Arsenal new boy Declan Rice has bumped his England midfield pal out of this list, which features a heavy Liverpool presence…
1) Enzo Fernandez – £106.8m/€121m (Benfica to Chelsea, January 2023)
A €10m Benfica signing and Argentina youth international in June 2022; a €121m Chelsea signing and Argentina World Cup winner six months later. It’s a lot of money to finish in the bottom half.
2) Declan Rice – £100m plus £5m add-ons/€117.4 plus €5.9m (West Ham to Arsenal, July 2023)
Rice could be game-changer for Arsenal – for £100million-plus, he ought to be. West Ham could add another new entry to this list if they pay what Southampton want for James Ward-Prowse or what Fulham have been demanding for Joao Palhinha.
3) Paul Pogba – £93.2m/€110m (Juventus to Man Utd, August 2016)
Man Utd never did figure out how to unlock Pogba, with the weary efforts of three different managers ultimately ending in frustration, viruses, haircuts and a second Old Trafford exit to join Juventus as a free agent.
4) Jude Bellingham – £88.5m/€103m (Borussia Dortmund to Real Madrid, June 2023)
The idea of a £100m bargain sounds particularly weird but Bellingham is as close as is possible. Real Madrid would be thrilled if add-ons taking the deal to £115m/€133.9m were activated over the course of a six-year contract for a teenager with more than 200 senior career appearances.
5) Frenkie de Jong – £74.5m/€86m (Ajax to Barcelona, July 2019)
Given a choice also involving Paris Saint-Germain and both Manchester clubs, De Jong cashed in on his rising Ajax stock at the absolute peak to join Barcelona just as they started financially collapsing in on themselves. The Dutchman has been central to their revival.
6) Aurelien Tchouameni – £68.3m/€80m (Monaco to Real Madrid, June 2022)
Similar to Bellingham, Real Madrid would not mind paying an extra £17m/€20m if Tchouameni holds up his end of a quite stunningly executed midfield renovation.
7) Arthur Melo – £66m/€72m (Barcelona to Juventus, June 2020)
Liverpool did indeed borrow the world’s fourth most expensive midfielder ever at the time to solve problems which Arthur’s injuries only exacerbated.
8) Rodri – £62.8m/€70m (Atletico Madrid to Manchester City, July 2019)
It was not the most seamless transition to Pepball – it never is – but Rodri went from ropey to learning the ropes and then master of the tactical fouling rest defence rope-a-dope, all the way to Champions League final goalscorer.
9) Casemiro – £60m/€70m (Real Madrid to Man Utd, August 2022)
In a mild panic induced by consecutive defeats to Brighton and Brentford, Man Utd chucked up to £70m on a 30-year-old and gave him a four-year contract. And mad as that seems, it has worked really rather well a quarter of the way in.
10) Jorginho – £57m/€65m (Napoli to Chelsea, July 2018)
Manchester City could not force a deal over the line but the pull of London and Maurizio Sarri delivered Jorginho to a productive if never unanimously popular half-decade at Chelsea.
11) Tanguy Ndombele – £55.4m/€62m (Lyon to Tottenham, July 2019)
A club-record signing made so long ago that Mauricio Pochettino welcomed him to north London and Ange Postecoglou was busy winning titles with Yokohama F Marinos, Ndombele is yet to rack up a century of Spurs appearances.
12) Kevin de Bruyne – £55m/€75m (Wolfsburg to Manchester City, August 2015)
“I thought it was lira,” said Paul Merson of the fee an English club had agreed to pay a German side for a Belgian player. “The world is going mad,” added Phil Thompson. That fee does look crazy for what Manchester City have received in return, to be fair.
13) Miralem Pjanic – £54.8m/€60m (Juventus to Barcelona, June 2020)
Remember the Arthur entry? Well as part of a fudged pandemic transfer which seemed to point towards a future of big clubs swapping their wage-drainers because no-one had any money, Barcelona were able to press the Pjanic button for a couple of years.
14) Naby Keita £52.75m/€60m (Leipzig to Liverpool, July 2018)
That rare example of an expensive Liverpool transfer committee misstep. Keita seemed absolutely perfect for Jurgen Klopp but 75 starts in five seasons tells a particular story which revolves around hamstrings.
15) Sandro Tonali – £52m/€60m (Milan to Newcastle, July 2023)
Knocking new teammate Bruno Guimaraes (£40m/€50.1m) off this list, the most expensive Italian footballer in history will hope to enjoy a similar degree of success on Tyneside and trigger those £8m bonuses.
16) Fred – £52m/€58.9m (Shakhtar Donetsk to Man Utd, June 2018)
Manchester City tried to get a deal done for a little less the winter before but their exit from the race left the path clear for Man Utd to polarise their fanbase for years to come by signing a diligent, determined but ultimately limited midfielder.
17) Manuel Ugarte – £51.2m/€60m (Sporting to Paris Saint-Germain, July 2023)
A good month or so after Chelsea removed themselves from what remains a confusing equation surrounding wages and other payments, Ugarte’s move to PSG was finally confirmed by the French champions.
18) Ruben Neves – £47m/€55m (Wolves to Al-Hilal, June 2023)
A former Champions League captain with public aspirations to return to the competition at 26 after six phenomenal years in England, but it’s tough to say no when your boyhood club comes calling.
READ MORE: Ruben Neves giving up on CL dream for Saudi Arabia a dispiriting taste of things to come
19) Thomas Partey – £45.3m/€50m (Atletico Madrid to Arsenal, October 2020)
“He’s an intelligent footballer and we’re looking forward to him integrating into our system and contributing to the progress we’re building at the moment at the club,” Mikel Arteta said of a midfielder he would prefer to phase out after three solid years.
20) Fabinho – £43.7m/€50m (Monaco to Liverpool, July 2018)
Two days after defeat in the Champions League final, Liverpool rebounded with the signing of a brilliant defensive midfielder out of absolutely nowhere. No rumour. No speculation. No build-up. Even Paul Joyce only broke news of Reds interest an hour before the club confirmed it.
Still can’t believe rumours leaked like an hour before and then Liverpool announce the signing of Fabinho. A €50m signing.
Perfectly executed by Liverpool.
Why can’t that be done more often by other clubs? Things drag on for so long…
— Calcio Direct (@CalcioDirect) May 29, 2018