One of them has made barely 70 appearances in four seasons. Another has only recently clocked up 100 senior games. Four have already moved on.
Welcome to football’s £1.25billion club. The 10 most expensive players of all time, who were bought to guarantee success but merely prove what a risky business the transfer market can be.
The Champions League should be their ultimate stage yet of that 10, only two – Paris Saint-Germain duo Neymar and Kylian Mbappe – are even guaranteed starters. At £361million for the pair of them, you would think that was the minimum requirement. Yet glance at the list a little more closely and you notice that Neymar and Mbappe are the exception rather than the norm.
Hot on their heels are Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele. Both were bought by Barcelona, Dembele for £124m nearly six years ago, and Coutinho for £145m in January 2018. Yet both had injuries and – in Dembele’s case – off-field issues.
Dembele has started to deliver on his enormous potential only in the last year while Coutinho spends most of his weekends on the Aston Villa bench, after a £17m move in summer 2022.
Philippe Coutinho is one of the world’s 10 most expensive players, but things didn’t work out for him after sealing a £145million move to Barcelona in 2018
Cristiano Ronaldo (left) failed at Juventus and Eden Hazard (right) is a flop at Real Madrid
PSG duo Neymar (left) and Kylian Mbappe (right) are the only two guaranteed starters from football’s £1.25billion club
They are not alone. Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Juventus from Real Madrid five years ago to deliver the Champions League. He failed, and is now at Saudi club Al-Nassr after a bitter second spell at Manchester United.
Joao Felix has been allowed to leave Atletico Madrid for a loan stint at Chelsea, who spent a British record £107m on Enzo Fernandez based on only 114 senior matches at club level.
Jack Grealish is still not a guaranteed starter at Manchester City, Antoine Griezmann is back at Atletico after he flopped at Barca and sometimes it is hard to remember Eden Hazard is still an elite footballer at all.
With 73 appearances in nearly four years since leaving Chelsea, the Belgian has not given Real Madrid much return on their £100m. No wonder senior executives and sporting directors look at these numbers and shake their heads.
European powerbrokers will come together this week in the dining suites and directors’ boxes of the Champions League and transfer market trends will be high on their agenda.
Because of the top 10, only one player has been an unqualified on-pitch success.
Mbappe joined PSG on an initial loan move from Monaco in 2017, which became a permanent £163m transfer a year later. It seemed an awful lot to pay for an 18-year-old but certainly doesn’t look that way now.
Mbappe returned to the city of his birth as one of the world’s best teenagers. He is now on track to become one of the greatest players in history.
Mbappe has proven the only unqualified on-pitch success from the list of expensive signings
That is why clubs like Chelsea are spending big on young talent like Enzo Fernandez (pictured)
And that, in a nutshell, is why Chelsea believe Fernandez is worth the risk. That is why recruitment experts believe that the really big money will be saved for players in their teens or very early twenties.
FOOTBALL’S 10 MOST EXPENSIVE PLAYERS OF ALL TIME
- Neymar – £198m
- Kylian Mbappe – £163m
- Philippe Coutinho – £145m
- Ousmane Dembele – £124m
- Joao Felix – £114m
- Antoine Griezmann – £108m
- Enzo Fernandez – £107m
- Cristiano Ronaldo – £100m
- Eden Hazard – £100m
- Romelu Lukaku – £98m
As for the rest, clubs will be prepared to wait for older players to run down their contracts before signing them on free transfers.
Players have spotted this, too, and have acted, stalling on new deals that tie them to their clubs and reduce their bargaining power.
Wilfried Zaha, Youri Tielemans, Milan Skriniar, Marco Asensio, Marcus Thuram, Daichi Kamada, Konrad Laimer and Adrien Rabiot – all in their prime, all yours for a mere multi-million-pound salary, plus image rights and signing-on fee.
Give them a contract of reasonable length and if the move doesn’t work, you will still receive a fee when you sell them. What is not to like?
Oh, and don’t forget a few handy players over-30, either. How about Lionel Messi, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric or Toni Kroos? Harry Kane may join that list in summer 2024.
Every top club now wants the next Messi, the next Modric, before he reaches his twenties.
In an attempt to deliver silverware they signed players at their peak for huge fees – only to realise too late that it was a mug’s game.