Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo have crashed the podium of most expensive central midfielders ever. Only one of them can go straight to the top with add-ons.
1) Enzo Fernandez – £106.8m/€121m (Benfica to Chelsea, January 2023)
A €10m Benfica signing and Argentina youth international in June 2022; a €121m Chelsea signing and Argentina World Cup winner six months later. It’s a lot of money to finish in the bottom half.
2) Declan Rice – £100m/€117.4m (West Ham to Arsenal, July 2023)
Rice could be a game-changer for Arsenal – for £100m and another £5m in add-ons, he ought to be. West Ham could add another new entry to this list if they pay what Fulham have been demanding for Joao Palhinha as his replacement.
3) Moises Caicedo – £100m/€117.1m (Brighton to Chelsea, August 2023)
There is every chance Caicedo could jump to the top of this list soon, with around half of the £15m in add-ons a grovelling Chelsea had to agree to described as easily achievable in some quarters. Liverpool had put together a £111m package but, much to some hilarious and entirely grown-up Proper Red fury, the Ecuadorean wasn’t interested.
4) Paul Pogba – £93.2m/€110m (Juventus to Man Utd, August 2016)
Man Utd never did figure out how to unlock Pogba, with the weary efforts of three different managers ultimately ending in frustration, viruses, haircuts and a second Old Trafford exit to join Juventus as a free agent.
5) Jude Bellingham – £88.5m/€103m (Borussia Dortmund to Real Madrid, June 2023)
The idea of a £100m bargain sounds particularly weird but Bellingham is as close as is possible. Real Madrid would be thrilled if add-ons taking the deal to £115m/€133.9m were activated over the course of a six-year contract for a teenager with more than 200 senior career appearances.
6) Frenkie de Jong – £74.5m/€86m (Ajax to Barcelona, July 2019)
Given a choice also involving Paris Saint-Germain and both Manchester clubs, De Jong cashed in on his rising Ajax stock at the absolute peak to join Barcelona just as they started financially collapsing in on themselves. The Dutchman has been central to their revival.
7) Aurelien Tchouameni – £68.3m/€80m (Monaco to Real Madrid, June 2022)
Similar to Bellingham, Real Madrid would not mind paying an extra £17m/€20m if Tchouameni holds up his end of a quite stunningly executed midfield renovation.
8) Arthur Melo – £66m/€72m (Barcelona to Juventus, June 2020)
Liverpool did indeed borrow the world’s fourth most expensive midfielder ever at the time to solve problems which Arthur’s injuries only exacerbated.
9) Rodri – £62.8m/€70m (Atletico Madrid to Manchester City, July 2019)
It was not the most seamless transition to Pepball – it never is – but Rodri went from ropey to learning the ropes and then master of the tactical fouling rest defence rope-a-dope, all the way to Champions League final goalscorer.
10) Casemiro – £60m/€70m (Real Madrid to Man Utd, August 2022)
In a mild panic induced by consecutive defeats to Brighton and Brentford, Man Utd chucked up to £70m on a 30-year-old and gave him a four-year contract. And mad as that seems, it has worked really rather well a quarter of the way in.
11) Jorginho – £57m/€65m (Napoli to Chelsea, July 2018)
Manchester City could not force a deal over the line but the pull of London and Maurizio Sarri delivered Jorginho to a productive if never unanimously popular half-decade at Chelsea.
12) Tanguy Ndombele – £55.4m/€62m (Lyon to Tottenham, July 2019)
A club-record signing made so long ago that Mauricio Pochettino welcomed him to north London and Ange Postecoglou was busy winning titles with Yokohama F Marinos, Ndombele is yet to rack up a century of Spurs appearances.
13) Kevin de Bruyne – £55m/€75m (Wolfsburg to Manchester City, August 2015)
“I thought it was lira,” said Paul Merson of the fee an English club had agreed to pay a German side for a Belgian player. “The world is going mad,” added Phil Thompson. That fee does look crazy for what Manchester City have received in return, to be fair.
14) Miralem Pjanic – £54.8m/€60m (Juventus to Barcelona, June 2020)
Remember the Arthur entry? Well as part of a fudged pandemic transfer which seemed to point towards a future of big clubs swapping their wage-drainers because no-one had any money, Barcelona were able to press the Pjanic button for a couple of years.
15) Romeo Lavia – £53m/€61.9m (Southampton to Chelsea, August 2023)
Thirty-six senior career appearances was enough for a Chelsea side gripped by their insatiable obsession with signing young midfielders. And indeed anyone. Manchester City even received £8m or so after sticking a sell-on clause into the deal which saw Lavia join Saints a year earlier.
16) Matheus Nunes – £53.2m/€62m (Wolves to Manchester City, September 2023)
The Portugal international went on strike to force through a move to work with Pep Guardiola at City after Wolves refused the Treble winners’ first offer. The fee includes a 10 per cent sell-on clause when City are done with the 25-year-old.
17) Naby Keita £52.75m/€60m (Leipzig to Liverpool, July 2018)
That rare example of an expensive Liverpool transfer committee misstep. Keita seemed absolutely perfect for Jurgen Klopp but 75 starts in five seasons tells a particular story which revolves around hamstrings.
18) Sandro Tonali – £52m/€60m (Milan to Newcastle, July 2023)
Knocking new teammate Bruno Guimaraes (£40m/€50.1m) off this list, the most expensive Italian footballer in history will hope to enjoy a similar degree of success on Tyneside and trigger those £8m bonuses.
19) Fred – £52m/€58.9m (Shakhtar Donetsk to Man Utd, June 2018)
Manchester City tried to get a deal done for a little less the winter before but their exit from the race left the path clear for Man Utd to polarise their fanbase for years to come by signing a diligent, determined but ultimately limited midfielder.
20) Manuel Ugarte – £51.2m/€60m (Sporting to Paris Saint-Germain, July 2023)
A good month or so after Chelsea removed themselves from what remains a confusing equation surrounding wages and other payments, Ugarte’s move to PSG was finally confirmed by the French champions.