Europe’s top sides have never been afraid to splash the cash, yet the last decade, in particular, has seen some fairly exorbitant sums paid out for some of the game’s hottest talent.
From Gareth Bale becoming the game’s first €100m player following his move from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid in 2013, the continent’s elite have continually raised the bar with transfer fees, as the competition to be the best only intensifies.
However, it has often been proved that money doesn’t always guarantee success, with a number of clubs perhaps wishing they hadn’t been so brash, particularly following the spiralling economic impact of the ongoing pandemic.
Barcelona, in particular, are currently paying the price for their haphazard, scattergun transfer approach of recent years, the club currently in dire financial woes.
With that in mind, we’ve decided to rate the impact of all ten players who have cost over €100m.
Gareth Bale – €101m
While Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2009 switch to Real Madrid came close to breaking the €100m barrier, it was in fact the aforementioned Bale who did so four years later, linking up with the Portuguese sensation to form a mouthwatering attacking trio alongside Karim Benzema.
To begin with, the Welshman’s time in the Spanish capital couldn’t have gone much better, as he ended the 2013/14 season having netted a blistering solo goal in the Copa del Rey final, but also with a pivotal header in the Champions League final against rivals Atletico.
From then on, however, injuries would inhibit his progress, yet he remained a fairly regular goalscoring presence. He made the difference in another Champions League final in 2018, scoring arguably the greatest goal in the competition’s history with an outrageous overhead kick against Liverpool.
Despite also winning two further Champions League trophies, the Madrid fanbase began to turn on the player as the years progressed – with the tongue in cheek ‘Wales.Golf. Madrid’ banner doing him no favours – as too did his manager Zinedine Zidane.
The 31-year-old spent last year on loan at Spurs and has entered the final year of his contract in Madrid, amid rumours of possible imminent retirement, yet he still boasts an impressive record of 105 goals for the club, a tally better than both Zidane and the legendary Brazilian, Ronaldo.
His impressive trophy haul and goal record would constitute a success, but there is a sense that he perhaps could have done even more, while it’s been a sour and toxic last few seasons in truth.
Paul Pogba – €105m
Another divisive figure among his club’s fanbase, Paul Pogba remains polarising to this day, with Manchester United supporters still often frequently frustrated with the Frenchman’s displays.
After making a return to Old Trafford in Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge back in 2016, a lot was expected of the midfielder following his Juventus heroics, yet it’s been a tale of inconsistency since.
A falling out with Mourinho and the manager’s mistrust for the player in big games hindered his early progress, while even the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not always meant a smooth ride for the 28-year-old.
While a haul of just a Europa League and a League Cup triumph is not solely his fault, it still remains a poor return for a player who many expected would be the key to driving the club back to success.
At present, he has just a year remaining on his contract with the situation uncertain as to what he, or the club, will opt to do. There have been improvements of late and he’s looked refreshed playing off the left, but is that really a viable, long-term fit?
Should club and player part ways this summer, many will look back at Pogba’s time as largely underwhelming, with mere glimpses of what he can achieve when at his best.
Eden Hazard – €115m
One of the more recent signings on this list, Eden Hazard has endured a torrid two-year spell in the Spanish capital to date, having made just 30 La Liga appearances across the last two campaigns combined, a large chunk of which were off the bench.
In truth, the club’s initial decision to agree to such a hefty fee for a player with just one year left on his deal at Chelsea was bemusing, although that choice was not aided by the player then reportedly turning up to pre-season training overweight.
Unfit and out of shape, Hazard has been plagued by injuries since 2019 and looks a shadow of the player that was so breathtaking with the Blues.
His return to Stamford Bridge for a Champions League semi-final clash back in May was a stark illustration of where he is at right now, the Belgian star simply lacking the speed nor the skill to be able to beat a man, while he also irked his new fanbase after being caught smiling with his former teammates at full-time.
The only saving grace is that he still has time to turn things around, although having turned 30 back in January, the Madrid support are unlikely to see the player at his peak.
Cristiano Ronaldo – €117m
It’s a marker of just how good Cristiano Ronaldo is that Juventus were willing to dish out such a hefty fee for a 33-year-old, the player bringing an end to his stellar spell in Madrid to join the Italian side in 2018.
For some, his time there since can only be deemed as a failure due to the absence of a Champions League winners’ medal – the main reason for which he was signed – yet it’s hard to argue against the impact he has made to the side, amid a difficult period that has seen numerous managers come and go.
At an age in which most players begin to slow down, Ronaldo continues to maintain ridiculous levels of consistency, having already netted 101 goals for the club, including 81 in Serie A alone.
The most recent campaign saw him finish atop the goalscoring charts in Italy with 29 goals, having hit a stellar 31 the year before, albeit with 2020/21 seeing Juve miss out on the Scudetto for the first time since 2011.
That league failure was not helped by the club crashing out in Europe at the hands of surprise package Porto, with Ronaldo coming under fire for his display and for his role in the opposition’s winning goal.
There have been suggestions that that could be that for his time in Turin, with Ronaldo having failed to deliver the coveted Champions League. However, it’s hard to argue with his goal return nor his overall impact on the club, while as Paris Saint-Germain have also found out, triumphing in Europe isn’t straightforward.
Antoine Griezmann – €120m
The first of three Barcelona men on this list, Antoine Griezmann made a long-awaited move to the Camp Nou in 2019, having been a key man under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid.
After struggling for game time to begin with, the World Cup winner has been more heavily involved of late, yet still hasn’t quite warranted his hefty price tag.
A haul of 35 goals across all competitions over the last two seasons is no poor return, yet there is no denying a player of his quality can perform better, particularly as he twice hit the 20+ goal mark in La Liga at his former club.
Such has been the difficulty of his stint in Catalonia, the club are said to be open to selling him this summer, the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea all seemingly ‘possible destinations’ should he depart.
That potential sale is also in part due to the club’s current financial turmoil and the need to fund Lionel Messi’s new deal, as well as the arrival of a handful of free transfers, yet the fact they are willing to part ways so soon is a marker of the lack of real influence he has made.
Joao Felix – €127.20m
Griezmann’s replacement at the Wanda Metropolitano, Joao Felix has suffered a similar fate to his predecessor following the switch, the Portugal international having yet to really showcase the form that made him so highly sought after at Benfica.
There’s no doubting the 2020/21 campaign was much brighter for the youngster than his debut campaign, despite a goal return of just seven in La Liga, albeit with the club going on to clinch the league title.
Still just 21, however, unlike many on this list Felix has plenty of time to turn things around, it just remains to be seen whether Atletico have the patience to persist with him.
Perhaps more importantly though, is the question of whether he is the right type of player to suit the often pragmatic style of Diego Simeone, the forward likely to be better off under a more attack-minded manager and in a more progressive system, in order to showcase his talents.
As already stated, however, time is on his side, with it hard to pass too harsh a judgement just yet.
Ousmane Dembele – €135m
In a summer in which it seems everyone bar Lionel Messi is up for grabs at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele appears one player who the club are actually keen to keep, as they look to extend his contract which is due to expire in June 2022.
While still only 24, the Frenchman has in fact been at the club for four years now, having originally made the switch from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, after just a solitary season in Germany.
The former Rennes winger has impressed with his raw speed and his incredible ability with both feet, yet his impact has been far too infrequent, having spent much of his time at the Nou Camp on the treatment table.
Dembele has scored just 18 times in La Liga in his four-year stint at the club, his best goalscoring season coming in 2018/19 where netted eight goals, although he did feature heavily under Ronald Koeman last term.
The versatile forward – who is also reportedly a Leeds United fan – has the ability and the skill to win a game on his own, but needs to find a greater level of consistency.
Phillipe Coutinho – €135m
Arguably the biggest and most expensive transfer flop of all-time, Philippe Coutinho’s transfer to Barcelona just simply hasn’t worked out, the player currently said to be up for sale for a fraction of his original cost.
Having initially signed in January 2018 from Liverpool, the transition to life in Catalonia wasn’t particularly smooth, although he did end his first six months at the Camp Nou with eight goals in 18 La Liga appearances.
The Brazilian had been criticised regardless of that respectable tally and struggled to find a regular spot in the side, unable to enjoy the freedom to roam that he had at Anfield, with that role already filled by the genius that is Lionel Messi.
Despite being deployed on both flanks of a front three and in more of a central midfield role, the former Inter Milan man was unable to find a home anywhere, joining Bayern Munich on-loan for the 2019/20 season, where he ironically scored twice for the German side against his parent club in an 8-2 Champions League thrashing.
That moment seemed to typify the failure that has been Barcelona’s transfer strategy in recent years, the club having splashed out €370m on Coutinho, Griezmann and Dembele, all of whom have enjoyed less than impressive periods at the club. No wonder they’re in a financial mess.
Kylian Mbappe – €145m
There’s been a lot of money poorly spent on this list, yet Kylian Mbappe has seemingly been worth every penny for PSG, having developed into one of the world’s best players since his arrival from Monaco on an initial loan deal in 2017.
Since then, the French sensation has scored 132 goals in just 171 games across all competitions, while also recording a staggering record of 91 goals in just 107 Ligue 1 fixtures.
The most recent season, in particular, was especially prolific for the World Cup winner, as Mbappe ended the campaign with 42 goals in just 47 club games, propelling himself above teammate Neymar as arguably the club’s best and most important asset.
The only problem is whether or not they can keep that asset, the 22-year-old having entered the final year of his existing deal, leaving the possibility he could leave for nothing next year, or perhaps even be sold this summer.
Should his time come to an end at the Parc des Princes, it’s hard to argue that it’s been anything other than a huge success, even if he’s not managed to steer the club to a Champions League triumph – the French giants losing out to Bayern Munich in the 2020 showpiece.
Neymar – €222m
The other multi-million euro addition in a crazy 2017 summer transfer window for PSG, Neymar ditched Messi and co at Barcelona to become the figurehead in Paris, the Brazilian hoping to rival his former teammate for the Ballon d’Or by stepping out of his shadow.
In reality, the 29-year-old hasn’t really come close to achieving that individual gong, despite not exactly underdelivering at his current side.
He’s netted an excellent return of 56 goals in just 70 Ligue 1 games with the club, although it’s telling that that latter number is so low, the player only once reaching 20 league games in a season for the club.
That could be partly due to the club’s obsession with the Champions League, with Neymar being rested frequently, while he’s also suffered from several injury issues during his time in Paris.
While the same could be implied to Mbappe, Neymar’s move to PSG was designed to bring the Champions League to the French capital, a feat he has yet to achieve despite several near misses.
Furthermore, the Brazilian’s on the field antics do him little favours, but having committed himself to the club for the foreseeable future with a new contract, there is still time for the Parisians and Neymar to achieve the European success that the club desperately craves.