There are three new Premier League entries in this list of the 20 most expensive attacking midfielders; a Liverpool signing goes straight in at 3).
1) James Rodriguez – £63.2m/€80m (Monaco to Real Madrid, July 2014)
Never before has a shop window been so successfully deployed as when Rodriguez and his giant pet grasshopper dominated the 2014 World Cup so thoroughly that Real Madrid couldn’t help but make the Colombian the fourth most expensive footballer ever at the time. His next permanent club being Everton remains hilarious.
2) Thomas Lemar – £63m/€70m (Monaco to Atletico Madrid, June 2018)
With failed club-record bids from Arsenal and Liverpool in his back pocket, Lemar took his eternal search for justice to Spain and Diego Simeone has not let him go since.
3) Dominik Szoboszlai – £60m/€69.8m (Leipzig to Liverpool, July 2023)
Needing to remodel their entire midfield, Liverpool first signed Alexis Mac Allister at an apparent knockdown price before mulling over the release clause of Szoboszlai and pulling ahead of Newcastle to trigger it before expiration.
4) Kaka – £56m/€65m (AC Milan to Real Madrid, June 2009)
The world’s costliest signing of all time – at least for a couple of weeks. After a planned £91m move to Manchester City on £500,000-a-week wages collapsed the previous January, Kaka went for a slightly more modest fee and delivered even less flashy numbers: 29 goals, 39 assists, 120 appearances and two trophies in four years before heading back to the Rossoneri on a free.
5) Bruno Fernandes – £55.6m/€65m (Sporting to Man Utd, January 2020)
Add-ons have already far surpassed the initial £46.6m fee, with Sporting potentially due another £12.7m if Fernandes wins the PFA Player of the Year award or makes the Ballon d’Or top three. And considering his impact, Man Utd would still consider every penny to be uncharacteristically well spent.
6) Mason Mount – £55m/€64.2m (Chelsea to Manchester United, July 2023)
A year from free agency and yet Manchester United’s desperation led them to pay a fair whack for the England international and Champions League winner. We could not help but feel a little underwhelmed.
7) Oscar – £52m/€60m (Chelsea to Shanghai SIPG, January 2017)
“Every football player, or every person who works, wants to earn money to help their families. I came from a social background in Brazil that is very poor. We didn’t have anything. This is the fruit of my work and when I earn this, it is because I conquered it. The same way I came here, I will be able to return to Europe.” Fair play, although that continental comeback has still not been made.
8) Zinedine Zidane – £46.6m/€76m (Juventus to Real Madrid, July 2001)
With Spurs presumably unwilling to let Tim Sherwood go, Real Madrid had to settle for second best and a man absolutely dripping in Galactico rizz.
9) Gylfi Sigurdsson – £45m/€53m (Swansea to Everton, August 2017)
Part of the single greatest season of Premier League club-specific signings, with Everton also bringing in Davy Klaassen (£23.6m), Henry Onyekuru (£6.8m), Sandro Ramirez (£5.2m), Jordan Pickford (£30m), Michael Keane (£25m), Wayne Rooney (free), Nikola Vlasic (£8m), Cenk Tosun (£27.5m) and Theo Walcott (£20m).
10) Bernardo Silva – £43m/€50m (Monaco to Manchester City, May 2017)
The Portuguese has tried to leave almost every summer since but 12 trophies and more appearances under Pep Guardiola (306) than any player ever aside from Kevin de Bruyne (315) has been a fair consolation prize.
11) Mesut Ozil – £42.4m/€50m (Real Madrid to Arsenal, September 2013)
Poor Geraint Hughes must still be having flashbacks after being encompassed by giddy Arsenal fans celebrating the quite unfathomable capture of a Real Madrid star at his peak. Everyone knows how that five-year contract and three-year extension in 2018 played out eventually but there were moments of absolute brilliance before.
12) James Maddison – £40m/€46.3m (Leicester to Tottenham, June 2023)
The most expensive Premier League signing from a relegated club, Maddison would be fortunate to emulate a former holder of that title in Moussa Sissoko.
13) Joelinton – £40m/€45m (Hoffenheim to Newcastle, July 2019)
Does he belong on the list of most expensive midfielders, forwards or strikers instead? Genuinely not sure. But Eddie Howe has treasured and transformed Steve Bruce’s trash in so very many ways.
14) James Rodriguez – £38.5m/€45m (Porto to Monaco, May 2013)
Long before a Galactico future could be considered, Rodriguez was moving to newly-minted Monaco as the more expensive part of a double transfer with Joao Moutinho. The Colombian scored nine goals and assisted 13 in his only Ligue Un season.
15) Alex Teixeira – £38m/€50m (Shakhtar Donetsk to Jiangsu Suning, January 2016)
The greatest Liverpool player that never was. Teixeira raked in a fortune and scored almost a goal every other game in China.
— Grace Robertson 🏳️⚧️ (@GraceOnFootball) November 28, 2021
16) Javier Pastore – £37.5m/€43m (Palermo to Paris Saint-Germain, August 2011)
A statement signing in that first transfer window following their summer 2011 takeover, Pastore racked up a respectable 269 appearances, 105 combined goals and assists and 16 trophies.
17) Juan Mata – £37.1m/€44.6m (Chelsea to Man Utd, January 2014)
David Moyes had put a helicopter aside for Gareth Bale but ended up using it on Mata instead – not that he was the one to benefit from the Spaniard’s genius.
18) Lucas Paqueta – £36.7m/€43m (Lyon to West Ham, August 2022)
That initial fee has almost certainly risen after a debut season which steadily improved to an excellent trophy-winning crescendo, with the potential cost of the deal as high as a club-record £51.3m/€60m for West Ham.
19) Felipe Anderson – £33.5m/€40m (Lazio to West Ham, July 2018)
That initial fee almost certainly never rose after a solid debut season quickly disintegrated through injury and the sacking of Manuel Pellegrini, with the potential cost of the deal as high as a club-record £42m/€50m for West Ham.
20) Emi Buendia – £33m/€38.4m (Norwich to Aston Villa, June 2021)
Arsenal might be fighting their transfer battles – and apparently winning – against Manchester City in 2023, but just a couple of years ago they were going toe to toe with Aston Villa and losing out when it came to Buendia.
Gaizka Mendieta (€47.7m) and Manuel Rui Costa (€43m) should at least be mentioned, those beautiful boys. Sterling was much stronger back then.