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Football’s Biggest Scores: Most Expensive Transfers of All Time, Revealed

Start Sports Trading
Updated: 23 September 2020

As the football transfer window approaches its close, conversations around the fees being paid have been rife. The cost of engaging a world-class football player exceeds 9 figures and for this reason, many people reviewing the fees query the value of such an extreme investment.

But high transfer fees are not a new phenomena. In fact, footballers have been purchased at high rates for many years – though inflation rates can sometimes cover up the true extent of those earlier buys.

That’s why the financial analysis team here at AskTraders has been reviewing the true cost of football transfers – taking the original fee paid and translating it into ‘today’s money’ using the Bank of England’s inflation calculator. Using this calculator, we’ve revealed the amount each player would have commanded had the sale happened today – and the results might be surprising!

The world’s most expensive football player

The world’s most expensive football player in today’s money is Neymar.

Neymar currently plays for Paris Saint-Germain and the Brazilian national team. He was transferred from Barcelona in 2017 at the age of 25 for the fee of £199,800,000 – which, adjusted for inflation, equates to £211,770,527.

The Premier League’s transfer window was reshaped due to the Covid-19 pandemic, now running from July 27th to October 5th. As it stands, the most expensive transfer of 2020 so far is Kai Havertz, who will move from Bayer Leverkusen to Chelsea for the fee of £71,000,000.

Havertz’s fee is a whopping £141,000,000 LESS than the fee paid for Neymar in 2017.

The world’s most expensive football transfers, ranked

The study used the 50 most expensive transfer fees and applied the Bank of England’s inflation calculation to reveal the true value of the transfers in today’s equivalent money. The findings show that Neymar is the most expensive transfer of all time at an equivalent value of £211,770,527.49 (originally £199,800,000 in 2017), followed by Kylian Mbappe and Zinedine Zidane.

The table below shows the full rankings from 1-50:

Rank Player Name From To Position Original Fee (GBP) Adjusted Fee (GBP) Year
1 Neymar Barcelona Paris Saint-Germain Forward £199,800,000 £211,770,527 2017
2 Kylian Mbappé Monaco Paris Saint-Germain Forward £162,000,000 £166,156,464 2018
3 Philippe Coutinho Liverpool Barcelona Midfielder £131,400,000 £134,771,354 2018
4 Zinedine Zidane Juventus Real Madrid Midfielder £69,750,000 £116,229,596 2001
5 Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United Real Madrid Forward £84,600,000 £114,335,445 2009
6 João Félix Benfica Atlético Madrid Forward £113,400,000 £113,400,000 2019
7 Antoine Griezmann Atlético Madrid Barcelona Forward £108,000,000 £108,000,000 2019
8 Gareth Bale Tottenham Hotspur Real Madrid Forward £90,000,000 £103,919,124 2013
9 Paul Pogba Juventus Manchester United Midfielder £94,500,000 £103,752,385 2016
10 Ousmane Dembélé Borussia Dortmund Barcelona Forward £94,500,000 £100,161,736 2017
11 Luís Figo Barcelona Real Madrid Midfielder £55,800,000 £94,630,753 2000
12 Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid Juventus Forward £90,000,000 £92,309,147 2018
13 Eden Hazard Chelsea Real Madrid Forward £90,000,000 £90,000,000 2019
14 Hernán Crespo Parma Lazio Striker £52,650,000 £89,288,695 2000
15 Gonzalo Higuaín Napoli Juventus Striker £81,000,000 £88,930,616 2016
16 Zlatan Ibrahimović Internazionale Barcelona Striker £62,550,000 £84,535,249 2009
17 Luis Suárez Liverpool Barcelona Striker £74,070,000 £83,552,427 2014
18 Kaká Milan Real Madrid Midfielder £60,300,000 £81,494,413 2009
19 Romelu Lukaku Everton Manchester United Striker £76,500,000 £81,083,310 2017
20 Harry Maguire Leicester City Manchester United Defender £78,300,000 £78,300,000 2019
21 Virgil van Dijk Southampton Liverpool Defender £76,050,000 £78,001,229 2018
22 James Rodríguez Monaco Real Madrid Midfielder £68,400,000 £77,156,554 2014
23 Ángel Di María Real Madrid Manchester United Midfielder £68,040,000 £76,750,467 2014
24 Kevin De Bruyne VfL Wolfsburg Manchester City Midfielder £67,500,000 £75,394,853 2015
25 Kepa Arrizabalaga Athletic Bilbao Chelsea Goalkeeper £72,000,000 £73,847,317 2018
26 Kai Havertz Bayer Leverkusen Chelsea Midfielder £72,000,000 £72,000,000 2020
27 Romelu Lukaku Manchester United Internazionale Striker £72,000,000 £72,000,000 2019
28 Nicolas Pépé Lille Arsenal Winger £72,000,000 £72,000,000 2019
29 Lucas Hernandez Atlético Madrid Bayern Munich Defender £72,000,000 £72,000,000 2019
30 Matthijs de Ligt Ajax Juventus Defender £67,500,000 £67,500,000 2019
31 Frenkie de Jong Ajax Barcelona Midfielder £67,500,000 £67,500,000 2019
32 Edinson Cavani Napoli Paris Saint-Germain Striker £58,050,000 £67,027,835 2013
33 Fernando Torres Liverpool Chelsea Striker £53,100,000 £65,204,602 2011
34 Thomas Lemar Monaco Atlético Madrid Midfielder £63,000,000 £64,616,403 2018
35 Ángel Di María Manchester United Paris Saint-Germain Midfielder £57,600,000 £64,336,941 2015
36 Rodri Atlético Madrid Manchester City Midfielder £63,000,000 £63,000,000 2019
37 Raheem Sterling Liverpool Manchester City Forward £56,250,000 £62,829,044 2015
38 Riyad Mahrez Leicester City Manchester City Forward £61,020,000 £62,585,601 2018
39 Álvaro Morata Real Madrid Chelsea Striker £58,950,000 £62,481,845 2017
40 Radamel Falcao Atlético Madrid Monaco Striker £54,000,000 £62,351,475 2013
41 Aymeric Laporte Athletic Bilbao Manchester City Defender £58,680,000 £60,185,564 2018
42 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Borussia Dortmund Arsenal Striker £57,330,000 £58,800,926 2018
43 João Cancelo Juventus Manchester City Defender £58,500,000 £58,500,000 2019
44 Oscar Chelsea Shanghai SIPG Midfielder £54,900,000 £58,189,199 2017
45 Alisson Roma Liverpool Goalkeeper £56,250,000 £57,693,217 2018
46 Christian Pulisic Borussia Dortmund Chelsea Forward £57,600,000 £57,600,000 2019
47 Naby Keïta RB Leipzig Liverpool Midfielder £54,000,000 £55,385,488 2018
48 Fred Shakhtar Donetsk Manchester United Midfielder £53,100,000 £54,462,396 2018
49 Luka Jović Eintracht Frankfurt Real Madrid Forward £54,000,000 £54,000,000 2019
50 Tanguy Ndombele Lyon Tottenham Hotspur Midfielder £54,000,000 £54,000,000 2019

Gareth Bale – whose struggles with current club Real Madrid and clauses around him leaving have been widely documented – sits at position 8 in the rankings. If rumours of a transfer to Manchester United are true, he’ll move to position 7 as his transfer fee of a suspected £89 million will be supplemented by a £22 million payment ‘get out’ payment.

Lionel Messi confirmed last week that he will not be leaving Barcelona after confusion relating to the cut off dates of his contract clauses mean a fee of £630 million would be payable on his release. If Messi was sold, he would become the most expensive transfer of all time on this basis alone – a fee that would equate to purchasing Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, Philippe Coutinho and Zinedine Zidane at today’s rates!

Earlier this month, the Premier League confirmed it had lost its £564m contract with its Chinese licensee for television rights with immediate effect – something which will have further ramifications for the fees footballers can command.

What the analysis tells us about football’s transfer fees

Inflation calculation is used to reflect the changing value of money based on the rate at which prices increase and purchasing power decreases. It shows what the equivalent fee would be if the original transfer fees were subject to the same economic influences as money today.

Nigel Frith, senior financial analyst at AskTraders, explained:

“The rate of inflation is a product of many economic changes and for the most part, we don’t notice because things change incrementally.

“Reflecting on the equivalent fees of football allows us to see what a difference inflation makes and how it affects what we spend. It’s important when considering purchases and investments how inflation will affect future value.”

If you’d like to understand how inflation rates can affect your financial decisions, take a look at our trading guides.