Modern football has seen transfer fees skyrocket on a seemingly never-ending upward trajectory, with the Premier League in particular having seen a steep rise in big-money sums.
Since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, the league’s transfer-record has been broken multiple times, though big fees have not always guaranteed big success.
Jack Grealish is the latest player to set a new landmark, becoming the Premier League’s first £100m player after completing a move from Aston Villa to Manchester City this week.
Following Grealish’s move to the Etihad, we’ve decided to rate every previous player to break the EPL transfer record.
Alan Shearer, £3.6m
Southampton to Blackburn, 1992
Backed by Jack Walker’s millions, newly-promoted Blackburn smashed the English transfer record to sign Southampton forward Alan Shearer, who was beginning to establish himself on the South Coast.
A cruciate knee ligament injury curtailed his first season at the club but 16 goals in 21 league appearances was a sign of things to come, as Shearer embarked on the most prolific spell of his memorable career.
The Geordie goal-getter netted over 30 goals in three consecutive Premier League seasons, the only man in the league’s history to have achieved the feat, helping fire Blackburn to the Premier League title in 1995.
After four seasons and 112 goals in just 138 league appearances he departed for boyhood club Newcastle, having established himself as one of the world’s finest forwards.
Roy Keane, £3.75m
Nottingham Forest to Manchester United, 1993
Manchester United made Roy Keane the Premier League’s most expensive player a year later, the midfielder impressed under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest since arriving from Ireland.
Named in the PFA Team of the Year despite Forest’s relegation to the second tier, Keane memorably made a U-turn on a verbal agreement to join Blackburn, following a phone call from Sir Alex Ferguson.
In Manchester, Keane became one of the Premier League’s most ferocious competitors and arguably the most inspirational captain in the league’s history.
In a glittering career under Ferguson, Keane helped United to seven Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the 1999 Champions League as part of the club’s famed treble-winning season.
His controversial departure in 2005 severed his ties with the club, though Keane remains one of the most iconic and important players in the Red Devils’ illustrious history.
Andy Cole, £7m
Newcastle to Manchester United, 1995
Cole’s goals had fired Newcastle into the top flight after joining from Bristol City in 1993, before the forward enjoyed a stunning first season in the Premier League to score a record 34 goals and win the division’s Golden Boot.
He began the following season in similarly impressive fashion, his form persuading Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to make an audacious £7m offer for the forward.
Much to the dismay of the Newcastle fans, Cole moved to Old Trafford in a shock move with winger Kieth Gillespie going the other way in part-exchange.
Cole would go on to strike up a fine partnership with Dwight Yorke and scored over 100 goals at United, winning five league titles and the 1999 Champions League.
Dennis Bergkamp, £7.5m
Inter Milan to Arsenal, 1995
The talented Dutchman had lost his way somewhat following a move to Inter Milan, having emerged as one of the brightest talents to come out of the famed Ajax academy.
Arsenal spent a British-record £7.5m to bring the forward to Highbury, with the forward becoming manager Bruce Rioch’s first signing. Rioch’s tenure is not remembered too fondly by the club’s supporters, though they remain thankful for the signing of Bergkamp.
Bergkamp proved inspirational during a hugely successful period under Arsene Wenger, being awarded the PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year awards as Arsenal completed a memorable double season in 1998.
Sublimely talented, Bergkamp’s collection of wonder goals endeared him to the club’s fans, twice winning the league’s Goal of the Season award and cementing himself as one of Arsenal’s greatest ever players.
After three league titles and four FA Cups, he retired in 2006. A bronze statue now resides outside the club’s Emirates home in homage to a north London legend.
Stan Collymore, £8.5m
Nottingham Forest to Liverpool, 1995
The third time in a calendar year that the record was broken, Stan Collymore moved to Anfield in a £8.5m deal in June 1995.
Collymore had enjoyed a prolific two-year spell at Forest and Liverpool had hoped the forward could fire them back to the summit, following the club’s decline in the early seasons of the Premier League.
A goal on his debut was a strong start and Collymore soon formed an impressive partnership with Robbie Fowler, the duo scoring a total of 55 goals combined during the 1995/96 campaign.
His second season was not as successful, with a series of off-field issues costing Collymore his place in the team. The emergence of Michael Owen saw Roy Evans sanction the sale of the forward to Aston Villa after two years at Anfield, Collymore departing having scored 28 goals in 64 league appearances.
Alan Shearer, £15m
Blackburn to Newcastle, 1996
A second appearance on this list for the Premier League’s all-time leading goalscorer, who joined boyhood club Newcastle in a then world-record £15m deal in 1996.
Shearer had rejected the chance to move to serial league winners Manchester United in favour of joining his hometown side, where he would go on to smash the club’s goalscoring record.
A tally of 206 goals in 405 appearances saw Shearer pass Jackie Milburn’s long-standing record, cementing his place in Newcastle folklore.
On a personal level Shearer’s Newcastle career was a huge success, his legacy at his boyhood club assured and immortalised with a statue outside of St James’ Park.
However, a pair of FA Cup final defeats were as close as the prolific forward got to ending the club’s long wait for silverware.
Rio Ferdinand, £18m
West Ham to Leeds, 2000
Breaking through from West Ham’s famed academy as a teenager, young defender Ferdinand soon started attracting attention from the league’s biggest sides.
It was free-spending Leeds who secured his signature in 2000, signing Ferdinand for a fee of £18m and breaking the British transfer-record.
The deal also made Ferdinand the most expensive defender in football history and he joined an exciting Leeds side containing the likes of Harry Kewell, Robbie Keane, and Mark Viduka.
He helped the Yorkshire side to the Champions League semi-finals and was later named club captain, though the club’s failure to secure qualification for the following season’s tournament saw Leeds financially implode, with Ferdinand sold to rivals Manchester United following the World Cup in 2002.
Ruud van Nistelrooy, £19m
PSV Eindhoven to Manchester United, 2001
Having seen a move to United collapse the previous year due to a serious knee injury, Van Nistelrooy arrived at Old Trafford in a British-record £19m deal in 2001.
The Dutchman certainly proved worth the wait, being named as the PFA Player of the Year in his debut season after scoring 36 goals in all competitions for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
Van Nistelrooy continued to score at a prolific rate, winning the Golden Boot the following season after scoring 44 goals in all competitions – a record for a Premier League player – and amassing a total of 150 goals in just 219 appearances for the club.
One Premier League title, an FA Cup and a League Cup is perhaps a relatively sparse total for five seasons at England’s biggest club, though few at Old Trafford can forget the ruthlessness of Ruud in front of goal.
Juan Sebastien Veron, £28.1m
Lazio to Manchester United, 2001
A hugely-hyped deal at the time, Manchester United secured the signing of Argentine playmaker Juan Sebastien Veron from Italian side Lazio, having seen the midfielder prove the inspiration behind their Serie A title triumph in 2000.
Veron began brightly, being crowned as the September Player of the Month, but his performances soon dipped as he struggled to adapt to the pace and robustness of English football.
His better performances came in the slower tempo of Europe, though for all his talent he was unable to produce regularly in the Premier League and was regarded by many as a huge disappointment.
After two seasons he was sold to rivals Chelsea, where he made just 15 appearances before returning to Italy.
Rio Ferdinand, £29.1m
Leeds to Manchester United, 2002
The second player to appear twice on our list, Manchester United capitalised on the financial crisis at Leeds to sign Rio Ferdinand in 2002.
The deal again made Ferdinand the most expensive defender in history, eclipsing Lilian Thuram’s move to Juventus from Parma a year earlier.
Ferdinand had shone in that summer’s World Cup for England and soon became a mainstay at the heart of the United defence. Athletic, strong and comfortable in possession, the defender developed into one of the world’s best and enjoyed a trophy-laden spell at Old Trafford.
In 12 seasons, Ferdinand won six league titles, two League Cups and the Champions League, being named in the PFA Team of the Year on five occasions.
Andry Shevchenko, £30.8m
AC Milan to Chelsea, 2006
Roman Abramovich’s millions had propelled Chelsea to back-to-back Premier League titles and the capture of AC Milan forward Andry Shevchenko seemed to signal an era of dominance at Stamford Bridge.
Shevchenko was widely regarded as one of Europe’s best players, having won the 2004 Ballon d’Or after firing Milan to Champions League glory the season before.
Handed the number 7 shirt, he began well with a goal on debut in the Community Shield but soon began to struggle with the demands of English football.
The Ukrainian scored just four Premier League goals in his first season, a tally he bettered by just one strike the following year, and after two seasons he was shipped back on-loan to Milan.
He finished his Chelsea career having scored 23 goals in 77 appearances in all competitions, a meagre total for a player of such calibre.
Real Madrid to Manchester City, 2008
The deal which shocked English football to its core, Sheikh Mansour announced his billionaire takeover of Manchester City by smashing the British-record on deadline day to capture Brazil star Robinho.
City had been propelled from mediocrity to the elite of football’s wealthiest clubs, and the arrival of Robinho from Real Madrid was their statement signing.
After City fans had forgiven him for thinking he’d joined Chelsea in his unveiling, the forward began well and enjoyed an impressive debut season, scoring on his first appearance and finishing with 14 league goals.
From there, however, his form nosedived.
Injuries and a loss of form saw him fall out-of-favour in his second season and in January 2010 he rejoined former club Santos on loan, before moving to AC Milan on a permanent deal that summer.
Fernando Torres, £50m
Liverpool to Chelsea, 2011
A firm favourite with the Anfield faithful after a prolific period on Merseyside, Fernando Torres sparked anger after announcing his intention to leave the club in January 2011.
Chelsea were interested and had proposed a British-record deal, eventually securing the signing of the Spaniard for a fee of £50m. Torres had scored 65 goals in 102 league appearances for Liverpool, with Chelsea believing they had signed a proven Premier League performer.
The former Atletico Madrid star never truly recaptured his best form at Stamford Bridge, scoring just 20 league goals in three-and-a-half seasons.
Despite looking a shadow of the player who had been so prolific at Anfield, Torres helped Chelsea to an FA Cup and Champions League double in 2012, before adding a Europa League title the following year.
The move to Chelsea had delivered the silverware his career had been missing, though he never looked quite the same player.
Angel Di Maria, £59.7m
Real Madrid to Manchester United, 2014
The post-Sir Alex Ferguson era had seen the disastrous appointment of David Moyes as manager and the club decided to spend big in the summer of 2014 in an attempt to restore the side to the elite.
Real Madrid star Angel Di Maria had just helped the Spanish giants to Champions League success and arrived in a big-money move, the Argentine handed the club’s prized number seven shirt as his Old Trafford career began.
The talented winger began brightly, an audacious goal against Leicester City highlighting his undoubted quality, but his failure to adapt to life in England soon became apparent.
A burglary at his home sparked rumours of discontent, whilst his on-pitch form deteriorated at a rapid rate. By the end of the season Di Maria was desperate to leave, and was sold to French side Paris Saint-German after just a single season at Old Trafford.
He was voted as the worst signing of the Premier League season.
Paul Pogba, £89m
Manchester United to Juventus, 2016
Four years after leaving United on a free transfer, French midfielder Paul Pogba returned to Old Trafford in a world-record £89m deal from Juventus.
Four seasons in Turin had seen Pogba flourish into one of the most promising talents in Europe, having helped the Italian side to four consecutive Serie A titles.
Pogba’s return was a statement signing from United, who were desperate to return the side to former glories under new manager Jose Mourinho.
Pogba’s first season saw United claim a League Cup and Europa League double, though these remain the only pieces of silverware since his return to English football.
The Frenchman has shown flashes of brilliance during his five seasons in the Premier League, though his inability to produce his best consistently and the off-field circus that often surrounds his future means the jury remains out on whether he has been a success.
Jack Grealish, £100m
Aston Villa to Manchester City, 2021
Jack Grealish has become English football’s first £100m player, having signed for Premier League champions Manchester City in a record-breaking deal from Aston Villa.
Villa fans have long championed the ability of the boyhood fan who rose through the club’s ranks before captaining the side, though it has initially taken time for Grealish to win the admiration of the rest of the division.
Since remaining with Villa and helping the club back into the Premier League, the 25-year-old has established himself as one of the best creative players in English football and will now be provided with the platform to showcase his ability at the highest level.
Ready for the next chapter! So proud to have joined the Premier League champions, can’t wait to get started! 💙 pic.twitter.com/snoKdNQSpT
— Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish) August 5, 2021
Grealish joins an abundance of talent at the Etihad and it will be fascinating to watch the star combine with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and England teammates Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling, with Pep Guardiola confident he has signed a superstar in the making.