We did this last year, and things have just got sillier still. Can’t get used to football being mental…
10. Kyle Walker (£50m)
It’s easy to see why Tottenham might want £50m for Kyle Walker. Were he to move abroad they might accept a little less, but when simultaneously strengthening a title rival and weakening your own squad (Kieran Trippier isn’t better yet, I’m sorry) why wouldn’t you expect to make the largest premium possible?
Still, it would be quite something if the first English footballer to move for £50m was a 27-year-old right-back who is good going forward but is slightly suspect defensively. But then if you try and negotiate with Daniel Levy, be prepared to come out with a considerably lighter wallet than you first expected.
9. Ben Gibson (£30m)
If this summer’s transfer window will be known for anything, it might be the rise of the bottom-half central defender. Harry Maguire has already earned his move to Leicester City for £17m and Michael Keane is likely to get a £25m move to a top-half club. The silliest of all is the £30m that Middlesbrough are asking for Ben Gibson.
Arsenal were originally mentioned as potential suitors, but West Brom would seem more likely. Yet is Tony Pulis really going to be allowed to more than double the club’s record transfer fee paid for a defender who impressed in the Premier League but is behind at least Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, John Stones and Keane in the England pecking order?
8. Virgil van Dijk (£70m)
Virgil van Dijk is a tremendous defender, undoubtedly one of the best in the Premier League. He also turns 26 next month, which means any club signing him can enjoy his best years. He is not moving from one elite club to another, which means his wage demands will be lower than some of his peers. There is not a lot to dislike here.
Except that fee, that bloody fee. Fair play to Southampton for sticking to their guns, but if they do get their asking price for Van Dijk he will be the most expensive defender in the history of the game by a distance of £20m. Southampton would have sold the fifth most expensive player in the game’s history. Surely that makes your eyes water?
7. Alex Sandro and Leonardo Bonucci (£110m)
One is the 26-year-old who has never played a competitive match for his country and yet is likely to become comfortably the most expensive defender of all time. The other is the 30-year-old that will still cost £50m. Sheesh.
In truth, that’s a very one-sided way of describing Sandro and Bonucci, both of whom started the Champions League final earlier this month. Bonucci was named in UEFA’s Champions League squad of the season and is widely regarded as one of the best central defenders in the world, and Sandro’s Brazil caps have only been limited by Marcelo, surely the world’s best left-back.
Yet it’s still hard to look at a combined fee of £110m and not greet it with a sharp intake of breath. Sandro in particular would have an enormous pressure placed upon him to justify the outlay, while Bonucci was on this list last year at the same price. He’s a year older now, guys.
6. Alvaro Morata (£65m)
It is almost exactly a year since Real Madrid paid £23m to buy back Morata from Juventus, two years after the Italian side had paid £16m for him. In the 12 months since, Morata started 14 league games and only one of Real’s Champions League matches as they retained their crown. The flipside to that is to say that Morata scored 15 La Liga goals last season, but nine of those were against teams who finished in the bottom five and against whom Real create chances galore.
That is not to say that Morata is not a fine striker, and at 24 still has plenty of time on his side. But should his transfer fee really have trebled in the course of a year when he has been used sparingly? I’m struggling to make a case.
5. Romelu Lukaku (£100m)
Do I think Romelu Lukaku is a fine striker? Yes. Do I think he deserves to be playing a club in the Champions League? Yes again. Is there a restraining order that stops me walking within 500 feet of Finch Farm? Sadly, this is true. Do I think that Lukaku merits being the most expensive player in the world? No.
Lukaku is experiencing one of the indirect results of the rise in Premier League broadcasting revenues, what we could label ‘second move syndrome’. Having already been transferred for a fee approaching £30m to a club outside the established financial elite and now owned by a club who hardly need the money, he is effectively ‘trapped’. Lukaku can state his intention to leave all he likes, but Everton are understandably going to hold out for a ludicrous transfer fee before selling their most valuable asset. Who budges first?
4. Eric Dier (£50m)
Fifty percent of this list is comprised of British players, in case you were doubting whether the premium is alive and well, and the £50m mooted for Dier certainly raises the eyebrows. If Jose Mourinho sees him as his ideal player, he would become second most expensive central midfielder of all time. If Mourinho sees him as a defender, he equals the record for that area too. Either way, he is expensive.
As Matt Stead wrote last week, there isn’t even any indication that Dier would be a roaring success away from Tottenham, let alone for an outlay of £50m. He started fewer games than Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen at centre-half and fewer than Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele in central midfield last season, but is the perfect firefighter for Mauricio Pochettino. In return, the manager created a system in which Dier feels “comfortable”. Is Mourinho really going to do that? Or would Fabinho be a considerably better (and cheaper) option?
3. Tom Cairney (£25m)
It was on June 14 that Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic confirmed that Fulham had rejected a £20m bid from Newcastle for Tom Cairney: “Rafa Benitez asked for him and they offered £20m, but we didn’t let him go. He’s not for Newcastle, there is no business there. He fits in at Fulham.”
So we’ll conservatively estimate that Cairney’s asking price is £25m, and offer a long whistle on that basis. The winger is a fine player, but at 26 has played 11 Premier League games in his career, the last of which came in 2010. That fee would almost double the record transfer fee for a Scottish player, and yet Cairney has never even played a competitive game for Scotland. It’s all just a bit mad.
2. Ross Barkley (£50m)
Were this article being written two years ago, £50m wouldn’t sound a particularly outlandish asking price for Barkley. He was 21 and one of England’s brightest young players, with three years left on his Everton contract. Manchester City and Chelsea were linked with his signature, and Everton were desperate not to lose him.
Now it’s a sodding mental asking price. Barkley has failed to kick on over the last two years, even falling out of the Everton starting XI on occasion. His international place has rarely looked more insecure, while he has also let his contract tick down so that it only has one year remaining. Ask Ronald Koeman whether he is desperate to keep the attacking midfielder, and he will frown, shrug and stick out his bottom lip. Fifty million pounds is optimistic to the point of lunacy.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (£235m)
I’ve gone with £235m as a slightly conservative translation of the Daily Mirror’s claim a week ago that Manchester United were prepared to offer £175m and David de Gea in order to land Cristiano Ronaldo. They’ve seen your world record, they’ve doubled it, and then they’ve still added a cool £60m on for fun.
We struggled to believe that story then, and we’re still struggling to believe it now. Within two days Ronaldo had reportedly made up with Real Madrid, Manchester United had decided that they were going to focus on other transfer targets, and we all laughed at the very idea that this was ever likely to happen. Pick a big number, any number.