Top ten most profitable transfers of all time before Jude Bellingham crashes in
Here are the 10 players bought and sold for the biggest profit. Includes only players for whom a fee was paid before being sold on. No freebies…
10) Antony – £67m
Ajax paid an initial fee that was the equivalent of £13m for Antony when they bought him from Sao Paulo in 2020 and in 2022 finally agreed a deal with the dithering Manchester United that started at a guaranteed £80m, though another £13m was due to be sent to the Brazilian club.
The jury is very definitely out on whether Antony was worth even close to £80m, with his performances in a United shirt verging from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again, via one of those silly little spins.
9) Cristiano Ronaldo – £67.76million
Few had heard of then 17-year-old when he joined United for £12.24million – half their windfall from selling David Beckham – in 2003 but six years at United turned Ronaldo into arguably the world’s best player.
Given Ronaldo’s desire to join Real, which he had made crystal clear 12 months previously, the deal came as no surprise when it was announced. More surprising was how reluctant United were to reinvest the £80million. Sir Alex Ferguson’s four signings the summer he sold Ronaldo: Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan, Michael Owen and Mame Biram Diouf.
They haven’t really made a profit on a player since.
8) Harry Maguire – £68million
To turn a £12million defender into an £80million world-record-breaking centre-half in two years was quite the trick for Leicester. And it’s one they have done incredibly well with N’Golo Kante, Ben Chilwell, Danny Drinkwater, Riyad Mahrez and others.
Manchester United were initially happy with their deal but here we are in 2023 and they would probably take £30m for Maguire after he became fourth or possibly even fifth-choice centre-half.
7) Gareth Bale – £75million
The Wales star turned himself from a player on the verge of a loan move to the Championship into the world’s most expensive player ever in 2013 when Real Madrid agreed to pay Spurs £85million.
But that status offered little protection at the Bernabeu, where Bale was relentlessly targeted by the fans until he finally left the club with a whole horde of medals.
6) Antoine Griezmann – £83.6million
Atletico Madrid insisted that they deserved more than the £107million they were paid by Barca as the Catalan giants met his buy-out clause. That still represented a whopping profit, which was barely dinted when Barcelona sold him back four years later.
Griezmann never really settled at Barcelona under various managers and yet continued to excel in a France shirt, winning one World Cup and reaching another final with Les Bleus.
5) Eden Hazard – £87million
The Real Madrid new boy was waved off by Chelsea with their warmest wishes and not just because of the massive wedge the Blues made on their star player signed from Lille for £32million in 2012.
We still don’t know for certain what Real’s final bill totalled, with huge add-ons payable in addition to the £89million Chelsea were guaranteed. But when Hazard’s former club Tubize went to court to claim their cut which they valued at around £700,000, they produced documents which suggested Real had agreed to pay £143million.
4) Enzo Fernandez – £98.2m
As with most of these deals, the final totals are a little fuzzy because of add-ons and sell-on fees, but what we do know is that Benfica gave River Plate £8.8m for the Argentine midfielder last July, he played in and won a World Cup in December, and then in January Chelsea paid over £100m for his services. F***. Now that’s what we call a quick profit.
3) Ousmane Dembele – £123.8million
Dortmund have doubled up as a money-making machine in recent years, making huge sums on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Christian Pulisic and Jadon Sancho, though none as big or as quick as the profit made on the sale of Dembele to Barca.
Barca could hardly plead poverty in the wake of selling Neymar in 2017 so Dortmund drove a hard bargain for Dembele, who joined the club only a year before from Rennes for around £11.7million. Dortmund coined in £96.8million initially with a series of easily-attainable add-ons taking the cost to £135.5million. Though a fair chunk of that profit went go to Rennes, who made around £34million from the 25% sell-on clause they inserted as part of his exit deal.
2) Neymar – £128.5million
Neymar is back in the headlines, being linked with Chelsea, Manchester United and Newcastle. PSG should not be surprised; he was similarly desperate to escape from Barcelona’s clutches in 2017, when the Parisians were forced to pay the thick end of £200m to prise the Brazilian out of his contract.
That palaver came four years after Barca had won the race to sign Neymar from Santos. Barca claimed the deal was worth £48.6million, but it also cost Sandro Rosell his job. The Barca president’s successor divulged the full amount – over £70m – which included a £35million payment to Neymar’s dad. Still, at least they got their money back and more.
1) Philippe Coutinho – £135.5million
Rafa Benitez’s recommendation reportedly convinced Liverpool to pay Inter Milan £8.5million for the Brazil playmaker in January 2013 – one of many, many reasons the Reds should be grateful to Rafa.
Liverpool really didn’t want to sell the then-brilliant Coutinho and they certainly made the player and Barca work for their union. It was finally agreed in January 2018, when Barca agreed a deal which was eventually worth £142m. It’s fair to say that the Spanish club did not do quite as well out of the deal as Liverpool, who bought Virgil van Dijk and still had a big old pocketful of change left to put together a title-winning squad.
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