player ready to go for the next season allows any negotiations with sponsors to include the new name(s).

    Where do football transfers go from here?

    With traditional big spenders like Jose Mourinho now voicing his displeasure at the rising cost of players, where is the football transfer market going to end up? Will we ever see a billion Euro player or will common sense prevail? The future looks confused for football transfers. While clubs are willing to pay exorbitant sums, players and their agents are going to ask them.

    There must come a time when critical mass is reached. When clubs just cannot afford to keep paying more for players or when fans are fed up with paying more for their ticket to help pay for them. Exactly when that will be is anybody’s guess but with managers like Mourinho starting to complain even with his track record of spending, you can be sure something is going to happen!


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