Recruitment isn’t just about signing players who are ready to contribute in the here and now. The smartest clubs will always try to acquire individuals whose value is likely to rise over time, thus giving them a chance to make a profit if they’re ever forced to sell.
Using data from the CIES Football Observatory, and leaving aside players who have risen to glory from their club's youth sides, we’ve picked out the 20 most profitable players in Europe’s big five leagues (England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany) by deducting the transfer fee their current clubs paid for their services from their current market value, which is determined by CIES’ exclusive algorithm.
19= Florian Thauvin, Marseille (+€69m)
Look away now, Newcastle fans. The Frenchman failed to impress in his 16 appearances for the Magpies and was sold back to former club Marseille in 2017 following two loan spells at the Stade Velodrome.
OM paid just €13m for the wide man, who has had a hand in 26 Ligue 1 goals this term. Such form earned Thauvin a recall to the France squad for March’s international break, while he’s now deemed to be worth €82m.
19= Kalidou Koulibaly, Napoli (+€69m)
A hero largely unsung outside the Stadio San Paolo, Koulibaly has been instrumental to Napoli’s title challenge under Maurizio Sarri this season. The imposing central defender set the Partenopei back €7m when he arrived in Italy in 2014, but his performances since then have added €69m to his market value .
Koulibaly was linked with Chelsea and Liverpool in summer 2017 and could be on the move in the upcoming transfer window, when he will surely feature on the shopping lists of some of Europe’s major clubs – and Napoli could be looking at a potential 1085% return on investment.
16= Raheem Sterling, Manchester City (+€70m)
For around six weeks in summer 2015, the €70m Sterling was the most expensive signing in Manchester City’s history. Kevin De Bruyne took that tag when he arrived at the Etihad Stadium in late August, but it’s testament to Sterling’s on-field progress that he’s now worth double the amount his current club paid for him three years ago.
The England winger is currently enjoying his best season to date, having scored 15 goals and provided seven assists for the runaway Premier League leaders. If he maintains such form next term, Sterling’s value will continue to rise.
16= Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City (+€70m)
Jesus hit the ground running upon his arrival at Manchester City in January 2017, scoring three goals in his first two starts in the Premier League. A fee of €37m represented a calculated risk – this, after all, was a player who had no experience of the European game – but the Brazilian striker has proven to be worth every penny.
City could expect to fetch around €107m if they were to sell Jesus this summer, although the chances of the champions-elect sanctioning the 20-year-old’s departure are close to zero.
16= Roberto Firmino, Liverpool (+€70m)
If Mohamed Salah has been Liverpool’s outstanding performer in 2017-18, Firmino hasn’t been too far behind. The Brazil international has excelled in the centre of Jurgen Klopp’s exhilarating front three, scoring 21 goals and setting up another 10 in the Premier League and Champions League.
The former Hoffenheim forward is now an indispensable part of Liverpool’s line-up, so they’re likely to resist any bids for his services this summer. If they were to sell a player they snapped up for €40m, however, the Reds would probably bank a €70m profit.
15. Timo Werner, RB Leipzig (+€72m)
Werner netted the winning goal against Bayern Munich on Sunday, taking his Bundesliga tally for the season to 11. The RB Leipzig striker is unlikely to surpass last term’s total of 21, but he’s surely done enough to take the centre-forward spot in Joachim Low’s Germany line-up at the World Cup this summer.
A positive showing in Russia would make it difficult for Leipzig to keep hold of the speedy 22-year-old. Signed from Stuttgart for €13m and now valued at €85m, Werner would at least bring die Bullen a healthy profit.
14. Fabinho, Monaco (+€76m)
Fabinho was desperate to seal a switch away from Monaco in summer 2017, but the Ligue 1 champions dug their heels in having already sold Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiemoue Bakayoko.
Although the Brazilian midfielder looks set to seek pastures new in the coming months, Monaco will at least be able to console themselves with a profit which could be in the region of €76m. The principality club parted with just €6m to bring Fabinho to the Stade Louis II in 2015.
13. Dries Mertens, Napoli (+€77m)
Of all the individual success stories which have come out of Napoli under Maurizio Sarri’s management, Mertens’ ranks at the very top. The Belgian was a solid if unspectacular winger in his first three seasons at the club, before being converted into a central striker by Sarri in 2016-17. Twenty-eight goals in 35 Serie A games followed, and Mertens has since proven that was no fluke by hitting 17 in 27 so far this campaign.
The upshot of such exploits is an €87m transfer valuation – a significant increase for a player who cost just €10m back in 2013.
12. Eden Hazard, Chelsea (+€78m)
Hazard, now 27, appears to be approaching a career crossroads, with contract talks on hold and links with Real Madrid refusing to go away. The Belgian has enjoyed a fantastic six seasons at Stamford Bridge, winning two Premier League titles, a League Cup and the Europa League after joining the then-European champions from Lille for €40m in 2012.
It’s testament to the positive impact Hazard has made since then that such a fee now looks like a bargain. Any interested parties can expect to pay over €100m if they want to prise the forward away from west London this summer.
11. Ciro Immobile, Lazio (+€79m)
Immobile has spent time on the books of Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla, but his value has only really risen since he joined Lazio in 2016. The striker cost just €9m back then, but he confounded his critics with 23 goals in 36 Serie A outings last term.
He’s already beaten that tally this time around, notching 24 times in his first 26 appearances of the 2017-18 campaign. Now valued at €88m, he would make the Biancocelesti a handsome profit if they decide to sell in the upcoming transfer window.
10. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona (+€83m)
Ter Stegen had to content himself with occasional appearances in cup competitions during his first two seasons at Barcelona, but the German hasn’t looked back since claiming the No.1 shirt ahead of the 2016-17 campaign.
The former Borussia Monchengladbach is now among the world’s best goalkeepers and the Blaugrana can pat themselves on the back for securing his signature for just €12m in 2014. An increase in value of €83m shows how much Ter Stegen has improved in the four years since then.
9. Mauro Icardi, Inter (+€84m)
Icardi is on course for his best ever scoring season in Serie A, with four goals in the recent 5-0 thrashing of Sampdoria raising his 2017-18 tally to 22 – just two behind his previous best of 24 in 2016-17. The Argentina has proved to be a bargain for the Nerazzurri, who paid just €13m to bring him to San Siro in 2013.
Icardi is still only 25 years old, which is part of the reason why he’s valued at €97m. Inter’s resolve may be tested if they fail to secure Champions League football between now and May.
8. Christian Eriksen, Tottenham (+€87m)
Tottenham were initially criticised for their policy of using the €101m recouped from the sale of Gareth Bale in 2013 to sign several new players in different positions. It’s certainly true that some of those acquisitions – namely Paulinho and Roberto Soldado – didn’t work out, but the fact Eriksen was captured for just €13m shows it wasn’t all bad for Spurs.
The Danish schemer would bring in a profit of around €87m were he to be sold this summer, but Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino will be desperate to keep hold of him as the north Londoners prepare to move into their new stadium.
7. Eric Dier, Tottenham (+€88m)
Dier was one of the first signings made in the Mauricio Pochettino era at White Hart Lane, the defender-cum-midfielder snared from Sporting CP for only €5m. Little was known of the Englishman in his homeland, but Dier has since established himself as a key part of the Three Lions side.
Manchester United were reportedly interested in the then-23-year-old last summer, but Spurs stood firm to keep hold of one of their prized assets. Dier’s value has only risen since then, with the CIES Football Observatory now deeming him to be worth €93m.
6. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City (+€96m)
Manchester City’s success in the Premier League this season has been collective, but there’s no doubt De Bruyne has been the star man for the champions-elect. The Belgium international has scored seven times and provided 14 assists in the top flight this term, as well as being directly involved in a further five goals in the Champions League.
De Bruyne didn’t come cheap back in 2015, costing City a then-club record fee of €80m. Yet given the fact he’s now valued at €176m, the 26-year-old is still one of the most profitable players on the planet today.
5. Leroy Sane, Manchester City (+€99m)
Sane was already a highly-rated prospect when he first rocked up at the Etihad Stadium in summer 2016, but he’s now one of the hottest young attackers in world football. The German wide man has been superb for Manchester City this campaign, providing speed and trickery from the left.
Schalke pocketed €52m when they sold Sane two years ago, but his value has trebled since then. Still only 22, the forward’s price tag could increase further in the coming seasons, particularly if he stars in the World Cup with Germany this summer.
4. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool (+€113m)
Few players in the Premier League era have made as significant an impression in their first season at a new club as Salah. The Egyptian has been nothing short of sensational for Liverpool in 2017-18, scoring a remarkable 28 goals in 30 league appearances as Jurgen Klopp’s charges target a top-four finish.
The former Chelsea man’s performances have been so consistently impressive that his €50m transfer fee now looks like a steal. Liverpool could feasibly hold out for €163m if they opted to sell their top scorer this summer, although they’ll surely do their utmost to keep hold of him.
3. Paulo Dybala, Juventus (+€115m)
Dybala has spent time on the substitutes’ bench and the treatment table this campaign, but he’s recently demonstrated how integral he is to Juventus in crunch games against Lazio and Tottenham. The Bianconeri purchased the Argentine forward from Palermo for €40m in 2015, but he’s already repaid that fee with his performances in Serie A and the Champions League.
Dybala doesn’t turn 25 until November, so he’s not even at his peak yet. That’s part of the reason why he’s valued so highly – only four players on this list are considered to be worth more than his current tag of €155m.
2. Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid (+€128m)
Manchester United were heavily linked with Griezmann in summer 2017, but the Frenchman decided to stay put after Atletico Madrid were hit with a transfer ban. It appears to be only a matter of time before he departs the Spanish capital, though, with Barcelona confident of snapping him up later this year.
That would undoubtedly be a blow for Atletico, but Diego Simeone’s side can at least expect to pocket a profit of around €128m on a player they signed for €30m in 2014.
1. Dele Alli, Tottenham (+€164m)
Tottenham fans knew very little of Alli when his club announced a deal to sign him in January 2015, with the midfielder returning to MK Dons on loan for the remainder of that season. He was expected to be a fringe member of the squad in his debut campaign at White Hart Lane, but Alli soon established himself as a key part of Mauricio Pochettino’s starting XI.
He’s gone from strength to strength since then, and at 21 years of age still has plenty of time for further growth. If Spurs were to sell him this summer, they’d likely bring in a profit of around €164m.
Lists, Dele Alli, Antoine Griezmann, Paulo Dybala, Mohamed Salah, Leroy Sane, Kevin De Bruyne, Eric Dier, Christian Eriksen, Mauro Icardi, Marc-André ter Stegen, Ciro Immobile, Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard, Timo Werner, Fabinho, Roberto Firmino, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Florian Thauvin, Kalidou Koulibaly, Napoli, Olympique Marseille, Monaco, Manchester City, Chelsea, RB Leipzig, Lazio, Internazionale, Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, Juventus, Atlético Madrid