As sponsorship deals and foreign investment has grown in football over the past decade, so too have transfer fees. Since 2017, nine players have moved clubs for a fee of £100 million or more, with generational talents like Cristiano Ronaldo & Neymar taking the cost of players to a whole new level.
The latest mega-deal is Romelu Lukaku's return to Chelsea for a club-record fee of £97.5 million. Yet another blockbuster transfer for the big Belgian, but where does this deal rank him in terms of accumulated career transfer fees?
10. Gonzalo Higuain (Total Fees: £143.1m)
River Plate to Real Madrid: £10.8m
Real Madrid to Napoli: £35.1m
Napoli to Juventus: £81m
Juventus to AC Milan: £9.18m loan fee
Juventus to Chelsea: £7.02m loan fee
Gonzalo Higuain moved into the charts when Juventus paid £81 million to take him from Napoli to Turin in 2016. The Argentinian scored 55 goals in 105 appearances, winning back-to-back league & cup doubles with Juventus in 2017 and 2018. Disappointing loan spells with AC Milan & Chelsea followed before returning to Juventus for the 2019/20 season, where he won a third Serie A title.
Higuain left Juventus at the end of his contract in 2020 to join David Beckham's MLS Franchise Inter Miami, where he has scored 9 goals in 23 appearances.
9. Phillipe Coutinho (Total Fees: £144.27m)
Vasco to Inter Milan: £3.42m
Inter Milan to Liverpool: £11.7m
Liverpool to Barcelona: £121.5m
Barcelona to Bayern Munich: £7.65 loan fee
Phillipe Coutinho was the star turn in an improving Liverpool team before moving to Barcelona for a then world-record fee of £121.5 million in 2018. This is the only transfer fee of over £20 million in Coutinho's career and gives an insight into some of the shocking transfer dealings of Barcelona over the past few seasons.
Coutinho has failed to live up to expectations at Barcelona, having scored just 24 goals across three seasons at the club. He was sent out on loan to Bayern Munich for the 2019/20 season, and after making just 14 appearances last season, Barcelona is willing to sell Coutinho for a cut-price fee.
8. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Total Fees: £152.19m)
Malmo to Ajax: £7.02m
Ajax to Juventus: £14.4m
Juventus to Inter Milan: £22.32m
Inter Milan to Barcelona: £62.55m
Barcelona to AC Milan: £21.6m + £5.4m loan fee
AC Milan to Paris Saint-Germain: £18.9m
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe and sits in 8th place on this list despite not having commanded a transfer fee since joining Paris Saint Germain in 2012. The big Swede has had spells in Italy, Spain, France, England & the USA. Scoring over 500 goals during his career.
Ibrahimovic is still playing at 39, scoring 15 league goals in just 19 appearances for AC Milan last year. His last three transfers have all been for free, and it is safe to say if his prime years had come a few years later, he would be close to the top of this list.
7. Ousmane Dembele (Total Fees: £153m)
Stade Rennes to Borussia Dortmund: £31.5m
Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona: £121.5m
Yet another transfer disaster for Barcelona, who paid over £120 million for Ousmane Dembele, then 20 years old, in 2017. Despite having played just two full seasons of senior football. Injuries have meant that the world has yet to see the best of the French winger, but with Barcelona having been forced to release Lionel Messi, this could be Dembele's year.
The former Dortmund player has notched 30 goals in 118 appearances for Barcelona, but that number needs to rise significantly if he is ever to justify his transfer fee.
6. Antoine Griezmann (Total Fees: £156.6m)
Real Sociedad to Atletico Madrid: £48.6m
Atletico Madrid to Barcelona: £108m
Antoine Griezmann announced himself to the footballing world during his five-year spell with Atletico Madrid, which earned him a £108 million move to Barcelona in 2019. Griezmann failed to deliver to the same level in Catalonia as in Madrid, scoring 133 goals in 257 games.
Griezmann has scored 35 goals in 99 appearances, but he may soon be moving up the list with Barcelona's current financial struggles.
5. Angel Di Maria (Total Fees: £161.1m)
Rosario to Benfica: £7.2m
Benfica to Real Madrid: £29.7m
Real Madrid to Manchester United: £67.5m
Manchester United to Paris Saint-Germain: £56.7m
Angel Di Maria was a key part of the Real Madrid team that won the club's 10th Champions League title in 2014 before an ill-fated £67.5 million transfer to Manchester United the following summer. The Argentinian failed to settle in Manchester after a promising start and moved to PSG the following season.
Di Maria has returned to the level that inspired United to break the bank to get him in 2014. Proving a key contributor to the PSG team that has dominated French football for the past six seasons.
4. Alvaro Morata (Total Fees: £170.1m)
Real Madrid to Juventus: £18m
Juventus to Real Madrid: £27m
Real Madrid to Chelsea: £59.4m
Chelsea to Atletico Madrid: £31.5m + £16.2m loan fee
Atletico Madrid to Juventus: £18m loan fee
A surprise entry at no.4 with Alvaro Morata taking the spot just outside the top three despite the striker having never scored more than 20 goals in a season. The Spain international makes the list, having represented some of the clubs in Europe. Including Real Madrid, Juventus & Chelsea.
The 28-year-old returned to Juventus last season following two years with Atletico Madrid but managed just 11 league goals as Juventus lost the league title to Inter Milan.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Total Fees: £226.71m)
Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United: £17.1m
Manchester United to Real Madrid: £84.6m
Real Madrid to Juventus: £105.3m Juventus to Manchester United: £19.71m
Cristiano Ronaldo has been the most dominant goal scorer in European football over the past decade and broke the £200 million mark when he moved to Juventus back in 2018, aged 33. Despite his age, he has scored 101 goals in 133 games since joining Juventus after scoring 450 goals in just 438 games in Madrid.
Ronaldo completed a return to Manchester United on deadline day, signing a two-year contract. He is arguably the only player on the list to have provided value for money wherever he has played throughout his career. This is exactly why he has added to his transfer total at age 36.
2. Neymar (Total Fees: £279.18m)
Santos to Barcelona: £79.38m
Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain: £199.8m
Neymar has only been involved in two transfers in his career, but he has generated nearly £280 million in transfer fees, including the world record transfer. The £199.8 million fee PSG paid to Barcelona for his services back in 2017. Despite the ultimate prize of the Champions League still eluding PSG, Neymar has led the team to domestic domination. Scoring 87 goals in just 116 appearances for the club.
Rumors of a return to Barcelona have dominated media over the past couple of seasons, but Neymar's future lies in Paris now that Lionel Messi has joined PSG.
1. Romelu Lukaku (Total Fees: £288.8m)
Anderlecht to Chelsea: £13.5m
Chelsea to Everton: £31.82 + £3.15 loan fee
Everton to Manchester United:£76.23m
Manchester United to Inter Milan: £66.6m
Inter Milan to Chelsea: £97.5m
Some big names are on this list, but the most expensive player in history is Romelu Lukaku. The 28-year-old has jumped from third to first place following his return to Stamford Bridge for £97.5 million. The striker scored 24 goals and provided 11 assists to lead Inter Milan to their first league title in 11 years.
Furthermore, his 113 Premier League goals rank 20th all-time and give confidence that his second spell at Chelsea will be more fruitful than his first. Still not out of the question that he adds to this total either.
So if you sign for Manchester United, Real Madrid, or Barcelona during your career, you are likely to become one of the most expensive players in the history of football. Equally important, big fees don't guarantee great players.
Consequently, with the game's money continuing to rise and the likes of Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe angling for moves away, we will likely see some new additions to this list soon.