Cristiano, Alf & the world’s most expensive racehorse

When Alf Common broke the world transfer record with a £1,000 move to Middlesbrough in 1905, one sportswriter snootily complained: “We are tempted to wonder whether association football players will eventually rival thoroughbred yearling racehorses in the market.”

That moment has long passed.

The world’s most expensive racehorse Green Monkey cost John Magnier, Sir Alex Ferguson’s fellow enthusiast for the sport of kings, a mere £9m in 2006.

This expensive young colt was put out to pasture last year after failing to win a single race.


"You can't win anything with green monkeys... no, seriously" 

Green Monkey’s anti-climactic fate has been shared by many footballers traded like livestock for record-breaking sums.

Common, an aggressive, sturdy forward with an eye for goal and a Lord Kitchener moustache did his duty for Boro, scoring 65 goals in 178 games and keeping them in the top flight.

But the FA heartily disapproved of this lucrative transfer and he never played for England again after joining Boro. When the time came to leave Teesside, he didn’t even get his promised £250 benefit and joined Woolwich Arsenal on a free transfer.

Syd Puddefoot did well financially out of his world record move from West Ham United to… Falkirk in 1922.

He was given a £390 signing fee (not bad when a player’s average wage was £8 a week) when the Scottish club paid £5,000 for him.

But the Cockney striker only scored 45 goals for the Bairns because, he claimed, his Scottish teammates wouldn’t pass to him and joined Blackburn – for £4,000 – in 1925 having missed the Hammers’ FA Cup glory in 1923.

Fifty years later, Giuseppe Savoldi became the world’s most expensive player, joining Napoli for £1.2m.

He was 28, had been pretty prolific at Bologna (he was top scorer in Serie A in 1973/74), and scored only slightly less frequently for Napoli. But he won only three more caps while in Naples and, four years later, rejoined the Rossoblu.

He did make an indelible impression on the fans though.

By 1992, the price for the world’s most expensive footballer had risen to £13m. The Serie A star burdened with this fee was winger/left-midfielder Gianluigi Lentini.

The Vatican condemned his purchase by Milan as an “offence against the dignity of work” and religious souls may have seen evidence of divine disfavour when a car crash left him, at the age of 24, in a coma, with a fractured skull and a damaged eye socket.

He made a full recovery, his career didn’t. Only 40, he still plays for ASD Saviglianese in the Italian regional leagues. On YouTube you can get a sense of the talent, looks and style that prompted some to liken him to Maradona.

So the dismal pattern continues, with some variations.

Alan Shearer’s record-busting £15m move to Newcastle delivered lots of goals, no trophies and a crown of thorns status as the new Geordie Messiah.

Other record-breakers gone wrong include Denilson (£21.5m, paid by Real Betis, in 1998), Roberto Baggio (£8m to Juve in 1990), Ronaldo (£19.5m to Inter, 1997) and Christian Vieri (£32m to Inter, 1999).

You can count the number of record-breaking deals that definitively succeeded on the fingers of one hand: Luis Suarez to Inter (1961), Johan Cruyff to Barcelona (1973), Maradona to Napoli (1984), and Luis Figo to Real (2000).

Zidane’s £46m arrival at the Bernabeu in 2001 is a hard one to call.

He was truly inspirational, sold shedloads of merchandise but won the UEFA Champions League only once (while his less galactical predecessors conquered Europe in 1998 and 2000) and never won a major trophy with France while at Real.

You might say the transfer paid off – if only for the artistry with which he entertained the Bernabeu faithful.

But his transfer, like many others, suggests that no matter how fulsomely the world’s most expensive player is praised as they sign their lucrative new contract, in the long run these transfers often work out better for the club – and the Guinness Book of Records – than the player.


Zizou seals his one - and only - Champions League triumph 

Real Madrid may pay nine times as much for CR7 as Magnier splashed out for Green Monkey but the deals do have certain similarities.

Footballer and racehorse were bought in the belief that past results guarantees future performance. And failure will not be tolerated.

CR7 will, at least, have longer to justify his cost. Green Monkey retired after failing to win three races.

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