Football Features

The most expensive defenders in football history, and whether they were worth the transfer fees

By Steve Jennings

The most expensive defenders in football history

Published: 18:46, 3 June 2019

The importance of defenders has escalated in recent years with centre-backs and full-backs expected to contribute in general play more than ever.

Indeed, the top contemporary centre-backs can pass the ball like midfielders, while full-backs are being deployed higher and higher up the pitch.

Traditional defensive skills remain crucial, though, and the very best defenders have a bit of everything to their game.

Millions have been spent on these players over the last few years, but how have the deals for the world’s 10 most expensive defenders panned out? Squawka has had a look at whether the fees have turned out to be a blessing or a curse…

10. Joao Cancelo

From: Valencia
To: Juventus
Fee: £35.5m

After impressing for Inter Milan on loan in 2017/18, Joao Cancelo was snapped up by Juventus last summer, becoming Serie A’s new most expensive defender.

The Portugal international has provided eight assists from right-back for Juventus across all competitions and has been an important part of Max Allegri’s squad this season.

9. Thiago Silva

From: AC Milan
Fee: £38m

While Zlatan Ibrahimovic became a club legend during his four years in Paris, an argument could be made for Thiago Silva, the man who joined Ibrahimovic at PSG as part of a double raid on AC Milan in 2012, being the most pivotal signing in the club’s recent history.

Silva has been a stalwart for PSG and continues to be a consistent presence in the heart of the team’s defence. He has won multiple major honours with the French giants, although he is yet to lift the Champions League, something he will be keen to do before his contract expires next summer.

8. Davinson Sanchez

From: Ajax
To: Tottenham Hotspur
Fee: £42m

Ajax brought in their then-record transfer fee for Davinson Sanchez in the summer of 2016, changing their philosophy somewhat by refusing to let yet another young player leave for peanuts.

Spurs had previously signed Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen from Ajax for relatively low fees, but the Londoners were willing to part with a lot of money for Sanchez, who had impressed during Ajax’s run to the Europa League final in 2016/17.

Sanchez is still deemed a lesser defender than Vertonghen and another ex-Ajax star, Toby Alderweireld, by Tottenham fans, but there is a feeling he could develop into one of the Premier League’s leading centre-backs after settling quickly in England.

7. John Stones

From: Everton
To: Manchester City
Fee: £52m

John Stones has shown his full capabilities for Manchester City in fits and starts. He hasn’t cemented a place in Pep Guardiola’s starting line-up, but he was a key member of last season’s title-winning squad and subsequently impressed for England at the World Cup.

While his tendency to dribble and Cruyff-turn his way out of trouble can land him in hot water, continuing to work alongside Guardiola – a manager with a proven track record of improving defenders – can only help Stones develop his game further after adding a second Premier League title to his cabinet this season.

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6. David Luiz

From: Chelsea
Fee: £50m

Signed just days before Brazil’s 7-1 humiliation against Germany at the 2014 World Cup, it is fair to say that the jury was out on David Luiz prior to his blockbuster move across the channel from London to Paris.

The bushy-haired Brazilian had his difficult moments at the Parc des Princes, but on the whole he was a successful acquisition, helping his side lift the domestic double in each of his two seasons.

After returning to Chelsea for £30m, Luiz has mostly excelled – although he allegedly fell out with Antonio Conte. Inconsistency has been the bane of his career, but he has been a guaranteed starter under Maurizio Sarri this term and helped the west Londoners secure the Europa League trophy.

5. Benjamin Mendy

From: Monaco
To: Manchester City
Fee: £52m

Serious knee injuries have prevented Benjamin Mendy from justifying his price tag in a Manchester City shirt. That said, the Frenchman has a Premier League medal and could soon have another.

On top of that, Mendy is clearly popular among his teammates and regularly boosts the morale of the squad with his hijinks – even if running down the touchline to celebrate a late winner on a dodgy knee isn’t the best idea.

4. Kyle Walker

From: Tottenham Hotspur
To: Manchester City
Fee: £53m

Having developed into the Premier League’s best right-back under Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs, Kyle Walker upped his game even more after gleaning a new level of tactical nuance from Pep Guardiola.

The defender has suggested he wouldn’t have been able to play on the right of a back three for England at last summer’s World Cup had it not been for Guardiola’s influence. Indeed, Walker is no longer totally reliant on his pace to make up for some errant positioning, something he has improved since joining City.

The large fee City spent on Walker raised some eyebrows at first, but the 29-year-old has mostly proved to be worth the outlay.

3. Aymeric Laporte

From: Athletic Bilbao
To: Manchester City
Fee: £57m

Since arriving at the Etihad in January last year, Aymeric Laporte has swiftly become Manchester City’s first-choice centre-back.

His composure on the ball, combined with a wide range of defensive skills, have made him one of Europe’s best defenders this season, even if his contributions have gone a little under the radar.

The former Bilbao star is the fourth City player on this list, which goes to show how important Guardiola believes having a strong defence is. Laporte has been central to his team’s improvement in that regard.

2. Lucas Hernandez

From: Atletico Madrid
To: Bayern Munich
Fee: £68m

Bayern look set for a busy summer of 2019, and their transfer business has already begun after the club confirmed the arrival of Lucas Hernandez from Atletico Madrid earlier in the year.

Hernandez made over 100 appearances for Atletico since graduating from the club’s academy and his exit will be difficult for Diego Simeone to take.

The France international, who impressed at last summer’s World Cup, will be eager to join his new team and be part of what Bayern are hoping will be a revolution after struggling to reach the latter stages of the Champions League in recent years.

1. Virgil van Dijk

From: Southampton
To: Liverpool
Fee: £75m

Liverpool missed out on signing Virgil van Dijk in the summer of 2017 and were criticised for failing to bring in an alternative. But waiting until the January transfer window to get their man turned out to be the right decision.

The Reds parted ways with £75 million to sign Van Dijk from Southampton. It’s not often such a fee can be said to be worth every penny, but that is indeed the case in this instance. The Dutchman’s resilience has taken Liverpool to the next level, helping Jurgen Klopp’s side to compete for major honours.

With the 2019 Champions League trophy secured for Liverpool through a Man of the Match display in the final, Van Dijk has pretty much confirmed club icon status within a season and a half.