In 1893, the transfer record was smashed when Willie Groves moved from West Brom to Aston Villa for a then-whopping £100. More than a century later, Phillipe Coutinho’s £105 million transfer to Barcelona wasn’t even close to breaking the transfer record.
It seems to have become the norm for clubs these days to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for players and the recent transfer windows has demonstrated an exponential rise in football transfer fees. In light of the closing transfer windows, we review the most expensive XI to date and assess each player to see whether their hefty price tags are justified.
GK – Kepa Arrizabalaga (£71 million)
Chelsea’s shot-stopper was signed from Athletic Bilbao in 2018 to become the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. In his first season, he helped Chelsea to the Europa League trophy and was the hero in the EFL cup semi-final when he saved a penalty to help them progress to the final where they eventually lost to Man City. The 24-year-old was also promoted to being Spain’s first-choice keeper in light of David De Gea’s poor form last season.
At such a young age, Kepa already has the world at his feet and he will only improve from here on out. His £71 million price tag is more of a long term investment and considering that he has five more years left on his contract. The Spaniard’s distribution and ball-playing ability is one of the best in the Premier League which is an advantage for Chelsea seeing how the English game is beginning to shift towards a more possession-based style of play.
LB – Lucas Hernandez (£68 million)
He was a vital part of France’s World Cup-winning team in 2018 and his career has taken off since then. The versatile Hernandez can play at left-back and centre back as he did for France and Atletico Madrid respectively. After showing his stoic defensive abilities, the 23-year-old garnered a move to German champions, Bayern Munich for £68 million.
Hernandez developed himself into a fine player over his many years in the Spanish league. He has exceptional quality for his age and has many years left to get even better. Surely, Bayern have got themselves settled at the back with the departure of Mats Hummels. His signing will strengthen Bayern’s bid to become European champions once again since they last won the Champion’s League in 2013.
CB – Virgil Van Djik (£75 million)
Hands down, the best defender in the world right now. To have no one dribble past you in the entire season is a hugely impressive feat and Van Dijk did it with such ease. He is worth every penny of his £75 million as he led Liverpool to the Champion’s League title last season. On the international stage, he was also named as Netherlands captain and led them to the UEFA Nations League Final.
Van Dijk has been crowned both UEFA’s Men’s Player of the Year and Defender of the Season for the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League.
The 27-year-old is dominant in the air, defensively aware and a strong tackler – all traits of a solid defender. This season, Van Djik could help Liverpool to finally win the Premier League title that has eluded them for the last three decades. Liverpool’s attacking triad of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah may be important in contributing the goals, but Van Djik has an even more important job of preventing them. As seen from his consistently masterful performances, he is the best in the business right now.
CB – Harry Maguire (£80 million)
He replaced Van Djik as the most expensive defender in the world and has much left to do to prove that he was worth the money. At 26, he is supposed to be at the peak of his abilities, and he showcased his value during his Manchester United debut against Chelsea where he was voted man of the match. Unfortunately, he struggled to keep a clean sheet in the subsequent three games as United have fallen into an early-season slump.
While he is not to blame for their lack of clinical finishing, he should be doing a much better job of keeping the ball out of the net considering his price tag. He ought to be performing at a much higher level and doing what Van Djik did for Liverpool by shoring up United’s defence. It looks like a huge risk paying so much money for someone who will start declining in three or four years but if he can get in his stride, he might just prove himself worthy of being the most expensive defender in the world.
RB – Kyle Walker (£50 million)
Pep Guardiola loves playing with quick and attack-minded full backs and Kyle Walker is a perfect fit for his system. In 2017, Manchester City broke the transfer record (at the time) for a British player with a £50 million fee for the ex-Tottenham right-back. It’s understandable why they did so as Walker’s defending is just as good as his attacking. He is also versatile as he played at centre back for Gareth Southgate’s England side on certain occasions.
Now 29, Walker still retains his pace and attacking prowess that constantly causes much trouble for opposition defenders. It’s as if he hasn’t aged over the last decade from when he made his first Premier League start. His contributions to Man City have helped them win two consecutive titles and his expensive transfer looks like a fantastic piece of business done on City’s end. After many successful years in the Premier League, he can boast the fact that he is one of the best right-backs of all time.
CM – Paul Pogba (£89 million)
Till this day, he holds the record for most expensive player bought by an English team. However, that would not have happened had United kept him instead of letting him go to Juventus. Then again, he may not have developed into the player he is today had he been left playing with the reserves. In Italy, Pogba gained the necessary experience to make him one of the best players in the world. His strengths are his dribbling, shooting and passing which make him a largely influential player when he is at his best. But despite his undoubted talent, many believe that he hasn’t lived up to his potential as United haven’t become as successful as they were under Ferguson.
When Pogba was brought into the club, fans thought that he could single-handedly bring them back to the top but not even he can solve their problems. Occasionally, he gives displays which are straight out of the top drawer and he proves himself as the best in the world. For France, the 26-year-old was a pivotal figure in bringing them to the final where he scored to bring the coveted trophy back to his country. However, to live up to his £89 million fee, he needs to perform at that level consistently.
CM – Phillipe Coutinho (£105 million)
At Liverpool, Coutinho danced around defenders and was famous for cutting in and curling one into the top corner at the far post. He then deemed himself worthy of playing at a much higher level and made a switch to Barcelona. There, instead of elevating his status, the 26-year-old gained the reputation as the most expensive flop in the history of Football. Coutinho now plays for Bayern Munich on loan from Barcelona in an attempt to try and reinvigorate his fleeting career.
His £105 million fee could even rise to £142 million depending on the add-ons and for a fee like that, his efforts to justify that fee have been underwhelming. He’s only scored 21 goals in 76 appearances for Barca and they had struggled to find a good position for him to play in since Ernesto Valverde insists on playing him on the wing. It’s still too early to say but unless he gets back on track at Bayern, he will forever be remembered as the biggest flop in the world.
RW – Kylian Mbappe (£116 million)
Kylian Mbappe is the world’s most valuable player right now according to the CIES football observatory report. At 18, he became the record holder for the most expensive teenager with his £116 million transfer to Paris St-Germain. At 19, he became the youngest player to score at the World Cup and he also won the cup himself. Now 20, he ended the last season with 33 goals in 29 and his mesmerising talent makes it easy to forget that he is still only 20-years-old.
At such a young age, Mbappe is already considered one of the best players in the world. The Frenchman’s speed, dribbling, and goal-scoring ability are advanced for someone of his age and one could only imagine what he can do in the coming years. If PSG can tie him down to the club for the next few years of his career, the money they paid for him would be seen as a worthwhile investment as Mbappe is one of those players who could elevate a team with his individual performances.
LW – Neymar (£198 million)
At Barcelona, he was famous for being part of a deadly attacking trio with Luis Suarez and Leo Messi which won them the treble in 2015. He scored an impressive 39 of the 122 goals that the trio scored in total in that treble-winning season. But even after all his success, he found himself unable to step out of Messi’s shadow and decided to move to Paris St-Germain in 2017 to become a big fish in a small pond. The gargantuan fee is understandable considering how much he contributes to the team. In his two seasons at the French club, the Brazilian scored 51 in 58 games, an outstanding record by today’s standards.
The 27-year-old’s style of play is a tribute to the “samba football” that the Brazilians were famous for. The forward plays football as if he was at the playground and humiliates the defenders who dare take him on in one-on-one battles. Neymar is bold whenever he plays, and it is this quality of his that has allowed him to achieve the success that others can only dream of. However, one honour that has eluded him is the Ballon d’Or which he has been trying so hard to win in the last few years. It’d be a little embarrassing to not win the Ballon d’Or at least once in his career considering the fact that he is the most expensive player in football history.
ST – Antoine Griezmann (£107 million)
Barcelona have always been associated with great forwards and Griezmann’s move to the Spanish champions seems like a match made in heaven. They had been keeping an eye on him since 2017 and waited two years before finally getting him for £107 million. The French World Cup winner is a highly intelligent and clinical finisher who can create and score goals for his team. In the 2018 World Cup final, Griezmann was involved in three of France’s four goals (1 goal, 2 assists) and was named the man of the match. From this, it’s evident that he is a largely influential player and can win games for his team.
However, spending more than £100 million on a player who is 28 seems a little excessive seeing how the club already a fantastic prospect in Ousmane Dembele (who also cost more than £100 million). Regardless, the talent he brings to Barcelona will be of good use and his vast experience in the Spanish league will help them establish dominance over the other teams. Griezmann has worked extremely hard to get to where he is by constantly developing his skills and improving his game. Now, he is deservedly one of football’s biggest names.
ST – Joao Felix (£114 million)
As Griezmann left Atletico Madrid, they needed a new talisman to head their attack. Thus, the Spanish club turned to Joao Felix. He turned out to be the perfect replacement for Griezmann, if not an upgrade, as his debut at the club was a huge success. The young prodigy terrorised the opposition defenders and even won a penalty which was the only goal of the game. Felix has been likened to a young Cristiano Ronaldo due to his dribbling, shooting and crossing ability. The 19-year-old Portuguese attacker has a bright future ahead of him and he is already making waves at his current level.
In Portugal, he scored 20 goals in 43 games for Benfica last season and his performances got the attention of many huge clubs like Manchester United and PSG. Therefore, if he can significantly improve his output in the coming years at Atletico, forking out £114 million for a 19-year-old won’t seem like such a crazy idea after all. This transfer may be the first of many multimillion-dollar transfers for teenagers in the near future.
What can we see from this formation?
From this starting eleven, we can see how much more money is spent on attackers rather than defenders. The defenders cost a total of £273 million while the wingers and forwards cost £535 million. Even in this day and age, defenders don’t get as much credit for playing as attackers do since the attackers are the ones who score the goals. Even though preventing goals is just as important as scoring, the market is biased towards attackers simply because their contributions are easily recognizable. To put it simply, people are more likely to remember stunning goals scored rather than solid defensive performances throughout the game. There is yet to be a £100 million defender but given the rate that the transfer fees are increasing, we might not have to wait too long before a player crosses that line.
Another interesting observation is the fact that a number of these players are French (four to be exact). Lucas Hernandez, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe all played a crucial role in helping France win the 2018 World Cup and this may be indicative of a resurgence of French football. The quality of French players seem to be improving every year and currently, in most of the biggest football teams, there are bound to be at least one or two French players in the team. In the coming years, we may see more and more top French players who will break records in the transfer market as it’s clear that it is already happening.
Overall, the average transfer fees have been steadily increasing overtime and it doesn’t look like this rise is going to stop anytime soon. Albeit, this doesn’t mean that the quality of football is also increasing. It simply means that more and more money is being invested in this sport and it’s becoming a very lucrative for both clubs and players.Leave a comment