This list is concerned only with actual, proper, bonafide, pure central midfielders. Paul Pogba – who will cost three times as much as any player here – for example. So no Zidane, no De Bruyne, no Ozil…
The Daniel Storey dictionary states that an ‘actual’ central midfielder is: ‘The ‘2’ in a 4-2-3-1 or the middle ‘3’ in a 4-3-3′
The Sarah Winterburn edition adds: ‘To be judged on things other than goals and assists.’ So here we go…
If Pep Guardiola gets his own way, Fernandinho will eventually become one of the most expensive central defenders ever. But for now, Manchester City’s Brazilian boy is the most expensive central midfielder of central midfielders.
At the time, the £34m City forked out to sign Fernandinho from Shakhtar Donetsk looked utterly ludicrous. This was a 28-year-old with just five international caps for Brazil. Won’t somebody think of the re-sale value, or the transfer fees as a percentage of club turnover? What had football become?
Three years later, a player signed in the interim between Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini’s spells as manager, has become one of their most important players. Fernandinho was integral to City’s 2013/14 title win and, now at 31, looks to be ready to assume more responsibility under Guardiola.
Granit Xhaka (£33.8m)
Tough tackling; impressive passing; wonderful leadership; owner of the house keys as a wee bairn. Arsenal have struggled to replace the central-midfield excellence of Patrick Vieira for a decade, but Granit Xhaka could be the answer.
Easy to forget alongside fellow marquee signings Takuma Asano and Rob Holding, Xhaka was Arsenal’s signal of intent earlier this summer. The season had barely ended before the deal to sign the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder was completed. And headline writers around the world rejoiced as the Gunners’ solution to their lightweight issues was a man christened Granit. He might not be the greatest singer, but it is clear as to why Arsenal made him their second biggest signing of all-time.
Axel Witsel (£32m)
The only transfer on this list not involving a Premier League club, Witsel’s move from Benfica to Zenit St Petersburg in 2012 went largely under the radar. The towering Belgium midfielder cost the Russian champions £32m, but the signing of the more marketable Hulk overshadowed his arrival.
Witsel, to his credit, has impressed in Russia. No outfield player featured for more minutes in Zenit’s title-winning campaign of 2014/15, and he has also helped them to a Russian Cup and Super Cup double. Everton, Chelsea and Juventus have been linked this summer.
Xabi Alonso (£30m)
Let it never be forgotten that Rafael Benitez once pursued Gareth Barry while boasting the talents of one of the finest central midfielders in the world in his squad. Xabi Alonso has since admitted feeling unwanted by his compatriot’s flirtations with Aston Villa star Barry in 2008, leading to his eventual departure from Anfield.
As if to further confuse matters, it was Real Madrid who would swoop to sign the Spaniard. That is Real Madrid signing a player Liverpool didn’t want because the Reds were interested in buying an Aston Villa midfielder. Imagine if La Liga’s most famous club were to sign Philippe Coutinho now because the Brazilian found Scott Sinclair’s number in Jurgen Klopp’s phone.
But that is how the story went, and Real parted with £30m to sign a 27-year-old Alonso in 2009. The Spaniard won a Champions League and a La Liga in five successful years.
Luka Modric (£30m)
Another central midfielder, another Real Madrid signing, another £30m purchase and another Premier League star plucked by one of the game’s true giants. If Alonso was given a slight nudge out of the Anfield exit door, Luka Modric’s move to the Bernabeu three years later was one engineered more by the player.
Of course, Tottenham could hardly feel aggrieved, and Modric remains loved at White Hart Lane four years on from his departure. The Croatian was immense in north London, playing a crucial role in what was then the finest Tottenham side of the Premier League era. The wonderful performances we witnessed at Euro 2016 were largely thanks to his Spurs spell. By the time he left for Real, Modric was just 26, and entering his peak years as a central midfielder. As part of the sale, Tottenham announced that they had entered ‘a partnership’ with the Spaniards. The same partnership would see Gareth Bale become the most expensive player in the world the following summer. But Modric was the Galactico to pave his way.