If you follow soccer, you’ll know that player movement doesn’t follow the traditional ‘trade’ model of the big North American sports. Instead, teams simply shell out cash and buy players they want. Over the years, the record transfer fee has grown to ridiculous proportions, climbing close to the 100 Million Euro mark (and recently surpassing it). As the fight for Champions League supremacy rages on in Europe, teams are more willing to splurge for bigger names and better players than ever before. Foreign owners with deep pockets have contributed to driving prices up, up, and up some more. Many of the game’s best players have been transferred at some point in their career. Here are the most pricey player purchases of all time.
19. Fernando Torres – Chelsea
Price: €59 million in 2011 ($66.2 million USD)
Fernando Torres was unstoppable after his transfer from Atletico Madrid to Liverpool. With 81 goals in 142 appearances for the Reds, Roman Abramovic and Chelsea couldn’t resist. They literally made Liverpool an offer they couldn’t refuse. Torres was on his way to London, netting Liverpool close to a €40 million profit on the player. He never reclaimed his golden form for the Blues, though, with his goal production cut almost in half. After a loan (and then a full transfer) to A.C. Milan, Torres found a new lease on his career when he returned to Atletico in 2015. Still, he never lived up to the price tag that Chelsea paid.
18. Radamel Falcao – AS Monaco
Price: €60 million in 2013 ($68.5 million USD)
Seen as the focal point and the future of the Colombian national side, Falcao was already well known before his move to Ateltico Madrid, costing them €40 million in 2011. After two amazing seasons with Atletico, including winning the Europa League in 2012 and a Copa del Rey in 2013, all the big fish circled, including Chelsea and PSG. Falcao was eventually sold to AS Monaco, a team in France that had been recently been bought by a Russian billionaire. The cash influx of the new owner allowed Monaco to pay top dollar for Falcao, as well as Ricardo Carvalho, Éric Abidal, and Dimitar Berbatov.
17. Luis Figo – Real Madrid
Price: €62 million in 2000 ($70.8 million USD)
Luis Figo was part of Portugal’s ‘Golden Generation’, and was a fan favorite at Barcelona, where he landed after a weird case of being banned from Italian soccer for two years after reportedly signing contracts with both Juventus and Parma. In the summer of 2000, Figo made a shocking move to Barca’s bitter rivals, Real Madrid, for a then-world record transfer fee. Barcelona fans felt betrayed and branded him ‘Judas’. But Figo and Madrid had the last laugh, as they won two La Liga titles together and the Champions League in 2002. It would be the first (but not the last) time that Real broke the world transfer record.
16. Raheem Sterling – Manchester City
Price: €62.5 million in 2015 ($75.7 million USD)
One of the most exciting young English players to come around in some time, Raheem Sterling was enjoying a excellent start to his career with Liverpool. Then, still just 20-years old, Sterling wanted a hefty new contract that Liverpool will unwilling to pay. Also a drawn-out saga, Sterling was sold to Manchester City for €62.5 million — the most ever paid for an English player. He scored 11 goals in 47 total appearances for City in his first year with the club, and managed to win the League Cup. The future is still very bright for Sterling, despite missing the end of that first season with a groin injury.
15. David Luiz – Paris Saint-Germain
Price: €62.8 million in 2013 ($71.5 million USD)
After helping Chelsea win the Champions League in 2012 and then the Europa League in 2013, defender David Luiz was a hot commodity. Known for his commanding presence in the air and helping out with the odd goal of his own, Paris Saint-Germain paid a whopping fee for him, making him the most expensive defender in soccer history.
The 2014 World Cup was not kind to Luiz, as his Brazil side was thumped out of the tournament with a 7-1 trashing at the hands of eventual champions Germany. Despite that horrific game, David Luiz still managed to be included in the FIFA World Team of The Year during the 2014 Ballon D’Or ceremony. Luiz and PSG have already won a handful of trophies together, including two Ligue 1 titles and two French Cups. In 2016, Luiz made a surprise return to Chelsea when the Blues paid PSG €39.2 million to bring him back to Stamford Bridge.
14. Edinson Cavani – Paris Saint-Germain
Price: €64.5 million in 2013 ($73 million USD)
Edinson Cavani had three phenomenal years at Napoli from 2010-2013. He scored an unbelievable 104 goals in 138 appearances for the Italian squad. Despite his scoring output, Napoli didn’t win anything except a lone Coppa Italia. As interest in the Uruguayan striker grew, a whole host of teams were rumored to be after him. Chelsea, Manchester City, and Real Madrid were all favorites to land Cavani. Paris Saint-Germain had recently been bought by a Qatari investment group, and were eager to spend more money after acquiring Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Cavani joined PSG for a Ligue 1 record of €64 million in 2013.
13. Kaká – Real Madrid
Price: €65 million in 2009 ($74 million USD)
After making a name for himself at AC Milan, the Brazilian with a single name attracted the attention of Real Madrid. In the same summer that also saw Cristiano Ronaldo land in Madrid, Kaká made his unofficial Real Madrid debut in a friendly match against Toronto FC of MLS. Hampered by various injuries, he never reached quite the same heights as he did in Milan, despite scoring 29 goals in 120 appearances. Madrid only won a single La Liga title during Kaká’s four year stay, missing out on Copa del Rey and Champions League glory. In 2013, Kaká would return to AC Milan as a free agent before eventually signing with Orlando City of MLS.
12. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Barcelona
Price: €66 million in 2009 ($69.5 million USD)
Zlatan has played for many of the top teams in Europe, including Ajax, Juventus, Internazionale, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, and now Manchester United. In 2009, Barcelona paid big bucks for the Swedish striker. But he only played a single season for the Spanish side. He scored 21 goals, and added 19 assists, in 45 appearances in the 2009-2010 season. Barca won La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup that year, but Ibra missed out on a Champions League medal, as Barca would win that competition the years before and after Zlatan played for them.
11. Oscar – Shanghai SIPG
Price: €70.4 million in 2017 ($74.1 million USD)
This shock move wasn’t the first gigantic transfer by a Chinese club, but it is the biggest so far. The Chinese Super League is suddenly flush with huge amounts of cash, and they aren’t shy about spending it. Guangzhou Evergrande and Jiangsu Suning have both splashed out massive transfer fees for young stars, but even those pale in comparison to the spending of Shanghai SIPG. In 2017, they gave Chelsea €70.4 million in exchange for Brazilian midfielder Oscar, who was a regular starter for the Premier League club. That trumped their own previous transfer record of €55.8 million that they paid for Hulk in 2016 (a transfer that sits just outside the top 20 on the most expensive ever list). Expect more big names to eventually make their way to China in the coming years, as they seem content to overpay in order to attract star players.
10. Zinedine Zidane – Real Madrid
Price: €75 million in 2001 ($85.6 million USD)
After winning multiple Serie A titles with Juventus, and coming oh-so-close to winning the Champions League, Zinedine Zidane would make a then-world-record move to Real Madrid. In Madrid, he would win one La Liga title and finally claim the Champions League medal he sought so dearly. He scored 49 goals in 225 appearances for Madrid in the Los Galácticos era, a team that included Figo, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Raúl, and David Beckham. Already considered great, his time in Spain cemented him as a legend of the game.
9. Angel Di Maria – Manchester United
Price: €75.6 million in 2014 ($86 million USD)
In a 2014 transfer raid that saw Manchester United pluck up Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, and Radamel Falcao, the most expensive player they snagged was Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria. He briefly became the most expensive player ever bought by a British club, and was immediately given the famous #7 Manchester United shirt, worn by club legends Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Eric Cantona, Bryan Robson, and George Best.
Di Maria had just won the Champions League with Real Madrid and helped Argentina make it to the World Cup finals (where they lost to Germany). His time at Manchester United was surprisingly disappointing and he was shipped off a year later to Paris Saint-Germain in a transfer that would have technically come in at 15th on this list, but we didn’t bother include him twice.
8. Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City
Price: €75.7 million ($83.2 million USD)
The only Belgium on this list, Kevin De Bruyne was wanted so badly by Manchester City that they broke their club transfer record to bring him in from Wolfsburg in 2015. The attacking midfielder is considered one of the best young play makers in the game and scored 16 goals in 41 total appearances in his first season with City. De Bruyne and his teammates would challenge for the Premier League title, but ultimately fell short to the amazing story that was Leicester City. But at just 25-years old, there should be plenty of opportunities for De Bruyne and the Sky Blues to bring home silverware.
7. James Rodriguez – Real Madrid
Price: €79.5 million in 2014 ($90.8 million USD)
Another splurge for Real Madrid. After three successful years at FC Porto, the Colombian midfielder moved to Monaco in 2013. After just one season there and a successful World Cup that saw Rodriguez lead Colombia into the quarter finals, Madrid snapped up the young star for an impressive amount of money. The transfer fee made him the most expensive Colombian player in history. He has battled injuries so far at Madrid, but managed to score 25 goals in his first two seasons (78 appearances). But hey, he still has a Champions League winner medal from 2016.
6. Luis Suarez – Barcelona
Price: €81 million in 2014 ($92.54 million USD)
After a brilliant run of form on the field at Liverpool that saw the Merseyside club almost win the Premier League in 2013-14, Suarez was a popular target in the 2014 transfer market. Even after the terrible incident in the World Cup where he bit yet another player and was suspended from all soccer activity for four months, teams were still lining up to bid for the Uruguayan striker.
In the end, Barcelona paid big for the troubled superstar even though we wouldn’t be allowed to play until the end of October. He started his Barca career somewhat slowly but that didn’t last long. Now the triple threat of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez are running wild on La Liga defenses.
5. Neymar – Barcelona
Price: €86.2 million in 2013 ($94.7 million USD)
Neymar joined Santos, a club team in Brazil, at the tender age of 11. By the time he was 17, he was part of their first team. By 19, he was South American Player of the Year. It wasn’t long before Europe came calling. Real Madrid and Chelsea were rumored to be interested, but in the end, Neymar landed at FC Barcelona. Alongside Messi and company, Neymar has made an immediate impact for the Catalan giants, as they challenged for La Liga and Champions League titles in his first year with the club. He is also expected to lead the next generation of the Brazilian national team.
[Note: The actual amount of this transfer has been hotly debated and even the subject of a lawsuit. We are leaving it here for the sake of argument, although the figure could be as low as €57.1 million.]
4. Gonzalo Higuain – Juventus
Price: €90 million in 2016 ($98.9 million USD)
Juventus are the only Italian club on a list dominated by clubs from England, Spain, and France. In the summer of 2016, the Old Lady made a huge splash by buying Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuian from Serie A rivals Napoli. Higuain immediately become the most expensive transfer in Italian soccer history, and with good reason. He was coming off a season where he broke a 66-year old Serie A record for most goals, netting 36 times for Napoli — more than a goal per game, considering he missed three games because of suspension. That was enough to attract the attention of the biggest clubs in the world. Juventus is already an annual powerhouse in Italy, and Higuain has only make them better.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid
Price: €94 million in 2009 ($107.4 million USD)
After being plucked from the Sporting Clube de Portugal roster by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2003 as an 18-year-old kid, Ronaldo would blossom into one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. In six seasons at United, he won three Premiership titles, an FA Cup, and the Champions League in 2008. He scored 118 goals for the Red Devils. When Real Madrid offered close to a hundred million Euros for him, United felt they had no choice but to take the money and run. At Madrid, Ronaldo has won La Liga, the Copa del Ray (twice), and two historic Champions League victories. His constant battles with Lionel Messi and Barcelona are must-see-TV. Watching the two best players in the world on opposing sides of the pitch makes it worth every penny of Madrid’s money.
2. Gareth Bale – Real Madrid
Price: €100 million in 2013 ($114.2 million USD)
Okay, so the price tag of this transfer is hotly debated and could be anywhere from €91 million to €100 million, depending which report you read and what exchange rate gets used. But there’s no debating Real Madrid’s desire to be the biggest and best at everything in European soccer. This was the sports’ worst kept secret for close to six months, and Manchester United is rumored to have been thinly outbid by Madrid for the services of the Welsh star. With the two most expensive players in the world, Real is hoping to finally get the upper hand on Barcelona for supremacy in Spain. While Bale hasn’t quite managed to help Madrid capture a La Liga title yet, they did win the Champions League in 2014 and 2016 — which is probably an even bigger prize.
1. Paul Pogba – Manchester United
Price: €105 million in 2016 ($116.4 million USD)
English giants Manchester United actually already had Paul Pogba once, as the French international was a part of their squad from 2011-2012. However, at just 18-years old, Pogba struggled to crack a regular place in the first team. That led to friction between the player and Sir Alex Ferguson, who allowed him to leave the team on a free (FREE!) transfer to Juventus in the summer of 2012. Over the next four years, he would blossom into one of the best young midfielders in the game. In 2016, new United boss Jose Mourinho decided he had to have him, and the team broke out the big bucks to secure the record breaking transfer. As if the price tag wasn’t already high enough, it could raise as high as €110 million if Poga meets certain performance bonuses. That’s also not including the fee for Pogba’s agent, which was rumored to be anywhere between €10 million and €20 million. Regardless of the cost, United will be hoping that Pogba can help take them back to the top of English football after a few years of disappointing finishes.