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10 of the most expensive football player transfers of all time

What does history teach us about big-money transfers? Here’s a rundown of some of the most memorable: the record breakers, the shrewd buys - not to mention the promising investments that didn’t quite pay off…

Paul Pogba

Clubs involved: Juventus to Manchester United. Year: 2016. Fee: £89 million.

In the run-up to Paul Pogba’s recent move from Juventus to Manchester Utd, the speculation was that we were about to see the first ever £100 million transfer. As it turned out, the final amount fell just shy of this. But at £89 million, it means that the French international is currently the world's most expensive player.

The French midfielder has made a solid start for United, but only time will tell whether the investment was a sound one.  

Willie Groves

Clubs involved: West Bromwich Albion to Aston Villa. Year: 1893. Fee: £100.

The first ever £100 transfer is a classic story of tapping up, an irate FA and a dose of local rivalry.

The 24-year old Willie Groves had enjoyed three successful seasons with Albion, culminating in an FA Cup win in 1892. Before this, he had won the Scottish Cup with Hibernian and had scored a hat trick in his second game for Scotland. He was exactly what ambitious Aston Villa were looking for - despite West Brom’s unwillingness to let him go to their neighbours.

So Villa made an illegal approach to sign him. They were fined £50 for their troubles and the Baggies picked up a phenomenal £100 transfer fee. Groves was the driving force behind Villa’s first league title win the following season - but tragedy was to strike shortly afterwards in the form of tuberculosis. He recovered to play again but never regained his previous form. Groves died in poverty at the age of 38.

Alf Common

Clubs involved: Sunderland to Middlesbrough. Year 1905. Fee: £1000.

For many, this transfer was the start of a slippery slope, “which might one day see transfer fees reaching £2,000 or even £10,000”. Yet for a Boro side languishing at the bottom of the First Division in the 1904/05 season, Alf Common was just the man they needed.

The first £1,000 player proved to be worth every shilling, helping to save the Teessiders from relegation, notching up a total of 65 goals in 178 appearances.

Jimmy Greaves

Clubs involved: AC Milan to Tottenham Hotspur. Year, 1961. Fee: £99,999.

Despite an impressive tally of goals, Jimmy Greaves had failed to settle in Italy following his move there from Chelsea in early 1961. By the end of the year, the rumours were that his old club were willing to buy him back for £110,000 - a proposed sum that caused a problem for the Treasury at a time when strict controls were in place to prevent currency reserves flowing out of the country.    

In the end it was Tottenham Hotspur rather than Chelsea who sealed the deal. Greavsie would go on to make 321 appearances for Spurs, picking up two FA Cup medals and a European Cup Winners’ Cup title along the way.

Trevor Francis

Clubs involved: Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest. Year, 1979. Fee: £1,180,000.

Never a manager to let a player get bigger than his boots, Brian Clough’s advice to England’s first million pound signing before his Forest debut was to “just give the ball to John Robertson - he’s a better player than you”. A winning goal in that year’s European Cup final was a career highlight for Francis.

Ian Rush

Clubs involved: Liverpool to Juventus. Year, 1986. Fee: £3.2 million.

From Greavsie to Gazza, there’s a steady theme in British football of players heading abroad for big money but then failing to hit their stride or just getting homesick.

As Ian Rush put it when describing life after his move to Juve for a record fee: “It was like living in a foreign country”. (According to Ian Rush, he didn’t actually say this - he blames Kenny Dalglish for it).

Gareth Bale

Clubs involved: Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid. Year, 2013. Fee: £83 million.

Since his record-breaking move three years ago, Bale has picked up two Champions League winners’ medals along with the Copa del Rey. Is he happy as part of an attacking trident with Ronaldo and Benzema? Is he set for a move to the Premiership in the summer? The official line at least, is that he’s at Real for the long-haul.   

Alan Shearer

Clubs involved: Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United. Year, 1996. Fee: £15 million.

For Shearer, this was a homecoming; one that also happened to be a world record in a 4-year old Premiership where teams were now flush with cash. His first year at Newcastle would see Newcastle finish as runners-up for the second consecutive year. Silverware continued to elude the club and a stream of managers came and went, but over the course of the next decade, Shearer earned god-like status on Tyneside.  

Juan Sebastian Veron

Clubs involved: Lazio to Manchester United. Year, 2001. Fee: £28.1 million.

A British transfer record meant expectations for the Argentine international were high. It was just that injury combined with a seeming inability to adjust to the Premiership meant that Veron was an ‘asset’ worthy of offloading. Rescue came in 2003 in the form of a newly-enriched Chelsea, who paid a remarkable £15 million for him. He was dispatched abroad on loan soon after.

Luis Suarez

Clubs involved: Liverpool to Barcelona. Year: 2014. Fee: £75 million.

More than any other player, Suarez was instrumental in taking Liverpool as close as they had been for years to that elusive league title. The 2014 World Cup would see Suarez receive a ban for biting - the third such ban in his career. Despite the ban, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers did everything he could to keep hold of the Uruguayan, but his heart was set on a move to Spain.

It’s only a matter of time until we see the first £100 million transfer. Fast forward to next summer: Jose Mourinho looks to strengthen his attacking force - and top of his wish list is Gareth Bale. Would Real Madrid be tempted by a record-breaking offer? We’ll have to see next year.  


Any views or opinions expressed in this briefing are for guidance only and are not intended as a substitute for appropriate professional guidance. We have taken all reasonable steps to ensure the information contained herein is accurate at the time of writing but it should not be regarded as a complete or authoritative statement of law.