Man United dominate our top 10 most wasteful summer transfer splurges of the last decade

Dave Tickner

These aren’t necessarily the biggest spenders, just the most conspicuously wasteful transfer splurges of recent Premier League years, whether that money came from a huge transfer windfall that sent a club giddy or from kindly owners just happy to be helping a vital community asset be all it can be. Pretty much all transfer fees mentioned have an element of guesswork involved thanks to your undiscloseds and your exchange rates and your add-ons, but are based on figures widely quoted at the time of the transfers in question.



10. Chelsea 2020 – £222.3m
(Kai Havertz – £72m, Timo Werner – £47.7m, Ben Chilwell – £45m, Hakim Ziyech – £36m, Edouard Mendy – £21.6m)

It’s a good one this, because it’s both an absurd summer of spaffing that in textbook fashion contributed to a manager failing to see out the year but also produced a season where one of those overpriced signings scored the winning goal in the Champions League final. Classic slice of Chelsea nonsense that, and in many ways being bad enough for scales to fall from eyes and Frank Lampard removed from office at a club that might not always have managers for very long but should at the very least have proper, qualified ones was actually a good thing too. Mendy for £21.6m is clearly terrific business but gets only partial credit because it was still money chucked at a self-imposed problem after dropping three-and-a-half times that on Kepa the year before. This is the ultimate “pulled a Homer” of summer transfer windows.


9. Manchester United 2019 – £143.8m
(Harry Maguire – £78.3m, Aaron Wan-Bissaka – £49.5m, Daniel James – £16m)

Not the worst on this list, but it will never not be hilarious that United spent such an eye-watering sum of money on Maguire and Wan-Bissaka, who are both perfectly fine footballers who didn’t deserve to be saddled with the pressure of such absurd price tags. Maguire is close to a figure of fun these days, which feels a bit unfair, while Wan-Bissaka is now roughly 12th in the admittedly stacked pecking order of English right-backs. United did also sign Bruno Fernandes the following January making the season’s transfer business as a whole resemble some kind of anarchic attempt at debunking once and for all the idea that summer is the time for sensible business and January is the month of nonsense. Until you remember they also spent £10m that winter loaning Odion Ighalo.


8. Everton 2017 – £129.9m
(Gylfi Sigurdsson – £40m, Jordan Pickford – £25m, Michael Keane – £25m, Davy Klaassen – £23.6m, Nikola Vlasic – £8m, Henry Onyekru – £6.8m, Josh Bowler – £1.5m)

Premier League teams really do lose the plot when someone comes along and chucks them a huge wedge of cash for their best player. Everton’s 2017 splurge after Man United dropped £70m+ on Romelu Lukaku is at best the third most famous such splurge but it’s an absolute doozy. All the boxes are ticked with some ropey signings alongside some handy ones that are clearly overpriced and Gylfi Sigurdsson who we’ll say no more about. Keane for £25m is… okay, and the Pickford deal was probably a better one for England than it was for Everton, who also score Summer Splurge bonus points for the traditional sacking of the manager. Ronald Koeman made it as far as October before a 5-2 home defeat to Arsenal – Everton’s fifth loss in the opening nine games of the season – proved the final straw. More bonus points for following up this summer insanity by spending almost £50m on Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott in the January window. Big Sam dragged the team from the bottom three to eighth place which was both a pretty underwhelming return for £200m investment and also better than anything the beleaguered Toffees have managed since. Let’s also make clear here that for the purposes of this feature we’re simply not interested in your Net Spend chat. It’s valid as far as it goes but just because you’re playing with ‘house money’ doesn’t excuse making an absolute total bollocks of it.


7. Manchester United 2017 – £147.8m
(Romelu Lukaku – £76.3m, Nemanja Matic – £40m, Victor Lindelof – £31.5m)

A second Manchester United summer to make this list and, you will be unsurprised to discover, not the last. What a performance their last decade of transfer window activity has been. Matic was perfectly decent, but over £100m on Lukaku and Lindelof not so much. Still, at least United put things right in January by signing Alexis Sanchez. A fine player. He’d been first rate for Arsenal, and there seems no reason to think he wouldn’t continue that at Manchester United. Now to have a big gulp of coffee and check his stats.


6. Manchester United 2021 – £126m
(Jadon Sancho – £76.5m, Raphael Varane – £36m, Cristiano Ronaldo – £13.5m)

Still has plenty of caveats because with Sancho in particular there is obviously still plenty of time for £76m to look at least reasonable and potentially even good business, while the Ronaldo deal remains one of the most complicated to analyse in the modern era. On his individual numbers clearly a perfectly decent bit of work but on its overall impact on the squad and the club… well. Another summer spend that got a manager sacked and, given that this squad ‘strengthening’ came in a summer of no major departure it proved quite eye-catchingly disastrous in the short term. A trio of arrivals that were supposed to give United that last push from their distant second place in 2020/21 for a long-awaited title challenge left them instead a distant sixth, not only nowhere near the title race but not even involved in the Champions League scrap and reduced in the end to squabbling desperately with West Ham just to avoid the ignominy of a Europa Conference place.

Man Utd striker Cristiano Ronaldo looks unhappy

5. Arsenal 2019 – £144.7m
(Nicolas Pepe – £72m, William Saliba – £27m, Kieran Tierney – £24.3m, David Luiz – £7.8m, Pablo Mari – £7.2m loan fee, Gabriel Martinelli – £6.4m)

A very good transfer window for Marseille, for whom Saliba has been a rock. Kieran Tierney for £24m would be fine were he not made of string, but £72m on Pepe is a nonsense. As is spending more money to loan Pablo Mari than to sign Gabriel Martinelli, who is a baller. Arsenal fans will tell you the 400-year-old maniac David Luiz was actually good for them that season before going on to tell you that signing Ivan Perisic is evidence that Antonio Conte will leave Spurs with a load of old duds when he inevitably huffs off at some point over the next 18 months. Anyway, Unai Emery stumbled on until almost the end of November before being replaced initially by Freddie Ljungberg and permanently by Mikel Arteta, whose process has delivered tangible if glacial progress and who is now being given a summer splurge of his own. Will Arsenal still be trusting the process by the time we all break up for the World Cup…


4. Manchester United 2016 – £166m
(Paul Pogba – £94m, Henrikh Mkhitaryan – £37.8m, Eric Bailly – £34.2m)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer was quite good, to be fair, but it can only do so much to offset the rest of this abject nonsense. Pogba proved a vastly expensive distraction throughout his six-year second spell at United while none of their other business could be considered a wild success. Mkhitaryan arguably scores double here having managed to both be a flop at United and then part of the most disastrous ‘swap’ deal on record after being used to bring Alexis Sanchez to Old Trafford the following season.


3. Manchester United 2015 – £140.4m
(Anthony Martial – £54m, Morgan Schneiderlin – £31.5m, Memphis Depay – £30.6m, Matteo Darmian – £16.2m, Bastian Schweinsteiger – £8.1m)

Spent £140m to go from fourth to fifth and crash out of the Champions League at the group stage while playing the most turgid football imaginable under Louis van Gaal. If the previous summer’s acquisition of Angel Di Maria for £67m marked the start of United’s transfer banter era – an era that shows little sign of abating – then 2015 marked the first entire summer of shonky business as the desperate scramble to adjust to the post-Fergie landscape took hold. That this scramble continues to this day and that United make up half this list is an extraordinary tale of mismanagement and decay at a club all but insulated against failure by its stature and prestige. It’s all well and good saying Manchester City get to play the game on easy mode, but it’s so striking that there is not one summer of work on the blue half of the city that even merits consideration for a place on this list, while with United we’ve not even included the one where they spent all the money on Di Maria, while the Summer of Fellaini under Moyes manages to escape on the technicality that United didn’t even manage to do enough business to qualify.


2. Tottenham 2013 – £107.6m
(Erik Lamela – £30m, Roberto Soldado – £26m, Paulinho – £17m, Christian Eriksen – £11.5m, Etienne Capoue – £8.6m, Vlad Chiriches – £8.5m, Nacer Chadli – £6m)

The archetype. Still the default go-to for examples of how not to spend a huge windfall almost a decade on despite the arguably even more shambolic tributes and homages seen on Merseyside and beyond in subsequent years. Spurs “selling Elvis and buying the Beatles” remains one of the classic Premier League banters from the Premier League’s most consistently hilarious football club, with any use of “The Bale Money” instantly putting in mind that picture of Spurs’ Magnificent Seven at the training ground even if you can only name three or four of them off the top of your head. Because even Spurs can’t make a complete mess of seven signings there is buried among the nonsense one of the all-time great Premier League bargains in Christian Eriksen for under £12m but it’s just entirely drowned out by everything else. We would also contend that bringing Lamela and his chaotic sh*thouse energy to the Premier League was worth £30m of anyone’s money but we also accept this remains, however bafflingly, a minority view. To the formalities of What Happened Next: Spurs actually started the season quite well, on paper, with four wins in their first five. But none of those wins really convinced and the defeat was against Arsenal. Spurs were slipping inexorably towards mid-table when a 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool proved the end of Andre Villas-Boas and the start of Tim Sherwood (what a season), really) who somehow steered Spurs to sixth and Europa League qualification with a win ratio that was second to none.


1. Liverpool 2014 – £134.6m
(Adam Lallana – £27.9m, Dejan Lovren – £22.8m, Lazar Markovic – £22.5m, Mario Balotelli – £18m, Alberto Moreno – £16.2m, Divock Origi – £11.4m, Emre Can – £10.8m, Rickie Lambert £5m)

Classic Brendan. Pointedly declared in 2013 that Spurs should be challenging for the league after spending £100m and then snootily declared in 2014 that Liverpool certainly weren’t repeating Spurs’ mistakes with their own bumper Spanish windfall after Barcelona signed Luis Suarez because “it’s a different club and different vision we have here. At Liverpool there’s a strategy behind what we are doing.” Of course, it turned out Liverpool – who it scarcely needs saying do now have that vision and strategy Rodgers adorably if wrongheadedly believed they had then – were doing an exact Tottenham by using all that money to sign a couple of good players, a cult hero and a load of absolute shite. Like Spurs, Liverpool did not challenge for the league, ending the campaign in, er, sixth. Precisely where Spurs had finished the season before to Rodgers’ disgust. Unlike Villas-Boas, Rodgers did at least survive the season at Anfield but was gone by the following October. In our view, this is still worse than the more famous Bale Money spunking, though, because a) Liverpool are a bigger club and thus have less excuse for this kind of wanton spaffage and b) there was literally that very specific warning from 12 months earlier, a warning that Rodgers himself had revelled in noting at the time and insisted wasn’t being repeated throughout the process of repeating it. It really is quite striking to look back now and realise just how recently Liverpool were still a banter club. Liverpooly.