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Ranking the most expensive centre-backs in football history

Centre-backs are the pillars on which successful sides are built and the modern era has seen massive sums splashed on reinforcing the heart of the defence.

Elite defenders are worth their weight in gold and top clubs have broken transfer records to sign centre-backs in recent transfer windows.

Josko Gvardiol is the latest name to enter this list, with Manchester City spending big to bring the highly-rated Croatian to the Premier League.

We’ve decided to look at the most expensive centre-backs in football history.

=5. Matthijs de Ligt – Juventus to Bayern Munich (£68m)

Matthijs de Ligt has twice transferred for huge fee during the early stages of his career, following an exciting emergence at Ajax. The defender was named as club captain of the Dutch side while still a teenager and led Ajax to a domestic double and the Champions League semi-finals in 2018/19.

Juventus secured a deal to sign De Ligt from Ajax worth £67.8m and the centre-back spent three seasons in Serie A, before completing another high-profile move.

Bayern Munich agreed a deal to sign the Dutch defender for £68m, making De Ligt one of world football’s most expensive centre-backs for a second time.

The Netherlands international was named in the Bundesliga Team of the Season after Bayern won the title in his debut campaign in Germany.

=5. Lucas Hernandez – Atletico Madrid to Bayern Munich (£68m)

Lucas Hernandez became Bayern Munich’s record signing after moving to the club from Atletico Madrid.

Hernandez made more than a century of appearances for Atletico before his £68m move to Munich, where he won a Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League treble in his debut season.

The France international – who can operate in central defence or at left-back – won four consecutive Bundesliga titles with the Bavarians, but fitness issues restricted the defender to just 74 league appearances.

The 27-year-old was allowed to join Paris Saint-Germain during the 2023 summer transfer window for a fee of €40m (£34m) plus add-ons.

4. Wesley Fofana – Leicester to Chelsea (£70m)

Chelsea completed the signing of Wesley Fofana from Leicester in a deal worth an initial £70m last summer, though the deal could reach £75m if clauses are met.

Fofana signed a seven-year deal with the west Londoners and was the most expensive addition of Todd Boehly’s first summer as owner, as the Blues set a European record for spending in a single transfer window.

The French defender had impressed across two seasons at Leicester and won the FA Cup in his first season with the Foxes, before a broken leg ruled out the centre-back for much of the following campaign. Fitness issues again plagued Fofana after the switch to Chelsea, with a knee problem restricting the 22-year-old to just 15 league appearances.

Fofana has suffered another setback with an ACL injury set to sideline the defender for the opening months of the 2023/24 campaign.

3. Virgil van Dijk – Southampton to Liverpool (£75m)

Virgil van Dijk became the world’s most expensive defender at that time when completing a £75m move to Liverpool in January 2018.

Liverpool completed a deal for the Dutchman after a protracted chase, re-investing the windfall received from Philippe Coutinho’s sale to Barcelona to make Van Dijk the club’s record signing.

The Netherlands international made an immediate impact as the Reds reached the Champions League final, before going one better to win the competition – claiming the PFA Player of the Year award in the process – in his first full season.

Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup success have since followed, with Van Dijk recognised as the world’s best centre-back during his peak seasons at Anfield.

A commanding figure during Liverpool’s most successful era this century, he has proven worth the record-breaking investment.

2. Josko Gvardiol – RB Leipzig to Manchester City (£77m)

Manchester City have spent big to sign their top defensive target, securing the signing of Josko Gvardiol from RB Leipzig for a fee of £77m.

The deal makes the Croatian the second most expensive centre-back of all time in pound sterling, while the €90m eclipses the world-record fee spent for a defender.

Gvardiol has earned a reputation as one of Europe’s best young defenders across two seasons in the Bundesliga and impressed as Croatia reached the semi-finals at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“Josko has so many qualities – everything you want in a centre-half,” City Director of Football Txiki Begiristain told the club’s official website.

“He is fast, competitive, combative, strong in the air, impressive in possession of the ball, with strong self-belief and a good character. He is left-footed, too, which offers us good options at the back.

1. Harry Maguire – Leicester to Manchester United (£80m)

Harry Maguire became the world’s costliest centre-back after Manchester United agreed an £80m deal to sign the Leicester defender.

Maguire had impressed as England reached the World Cup semi-finals the previous summer and arrived to improve a defence which had struggled the previous season. After a strong start he was named club captain six months into his career with the Red Devils, but Maguire’s fortunes have since deteriorated.

The 30-year-old has struggled for form and confidence across the last two seasons, with his poor performances having seen the centre-back fall out of favour under Erik ten Hag. Maguire made just eight league starts during Ten Hag’s first season in charge at Manchester United and has effectively been made fifth-choice centre-back at Old Trafford.

The England international has been linked with an exit in search of a more regular role, but a combination of his high wages, erratic recent form, and age have reduced the number of suitors. Gareth Southgate has warned Maguire that his England place is under threat without an upturn in form and fortunes, but any sale this summer is set to come at a significant loss for United.

Read – Five Premier League youngsters to watch out for in 2023/24

Read Also – Six former key Chelsea players who left Stamford Bridge this summer

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