Transfers are a very important part of the modern soccer world. Here is a list of the most expensive transfers in the history of soccer.
The Great Diego
Diego Maradona is the only player to have broken the world record for transfers twice, first moving to Barcelona in 1982, for USD 7.6 million, and then to Napoli in 1984, for USD 10.5 million.
Transfers in football are one of the craziest aspects of the modern global behemoth the sport has become. Before the days of the two transfer windows, transfers could be made any time during a season. With the advent of the transfer window, the rumor-mongering, speculation, and activity has been concentrated into 16 weeks of absolute madness.
From the days of Giuseppe Savoldi becoming the first player to cost more than a million pounds in 1975, we have now come to a time when transfer records are dangerously close to the 100 million pound mark, having crossed the USD 100 million barrier a long time ago! This incredible rise has occurred due to the constant inflation and the influx of TV money into domestic leagues in the late 20th century.
Transfers are also shrouded in the uncertainty regarding the amounts paid to external agencies, such as the player’s agents, third-party ownership, etc. This makes calculating the exact cost of a player quite difficult.
According to a Forbes compilation, three transfers have exceeded the 100 million dollar mark when adjusted for inflation. Two of them were made in the same transfer window! Here are the costliest transfers in soccer history.
The transfers have been listed according to their non-inflation-adjusted value in Euro, with non-inflation-adjusted values in USD provided in brackets.
Most Expensive Transfers in Soccer History
From: Tottenham Hotspur
To: Real Madrid
Transfer Fee: Euro 100 million (USD 132 million) in 2013
The 2013 summer transfer window saw quite a few club records, 1 league record, and the world record smashed. The top trump among the already overflowing pack of aces was the Welsh wing wizard, Gareth Bale.
Almost unbelievably, Gareth Bale started his professional career as a defender, utilizing his pace at left back. When he moved to Tottenham Hotspur from Southampton in 2007, he was gradually converted into a left winger, the position he currently occupies.
He is renowned for his supreme athleticism, combining blistering speed with a surprisingly sturdy frame, long distance shooting, and dead ball prowess. The 2013 season, his last for Tottenham, was, statistically, by far the best season of his career. He scored 55 goals in 203 games for Tottenham, and by moving to Real Madrid, linked up with the next candidate in this list.
From: Manchester United
To: Real Madrid
Transfer Fee: Euro 94 million (USD 130 million) in 2009
One of the best footballers ever to grace the game, and the heartthrob of almost every woman in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo made history in 2009 by commanding an GBP 80 million fee. This was the most expensive transfer in soccer until then, and, adjusted for inflation, remains the costliest at USD 140 million.
Ronaldo was educated at the Sporting Lisbon youth academy, which also trained legends such as Luis Figo. He was bought by Manchester United from Sporting, after they sold David Beckham to Real Madrid, and, despite initial misgivings, went on to cement his place among United’s all-time greats.
Like Bale, Ronaldo is a supremely fit athlete. He is also considered one of the best all-round forwards ever to play the game. He is extremely quick, and is an expert shooter, passer, crosser, dribbler, and header of the ball. He is also able to play well with either foot, unlike most footballers.
Since joining Real, Ronaldo has been one of the most prolific forwards in the game, having scored 202 goals in 202 games (at the time of writing) for the prestigious Madrid Meringues. This is the highest goals-to-games ratio in the history of the proud club.
To: Real Madrid
Transfer Fee: Euro 75 million (USD 65 million) in 2001
Universally regarded as one of the best footballers ever, Zidane broke the world transfer record when he moved to Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid in 2001. The World Cup- and Euro-winning French legend went on to win numerous trophies for Real Madrid, including the 2002 Champions League, where Zidane himself scored an iconic winner in the final.
Zidane is one of the few players to have scored two goals in a World Cup final; he scored a brace in the 1998 World Cup final to help France win the trophy on home soil.
Zidane’s transfer is still the third most expensive ever when converted into Euros.
From: Inter Milan
Transfer Fee: Euro 69 million (USD 102 million) in 2009
Ibrahimović is one of the most successful nomads in soccer, having played for 7 clubs in 5 countries. Despite the high fee, his 2009 transfer to Barcelona, remarkably, did not beat the world record, since Cristiano Ronaldo had been signed by Real Madrid earlier in the same window. Despite the heavy outlay to sign the striker, he didn’t fit tactically into Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, and frequently clashed with the coach.
He is an excellent traditional “no. 9”, excelling in holding up the ball and distributing it intelligently. He is also an accomplished goal scorer, and has been his club’s top scorer for the last two seasons. His height, strength, and taekwondo training also allow him to out muscle defenders, and score numerous headers.
Ibrahimović is considered among the elite players of his generation, and has excellent scoring ratios at all his clubs. He is the only player to score a goal in the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s premier continental club championship, for 6 different clubs.
From: AC Milan
To: Real Madrid
Transfer Fee: Euro 68 million (USD 98 million) in 2009
Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, or Kaká, was the world’s most expensive player for a few days, signing for Real Madrid days before the Spanish club splashed the cash again to bring Ronaldo for a new world record. Kaká remains the most expensive South American player ever.
Kaká gained fame during his highly productive 6 years at AC Milan, where he was untouchable in a quasi-striker role. He was instrumental in Milan’s success in the mid-noughties, and scored 95 goals in 270 games for the Italian giants. He was renowned for his passing, acceleration, and high rate of scoring, despite not playing as a conventional striker.
He could never recapture the same form at Madrid, and after 4 largely disappointing seasons, he was sold back to AC Milan in 2013.
To: Paris St. German
Transfer Fee: Euro 64 million (USD 84 million) in 2013
Edinson Cavani rose to fame in Napoli, scoring more than 30 goals in each of his three seasons in Naples, before making a big-money move to nouveau riche Paris St. German. Cavani is considered one of the best goal scorers in the modern game, having scored at least 15 goals for the last 5 years. Cavani won the 2011 Copa America with Uruguay.
To: Real Madrid
Transfer Fee: Euro 62 million (USD 56 million) in 2000
Yet another entry for Real Madrid, this transfer caused controversy due to the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid. The 2000 transfer, which was a world record at the time, incensed Barcelona fans, who had adored Luís Figo during his 5-year stay at the Catalan club. When Figo returned to Camp Nou, Barcelona’s home stadium, with Real Madrid in 2002, a fan threw a pig’s head at him. Figo’s transfer remains the highest amount a Spanish club has received for a player.
Figo was the first ‘galactico’ bought in Real Madrid’s infamous strategy of assembling the best international stars and the best homegrown talents. Though the plan never quite worked out, galácticos such as Figo, Zidane, Ronaldo (the Brazilian one), and Beckham made Real Madrid an instantly recognizable brand all over the world, and produced some outstanding football.
Figo was part of a ‘golden generation’ for the Portuguese national football team, but couldn’t win any trophies with the Selecção das Quinas.
From: Atlético Madrid
Transfer Fee: Euro 60 million (USD 79 million) in 2013
Radamel Falcao shot to fame by winning the Europa League and the Portuguese Primeira Liga, with Porto, and then carrying on in the deadly goal scoring vein after transferring to Atlético Madrid. His 2013 transfer to French club AS Monaco became the French Ligue 1 transfer record, until it was broken by Cavani’s purchase by Parisian club Paris St. Germain in the same transfer window.
Falcao is considered the best finisher in the current game. He is comfortable playing with either foot, and despite being only 5′ 10” tall, is a renowned header of the ball.
Transfer Fee: Euro 58 million (USD 79 million) in 2011
Having started his career at his hometown club Atlético Madrid, Spanish marksman Fernando Torres became one of the most feared strikers in the world, at Liverpool, scoring 81 goals in 142 games for the Reds. His move to Chelsea in the January 2011 transfer window not only alienated him to Liverpool fans, but resulted in a severe loss of form. He has only scored 35 goals in 135 games for Chelsea, and notoriously took 903 minutes to score his first goal for the Blues.
At his peak, Torres used his pace and dribbling ability to great effect in Rafa Benitez’s counterattacking unit, and struck up a legendary partnership with Liverpool talisman Steven Gerrard. Torres was renowned for his finishing ability, being able to score with either foot, and his head.
His transfer is the most expensive transfer between two English clubs as well as the highest any English club has paid for a player.
Transfer Fee: Euro 57 million (USD 74 million) in 2013
Hailed as a wonder kid right from his first steps as a professional footballer, Neymar showed the material behind the hype in a victorious 2013 Confederations Cup campaign, before signing a lucrative deal with Spanish champions Barcelona, right after the Confederations Cup. His transfer is the highest a Brazilian club has received for a player.
He is an excellent dribbler and goalscorer, and was the top goalscorer at the 2011 South American Youth Championship at the age of 19. He is viewed as the most important player for Brazil in their preparations for the 2014 World Cup on home soil.
Transfer Fee: Euro 56.5 million (USD 60 million) in 2000
Crespo’s transfer to Lazio in 2000 broke the world record before Luis Figo’s move to Real Madrid trumped it.
Crespo was one of the best strikers in the world around the turn of the millennium, and played for three Italian clubs between 1996 and 2003. He also played for Inter and AC Milan, on loan from Chelsea, and scored two goals for AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final. He was particularly noted for his heading ability and instinctive finishing.
Crespo’s transfer remains the highest amount exchanged between two Italian clubs as well as the highest transfer fee paid by an Italian club.
From: Manchester United and third-party owners, Media Sports Investment
To: Manchester City
Transfer Fee: Euro 53 million (USD 65 million) in 2009
The tenacious Argentine, Carlos Tevez, had become a crowd favorite at Manchester United due to his energetic displays for the red half of Manchester. When he decided to cross over the divide into Manchester City in 2009, the blue Mancunians had to pay what was then, the highest amount ever paid by an English club for a player.
The striker became similarly popular at City, and played an important part in their title win in 2012. However, disputes with the manager meant he was sidelined, and was sold to Juventus in 2013.
From: Real Madrid
Transfer Fee: Euro 50 million (USD 56 million) in 2013
The German play maker was an excellent performer and a crowd favorite at Madrid, but had to make way for the marquee signing of Gareth Bale in 2013. After Bale signed for Madrid, after a protracted transfer saga, Özil signed for Arsenal on the deadline day of the 2013 summer transfer window.
The German is one of the best play makers in the current footballing world, and has earned widespread acclaim for his passing and dribbling skills. Jose Mourinho, his manager at Madrid for 3 years, summed up Özil’s ability and importance to the team when he said, “There is no copy of him―not even a bad copy”.
Transfer Fee: Euro 48 million (USD 56 million) in 2001
Mendieta’s sale to Lazio was precipitated by Juventus’ sale of Zidane to Real. Zidane was replaced at Juventus by Lazio playmaker Pavel Nedved, who was, in turn, replaced by Valencia’s Mendieta.
Mendieta had impressed massively in Spain, but his much-vaunted purchase failed to take off in Italy. He couldn’t match his performances for the Spanish team, at Lazio, though there were some inevitable moments of brilliance. He was loaned to Barcelona and Middlesbrough between 2002 and 2004; Middlesbrough bought him permanently in 2004.
To: Atlético Madrid
Transfer Fee: Euro 47 million (USD 58 million) in 2011
Radamel Falcao’s success and ability can be seen by the fact that he commanded two of the highest transfer fees in history (though none broke the world record). Falcao arrived in Europe on the back of an excellent season for River Plate in Argentina, and became an instant hit at Portuguese giants, Porto. He was crucial in Porto’s Primeira Liga-Europa League double in 2011.
Following the stellar 2011 season, Falcao was sold to Atlético Madrid, where he went on to win another Europa League title, before moving on to Monaco.
Real Madrid’s dominance of this list is more a reflection on their owner Florentino Perez than the club’s traditional policy. Despite the inflated prices in the transfers in the second half of the 2000’s and the first few years of the 2010’s, the transfers of Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo during the first galácticos era stand tall. The relatively recent boom caused by foreign investors in European football has caused the transfer fees to shoot up dramatically over the last few years, reflected in the fact that the world record has been broken three times in the last four years. Clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris St. German, and Monaco are often criticized by soccer purists for their adverse influence on the development of young, homegrown players, and the irreversible upward trend of the transfer fees.
Transfer windows can often be more engrossing than some soccer games! Transfer sagas such as those of Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale, and Luis Suarez provide some spice to an action-starved fan’s summer life. The excitement brought about by a new signing is one of the most primal feelings in the football world, as is the deep sorrow and anger caused by the departure of a fan favorite. Anticipation, excitement, joy, and sorrow all condensed within the span of a few weeks―such is the nature of the modern soccer transfer window.