Of the 13 €100million-plus transfers prior to this summer, only one can be deemed an unmitigated success. Jack Grealish makes the top three, behind a player who was jeered for much of his time at Real Madrid.
With Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice becoming the 14th and 15th €100million man, we’ve ranked the 13 who’ve gone before. It’s not pretty…
13) Eden Hazard
A disaster of a signing for Real Madrid, perhaps their worst ever. Hazard arrived for his first pre-season as a £100million player massively out of shape and things went downhill from there.
He managed just 76 appearances – only 44 as a starter – and scored 12 goals in four seasons. Hazard never even played in a Clasico, all the while raking in around £400,000 a week.
Hazard and Real recently agreed to forget the final year of his contract and, aged 32, there is talk of the Belgian retiring and remaining in Madrid, rather than bothering to seek a new club.
12) Philippe Coutinho
Barcelona eventually made Coutinho the third-most expensive footballer of all-time in January 2018 after a messy departure from Liverpool, who at least profited to the tune of around £142million. Five wretched years later, Barca got pennies back on their investment.
For that enormous fee, which Liverpool put towards Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, Barca got 106 appearances out of Coutinho, 36 of them as a sub, and 28 goals. But his most memorable strikes while contracted to the Catalans came against them, for Bayern Munich as a loanee in an 8-2 battering for Barca in 2020, on Bayern’s way to winning the Champions League.
So it must have been awkward for Coutinho when Bayern returned him to Barca. From there he moved on to Aston Villa, who gave Barca back £17million of their £142million investment – but even then he was overpriced, with the Brazilian struggling to get in Villa’s side after Steven Gerrard’s departure.
11) Romelu Lukaku
Chelsea ordered the Inter Lukaku but the Man Utd version was delivered to Stamford Bridge when the Blues forked out £97.5million (€115million) in 2021.
The Belgium striker turned out to be one of the Premier League’s most costly mistakes, lasting only 10 months at Chelsea before being returned on loan to Inter, where he had bagged 24 Serie A goals and laid on 10 more in 2020/21. Back with the Blues, he offered only eight goals and a single assist, blaming Thomas Tuchel’s methods while pining for the San Siro.
Once back there, Lukaku struggled to hit the same heights and, as things stand, Inter aren’t fussed about paying to re-sign him permanently. Unless he wins them the Champions League final perhaps.
10) Paul Pogba
Pogba and Manchester United didn’t deserve each other but everyone has their own take on who was the wronged party.
Few would have predicted how badly the move would pan out when Pogba became English football’s record signing in 2016. United paid £89million (€105million) after losing the then-teenager to Juventus four years previously and his physical and technical qualities made him appear a sure thing.
Mentally, though, he wasn’t Jose Mourinho’s type. Or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s, Ralf Rangnick’s, or anyone else’s. Pogba spent most of his Old Trafford career playing for himself before leaving for nothing to return to Juventus, who were full of themselves upon securing the superstar for free again. They were rather less smug at the end of a season in which Pogba had managed a grand total of 161 minutes.
9) Antoine Griezmann
There are a lot of parallels between Griezmann’s struggle at Barcelona and Coutinho. Barca had no real need for the France star but they bought him because they could and because they had been told they could not.
Griezmann initially knocked back Barca as part of a gaudy reality TV show. But ‘The Decision’ was only Part One. A year later, Barca refused to take no for an answer and deposited €120million into the account of Atletico, who initially refused to accept it.
Four years later, they’re mighty glad they did. Griezmann is back at Atletico, far closer to his best form than he ever was in two seasons at the Nou Camp, where he was used by some as a scapegoat for Lionel Messi leaving the club. After initially taking the attacker on loan and being restricted to using him for a maximum of 30 minutes per game, Atletico re-signed Griezmann for close to 100million euros less than what they received from Barca just over three years before.
8) Joao Felix
“Joao Felix is the biggest bet this club has made in its history,” said Atletico Madrid CEO Miguel Angel Gil Marin last December, by which time it had become clear the gamble had failed.
For Atletico, it was quite the punt. They forked out £112million (€126million) for the Portuguese prodigy in 2019 but rarely did the playmaker appear at home in Diego Simeone’s XI. Simeone seemingly reached the same conclusion because after three seasons of inconsistency, the Atletico coach benched the then-22-year-old and the club began hawking him around Europe.
Chelsea coughed up, but it was a similar story at Stamford Bridge. Admittedly, any player would have struggled to shine in that Chelsea side, and there were some glimpses of magic. But not enough to tempt the Blues into making it a permanent arrangement. Felix finds himself heading back to Atletico, with the player and club hoping another opportunity arrives before the start of the new season.
He came, he saw, he did what the f*** he liked.
There have been flashes of genius from the world’s most expensive player, for whom PSG forked out a whopping £198million (€222million) in 2017. But too few and infrequent given the investment the Parisiens made and the grief the Brazilian has given them.
Just some of the scrapes Neymar has got himself into since pulling up in Paris: punching fans; insulting officials; agitating for transfers; partying and holidaying amid Covid; multiple dressing-room bust-ups; a trial for fraud and corruption; late-night casino trips; reportedly turning up for training worse for wear; booed numerous times for varying reasons by his own fans; dropped by Nike after he refused to co-operate in a good-faith investigation into a sexual assault allegation; and a not-so-curious habit of being injured or suspended around the time of the Rio Carnival or his sister’s birthday.
Six years later, with Neymar having missed 40% of PSG’s matches since he arrived, the club are left trying to get shot, hoping that a Premier League club will be daft enough to take his salary off their books. Chelsea might.
6) Enzo Fernandez
It’s really too early to judge Fernandez as a Chelsea player since he only moved to Stamford Bridge in January after a mad six months which saw him leave Argentina for Benfica; win the World Cup; then become the Premier League’s most lavish purchase at £106.8million (€121million). But he ranks in the top half here on the basis he hasn’t had a sodding nightmare.
Fernandez’s head would have been spinning even before he sussed out what a mess he was walking into. Perhaps he’s fortunate that his first half-season could be used as a period of adaptation while Chelsea phoned in the second part of their Premier League campaign, but judgement will be far sterner next term, under a proper coach and compatriot.
5) Ousmane Dembele
With the Neymar money burning a hole in their pocket, Barca went straight to Dortmund and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse for Dembele.
The Catalans paid €105million, with the promise of €40million more in possible add-ons, for a player who’d only moved to Germany a season before. And that move, for around €15million, came after only a single season of senior football at Rennes.
So it’s little wonder he struggled for consistency, especially given his many injury woes. Only once in six campaigns at the Nou Camp has Dembele managed 30 league appearances, averaging six goals and seven assists a season. Barca renewed his contract last summer, when it seemed he was set to walk away for nothing after five frustrating years, and both parties seem keen to talk again.
4) Cristiano Ronaldo
The Portuguese superstar joined Juventus from Real Madrid in 2018 and in three seasons with the Old Lady, he scored 101 goals in 134 games while winning two Serie A titles and a Coppa Italia. Not the Champions League, though, which was the hope when Juve paid €112million for his services.
Despite the many goals, Ronaldo seemed to become a problem for Juve. Leonardo Bonucci admitted: “Subconsciously, players started to think his presence alone was enough to win games. We began to fall a little short in our daily work.” Gianluigi Buffon said Juve “lost that DNA of being a team”. All of which sounds a lot more like a Juventus issue than a Ronaldo problem.
Despite the many goals, Juve were more than happy when Manchester United came in to take him off their hands for the final year of his contract. United got more grief and fewer goals.
3) Jack Grealish
City spent big money but never paid massive, eye-watering fees for individuals, sticking to around £60million, until they made Grealish their £100million man.
Like many, he took a year to settle into life under Pep Guardiola. He didn’t start last season’s Champions League knockout games and he remained on the bench against his old side on the final day when City needed to come from 2-0 down.
But the winger has become one of City’s leading men during his second season, which looks likely to end with three winners’ medals. That isn’t to say he’s got bucketloads of goals and assists – five and 11 in all competitions – but Pep quantifies success in other ways. Grealish is now a big cog in the City machine.
2) Gareth Bale
On paper, Bale was a huge success at Real Madrid after his world-record £85million (€100million) move from Spurs in 2013. He left with five Champions League winner’s medals, having scored two worldies in one of the finals against Liverpool and another to beat Atletico in 2014, and three La Liga titles. He won the Copa del Rey with one of the greatest goals ever scored against Barcelona. Overall, he scored 106 goals and assisted 57 more.
But many Real fans spent his last seasons at the Bernabeu jeering the Welshman, who didn’t help himself. He never seemed arsed about disproving the suspicion that he was more interested in golf or playing for Wales than earning his massive salary at the Bernabeu. Actually, he appeared quite content to encourage it.
Bale eventually departed last summer, playing six months in MLS to prep for the World Cup with Wales, after which he packed it all in. Something many Madridistas felt he had done while on their payroll. But he gave plenty back, even if some felt it wasn’t enough.
1) Kylian Mbappe
Neymar hasn’t been worth the huge investment, but buying Mbappe for £163million (€180million), after initially borrowing him from Monaco, has proved sound business on PSG’s part. In fairness, like Bellingham, Mbappe was as close to a dead cert as you might find.
Since joining as an 18-year-old, Mbappe has made himself PSG’s greatest ever goalscorer, bagging 212 goals in 260 appearances. That’s 87 more appearances than Neymar – almost two seasons’ worth over a six-year period.
PSG managed to persuade Mbappe to stick around a year ago, but the France star seems thoroughly p*ssed off with the state of his club. He’ll end up at Real Madrid at some point, surely.