A large transfer fee can be a blessing or a curse.
It is a sign of great faith to spend such a huge amount of money on one player, but it carries with it the expectation that the player will reward that faith with performances – and if they do not, fans will not be forgiving.
Many great players have risen to the pressure of their transfer fee, but others have been crushed under the burden of expectations placed upon them.
Let’s take a look at the 50 most expensive transfers of all time.
From: Inter to PSG
One of the biggest stories of the 2021 summer transfer window, PSG outbid Chelsea to secure the signing of Inter wing-back Achraf Hakimi.
Fresh off the back of contributing seven goals and ten assists to a Serie A title victory, Hakimi will hope to add more silverware to his trophy cabinet in Paris.
From: Chelsea to Shanghai SIPG
The most expensive signing in the history of the Chinese Super League, Oscar shocked the world when he swapped Chelsea for Shanghai SIPG for a whopping €60.3m in 2017.
With the Chinese government changing the rules on transfers and requiring clubs to match any transfer fee for a foreign player with a donation to grassroots football, there’s a good chance Oscar’s transfer record will never be broken.
From: Man Utd to PSG
Just one season after his expensive move to Manchester United (which you’ll find further down this list), Angel Di Maria was swiftly offloaded to PSG as the Red Devils scrambled to recover most of their wasted investment.
It was a frustrating outcome for United, and it became even more annoying as Di Maria quickly resumed his job as an elite creator in Paris.
From: Chelsea to PSG
The most expensive defender ever at the time, David Luiz swapped London for Paris in 2014 and quickly made his presence known with two consecutive domestic trebles.
Chelsea brought him back two years later to team him up with Antonio Conte and win the Premier League, before shipping him off to Arsenal in 2019.
From: Borussia Dortmund to Arsenal
Arsenal made a huge statement when they signed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2018. This was one of the world’s best forwards, and he scored goals for fun early on.
He was rewarded with an absolutely enormous contract in 2020, after which his form evaporated almost immediately. It was a fantastic transfer that went south incredibly quickly.
From: Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea
In anticipation of losing Eden Hazard to Real Madrid, Chelsea spent big to sign Christian Pulisic in January 2019 – although the Blues will tell you his signing had nothing to do with Hazard’s imminent exit.
Since joining, Pulisic’s form has been a bit up and down, and injuries haven’t exactly helped his cause. He was unreal in the post-lockdown half of 2019/20, but he’s yet to match that level since.
From: Napoli to PSG
Arriving at Paris Saint-Germain after they had just won their first league title in two decades, Edinson Cavani helped to establish the Parisiens as the dominant force in French football.
He was never the poster boy in Paris, instead being overshadowed by any combination of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, and he was unceremoniously allowed to leave on a free transfer in 2020.
From: Juventus to Man City
Cancelo has been predictably brilliant in England, although he has struggled to accept a spot as one of several expensive full-backs at the club, and exit rumours have surfaced fairly quickly.
From: Athletic Club to Man City
In the 18 months after his €65m move to Man City, Aymeric Laporte looked like an overwhelming success. He was excellent as City won the 2018/19 title, but a nasty knee injury has flipped the narrative on its head.
Relegated to the bench after his return, Laporte has been linked with a move away from City in an attempt to regain his pre-injury form.
From: Monaco to Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid paid big to beat Arsenal to the signing of Thomas Lemar in 2018, but they’ll really be wishing they hadn’t.
In the 108 games played across his first three seasons at the club, Lemar offered up just five goals, and he’s little more than a squad player these days.
From: AC Milan to Real Madrid
However, injuries disrupted his first two seasons at the Bernabeu, with Mesut Ozil taking his place in the side, and he also had a troubled relationship with Jose Mourinho.
He turned to Milan four years later on a free transfer, handing Real one of their most painful losses ever.
From: Chelsea to Atletico Madrid
Beloved by everyone at Chelsea apart from Antonio Conte, Diego Costa was unceremoniously kicked out of Stamford Bridge with a less-than-pleasant text message from the boss.
It sparked a six-month exile from the first team which ended in a lucrative move to Atletico, who paid nearly twice as much to re-sign him as they received when they sold him a few years earlier.
To make Atleti’s business even worse, Costa was largely rubbish in his second spell at the club and saw his contract terminated in January 2021.
From: Leicester to Man City
Riyad Mahrez went on temporary strike at Leicester to force through a move to Man City in 2018.
We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from the winger at the Etihad Stadium, but a failure to hold down a permanent spot in the starting lineup has led to rumours of a potential exit.
From: Benfica to Man City
After growing a little worried by his shaky defence in 2019/20, Guardiola went big with the blockbuster signing of Ruben Dias.
The Portugal international had an immediate impact, leading City back to the Premier League title and winning the Player of the Year award in the process.
From: Liverpool to Man City
After a pretty ugly contract dispute with Liverpool, Raheem Sterling made the controversial switch to Man City. At the time, he was both the most expensive English player ever and the most expensive teenager ever.
Guardiola turned the winger into a goalscoring machine, although the 2020/21 season ended with rumours that Sterling was looking for a new challenge, so he might end up on this list again soon.
From: Inter to Barcelona
Just three weeks after watching Real Madrid splash out on Kaka, Barcelona tried to one-up their rivals with a €69.5m move for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
He netted 22 goals in 46 games in his only season at Camp Nou, but Ibrahimovic grew tired of being pushed out of position for Lionel Messi.
“You bought a Ferrari, but you drive it like a Fiat,” he famously told Pep Guardiola before being offloaded to AC Milan.
From: Eintracht Frankfurt to Real Madrid
2018/19: Luka Jovic scores 27 goals and earns a €70m move to Real.
2019/20: Luka Jovic scores two goals and earns a loan back to Frankfurt.
No prizes for guessing who won this deal.
From: Atletico Madrid to Man City
Man City broke their transfer record to land Spanish midfielder Rodri in 2019.
Billed as a replacement for the indefatigable Fernandinho, Rodri made the position his own in 2020/21, shining as City lifted the Premier League trophy.
From: Bayer Leverkusen to Chelsea
As one of the few sides who remained in a healthy financial state after the COVID-19 shutdown, Chelsea took advantage and swooped in to land German starlet Kai Havertz.
He didn’t have the easiest debut season, but he did score the winning goal in the Champions League final, so there’s that.
From: Barcelona to Juventus
Juventus couldn’t believe their luck when they were offered the chance to send an ageing Miralem Pjanic to Barcelona in exchange for Brazilian Arthur in a deal which technically wasn’t a swap deal (but definitely was).
Despite getting the best side of the deal, Juventus still haven’t been totally impressed with Arthur, but at least things have gone better than Pjanic’s time with Barcelona.
From: Roma to Liverpool
Loris Karius’ disastrous performance in the 2018 Champions League final forced Jurgen Klopp to swallow his pride and dip into the transfer market for a world class goalkeeper in the form of Alisson.
It was money well spent as Alisson quickly glued Liverpool‘s defence together, shining en route to Champions League and Premier League glory.
From: Real Madrid to Man Utd
Di Maria had been named Man of the Match in the Champions League final as Real Madrid finally clinched La Decima in 2014, so it looked like United had struck gold broke their transfer record to sign the Argentine a few months later.
*Narrator voice*: They would not strike gold.
A failure to settle in England saw Di Maria’s form crumble and he was shipped out to PSG for a loss 12 months later.
From: Ajax to Barcelona
After months of speculation, the Frenkie de Jong transfer saga finally came to an end in January 2019 as the Dutch midfielder agreed to join Barcelona at the end of the season.
With more experience under his belt, De Jong has blossomed into an elite midfielder and looks set to be part of Barcelona’s future for years to come.
From: Wolfsburg to Man City
Two years after Jose Mourinho decided that Kevin De Bruyne wasn’t good enough for the Premier League, Manuel Pellegrini brought him back to England, paying a hefty sum to sign the Belgian from Wolfsburg.
The Belgian maestro has been one of the world’s best creators since returning to England in 2015 and has turned City into one of the scariest sides around.
From: Ajax to Juventus
Six months after seeing team-mate De Jong agree his blockbuster move away from Ajax, Matthijs de Ligt made the headlines himself by agreeing a switch to Juventus which could be worth in excess of €85m.
Learning from Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci has clearly worked wonders for De Ligt, who has been very impressive since his move to Italy.
From: Juventus to Real Madrid
That volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League final was almost worth the entirety of the €77.5m Real spent on Zinedine Zidane, although the Spanish side did feel a little short-changed when he retired from playing after just five years at the club.
Nevertheless, he remained close with Los Blancos and eventually enjoyed two successful spells as manager of the club, the most recent of which came to an end in 2021.
From: Real Madrid to Chelsea
Conte’s Chelsea downfall began when he decided to replace Diego Costa with Alvaro Morata in the summer of 2017. Costa had just scored 20 goals to help Chelsea win the Premier League title in 2016/17; Morata had never scored more than 15 in a league campaign.
After a bright start, Morata’s form fell off a cliff and he was loaned out to Atletico Madrid just 18 months after arriving, having managed just 24 goals in 72 appearances for the Blues.
From: Lille to Arsenal
Arsenal’s lack of transfer funds were being mocked in 2019, but then the Gunners came out and dropped a cool €79m on one of the most in-demand players around at the time, Nicolas Pepe.
Unfortunately, we’re yet to see anything from Pepe that suggests he was worth that spend. His form has been so inconsistent and he has struggled to hold down a permanent starting spot.
From: Man Utd to Inter
Romelu Lukaku managed just two seasons at Old Trafford and found himself struggling to break into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team towards the end of the 2018/19 season. As a result, he began pushing for an exit.
An €80m move to Inter followed, and the Serie A side quickly determined that an undiagnosed digestive issue had been behind his slump in form in England.
That was sorted out, and Lukaku quickly turned back into one of the world’s best strikers, winning the Serie A title in 2020/21.
From: Atletico Madrid to Bayern Munich
After shining at the 2018 World Cup, Lucas Hernandez spent the next season proving he was one of the best defenders around, and Bayern Munich were so impressed that they shelled out a cool €80m to sign him.
Injuries have prevented Lucas from matching that form in Germany, and the jury’s still out on whether this was actually a good deal.
From: Athletic Club to Chelsea
Chelsea were scrambling to replace Thibaut Courtois in 2018 and ended up triggering Kepa Arrizabalaga’s sky-high release clause.
His debut season was solid, but Kepa’s form soon fell off a cliff. The world’s most expensive goalkeeper put up some historically poor statistics and was benched by Edouard Mendy in 2020.
That’s a lot of money for a backup…
From: Monaco to Real Madrid
The first of the €80m signings was James Rodriguez, who rode the wave of the 2014 World Cup right to the Santiago Bernabeu.
He dominated in his debut season but was soon bitten by the injury bug, and Rodriguez eventually lost his place in the squad. He spent two years on loan with Bayern Munich before joining Everton in 2020.
From: Liverpool to Barcelona
No price tag would have been enough for Liverpool to happily part with Luis Suarez, but they couldn’t stand in the way of his dream move to Barcelona when the Spaniards came calling in 2014.
Suarez bagged a whopping 195 goals in 283 appearances for Barcelona, who inexplicably decided he would be useless in 2020/21, despite having just scored 16 goals in the previous season.
He was booted out the door Atletico Madrid for pennies, but ended up having the last laugh as he bagged 21 goals in 32 games to fire Atleti to the league title.
From: Southampton to Liverpool
Some people were sceptical when Liverpool smashed their transfer record to make Virgil van Dijk the world’s most expensive defender in January 2018, but it quickly became apparent why they had done that.
Van Dijk transformed Liverpool’s defence and led them to the Champions League final, and he went from strength to strength after that, winning both European and English titles soon after.
From: Everton to Man Utd
Romelu Lukaku can count himself unfortunate to have attracted so much criticism after joining United in 2017. He averaged nearly a goal every other game in his debut season, but was accused of not being mobile enough and only scoring against lesser sides.
With 27 goals in all competitions, his debut season was actually the most prolific of Lukaku’s career. His form didn’t last, and United ended up selling him to Inter in the summer of 2019.
From: Borussia Dortmund to Man Utd
It took United well over a year, but they finally landed Jadon Sancho in the summer of 2021.
The €85.3m fee was considerably lower than the €120m quoted by Dortmund 12 months earlier, so if you ignore the circus that was this entire transfer saga, this has probably worked out alright for United.
From: Santos to Barcelona
Barcelona initially claimed their acquisition of Neymar was worth just €57.1m, but an investigation into the deal revealed the truth.
It turned out that the Blaugrana had shelled out a cool €86.2m to land the Brazilian, who would eventually make them their money back and then some.
From: Leicester to Man Utd
The most expensive defender of all time, it seems as though Harry Maguire has finally convinced most of his critics that he was actually worth that spend.
Competition from Man City forced United to pay big to land Maguire, but he has repaid their faith and is now a key player for both club and country.
From: Napoli to Juventus
In their efforts to finally win that elusive Champions League title, Juventus raided Serie A rivals Napoli for Gonzalo Higuain in 2016. It was a fair price for a striker whose 36 goals the previous season was the highest total in Serie A since 1928/29.
Higuain didn’t quite scale to those heights in Turin, though he did score 40 goals in 73 league appearances, before loan spells with both AC Milan and Chelsea led to a permanent exit in 2020.
From: Man Utd to Real Madrid
Nothing which costs €94m can be described as a bargain, but this will go down as one of the greatest transfers ever despite the extortionate price. Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Real as one of the best players in the world and left having established himself as one of the best players of all time.
In nine seasons at the Bernabeu, Ronaldo scored a staggering 450 goals in 438 appearances, won the Ballon d’Or four times, and won every possible trophy at least twice, including four Champions League titles.
From: Real Madrid to Juventus
Guess who’s back?
Juventus watched Real Madrid win three consecutive Champions League titles and decided they wouldn’t mind a piece of the action, and they were prepared to spend big to get it.
The goals have flooded in as expected, but the sheer cost of this deal has come back to bite Juventus, who have found out that having Ronaldo on the books is not always as fun as it sounds.
From: Chelsea to Real Madrid
Real weren’t prepared to wait an extra 12 months to sign Eden Hazard on a free and instead agreed to pay what could end up being €145m for the Belgian winger.
Now, they really wish they hadn’t.
Injuries have plagued the ageing winger and prevented him from coming anywhere close to the elite form which convinced them to make the move, and this one now feels like it could be the worst transfer in history.
From: Tottenham to Real Madrid
Speaking of bad transfers…
Gareth Bale has popped up with some huge goals for Real and played his part in some all-time great moments, but injury struggles and the media storm that has followed him ever since his move have turned this one into a comedy skit.
From: Juventus to Man Utd
Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t make many mistakes in his illustrious career, but allowing Paul Pogba to leave United for nothing in 2012 may be one of his biggest. Pogba’s attitude was called into question, but that did not seem to be a problem at Juventus as he became one of the best midfielders in Serie A.
Four years after letting him leave, United brought Pogba back to Old Trafford for a then world record sum. He’s been amazing in spells, but has not yet lived up to the billing.
And he’s one year away from leaving for free again…
From: Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona
Barcelona took a leap of faith when they spent over €100m to sign Ousmane Dembele from Dortmund in 2017. The Frenchman had only spent one season in the Bundesliga, but Barça scouts were convinced that this was a player who could become one of the world’s best.
As it turns out, it’s really not gone so well…and Barcelona are in a right financial mess. And Dembele’s injured almost all the time.
From: Atletico Madrid to Barcelona
The Antoine Griezmann transfer saga had literally everything.
He rejected Barcelona in 2018 using a documentary produced by Gerard Pique’s company, only to sign for the club 12 months later amid a tapping-up scandal that led to a formal complaint from Atletico.
All of that for a transfer that has been pretty rubbish from start to finish.
From: Liverpool to Barcelona
Philippe Coutinho joined Barcelona from Liverpool in January 2018 in search of trophies and acclaim, and he got what he desired – winning two league titles in a row. But he could only watch on as former club Liverpool lifted the big one in 2019, smashing Coutinho’s Barcelona en-route to the Champions League final itself.
Coutinho has struggled. So much so, in fact, that if you were to label this one of the worst transfers of all time, you’d actually have a strong case (he’s 90min’s number 2).
Never before has so much money been put up and such disappointment followed.
That money*, you ask? Barça are reported to have paid an initial €120m to Liverpool, with a series of add ons paid down the line – coming after sealing Champions League qualification, winning the tournament itself and in blocks of appearances. The total could reach €160m if all add-ons are triggered.
From: Benfica to Atletico Madrid
One of the world’s most exciting prospects, Joao Felix sealed a move to Atletico in 2019 despite being courted by almost all of Europe’s biggest clubs in the months before the move was made official.
Felix burst on to the scene at Benfica, and Atletico fancied him so much that they decided on paying his entire €126m release clause as they attempted to replace the outgoing Antoine Griezmann.
So far, the results have been… mixed.
From: Monaco to PSG
Their heir to the throne shared by Messi & Ronaldo (or just Messi, tbh) as the best player on the planet is Kylian Mbappe.
He’s won the World Cup already, and PSG made a big effort to sign him from Monaco in 2018…so much so that they made him the second most expensive player of all time.
They are, however, in grave danger of losing the player for absolutely nothing in 2022.
From: Barcelona to PSG
Neymar’s move from Barcelona to PSG in 2017 didn’t so much break the world transfer record as smash it into a million pieces. He became the first player to command a nine-figure sum, with the £198m fee being more than double the previous record of Pogba.
Was it worth it? Neymar has been prolific in front of goal and PSG won the domestic treble in his first season. League titles have been a breeze (except for last season) but the Champions League is still missing.
Neymar did sign a new contract in 2021 though, so he’s got time.
All transfer fees according to Goal.