From Ronaldo to Lukaku: rating the impact made by every transfer deal to break the €100m barrier
“Any player can go for 100 million euros, even without showing anything.”
That’s according to Cristiano Ronaldo, anyway. The Portuguese megastar, who has moved for both €100m and €94m in his career, and is one of the greatest goalscorers of all-time, feels like players can move for colossal fees without really earning it.
It’s had to argue whether or not a player has earned a nine-figure move because transfer fees are always relative to club need. But what about delivering on €100m? How did the players who were signed for 100 million euros or more fare for their new clubs?
We’ve looked at the 12 transfers that cost at least €100m and rated them out of 10. Ratings were chosen by focusing on their individual production, how much they moved the needle for their new team and their potential future with the club. Disagree with any of our picks? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Jack Grealish to Manchester City (€117m)
Jack Grealish's 2021/22 Premier League season by numbers:
171 touches in opp. box
55 fouls won
53 chances created
40 take-ons completed
3 assists (4.6 xA)
3 goals (5.9 xG)
And plenty of beers. 🍻 pic.twitter.com/DbyYt18cSx
— Squawka (@Squawka) May 23, 2022
It’s too soon to litigate Jack Grealish’s move to Manchester City, because everyone struggles in their first year under Pep Guardiola. But Grealish assuredly did struggle, both in terms of his own limitations and Guardiola’s uncertainty on how to fit him in the side.
The nature of Grealish’s fortunes are best summed up by the second-leg of City’s Champions League tie against Real Madrid where he came off the bench, almost scored two world-class Ronaldinho-esque goals, but then failed to make a simple five yard sprint to block the cross that ended up eliminating City from Europe.
Let’s meet back here in a year and see where we stand.
Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea (€115m)
It’s too early to call Grealish a flop but the same cannot be said for Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian was re-signed by Chelsea in the summer of 2021 fresh off winning Serie A with Inter and he looked to be the final piece of the jigsaw to make Chelsea title contenders.
He scored 8 goals all season and now Chelsea are on the verge of loaning him back to Inter for a €8m loan fee with no obligation to buy. That’s right, Chelsea took a €107m loss on Lukaku within the space of one year. There’s not much more to say beyond that.
A colossal, gargantuan flop.
Summer transfer odds 22/23: To sign for before 3rd September
Cristiano Ronaldo to Sporting CP
Antony to Man Utd
Christian Pulisic to Newcastle
Frenkie de Jong to Man Utd
Youri Tielemans to Arsenal
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Chelsea
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Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for €100m
Gareth Bale was the original €100m man, although Real Madrid didn’t acknowledge that at first because they didn’t want to upset Cristiano Ronaldo (who they had signed for €94m remember) by making him the world’s second-most expensive player. However Football Leaks did eventually uncover that, yes, Bale was officially the world’s first €100m transfer.
And what a transfer it has was! In terms of trophies won and big moments in finals, Gareth Bale is up there with the very best in Real Madrid history. By the end of his first season he had won Real Madrid the Copa del Rey and Champions League, scoring killer goals in both finals. He continued to shine for Carlo Ancelotti, and guided Los Blancos to his second Champions League final (under Zinedine Zidane) in 2016.
Bale was largely injured for 2016/17 and the wheels began to come off. He won Madrid a third consecutive Champions League with an earth-shattering brace in Kyiv against Liverpool in May 2018, but still couldn’t fight his way back into the plans of any of Madrid’s next coaches.
He managed to pick up his fifth Champions League winners medal in 2022, but just as in 2017 he didn’t really feature much at all. And that was the thing with Bale at the Bernabeu: the consistency just wasn’t there. Madrid’s two best seasons in half a century came while Bale was on the bench watching, and the club was only too happy for him to leave on a free transfer this summer.
Ultimately, however, it comes down to this: before him Real Madrid had nine Champions League. Now, thanks largely to him, they have 14. Consider the needle well and truly moved.
Paul Pogba to Manchester United for €105m
The announcement of Paul Pogba to Manchester United remains one of the coolest things about Pogba joining United, which is a troubling statement, but you have to admit it was pretty damn cool.
Pogba’s time at United, much like Bale’s in Madrid, was full of inconsistency. Unlike Bale, however, his team-mates weren’t good enough to carry him. Pogba’s talent was obvious but he never showed it for long enough, and given the way Bruno Fernandes showed up and took the team by the scuff of the neck showed that leading United to looking great was genuinely possible.
In the end, Pogba left United for free this summer, and no one was really bothered. It’s hard to say anything more critical than that. A €105m signing leaving for free and no one is fussed. The 2017 Europa League means he has to at least break even with a 5/10, given how scarce trophies have been to post-Fergie United the needle did move (just barely). But take away that final against Ajax and it’s a 4 if he’s lucky.
Neymar to PSG for €222m
The big one! Neymar’s move to PSG redefined the transfer landscape in a way no one had done since Cristiano and Kaka in 2009. This move was earth-shattering and out of nowhere. A huge statement of intent by PSG, who sought to assemble a galactico-style squad capable of mixing it with the cream of Europe.
However, it hasn’t quite worked out.
Oh, sure, Neymar has been majestic when he’s played. He’s just not played all that much. Injuries and a lavish lifestyle have taken their toll on the most expensive player in the world. Kylian Mbappé, Marco Verratti and even the 34 year-old Lionel Messi have surpassed him in importance at the Parc des Princes, and you imagine the only reason he’s still at the club is because, now that Josep Bartomeu isn’t in charge of Barcelona, they can’t find anyone stupid enough to sign a player with such obvious issues staying healthy and actually playing football.
Neymar is now 30 years-old. And perhaps the biggest indictment about his time at PSG isn’t that he has failed to capture the Champions League for the club, but that his five seasons have left him with just four league wins. In a one team league, his PSG contrived to finish second. There’s also the fact that they’re still (allegedly) trying to sell him. He has 100 goals in 144 games for the Parisians but if anything the needle has moved backwards while he’s been there.
Ousmane Dembele to Barcelona for €105m
When Barcelona lost Neymar, they had a literal €222m to spend and everyone knew it. Suddenly transfer prices skyrocketed, but Barcelona had to pay because they needed talent. Ousmane Dembele was their chosen lad (he had just turned 20) to replace Neymar. On paper it made sense: Dembele was an ambipedal wing-wizard with pace to burn and a creative skill-set that fit right in at Barcelona.
But goodness, injuries have played a huge factor. Dembélé has had just as many injury issues as Neymar (he’s played just 150 times for Barcelona across five whole seasons) but he wasn’t a world-class superstar when he made the move. The winger missed crucial developmental years, which explains why he still plays with the naiveté of a teenager.
He heped Barcelona win the 2018/19 Liga title, for sure, but that was his only good contribution for the club up until the last six months of 2021/22. With his contract expiring in the summer, Dembélé suddenly found form and fitness easy to come by and proceeded to show everyone just why Barcelona paid all that money for him. Xavi said he could be the best in the world, and he played like it.
In just 1,411 minutes Dembélé racked up a league-best 13 assists. He was the most dominant creative force in the division and he played just over half a season of games. And to really rub things in, his contract demands were as if he had been playing at this level for all five of the years he spent in Catalunya. The result? He’s probably going to leave the club for free, another busted flush for the €100m club, with those final six months being one last insult to the side that supported him through all his misery and woe.
Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for €145m
Barcelona spent a year courting Coutinho, but they only tried to sign him in the wake of selling Neymar which forced the fee way, way up. They had to wait six months but they eventually got their man. And for six months it was so, so good. Coutinho shone in the back-half of 2017/18, helping Barcelona do a domestic double, but for some reason he was a total disaster after that.
What went wrong? Tactics? His position? Lack of stamina? The pressure got to him? It was probably a combination of everything, really. Watching Coutinho in Blaugrana was like watching a foal try to walk for the first time during a stampede of rhinos.
Barcelona spent forever trying to ditch Coutinho, even sending him to Bayern where he promptly help the Bavarians humiliate Barcelona 8-2 in the Champions League. He showed none of that same fire for Barcelona since, of course, and the financial absurdity that was both his transfer fee and wage packet were big factors in the Blaugrana financial collapse in 2021.
Coutinho helped crater the Catalan club’s finances and to make matters worse, absolutely no one would take him off their hands for over a year, he just had to stay there collecting his huge wages (good for him!) until Steven Gerrard saved the day by bringing him to Aston Villa for a cut price deal where, absent the pressure of performance, he looks more comfortable.
The biggest transfer flop of all-time? Probably, yes. Only spared a 1 by virtue of those first six months.
Kylian Mbappe to PSG for €180m
Signed in 2017 alongside Neymar, but only on loan initially. The big money came the following year when his deal was made official. Mbappe is the world’s brightest young talent. Full stop, no caveats. An absolutely ruthless force with a direct goal contribution of 331 in 334 games for France, Monaco and PSG (225 goals, 106 assists). That’s even more impressive when you consider it means he’s averaging one goal involvement every 75 minutes. That’s right, 21-year-old Kylian Mbappe scores or assists every time he steps on the field. He’s Superboy.
Unlike Neymar, Mbappé has been growing during his time in Paris, for whom he has 171 goals and 77 assists in 217 games, so much so that it felt as though he had outgrown PSG and needed a club of true world-straddling stature. Failure to win the Champions League (including a final defeat in 2020 where he missed great chances and a miserable collapse against Real Madrid in 2022) is definitely a mark against Mbappé, but there’s just so much more in his favour.
Mbappé is the leader of the PSG side, and the arrival of Leo Messi to be the consistent, reliable no. 10 Neymar never was has only allowed Mbappé to take his game to the next level. Of course his real needle move came off the field, when he rejected Real Madrid after a year of Los Blancos claiming the deal was done.
Sticking with PSG amid such percussive interest from the Spanish capital is a huge gesture, given the historic pull of Spain’s big two (not for nothing they’re both on this list more than once), now all he has to do is win the Champions League a couple times in Paris and he’ll be right up there with Bale as the greatest of the €100m club.
Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus for €100m
No one has done more to earn a €100m deal than Cristiano Ronaldo – 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid plus three consecutive Champions Leagues is one hell of a justification. Performing for your new club matters though. In 2018/19 he bagged Juve 21 goals in the league (a team high) and he won them a lot of points, but Juve were winning points anyway. Serie A had long been their domain and with the Portuguese they went from 95 points in 2017/18 to 90 in 2018/19. They won less because Cristiano cannibalised their goalscoring for himself without supplying the gaudy numbers that he did for Madrid.
Even in Europe with his usual saving grace, he was average at best, besides one spectacular performance against Atletico Madrid where he bagged a brilliant hat-trick to bring Juve back from 0-2 down to 3-2 ahead. However, he couldn’t prevent later elimination at the hands of a youthful Ajax side, nor could he guide Juve beyond Lyon and Porto in subsequent seasons. His whole purpose for joining Juve, to help them get over the Champions League hump, was unfulfilled.
His signing also played a part in the departure of transfer guru Beppe Marotta. The Italian’s knack for shrewd deals and savvy fiscal management is what got Juve back to the top table of European football and the Cristiano deal was, given his age and financial demands, nothing like a deal he would sanction. But Chairman Andrea Agnelli felt Cristiano would not only boost the club’s goalscoring but also boost the club’s earnings into the stratosphere. He did neither, and Marotta departed.
In his wake Juve have, in part because they’re paying the Portuguese an eye-watering €50m a year after tax, slipped near to the Financial Fair Play black hole. Hence the sudden and random offloading of the brilliant Joao Cancelo and the steady decine from perennial title winners to a side that lost out on the title to Inter.
It’s a shame Real Madrid didn’t pay Man Utd €100m for Cristiano back in 2009, because that deal would have been rated a 12/10 by the time he left in terms of value for money and moving the needle (he’s basically the second-greatest player in Real Madrid’s history, lagging only behind Alfredo di Stefano aka the guy who made Real Madrid a superclub on the pitch). But in terms of his transfer to Juve, has Cristiano been good? Yes. Has he moved the needle for The Old Lady? No. Has he caused them a whole heap of problems? Oh yes indeed.
Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid (€126m)
So much was expected from Joao Felix after his breakout season with Benfica and he’s delivered almost none of it. In his defence he’s a poetic footballer playing for the terminally prosaic Diego Simeone, but it is what it is.
There have been injuries, for sure, but 30 goals in 110 games is not a return you expect for all that money. He did help Atleti win La Liga in 2020/21, but that triumph owed more to their defence and the manic goalscoring of Luis Suárez than their young Portuguese. He’s been good, and given he’s still just 22 there is lots of time to improve, but he does need to improve.
Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona (€120m)
Another €100m+ move from the summer of 2019, Joao Felix’s arrival at Atletico Madrid opened up the door for Antoine Griezmann to finally get his move to Barcelona. Setting up a mouthwatering attacking trio alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, the excitement around the Camp Nou was high.
The performances… not so much.
Griezmann never looked himself at Barcelona. Seemingly unable to find a place in the team that complimented both Leo Messi and Luis Suárez. Well, a place besides defensive workhorse doing all the pressing and tracking back for those two.
Griezmann never lacked for effort nor application. He never sulked, never complained, and always got on with it. Of course given what he was being paid there was never a reason for him to rock the boat.
Griezmann did help Barcelona win the 2021 Copa del Rey with a string of great performances including in the final, but for the most part he went missing whenever the Blaugrana needed him most. They ended up loaning him back to Atleti, where even they found him an underwhelming presence. Not a massive flop, especially given Barcelona’s lack of squad building around him, but definitely a flop.
Eden Hazard to Real Madrid (€100m)
After what felt like years of flirting between the two, Real Madrid finally got their man in 2019 when Eden Hazard joined from Chelsea. But the dream has become an absolute nightmare for the otherwise brilliant Belgian.
Hazard has played just 66 games for Los Blancos since sealing the move, suffering various injury problems. He missed the start of the season with a hamstring injury and that set the tone. And when he has played he’s rarely looked fit and basically never looked like the livewire he was in his Chelsea days, terrorising defensive with phenomenal dribbling skills.
He’s picked up huge trophies in his time at Madrid (the great hilarity is that he has won La Liga as many times as Cristiano Ronaldo) but he’s been an unmitigated disaster. A greater flop than Griezmann for sure, but spared the lows of Coutinho simply because he didn’t help beat Real Madrid 8-2 in the Champions League.