Neymar, Ronaldo, Pogba & Bale: Who’s the best ‘most expensive’ transfer all-time?

RealSport are looking at which club got the best deal when they decided to splash the big money on their world-class stars.

When Manchester United announced the then world record signing of Paul Pogba from Juventus for £89 million, nobody expected the transfer record to break again within a year, especially not for one of Barcelona’s most sacred assets.

However, Paris Saint-Germain today completed the power play of the summer when they officially unveiled Neymar as the new world record signing, paying Barcelona £200 million to buy him out of his contract.

Neymar’s deal eclipsed that of Pogba, and cast a giant shadow of the previous world record deals, including Gareth Bale’s £85 million move from Tottenham to Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo’s £80 million move to the same club four years earlier.

Joining our list is Gonzalo Higuain’s £75 million move from Napoli to Juventus, as well as Manchester United’s £75 million capture of Romelu Lukaku from Everton.

RealSport looks at which club got the ‘most expensive’ deal.

  1. 1 Gonzalo Higuain

    From: Napoli

    To: Juventus

    Fee: £75 million

    Starting from the bottom (comparatively) and working our way up, we begin with Gonzalo Higuain’s transfer to Juventus. After a phenomenal scoring record for Napoli, finding the back of the net 71 times in 104 Serie A games, the Argentine find himself the subject of a mega-money bid from the Old Lady.

    In terms of value for money, it’s debatable when it comes to Higuain. He signed for Juventus aged 28, which is slightly too old to justify such a massive fee, though Italy is a slower league providing for players to play into their 30s. 

    Moreover, the 24 goals he scored was a far-cry lower than the 36 he scored for Napoli the season before. Not what the Old Lady were expecting.

    Furthermore, Higuain couldn’t deliver the Champions League, arguably the reason they decided to splash the cash to bring him to Turin.

    He was a key part of the run to the final, but ultimately disappeared in the biggest game of them all, which, in fairness, was to be expected given his performances for Argentina in the World Cup and Copa America finals.

    Overall, a good signing and one that will continually help them on their way to the Serie A title, but not the best ‘most expensive’ signing.

  2. 2 Romelu Lukaku

    From: Everton

    To: Manchester United

    Fee: £75 million

    Although the Belgian is yet to feature in a competitive game for Manchester United, this already has the makings of a far better value deal than Juventus’ for Higuain. Firstly, Lukaku is five years the Argentine’s junior and represents a long-term option to the Red Devils’ striking issues.

    The 24-year-old has a proven Premier League track record and joins the club off the back of his best-ever scoring season, in which he found the back of the net 25 times in the league. 

    Moreover, Lukaku has a brilliant goal-scoring history, scoring 85 Premier League goals in five seasons and becoming Everton’s all-time leading Premier League scorer. It suggests consistency and an ability to continue this into the future.

    We’ll have to wait and see how Lukaku turns out at Old Trafford, but superficially this seems a great deal in today’s market. It’s not enough to go down as the best of all-time, though.

  3. 3 Cristiano Ronaldo

    From: Manchester United

    To: Real Madrid

    Fee: £80 million

    At the time, an £80 million fee was baulked at by those critical of Real Madrid’s galacticos transfer policy, but what an absolute steal it’s turned out to be. By the time Ronaldo joined Madrid, he had already won three Premier Leagues, the Champions League and a Ballon d’Or, scoring 84 goals in the league, including 31 in one season.

    Since then, Ronaldo has gone on to win two La Ligas, three more Champions Leagues, the European Championships and three Ballon d’Ors, as well as breaking nearly every possible scoring record along the way.

    £80 million in 2009 was a serious amount of money, practically unheard of and it was arguably the deal that set the wheels in motion for the market we find ourselves in today. However, £80 million for Ronaldo in 2017 would be considered an absolute bargain.

    A lot of reason to believe that this is the one of the all-time best ‘most expensive’ transfers.

  4. 4 Gareth Bale

    From: Tottenham Hotspur

    To: Real Madrid

    Fee: £85 million

    Surprise, surprise. Real Madrid make it onto our list once more. At the time, the finances of Gareth Bale’s transfer to the Santiago Bernabeu weren’t publicised so as to not hurt Ronaldo’s feelings, but it was subsequently leaked that Madrid did in fact break their own record to bring the Welshman to Spain.

    He hasn’t had the best of times in the Spanish capital, however, and has been plagued by troublesome calf injuries for the most part of his four-year stay.

    In truth, there’s been a lot of talk about Bale’s potential exit in light of Madrid’s interest in Kylian Mbappe and it speaks volumes for his diminishing importance to the side that they didn’t struggle in his absence last season, with Isco instead cementing his role in the side.

    However, Bale did what he was supposed to do in his first season at the club. He scored the winner in the Copa del Rey against Barcelona, a wonderful goal in which he left Marc Bartra for dead on the halfway line, as well as what proved to be the winner in the Champions League final against city rivals Atletico.

    Is that enough to justify his label as one of the best ‘most expensive’ transfers of all-time?

    At the time perhaps, but in today’s market, you’d be a fool to spend over £80 million on an injury-prone winger that relies greatly on his dwindling speed.

  5. 5 Paul Pogba

    From: Juventus

    To: Manchester United

    Fee: £89 million

    Another fee that the mainstream media gawped at when announced, especially considering the Red Devils let Pogba go for a measly £800k in 2012. However, it’s turned out to be a decent bargain in today’s market considering the fees branded about the Premier League.

    Granted Pogba might not have bad the best of seasons in his return to Old Trafford, but the 23-year-old is one of the most technically gifted footballers in the world and he’s still a raw talent, finding his feet in the Premier League.

    He’s the complete package. He’s one of the best dribblers of the ball, a fine passer in possession, either short, long or laterally, a goal threat from distance and Jose Mourinho even managed to get defensive work out of him.

    With a sturdier defensive midfield base supporting him this year, expect bigger and better things from the Frenchman.

    However, it’s difficult to judge him in the scheme of the best all-time expensive transfers given he’s yet to live up to his fee thus far. We’ll have to wait and see, but it was a transfer that had, and still has, potential.

  6. 6 Neymar

    From: Barcelona

    To: Paris Saint-Germain

    Fee: £200 million

    The big one. The cherry on the cake of the world’s most expensive transfers. PSG spent more than a small country spends on their defence systems to bring Neymar to the French capital and it has all the potential to work out and then some.

    Without a doubt the Brazilian will pay back that fee in shirt sales and commercial opportunities, given that Neymar is arguably one of the most marketable players in the world.

    He’s already proven himself amongst the best in Barcelona, demonstrated his ability to carry the side, but what will make or break this transfer is whether he leads PSG to Champions League glory. That’s the intention and it’s the only means of measuring the success of the transfer.

    There's no doubt that Neymar will break multiple scoring records in France, but is that a true measure of his greatness? He needs to lead a team to glory to justify his fee. He needs the Ballon d’Or to cement his legacy.

RealSport verdict: Cristiano Ronaldo

In terms of the most expensive transfers of all-time, Cristiano Ronaldo wins, hands down.


£80 million in today’s market is absolutely nothing for the best or second-best player on the planet –depending on whether you are team Messi or team Ronaldo- and he’s more than paid that back to Madrid in terms of silverware, records and general revenue.

However, this is how it stands today. Give it a few years and Neymar very much has the potential to eclipse that. In moving to Paris, he’s trying to emulate what Ronaldo is to Madrid and Messi to Barcelona.

If he does that, then £200 million will look cheap. 

  1. POLL: Who's been the best 'most expensive' transfer of all time?

    1. Romelu Lukaku
    2. Gareth Bale
    3. Gonzalo Higuain
    4. Neymar
    5. Cristiano Ronaldo
    6. Paul Pogba
    424 votes
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Oli Stein


Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_