With Paul Pogba’s £100m move to Manchester United looking ever more likely – one that would make him the world’s most expensive footballer – we’ve decided to look at the history behind the ‘World’s Most Expensive Footballer’ tag. Imagine being able to say “I am the world’s most expensive player”; it’s every young boys dream. However, with that illustrious label comes immense pressure to deliver and perform, and some players have proved their worth while others, quite frankly, have failed to live up to expectations and have ultimately disappointed. The transfer record has been broken on 44 separate occasions and here we will look at whom has held that title over the years, and how we’ve  got from Willie Groves’ £100 transfer back in 1893 to the current most expensive player in world football, Welshman Gareth Bale and his £86m transfer in 2013.

Some interesting facts to begin…

  • Real Madrid have broken the world transfer record more times than any other club (5 times). These 5 transfers involving Real Madrid are also the 5 most recent record transfers.
  • English players have held the title of the world’s most expensive player more times than those from any other nation, boasting 12 players for whom clubs have broken the bank.
  • The country responsible for breaking the world transfer record on the most occasions is Italy, with an Italian club breaking the record on eighteen different occasions.
  • Only two players have been the world’s most expensive player on two different occasions, Brazilian goal machine Ronaldo and Argentinian legend Diego Maradona.
  • In the year of 1992 the transfer record was broken on three occasions in the space of sixty-one days, each time by an Italian club.

Where it all begun…

The first time the world transfer record was set was in 1893 when Scotsman Willie Groves moved from West Brom to Aston Villa for a fee of £100, which may have been a lot of money back then, but is nothing compared to the astronomical fees clubs pay for players today.

Twelve years later we had the first £1000 player when Alf Common left Sunderland for North-East rivals Middlesbrough.

Up until this point, the title had been held by only British players. However, in 1932 it was now the turn of an Argentinian to hold that crown when Bernabe Ferreyra moved from Tigre to Argentinian giants River Plate for a fee of £23,000.

It didn’t take long before an Englishman once again carried the burden, this time Jonny Morris signing for Derby County from Manchester United for £24,000.

The next major milestone was when Luis Suarez  moved from Barcelona to Inter Milan. The Spaniard was bought for 152,000 pounds in 1961, making him the first player to be bought for over 100,000 pounds.

As the 1970s came about and the amounts of money involved in transfers significantly grew, it was Barcelona’s turn to break the transfer record with the signing of Dutch genius Johan Cruyff for a fee of £952,000, a footballing mastermind who most definitely was worth every penny (or should I say every ‘peseta’). Fantastic at Barca as a player and equally so as a manager.

1975 saw the first transfer over £1m. £1.25m to be exact, which saw Giuseppe Savoldi move to Napoli from Genoa.


It was now time for Diego Maradona to dominate the most expensive player in world football crown when, in the space of two years he would be bought for a world record fee by two different clubs. The first occasion was when he left his homeland of Argentina and Boca Juniors and moved to Catalan giants Barcelona for a fee of £3m. Two years went by and the ever controversial Maradona was on the move again for another world record fee leaving Barcelona behind him and moving to Italy to join Napoli for £5m.

Italian clubs would spend big over the next few years, breaking the transfer record on the next 6 occasions. Juventus and AC Milan took turns breaking each other’s record, the sequence starting with AC Milan’s signing of Dutch midfielder Ruud Gullit for £6m, while Juventus followed suit, forking out £8m for Italian legend Roberto Baggio in 1990.

Then came those crazy 61 days in 1992, when Milan and Juve were at it again. Milan made the first move, smashing the transfer record by signing French forward Jean-Pierre Papin from Marseille for 10 million pounds. Juventus were up next, paying a further £2m for Gianluca Vialli. Not to be outdone, AC Milan responded by signing Gianluigi Lentini for £12m from fellow Italian club Torino.

It wasn’t until four years later when Brazilian goal machine Ronaldo moved to Barcelona that the record would be broken again, as the Catalans paid Dutch side PSV Eindhoven £13.2m for the services of one of football’s most lethal hitmen ever.

That same year saw the transfer record broken again when Alan Shearer left Blackburn Rovers for Newcastle United for £15m, a deal that paved the way for Shearer to become a club legend as he scored goals in abundance for the Toon army.

It didn’t take long before Ronaldo had his title back, earning it when he left Barcelona in 1997 for Italy and Inter Milan for £19.5m.

1998 saw the transfer record broken again,and  the player involved could possibly be considered the biggest ‘flop’ on this list. Brazilian Denilson, who moved to Real Betis for £21.5m, never really delivered consistently and failed to live up to this huge price tag.

The year was 1999, and this time the transfer record would be well and truly smashed, breaking the £30m barrier for the first time as Lazio sold Christian Vieri to Inter Milan for £32.1m.

A year later it was Lazio’s turn to do the buying, replacing the departing Vieri by paying £35.5m for Argentine Hernan Crespo in 2000.


Then came Real Madrid’s period of domination. The first of their 5 world record breaking transfers was Luis Figo, signed from arch-rivals Barcelona for £37m in 2000. The next Galactico to take up the mantle was Zinedine Zidane, for whom Madrid paid Juventus £46.5m in 2001.

It would take 8 years before Real would break their own record, doing so in 2009 with a £56m deal for Kaka, signed from AC Milan. They didn’t have to wait long to break the record again as, in the same year, they paid a whopping £80m for Portuguese mega-star Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo has since gone on to become the club’s all time top goalscorer, a feat that many would argue is more than enough to  justify the astounding transfer fee.

The current most expensive player in the world is Gareth Bale. The Welsh flyer joined Real Madrid in 2013 for £86m from Tottenham Hotspur making him, to date, the most expensive footballer in the history of the beautiful game.

So this is where we stand currently, with the world bar set at a whopping £86m, a far cry from the £100 transfer of Willie Groves in 1883. With all the money now involved in the modern game it is surely only a matter of time before £100m barrier is broken.

So who’s going to be next? Who’s going to be the next holder of the’ World’s Most Expensive Footballer’ title? More pertinently, can we call it a title, or is it in fact a burden that weighs most heavily on the player in question?

Written and researched by Josh Bragg. Follow him on twitter @jbragg2