Tottenham’s returning Gareth Bale cannot take top spot but he joins Alvaro Morata and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as expensive loanees.
15) Eliaquim Mangala (£31.8m)
The France defender, who still has more caps than Aymeric Laporte (that said, Boris Johnson has as many France caps as Laporte), was the most expensive defender in British football when he joined Manchester City from Porto in 2014. Some reports subsequently put the fee at £42million owing to the structure of his ownership with Porto.
“I think he will prove to be a great signing for us,” said mystic Manuel Pellegrini upon the centre-back’s arrival. The reality, though, was that Mangala was not fit to fill Joleon Lescott’s boots. Pep Guardiola shipped him off to Valencia, where Mangala went some way to rebuilding his reputation, but another loan spell at Everton never got started because of injury.
City finally got shot last summer when Valencia gave him another go. In one way, it was a massive loss.
14) Robinho (£32.5m)
“On the last day, Chelsea made a great proposal and I accepted,” said Robinho at his surprise unveiling as a Manchester City player in September 2008. When a reporter replied, querying whether he “meant Manchester”, the Brazilian answered: “Yeah, Manchester, sorry!”
The Brazilian had been, in his defence, en route to Chelsea on one of the most hectic transfer deadline days ever. The Blues had even started selling official replica shirts with Robinho’s name on the back, so confident were they that the deal was close to completion. Not so, as City flexed their new Abu Dhabi-backed financial muscle to swoop.
In terms of statement signings, this was as transparent as it was necessary: an expensive square forced into a circular gap. City needed a name and Robinho duly provided one, but it was never destined to be a long-term love. The forward scored 16 goals in 53 games before returning to first club Santos in a successful bid to force his way into Brazil’s World Cup squad.
13) Radja Nainggolan (£33m)
In 2018 Inter took the Belgium midfielder – though he had just retired from international football after failing to make the World Cup squad – in an agreement worth around £33million. Roma were paid £21m while Davide Santon and Nicolo Zaniolo were also chucked in to sweeten the deal.
A year later, the 31-year-old was on the move again after being told by Antonio Conte that he was “out of the project” at Inter. Nainggolan had offers but opted to return to Cagliari, where he spent four years prior to joining Roma in 2014.
While Nainggolan was stinking out the San Siro, Zaniolo was establishing himself as one of the hottest properties in Europe. Smooth move, Inter.
The Belgian is now back at Inter and back in limbo. PSG has been mooted as a possible destination, because it always is, but he could end up going nowhere. Quite literally.
12) Andre Silva (£34.2m)
Sixteen goals in 42 Primeira Liga games for Porto during 2016/17 – plus another five in the Champions League – convinced Milan to cough up £34m for the Portugal striker, which would prove, it must be said, a costly error.
Two goals in 24 games the following season saw him sent into the loan wilderness. A year at Sevilla produced nine goals but no permanent deal at the end of it, but happier times were found in Frankfurt last season. His proposed two-year loan deal at Eintracht has already been converted to a permanent one just halfway through.
11) Andy Carroll (£35m)
Andy Carroll has been loaned out twice in his career. On the first occasion, he was a wiry, short-haired 18-year-old sent to develop at Championship Preston in August 2007. The second time, he had grown a ponytail, bulked up somewhat, and was headed to Premier League West Ham. Oh, and he was now a £35million footballer.
The story has been relayed countless times: By January 2011, Carroll had 34 career goals to his name. Liverpool translated them into a million each, rounded that up, and kindly pushed a cheque into the incredulous and grateful hands of Newcastle and Mike Ashley.
Jamie Carragher’s tongue was pushed firmly into cheek when he claimed that the striker’s winning goal in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton in 2012 was “worth £35 million in itself”. That would be the precursor to his final game for the club, where he scored in the cup final defeat to Chelsea. By August, West Ham took the lumbering forward off their hands, and eventually paid a fraction of the initial price to sign him permanently.
10) Danny Drinkwater (£35m)
Deadline day in summer 2017 was an absolute turkey for Chelsea. They spent a combined £58million to land Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta, while Ross Barkley chucked a custard pie in their direction before changing his mind a few months later.
“He is a typically combative English midfielder with a cultured passing technique and his arrival significantly strengthens our midfield options,” said Michael Emenalo of Drinkwater’s arrival.
Drinkwater played 12 Premier League games for Antonio Conte, which was plenty of time for the Italian to suss the former Leicester star. Maurizio Sarri made it crystal clear that he could leave a year after signing but Drinkwater chose to hang around and pocket his £100,000 a week for minimum effort.
Loan spells at Burnley and Villa last season produced a total of five appearances and the loaf of bread is now back at Chelsea, where he no longer even has a squad number.
9) Tiemoue Bakayoko (£40m)
Most of us got Bakayoko wrong. When he signed for Chelsea from Monaco in summer 2017, just before Drinkwater followed, it was widely expected that the all-action defensive midfielder would be a huge hit in the Premier League. And he made a decent start. But come October when N’Golo Kante picked up an injury, Bakayoko’s shortcomings were thrust into sharp focus.
The nadir came in February at Watford. Bakayoko was sent off for a couple of cautions inside 30 minutes and Antonio Conte’s side were beaten 4-1. The midfielder returned a month later against Leicester but received the half-time hook to escape another seemingly inevitable dismissal. Conte’s trust and patience were gone, and Bakayoko’s performances left Maurizio Sarri in no doubt what to do when he arrived last summer.
Specifically, that was to ship Bakayoko off to AC Milan. After a ropey start, the midfielder offered some hope that he wasn’t a lost cause. Indeed, when he returned to Chelsea, Frank Lampard offered him a clean slate. But a couple of friendlies was all it took for Lampard to reach the same conclusion as Conte and Sarri, shipping him back to Monaco for the season.
They opted against making that move permanent, with the jetsetting Bakayoko now apparently set for a return to Milan. It’s not a bad life really, is it?
8) Fernando Torres (£50m)
Liverpool only ever paid £35million for Carroll (see 10) because Newcastle knew their pockets were about to swell. Chelsea paid a whopping then-British record £50m to sign Fernando Torres from the Reds in January 2011, and every club on the planet knew they could hold Kenny Dalglish’s side to ransom over his replacement.
Carroll fared poorly at Anfield, but his six goals in 44 Premier League games was a quick demise compared to the long, drawn-out death of a career that Torres’ 20 in 110 for Chelsea represented. But that truly is deciding which pile of animal faeces smells the least terrible. At least Carroll was loaned out within 18 months of his arrival; Chelsea clung on to Torres for three-and-a-half seasons before finally letting Milan borrow him in 2014.
7) Radamel Falcao (£51m)
Most clubs spend an increased amount of money upon promotion, but Monaco went a little further than the norm. First they signed James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho in a combined £60m deal from Porto, then followed that by prising Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid for £51m.
Falcao continued his remarkable form in France, scoring 11 goals in his first 19 games. But the striker suffered a season-ending knee injury in January 2014, and would never be the same again. The Premier League felt as though it could rehabilitate him however, with first Manchester United and then Chelsea signing him on loan in successive seasons. It did not go well, and Falcao ultimately proved that rarest of players: having been discarded on loan, he returned to make a success of himself at his parent club, scoring 70 goals in the next three seasons at Monaco before joining Galatasaray last summer
6) Zlatan Ibrahimovic (£57m)
“When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari. If you drive a Ferrari, you put premium petrol in the tank, you hit the motorway and you step on the gas. Guardiola filled up with diesel and took a spin in the countryside.”
And to continue the laborious metaphor, Pep Guardiola then leant the rather expensive Zlatan-mobile to a mate. Ibrahimovic’s move to Barcelona never sat quite right for any of the parties involved, particularly not when the Spanish side paid Inter Milan £40m and sent Samuel Eto’o the other way as part of the deal. As if that was not enough, Inter would dump Barcelona out of the Champions League in the semi-finals that season, before going on to lift the trophy themselves.
Ibrahimovic, to his credit, hardly floundered in Spain. He scored 16 goals in 29 La Liga appearances, winning five trophies in 46 games before leaving after just one season. Italy would soon come calling again, with Inter’s bitter city rivals Milan offering him a loan lifeline.
5) Alvaro Morata (£58m)
The Spain striker was very much Chelsea’s second choice in summer 2017, when Conte really wanted Romelu Lukaku to replace Diego Costa, but the Everton striker went to Manchester United instead. Morata never really offered the impression that he felt that he belonged at Chelsea, nor did he give the Blues much reason to make him feel wanted.
The former Real Madrid and Juventus striker started well, netting six in six before the goals dried up. He managed just four more before the end of 2017 and only one in the new year.
Morata became more renowned for the chances he missed than those he put away. And his demeanour like that of a permanently slapped arse contrasted sharply with Costa’s no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach to goalscoring. When the chance came to return to Madrid with Atletico, initially on an 18-month loan, Morata jumped at the opportunity. And when Atletico suggested they might give Chelsea their money back, the Blues wasted no time agreeing to the deal either. It’s nice when these have a happy ending for everyone, isn’t it?
4) James Rodriguez (£63m)
Gareth Bale. Cristiano Ronaldo. Luis Suarez. There concludes the comprehensive list of players who were more expensive than Everton’s new hero James Rodriguez upon his arrival at Real Madrid in summer 2014. The Colombian had shone at the World Cup; his reward was status as a Galactico.
Paul Pogba, Gonzalo Higuaín, Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Kylian Mbappe, Virgil van Dijk, Romelu Lukaku, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Eden Hazard, Antoine Griezmann, Joao Felix, Lucas Hernandez, Nicolas Pepe, Harry Maguire and Kai Havertz have since joined the above list, but Rodriguez remains damn expensive. Which made his two-year loan move to Bayern Munich with the option to buy seem a little weird.
When the time came this summer for Bayern to sh*t or get off the pot, the Bundesliga side pulled up their trousers and moved on. After making just eight La Liga appearances back in Madrid, he decided to team up once again with Carlo Ancelotti in the rather unlikelier surrounds of Goodison Park. Early days, but so far so good.
3) Gonzalo Higuain (£75.3m)
Higuain became the third most expensive player of all-time in 2016 when Juventus forked out the £75.3million required to buy him out of his Napoli contract. Few doubted it was a savvy move. The season before, Higuain notched 36 league goals in 35 games for Napoli.
Two years and 55 goals in 105 games for Juventus later, the then 30-year-old was deemed surplus to requirements. Harsh, perhaps. But that’s what happens when Cristiano Ronaldo rocks up to take your place.
Chelsea were heavily linked with a permanent move for Higuain but the ex-Real Madrid striker opted to stay in Italy with AC Milan on a try-before-you-buy deal. He tried, they didn’t buy. Instead, his loan to Milan was cut short and Higuain was dispatched to Chelsea mid-season on a similar deal with a similar outcome.
Having scored eight goals in 32 games back at Juventus last season, both parties have now agreed it’s best to just knock it on the head. He is off to Inter Miami.
2) Gareth Bale (£85m)
Spurs sold Elvis and bought the Bootleg Beatles in 2013, bringing in seven players with the world record £85m Real Madrid chucked their way for a player who had just proved himself the best in the Premier League with an astonishing season.
Seven years later, Elvis is back in the building on an initial season-long loan after a nightmare seven years in Madrid where he has scored only 105 goals and won only four Champions League titles. More damning still, Bale scored crucial goals in only two of those four Champions League finals he won, and in only one of them did he produce one of the greatest goals ever scored in a major final. It is, frankly, piss poor.
With injuries and ennui blighting his last years in Spain, Bale devoted his energies to golf and not socialising with his team-mates before deciding to cheer himself up a bit by popping back to England to play at Jose Mourinho’s Joy Factory. Funny bunch, footballers.
1) Philippe Coutinho (£142m)
‘He has played a total of 75 games as a blaugrana in which he has scored 21 goals and provided 11 assists,’ read the Barcelona statement announcing Coutinho’s year-long loan to Bayern Munich, thanking him for his ‘commitment and dedication’. That doesn’t really tell the whole story, does it?
Coutinho’s dream move to Barca quickly became a nightmare which has taken a season and a half to wake up from. The £142million price tag and the burden of expectation that came with being Neymar’s replacement proved too heavy for the Brazilian to bear.
The highlight of his Bayern career, and a perfect summary of the clusterf*ck that his Barca move has become, came just last month when he scored the last two goals of an 8-2 spanking of his former club en route to Champions League glory.