Like it or loathe it—money has a colossal impact on football, both on and off the pitch.
While ‘old-school’ football fans will tell you that passion, hard work and grit were what once won you success, it often boils down to which clubs have the fattest wallet and hence the most expensive footballers nowadays.
With sponsorships, TV and advertising revenue and player wages at an all-time high, money dominates football whether we like it or not—especially in some of the world’s top leagues.
And though these top clubs and their players will always enjoy battling for superiority on the pitch, one thing they’ll always have in common is their wealth.
In today’s market, football clubs pay unfathomable amounts to prize new players from their rivals. With clubs backed by mega-rich owners and shareholders from all four corners of the globe, today’s footballing landscape is hugely separated from its past.
In 1979, Trevor Francis became the first British footballer to sell for £1m (from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest), but even that seems a pretty measly figure by today’s standards.
So, who is the most expensive footballer in the world today?
At the time of writing (July 2022), here are the top 23 most expensive footballers in the world (by transfer fee)*.
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Barcelona to PSG, 2017
Santos to Barcelona, 2013
As it stands, Neymar is the most expensive footballer in the world. His staggering €222m transfer fee from Barcelona to PSG in 2017 is yet to be outdone.
The prolific goalscorer and highly-renowned playmaker, who also plays for the Brazil men’s national team, can play various positions. Described as a footballing ‘phenomenon’, Neymar can play as a central striker or second striker, winger or attacking midfielder.
The 30-year-old has been the subject of two highly-lucrative transfers, in particular, during his playing career, too, with Barcelona playing a handsome €86.2m to Brazilian club Santos for him back in 2013.
Currently, he’s one of only three players to have scored at least 100 goals for three different clubs.
Monaco to PSG, 2018
Not only is PSG’s Kylian Mbappé one of the most expensive footballers in the world, but he’s also reportedly the highest-paid.
The 23-year-old Frenchman signed a new deal at his hometown club in 2022 taking his salary to around £1m per week—yes, per week.
On the pitch itself, Mbappé is widely considered one of the best in the world, renowned for his exquisite dribbling, frightening speed and deadly finishing. He’s PSG’s second-highest goalscorer of all time and became the youngest French player to score at a World Cup in 2018.
France went on to win the World Cup that year, with Mbappé becoming only the second teenager in history (he was 19 at the time) to score in a World Cup final.
€145m (£105m, later rising to £142m)
Liverpool to Barcelona, 2018
When Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho left Liverpool for Barcelona at the beginning of 2018 for a club-record fee, he became the world’s second most expensive footballer at the time.
But despite his undeniable talent, Coutinho never really lived up to the hype in Spain. However, he was loaned out to German giants Bayern Munich for the 2019/20 season, where he won a treble consisting of the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and the UEFA Champions League.
After several years away, the midfield wizard is now back on English shores and doing what he does best in the Premier League. He signed a permanent deal with Aston Villa in 2022 after a successful six-month loan spell under the management of former Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard.
Benfica to Atletico Madrid, 2019
Atletico Madrid’s João Félix plays either as a winger or attacking midfielder and is known for his creativity, finishing and dribbling.
At the age of just eight, the now-Portuguese international trained in the youth ranks at Porto before switching to rivals Benfica. Félix worked his way through the reserves and into the first-team at Benfica, making his professional debut at just 17.
In doing so, Félix caught the eye of several top European clubs, signing for Atletico for a club-record fee in 2019. It was also the second most expensive transfer for a teenager in history.
Atletico Madrid to Barcelona, 2019
French forward Antoine Griezmann is next on the list after his €120m transfer from Atletico Madrid to Barcelona in 2019 made him the fifth most expensive transfer of all time.
A highly-versatile attacking player, Griezmann is rightly feared by opposing sides for both club and country.
He was the top goalscorer and player of the tournament as France finished runners-up to Portugal at UEFA Euro 2016. Two years later, he was the second-highest tournament goalscorer at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and was awarded ‘man of the match’ in the final versus Croatia.
Griezmann was also nominated for the Ballon d’Or in 2016 and Best FIFA Men’s Player in 2018.
Aston Villa to Manchester City, 2021
Jack Grealish’s £100m transfer from Aston Villa to Manchester City in the summer of 2021 made him the most expensive English footballer of all time. The hefty sum remains the highest fee ever paid for a player by a British club.
Grealish had been with his boyhood club Aston Villa since the age of six but couldn’t resist the lure of the champions after impressing for England at UEFA Euro 2020 (which took place in 2021 due to COVID).
The highly-rated attacking midfielder and winger is known for his mazy dribbling runs and impressive assists—so much so that he’s been likened to the legendary Paul Gascoigne several times.
He won the Premier League in his first season at Manchester City.
Inter Milan to Chelsea, 2021
Everton to Manchester United, 2017
Manchester United to Inter Milan, 2019
It’s fair to say Romelu Lukaku, or ‘Big Rom’ as he’s often affectionately known, has had his fair share of lucrative transfers throughout his career. In fact, he’s the world’s most expensive footballer if you tally up his various transfer fees—but we know it doesn’t really work like that.
Despite playing for several clubs during his time in England, including Everton, Manchester United and West Brom, there’s no denying Chelsea is ‘his’ club. Chelsea was the club that first brought him to England, and he rejoined them from Inter Milan in 2021 for a club-record fee just shy of £100m.
Lukaku is Belgium’s all-time leading goalscorer, representing his country at four major tournaments. Known for his bullish strength and aerial ability, he’s always got a goal in him, whether it be with his feet or head.
Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona, 2017
At the time of writing, 25-year-old Ousmane Dembele plays as a winger for Barcelona and the French national team.
And at the time of his transfer from Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona in 2017, he became the joint-second most expensive footballer of all time alongside fellow Frenchman Paul Pogba (of course, this has since been outdone).
Though his first season in Spain was plagued by injury, he was part of a Barcelona side that won a cup double; La Liga and the Copa del Rey.
At age 21, Dembele was part of the triumphant 2018 French World Cup team and featured at the delayed UEFA Euro 2020 three years later.
Juventus to Manchester United, 2016
Mentioned above, you can also Paul Pogba to the seemingly endless list of expensive French footballers.
His £89m transfer from Juventus to Manchester United in 2016 made headlines for various reasons. Not least for the price tag but also because United had let him join Juventus for free in 2012.
Pogba first joined Manchester United’s youth team in 2009, aged 16, progressing to the first-team by 18. But after making just three senior appearances for United in the 2011/12 season, he left for Juventus on a free transfer, where his rise certainly caught the eye.
Pogba’s value had rocketed by 2016. United forked out almost £90m to buy back the player they’d let leave for nothing four years earlier. Like teammate Mbappé, Pogba was also on the scoresheet in the 2018 World Cup final.
Tottenham to Real Madrid, 2013
Not only is Gareth Bale widely regarded as one of the greatest wingers of a generation, but also one of the best Welsh footballers of all time.
Bale’s £85.1m transfer (equivalent to more than €100m) from Tottenham to Real Madrid in 2013 was, at the time, a world-record fee.
After joining Real Madrid, Bale was part of the relentless attacking trio dubbed ‘BBC’ (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano), helping the club win the Copa del Rey and UEFA Champions League in the 2013/14 season. Bale scored in both finals.
He returned to Tottenham for a season-long loan in 2020 before confirming his official exit from Real Madrid at the end of the 2021/22 season.
Real Madrid to Juventus, 2018
Manchester United to Real Madrid, 2009
Cristiano Ronaldo, or CR7, as he’s also known, is widely considered one of the greatest footballers of all time, alongside Lionel Messi.
He first made his name in England after joining Manchester United from Sporting CP as a teenager in 2003, enjoying a rapid rise to the top, which later earned him a £80m move to Real Madrid.
At the time of writing, Ronaldo has won a staggering 32 trophies in his career—a tally which includes seven league titles and five UEFA Champions Leagues at club level, and one UEFA European Championship and UEFA Nations League with his native Portugal.
On a personal level, he holds several records, such as most appearances, goals and assists in the Champions League. He’s also scored more than 800 goals for both club and country.
Ronaldo rejoined Manchester United ahead of the 2021/22 season.
Chelsea to Real Madrid, 2019
Eden Hazard first made his name in England after leaving French side Lille in 2012 to join Chelsea, where he won the UEFA Europa League in his first season and PFA Young Player of the Year in his second.
The Belgian international established himself as one of the world’s best during his time in west London, winning a handful of domestic trophies with Chelsea—such as the Premier League and FA Cup. In 2018, he was also named in FIFA’s FIFPro World XI.
Hazard joined Spanish giants Real Madrid in the summer of 2019 for a deal which, reportedly, increased to the value of €150m upon the meeting of certain contract clauses.
At international level, he’s been captain of Belgium since 2015, skippering them to number one in the FIFA men’s rankings during that time.
Leicester City to Manchester United, 2019
Centre-back Harry Maguire’s £80m move from Leicester City to Manchester United in 2019 was a world-record transfer fee for a defender, making him another one of the world’s most expensive footballers.
England-regular Maguire first cut his teeth in the Football League, beginning his career at his hometown club Sheffield United before joining Hull City and enjoying a loan spell at Wigan Athletic.
He joined Premier League Leicester City in 2017 and played there until the then Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought him to Old Trafford in 2019.
Within six months of arriving in Manchester, Maguire was made United’s club captain.
Napoli to Juventus, 2016
Gonzalo Higuaín is a striker currently plying his trade in the US for MLS side Inter Miami. Nicknamed ‘El Pipita’, Higuaín is known for his keen eye for goal, solid physique and consistent work rate.
The Argentine started his career with River Plate before securing a move to Real Madrid in 2007 for a somewhat humble sum of around €12m. He won three La Liga titles, among other honours, while in Spain, scoring 107 goals in 190 league appearances.
Higuaín switched Spain for Italy in 2013, joining Napoli for three years before a bumper €90m move to Juventus in 2016. He’s since enjoyed loan spells at AC Milan and Chelsea.
He also earned 75 caps for Argentina, scoring 31 goals, before retiring from international football in early 2019.
Virgil van Dijk
Southampton to Liverpool, 2018
Dutch centre-back Virgil van Dijk is widely considered one of the world’s best current defenders. In fact, he’s the only defender ever to have won UEFA’s Men’s Player of the Year award.
His £75m switch from Southampton to Liverpool in 2018 was, at the time, a world-record transfer fee for a defender. This was outdone a year later when Manchester United signed Harry Maguire.
Known for his aerial strength, composure and leadership, Van Dijk helped Liverpool reach back-to-back UEFA Champions League finals in 2018 and 2019—winning the latter against Tottenham in Madrid. He also helped the Merseyside club end their 30-year league title drought, with the Reds clinching the 2019/20 Premier League crown.
Van Dijk has also finished runner-up for the Ballon d’Or and Best FIFA Men’s Player.
Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United, 2021
As transfers go, they don’t come much more eagerly-anticipated than Jadon Sancho’s £73m summer move to Manchester United in 2021.
The highly-rated youngster had previously enjoyed youth loan spells at Watford and United’s local rivals Manchester City, but this was to be his first major Premier League move—from German giants Borussia Dortmund—where he’d been playing since 2017 and become a first-team regular.
Sancho also made the shortlist for the Golden Boy award in 2020.
Known for his lightning pace, trickery and creative flair, the now senior England international was part of the youth side that won the U17 World Cup in 2017.
Lille to Arsenal, 2019
Ivory Coast winger Nicolas Pepe joined Arsenal for a club-record fee in 2019, eclipsing the north London club’s previous record for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Previously at French club Lille, Pepe was named in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year for the 2018/19 season, sparking interest from several clubs in the UK and abroad.
He left Lille for Arsenal that summer and won the FA Cup in his debut season.
Pepe was born in France to parents of Ivorian descent—hence his international loyalty. He received his first Ivory Coast call-up in 2016 and has represented them at the Africa Cup of Nations three times at the time of writing.
Monaco to Real Madrid, 2022
Defensive-midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni’s move from Monaco to Real Madrid makes the Frenchman another one of the most expensive footballers in the world.
According to reports, the initial €80m fee could rise to as much as €100m further down the line.
Tchouaméni can play either as a six or an eight and is known for his forward-thinking mentality despite often sitting deep to screen the back line.
Although of Cameroonian descent, Tchouaméni represents his country of birth internationally. He received his first call-up to the France senior squad in 2021 and made his debut in a World Cup qualifier against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Liverpool to Barcelona, 2014
Luis Suárez’s £65m move to Barcelona in 2014 left Liverpool fans gutted, and it’s easy to see why.
The Uruguayan international enjoyed three big years in a Liverpool shirt after signing from Ajax in 2011. Deadly in front of goal, Suárez equalled the goalscoring record for a 38-game Premier League season (31), previously set by Alan Shearer in 1995/96 and Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007/08.
He went on to score 147 goals in 191 league appearances for Barcelona in a six-year spell before joining La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid in 2020.
Suárez has had an impact wherever he’s played. Among his individual honours are two European Golden Shoes, an Eredivisie Golden Boot and a Premier League Golden Boot. He’s scored more than 500 goals for both club and country throughout his career.
Monaco to Real Madrid, 2014
Colombian international James Rodríguez is an attacking midfielder currently playing with Al-Rayyan in the Qatar Stars League.
However, much like Aurélien Tchouaméni, it was his transfer from Monaco to Real Madrid which made him one of the world’s most expensive footballers back in 2014.
Rodríguez first started turning heads on the European scene while playing for Porto between 2010 and 2013, before moving to Monaco for a year and later switching to Real.
He’s known for his technique, playmaking and exceptional vision on the field. He also won the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Athletic Bilbao to Chelsea, 2018
Kepa Arrizabalaga (often referred to just as Kepa) is the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.
The Spaniard’s €80m move from Athletic Bilbao to Chelsea in 2018 set a new transfer record for goalkeepers, outdoing the €72.5m fee Liverpool had paid for Alisson from Roma just weeks before.
At the time of writing, the €80m fee is yet to be matched for a goalkeeper.
Since moving to Chelsea, Kepa has enjoyed great success on the European stage, winning the UEFA Europa League, UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Super Cup.
Atletico Madrid to Bayern Munich, 2019
Lucas Hernandez began his career at Atletico Madrid, where he made more than 100 competitive appearances, reaching the final of the UEFA Champions League in 2016 and winning the Europa League and Super Cup in 2018.
The defender joined Bayern Munich in a deal worth around €80m in 2019. He won a treble (Bundesliga, DFP-Pokal and UEFA Champions League) in his first season in Germany.
Hernandez represents his native France at international level, receiving his first senior call-up in 2018. He was part of France’s World Cup-winning squad that year and later featured at UEFA Euro 2020.
Real Madrid to Chelsea, 2017
Álvaro Morata is a Spanish striker currently playing for Atletico Madrid, although he began his career at local rivals Real, where he had two spells as a senior player (2010-14 and 2016-17).
His move to Chelsea in the summer of 2017 was a club-record for Chelsea at the time, who went on to win the FA Cup and UEFA Europa League with Morata in the side. He scored 15 goals in all competitions in his debut season in England.
Morata is a highly-versatile player, renowned for his pace, intensity and energy. He can play as a lone striker, in a duo system, or even on the wing.
Morata has also represented Spain as a senior player since 2014.
*Football clubs often don’t disclose full player transfer fees, which can lead to final figures being contested. All financial sums displayed in this blog are based on reports by sports media outlets. Euro to GBP conversion rates may vary. GBP only displayed on transfers between two British clubs.
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