"What a w- useful way to spend loads...|"
It’s largely nonsense that a gigantic price tag weighs so heavily on a footballer that they’re doomed to subsequently fail. Plenty do, mind: Andy Carroll, for one.
The big-money signings covered here weren’t mere eyebrow-raisers. They were proper WTF moments that caused people to shake their heads and mutter that most damning of indictments: “Game’s gone.” In these instances, though, the game actually hit new heights...
Dani Alves – Sevilla to Barcelona, 2008 (£28.5m)
The upfront fee was actually £23.5m, with Barcelona promising Sevilla an extra £5m if Alves should end up playing a lot and winning a lot. Lifting 16 major trophies means he probably did just enough.
The Telegraph, acknowledging disappointment for rival suitors Manchester United and Chelsea, called the transfer “astonishing”. It was a huge fee, all right, but Alves helped to regenerate not just Barcelona but the role of a wide defender. Nobody accused Pep Guardiola of spending too much money on full-backs ever again.
Gianluigi Buffon – Parma to Juventus, 2001 (£32.6m)
This one actually was in lire – 100 billion of the buggers, thanks to the wonderfully mad denominations of Italy’s former currency. That’s an awful lot of coins for poor Parma to carry around.
Buffon remained the world’s most expensive goalkeeper for all 17 years of his first spell at Juventus, a time in which he made 656 appearances, won seven Serie A titles and four Coppas Italia. Still going strong (ish) at the ripe old age of 41, the Italian’s back in Turin for one final season.
Kevin De Bruyne – Wolfsburg to Manchester City, 2015 (£55m)
You don’t have to worry about counting the pennies too much when you’re bankrolled by an oil-rich emirate, but it certainly seemed as if Manchester City had paid over the odds in acquiring De Bruyne – a player who had failed to make an impact at Chelsea – for £55m.
Four years on and that figure looks like a bargain. De Bruyne has helped City to back-to-back Premier League titles in the last two seasons, and although injury problems dictated that he was peripheral last term, the Belgian was consistently superb throughout the club’s record-breaking, 100-point campaign of 2017/18.
Didier Drogba – Marseille to Chelsea, 2004 (£24m)
A fee of £24m was a king’s ransom in 2004, especially for a 26-year-old who wasn’t a household name and who’d cost Marseille only £3.3m a year earlier (and Guingamp just £80,000 some 18 months before that). l’OM didn’t want to sell Drogba, but... well, you can’t argue with a £20m year-on-year profit.
Chelsea, meanwhile, got a world-class line-leader who allowed Mourinho to dispense with a second striker. Drogba stayed for nine seasons and won them the Champions League. Bargain.
Marouane Fellaini – Standard Liege to Everton, 2008 (£15m)
He’s not even in the top 10 as of summer 2019, but Fellaini was once Everton’s record purchase. David Moyes had done an excellent job of leading the Toffees into Europe on a relatively paltry budget, so splashing out £15m on a 20-year-old from the Belgian league felt like a gamble.
Fellaini hit the ground running on Merseyside, and there was a time when opponents simply couldn’t deal with his unparalleled ability to receive the ball on his chest. He played 177 times for the club, before following Moyes to Manchester United in 2014 – and bringing Everton a cool £12.5m profit.
Rio Ferdinand – Leeds to Manchester United, 2002 (£29.1m)
For the second time in his career, Ferdinand became the world’s most defender upon joining Manchester United from Leeds in 2002. He’d held that title previously after moving to Elland Road from West Ham for £18m two years earlier, but a £29.1m transfer to the country’s biggest club brought much more pressure.
It proved to be a sound investment, though, with Ferdinand going on to play 455 games for United, winning six Premier League titles and a Champions League along the way.
Luis Figo – Barcelona to Real Madrid, 1999 (£37m)
Before Neymar there was Figo – and given the identity of the buying club, his high-profile exit from Barcelona was even more shocking than the Brazilian’s 2017 switch to PSG. Just like with Neymar’s £198m release clause, a contractual stipulation that Figo could depart Camp Nou if anyone paid £37m wasn’t meant to be taken seriously; the inclusion of such a clause was almost certainly symbolic, underlying his importance to the cause and placing him out of the reach of potential suitors.
Instead, Real Madrid decided the Portugal international would be the perfect purchase to kick-start their Galactico era. The move paid off too, as Figo helped los Blancos to two La Liga titles and a Champions League before joining Inter in 2005.
Trevor Francis – Birmingham to Nottingham Forest, 1979 (£1m)
Was it £999,999 or a million? Or even more? And, once Brian Clough had got his man, did Francis live up to the billing of being football’s first million-pound player?
In short: no. Francis did, however, win Nottingham Forest their first European Cup by scoring the final’s only goal, not long after arriving. And when you do something like that for a club like Forest, does anything else even matter?
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink – Atletico Madrid to Chelsea, 2000 (£15m)
With Atletico Madrid having just been relegated from La Liga and in financial disarray, it seemed a little strange that Chelsea couldn’t land Hasselbaink for less than £15m, a club-record fee at the time.
In the end it didn’t really matter, as the hulking Dutchman decisively delivered the goods at Stamford Bridge. Hasselbaink boasted a near-one-in-two record in west London, although he failed to win a trophy before his departure in 2004.
Thierry Henry – Juventus to Arsenal, 1999 (£11m)
Juventus probably couldn’t believe their luck when Arsenal offered £11m for Henry in 1999. The Bianconeri had paid just less than that to bring the Frenchman to Turin from Monaco a few months earlier, but he’d been underwhelming in most of his 16 appearances and the Italians were delighted to make a profit on a player they believed wasn’t cut out for the top level.
Reunited with former Monaco boss Arsene Wenger at Highbury, Henry was moved from the wing to centre-forward to devastating effect. By the time of his Arsenal exit in 2007, he’d become the club’s all-time record goalscorer and greatest ever player.
Pippo Inzaghi – Juventus to Milan, 2001 (£32.5m)
Inzaghi may have scored 89 goals in 165 games for Juventus, but he’d been relegated to the bench by 2001. And while there was no doubting his fox-in-the-box credentials, critics bemoaned the fact that the Italian did... well, not much else.
Milan’s decision to throw £32.5m in Juventus’ direction therefore raised a few eyebrows, but for once soon-to-be Rossoneri manager Carlo Ancelotti’s weren’t among them. Inzaghi didn’t really evolve his game at San Siro, but when your goalscoring instincts help your club win two Serie A titles and two Champions Leagues, who cares?
Diego Maradona – Barcelona to Napoli, 1984 (£5m)
It sounds ludicrous with the benefit of 25 years' hindsight, but Napoli’s signing of Maradona in 1984 was something of a risk. Firstly, the club could scarcely afford the world-record £5m transfer fee, and the Argentine – while undoubtedly an incredible talent – was coming off the back of two injury-hit, controversy-laden campaigns at Barcelona.
The rest is history. Maradona and Naples fitted together like hand in glove, with the former Boca Juniors genius inspiring the Partenopei to their first and only two Serie A titles.
Javi Martinez – Athletic Club to Bayern Munich, 2012 (£36m)
Athletic’s Basque-only recruitment policy places a premium on their own players, since sourcing a replacement isn’t always easy. Even so, £36m seemed excessive for someone with only a handful of international caps to his name.
As it turned out, Martinez has proved an inspired acquisition. He broke the 200-appearance barrier at Bayern last term, and has now seven consecutive Bundesliga crowns to go along nicely with the 2012/13 Champions League.
Yaya Toure – Barcelona to Manchester City, 2010 (£24m)
No one really knew what to make of Manchester City’s £24m splurge on Toure in 2010. The Ivorian had seemed like an unfashionable member of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team, alternating between centre-back and holding midfield to little fanfare.
At the Etihad Stadium, though, he transformed into a rampaging attacking force who routinely left opposition midfielders trailing in his wake. Toure enjoyed the best season of his career under Manuel Pellegrini in 2013/14, when he scored 20 league goals to win his second Premier League winner’s medal.
Virgil van Dijk – Southampton to Liverpool, 2018 (£75m)
When Liverpool failed in their bid to sign Van Dijk in summer 2017, they were advised to turn their attention to other targets. Instead, Jurgen Klopp closed his chequebook for the time being, waiting until the January transfer window to sanction a £75m deal for a player who’d never won a trophy.
It looked like lunacy at the time – not because Van Dijk was a bad player, but because he surely wasn’t worth £75m. How wrong we were. The Dutchman has been imperious in the last 18 months, almost single-handedly tightening up the Reds’ formerly leaky backline and inspiring Klopp’s side to Champions League glory last term.
Ruud van Nistelrooy – PSV to Manchester United, 2001 (£19m)
Van Nistelrooy was poised to join Manchester United in 2000, only for complications with his medical to scupper the deal. A day after the move collapsed, the Dutchman ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and was ruled out for a year.
Alex Ferguson was aware of the risks involved in signing a player coming off the back of such a serious injury, but he still went ahead with a £19m deal 12 months later. Van Nistelrooy repaid his faith brilliantly, scoring 150 goals in 219 games for the club.
Jamie Vardy – Fleetwood to Leicester, 2012 (£1.7m)
As above, Vardy’s initial transfer fee was lower yet substantial: £1m, a record amount for a non-league player. It seems likely that Leicester did end up paying that extra £700,000 in add-ons which had allowed them to gazump Cardiff, though it’s possible Fleetwood didn’t add a ‘Premier League champions’ clause when Vardy left them for Championship football. Fools.
Paying a seven-figure sum for a 25-year-old with zero Football League appearances was bold from Leicester, but it paid off rather well. Vardy fired Leicester to the most improbable top-flight title triumph in 2016, and has now scored 106 goals for the club.
Christian Vieri – Lazio to Inter, 1999 (£32m)
Put away your hindsight goggles and it seems baffling that Inter would pay a world-record fee for a striker who’d played for six clubs in six years, in a sort of anachronistic tribute to 2014’s Shane Long.
But, even if six seasons with the Nerazzurri brought him just one trophy (the Coppa Italia), Vieri repaid Inter’s faith with a ludicrous return of 103 goals in 144 league appearances. Not quite like Shane Long, then.
Zinedine Zidane – Juventus to Real Madrid, 2001 (£46.6m)
He’s now been followed by Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Paul Pogba and Neymar, but the fact that Zidane remained the world’s most expensive player ever for eight years after his £46.6m move to Real Madrid shows just what a huge deal this was at the time.
It didn’t take long for the Frenchman to prove he was worth every penny, though; Zidane scored the winning goal in the Champions League final in his debut season, then helped Madrid finish on top of the La Liga pile the following campaign.
Jordan Henderson – Sunderland to Liverpool, 2011 (£20m)
It’s easily forgotten that a) £20m was still a big deal in 2011, and b) Henderson had to wait six or seven years for the respect he’s given now. When he was put alongside Lionel Messi on the cover of FIFA 16, the internet combusted with abuse, despair, banter and boycotts.
Returning to today, who most recently captained his side to Champions League glory? It’s not Messi. Nor is it Phil Jones, who moved to Manchester United in the same week Henderson joined Liverpool, for a similar fee, at a similar age, with greater potential being attached to his name. Nope – it’s Jordan Brian Henderson. Up yours, gamers!
Lists, Transfer news, Didier Drogba, Zinedine Zidane, Jordan Henderson, Luis Figo, Gianluigi Buffon, Rio Ferdinand, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Diego Maradona, Jamie Vardy, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Marouane Fellaini, Filippo Inzaghi, Thierry Henry, Kevin De Bruyne, Yaya Toure, Christian Vieri, Dani Alves, Nottingham Forest, Birmingham City, Chelsea, Olympique Marseille, Juventus, Real Madrid, Parma, Barcelona, Liverpool, PSV, Sunderland, Leeds United, Manchester United, Everton, Standard Liège, Atlético Madrid, Napoli, Leicester City, Fleetwood Town, Milan, Southampton, Arsenal, Wolfsburg, Manchester City, Lazio, Internazionale, Sevilla