Million pound men: the most expensive players in football history

Million pound men: the most expensive players in football history

When Scottish striker Willie Groves was transferred from West Bromwich Albion to Aston Villa for £100 in 1893, the suggestion that one player could sign for another club for just shy of £200 million in the future would have been scoffed at and, quite frankly, ridiculed.

But, in the footballing economic climate we find ourselves in, it almost feels inevitable that Neymar’s record fee of €222 million, or £198 million, will be broken in the future.

With the summer transfer window looming up on the horizon, read about the 10 most expensive football players of all time and where they are plying their trade now.

10. Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale, and Cristiano Ronaldo – €100 million

10th place in this list is jointly held by Belgian Eden Hazard, Welshman Gareth Bale, and Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

Hazard left Chelsea for the sunnier and hotter climate of Madrid in the summer of 2019, costing Real Madrid a princely sum of €100 million, or £89 million.

While not playing as frequently as he might like, the Belgian has still managed to collect two La Liga titles and the Champions League trophy from the 2021/22 season, having been on the bench when Real Madrid triumphed over Liverpool.

Meanwhile, Bale’s transfer from Tottenham to Real Madrid in 2013 was a world record transfer at the time, costing the Madrid giants €100 million (£85.1 million). Following a loan back to the Lilywhites in 2020, Bale then spent one season playing for Los Angeles FC in North America before retiring in 2023.

Bale’s former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo also earns a share of 10th on this list through his transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus in 2018.

The deal, which saw Juventus break the transfer fee record for an Italian club, was worth €100 million (£88 million). After returning to Manchester United for one season in 2021, the Portuguese star terminated his contract and signed for Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia, where he currently resides.

9. Ousmane Dembele, and Paul Pogba – €105 million

The record for the ninth-most expensive player in world football is jointly held by Frenchmen Ousmane Dembele and Paul Pogba.

Talented right-winger Dembele signed for Barcelona from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, for a fee of €105 million, or £97 million.

Despite having an injury-ravaged time with the Catalan club, the Frenchman has played vital roles in their successes and finished the 2021-22 La Liga season as the league’s top playmaker with 13 assists. His current contract runs out in June 2024.

His compatriot Paul Pogba left Italian giants Juventus in 2016 as part of a €105 million (£89 million) transfer to Manchester United. This fee was the highest paid by an English club until 2021.

Pogba spent six seasons in Manchester before hopping back onto the carousel and re-signing for Juventus in 2022. The 30-year-old is contracted to La Vecchia Signora until 2026.

8. Romelu Lukaku – €115 million

Talking of carousels brings us neatly to Romelu Lukaku. Having started his early career in England with Chelsea in 2011, the Belgian returned to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2021, signing from Inter Milan for a then club-record transfer fee of €115 million (£97.5 million).

The talented forward struggled for form with the Blues, so the following summer he was loaned back to Inter Milan, where he’s still plying his trade as of May 2023.

7. Jack Grealish – €117 million

English midfielder Jack Grealish left his boyhood club, Aston Villa, for the Cityzens of Manchester City for €117 million (£100 million) in the summer of 2021.

While initially struggling to shake off the weight of the enormous price-tag, the 27-year-old has developed into a crucial part of the title-chasing City team in the 2023 season, scoring five goals and assisting his teammates 11 times so far this campaign.

6. Antoine Griezmann – €120 million

Like many players on this list, Antoine Griezmann has developed a penchant for repeatedly moving between two teams. He became the sixth-most expensive player in 2019, when he moved from Atletico Madrid to Barcelona for €120 million (£107 million).

Although the Frenchman played an important role in helping the Catalan club achieve more trophy success, he returned to Atletico Madrid on a one-year loan in August 2021. His move was then made permanent in October 2022.

5. Enzo Fernandez – €121 million

Following a highly successful World Cup campaign in the winter of 2022, the young Argentinian moved from Portuguese side Benfica to Chelsea in January 2023 for a British-record transfer fee of €121 million (£106 million).

The 22-year-old signed an eight-and-a-half-year contract until 2031, following over 10 hours of negotiations.

4. Joao Felix – €126 million

Portuguese youngster Joao Felix became the fourth-most expensive footballer in the summer of 2019 when he moved from Benfica to Atletico Madrid for a fee of €126 million (£112 million).

Felix played a key role in Atletico Madrid’s first La Liga title success in seven years in 2021. But in the following seasons he gradually fell out of favour with Madrid’s manager, Diego Simeone. It was decided that Felix was to be sent out on loan to Chelsea in January 2023, where he will remain until the summer.

3. Philippe Coutinho – €145 million

In January 2018, Philippe Coutinho became the third-most expensive player in world football when he moved from Liverpool to Barcelona for a fee of €145 million (£105 million).

Although he won two La Liga titles with the Catalan giants in 2018 and 2019, he was loaned out to Bayern Munich in the summer of 2019. In the two seasons he was there, he won the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal, and Champions League trophies.

The then-29-year-old subsequently signed on loan for Aston Villa in January 2022, reuniting with former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard, with the loan signing being made permanent in May 2022.

2. Kylian Mbappe – €180 million

Aged just 18, Kylian Mbappe became the most expensive teenage player of all time, and the second-most expensive player ever, by completing a move from Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 for €180 million (£163 million).

The Paris-born superstar has helped PSG win four Ligue 1 titles and three Coupes de France, in addition to leading the team to its first ever Champions League Final in 2020. Despite several links with a move to Real Madrid, Mbappe is still at the club as of May 2023.

1. Neymar – €222 million

As of May 2023, the most expensive football player in history is the Brazilian winger, Neymar. The then-25-year-old smashed the previous transfer record by moving from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for an eye-watering €222 million (£198 million) in August 2017.

Since his record-breaking transfer, Neymar has won four Ligue 1 titles and three Coupes de France and was part of the team that lost the 2020 Champions League final to Bayern Munich. The Brazilian is currently helping the team earn yet another French league title in 2023.

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